I'd have liked to put a nice highlight reel together for 2014 and talk about my big plans for 2015. I've had plenty of highlights and I have plenty of big plans but I didn't take the time to examine them and write it out.

The last year especially has felt extremely hectic at times and I think one of the things I'll focus on in the beginning of 2015 is trying to minimize that. To drop the comfort of busy and be even more ruthless in my priorities. And finally to regularly reflect on how things are going.

I've had a great twenty fourteen. Twenty fifteen will be great too.

Lights out!

AuthorKevin McAllister

I posted a while ago about my current health kick. I successfully finished 90 days on Sunday.

I noticed partway through that there were some slight issues. I think I was doing too much gym leading to a flare up of plantar fasciitis and there were a few days where I needed a break. Finally I have a tendancy to backslide into eating sugary snacks after sustained exercise routines, rationalizing that I've earned it.

I decided to take a week off from the gym to let me recover a bit and refocus on the non-snacking since it undermines my primary goal.

The primary number: I lost 31 lbs. Down from 254 lbs to 223. This is basically my pre-marriage, pre-child weight back when I was studying Kempo after losing about 80 lbs between 11/2001 - 5/2002.

I'm going to take 5-7 days off from the gym and then get back to work. My goal is to get to 190 lbs and emboldened by my recent success, I think I can do it by my birthday.

I'd put in a count of gym visits but Lift appears to be down, but as a guess I think I went to the gym about 75 out of 90 days. Probably too much, but it pumps me full of energy and I enjoy it.

AuthorKevin McAllister

If you would just take yourself out of the line of fire, you will think more clearly. That's easy for me to say. Sure it's easy to say I'm not talking about taking fire at all. I'm talking about thinking and communicating. In other words, working.

Here's what I mean

Some time ago an awesome co-worker was planning a twenty-seven hour day involving at least five acts of heroism. Something like getting in early and preparing for a late-night maintenance, then travelling to another office for some meetings and then going back to finalize preparations before going home to eat and then to come back and participate in the overnight work. I think this was the plan.

I didn't come up with this plan so I wasn't invested. I couldn't understand why the meetings were important because I didn't promise to be there. It seemed crazy. So we threw out all the time-wasting stuff and made that day a little less painful.

I was certain I would have come up with the same plan.

Fine, but what about being yelled at by your boss?

I watched it happen. There was no yelling. There was a challenging question. The kind of collaborative question you'd use to find a flaw in a plan and make it better. And it was asked by the boss. The room went still. Everyone stiffened. The answers that followed were defensive, meant to shut down the challenge.

It was easy to see because I didn't draw any conclusions about where the question was leading. I didn't infer any judgment about my work. I wasn't asked.

However, I know I never saw the benevolence and collaboration in this type of questions when I was asked. I would also go on defense.

How to stand by

How do I get to the essence of this? How do I wield this super-power of objectivity? How do I take myself out of the line of fire?

I don't know.

But I think I can get way better at everything when I find out.

AuthorKevin McAllister

The last 38 days plus today have been pretty good on a few fronts. I've let work keep me from really focusing on my health for years. But something about September 2nd made me commit to ruthlessly stick to a few simple rules and it's been going great.

Rule 1: Sleep at least 7 hours Every night.

I've tried for a long time to "try and get around 8 hours of sleep a night," forever. But I never picked a number and set it in stone and did everything I could to stick to it. Over the past 39 days I've accomplished this goal 38 times. (The morning after the Eagles Monday night game is my lone miss).

This was the hardest rule to follow and also I think the most beneficial. Because of rule 3 I was getting up early, so I had to make sure I was in bed going to sleep no later than 10:10, every night. In a hectic life working at a growing company and with a family, this means cutting out time where I can actually sit quietly and think or work on my own projects.

I think this has been the most beneficial. Getting sufficient sleep is like discovering a cognitive and emotional super power. I'm more effective and more relaxed.

Rule 2: Track everything I eat.

I use MyFitnessPal on my phone and I just put everything in there. I also set a calorie goal in there and try to hit it (ignoring exercise). The goal is a side-effect and natural consequence of tracking. I find myself incapable of tracking something and not trying to hit a goal.

This is because I really want to lose weight, and the only thing I've found to be effective is being very particular about what I eat. So I focus on hiting 1670 calories a day or fewer.

There have been a few times this was close to being missed. But I've done it every day since 9/2.

Rule 3: Go to the gym 6 days a week.

Now the rule is basically daily, because it's easier to stick to. I work best when I try to do something every day. If I had it 3 or 4 days a week it wouldn't work. I've gone 33 out of 39 days. So I'm right on track.

I enjoy working out, and feel much more energetic throughout the day when I do. The only way I can fit this into my life daily is to do it first thing in the morning. So I've been getting up at 5:10 almost every weekday and a bit later on the weekends (the LA Fitness gyms near me open at 7 or 8) and getting it in first thing. Also this does help with Rule 1, because I am usually tired by 10 anyway.

I'm seeing improvements in my numbers and feeling good.

So what?

I'm letting the hard structure of these three priorities drive my days. I need to fit everything in around them, and it's very clarifying. And I've been ruthless doing it. Not succumbing to whim or letting anything else drive my decisions. I've lost 17 lbs in that time, and at almost 40 days in I feel like this is pretty sustainable.

I picked 90 not because I'll magically stop then, but simply to have a goal. See what I accomplish in that time and then decide what I want to do next. At this point I'll probably just sign up for another 90.

But it's not been easy. Looking back, it feels easy. But I paid close attention to all the small decisions that I've had to make to keep up with this committment. And at each new decision in favor sticking with it, it does get easier. But that doesn't mean it's easy. It's been hard work. I think someone who commits to a program like this can do it, but, it's an ongoing process and not a single big decision.

AuthorKevin McAllister

Once I had children and continued to fill my life with values, it became difficult to make the time to read even though I've loved reading as long as I can remember. Then I discovered Audible and it was love of books and not music that drove me to buy my first iPod in 2005.

Today I still do most of my fiction reading using Audible since I can do it during my commute, washing dishes, or any other mostly-mindless home maintenance task. So if you aren't using Audible, I whole heartedly recommend signing up and taking advantage of their free trials.

This post is really for people who already are using Audible.

They currently are running a Super Sci-Fi Sale Through the end of the day May 10, 2014, where they have over 100 books available for $6.95 each. I paged through like I do many of their sales and found they had a number of books I want or that I've read and enjoyed and wanted to dash off something quick to recommend to others.

So here is the list, some of these I've read. Others are on my wishlist or I recognize the authors and think they might be worth looking at. Other than that grouping they are in no particular order:


  • Assignment in Eternity, Robert A. Heinlein: I always recommend everything Heinlein wrote, plus this was narrated by Balki
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller: good classic SciFi, read it years ago on advice of my father and enjoyed it.
  • Diplomatic Immunity: A Miles Vorkosigan Novel, Lois McMaster Bujold: The Vorkosigan saga is very enjoyable. This is book 14 in the series so you have quite a bit of work to catch up to it, but you might as well grab this one inexpensively now! This is not one of those series that I suffer from sunk costs, I liked each book.
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley: A classic.
  • Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper: I actually listened to the version of this that came with Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi and I hated the Scalzi retelling of the story, but found the original Piper version to be a much better telling, where the Scalzi story was crude and obvious and pumped full of a certain political view that all corporations and any selfishness is evil, the Piper story suffered none of this and actually told an interesting story.
  • Reamde, Neal Stephenson: I thankfully never got hooked on World of Warcraft, but got to enjoy machine guns and intrigue surrounding a video game world in this book. It was crazy at times, but I enjoyed it.
  • The Dreaming Void: Void Trilogy Book 1, Peter F. Hamilton: I listened to the Commonwealth Saga and The Void Trilogy and recommend them both. I'd probably listen to the Commonwealth Saga first, but you can start here if you'd like. I think this is what they call a space opera, and I approve.
  • The Lost Fleet: Dauntless, Jack Campbell: The Lost Fleet series was another long series that if you like space nerdery, is awesome.

Haven't Read

AuthorKevin McAllister

I've been rushed lately due to work, normal family things and other personal projects. As such I've just discovered something I need to remind myself. That is to slow the hell down so as not to come across as a bum.

I pride myself on understanding technical issues no matter how I learn of them. I'll sit and think and re-read the ticket or bug. Or I'll ask questions always building up the example in my head, going step-by-step and ensuring I am clear of the problem and my understanding of the technical system.

I recently have found myself jumping to conclusions and launching right into a response to people instead of careful consideration. This is most prevalent with email, but I've done it in face-to-face conversations and even on twitter. When I go back and read a tweet and realize all the context is actually there and my response was way off base it makes me realize some real slowing down is in order.

Additionally I read a friends blog post: Libtards, Teabaggers and other stuff which reminded me not to assume people I disagree with are idiots. And for now if I have the time and come across what appears to be a vitriolic comment somewhere by someone I know I may ask questions to learn the person's position. It has been a nice change of pace today to ask a few questions especially in light of the highly charged conversation about Government shutdown and new health care laws.

Getting some reasonable answers made me feel a little less isolated and silently annoyed.

AuthorKevin McAllister
Any startup facing an existential threat from regulation should remember these stories. The laws of the land are not laws of physics: they can be changed.

Jason Crawford's article is a good read to inspire you that some fights can be won.  Or discourage you that the creative people trying to make awesome things often have to waste their time and energy fighting regulations that should not exist.

AuthorKevin McAllister

I don't think this is a great article, You Can Be Busy or Remarkable—But Not Both. But when I read it—after a tremendously busy day—it struck a chord. Plus I couldn't resist a title reference to the Tao of Pooh after seeing the guy referenced in the article was some dude named Tao.

I read something that said being lost is not about not knowing where you are, but giving too much focus and anxiety to where you are not. I don't have any idea what the origin of this was, maybe some quote in my High School yearbook.

I think often the sense of anxiety that accompanies being busy is about knowing all the things you aren't doing and letting that fill up your mind. Or allowing your mind-reading of other people's expectations to dictate how you feel about your life. These things all are awful ideas.

Anyway I'm feeling a inspired to spend a more of of my time trying to relax, be realistic, and have some fun.

Update: I read what I wrote and was completely confused, so I reworded some things. See I was tremendously busy yesterday and my brain doesn't work anymore.

AuthorKevin McAllister

I enjoyed Michael Lopp's article An Introduction to You, specifically this part:

We are in an incredible hurry building important things and have no time for nuance. We're impatient. We're busy. We want everything to move faster, so we make huge, comforting assumptions and slap easy to understand labels on complex concepts.

Though I've been thinking little about the idea of oversimplifying and therefore over or under estimating the contribution of a new employee. Rather the quoted section made me think about how much is often missed in the "incredible hurry" when building products and the systems and processes to support a business.

It would have resonated more with me if he had written the exact same article but if it were not about an employee, but a new technology being integrated into the same busy-worshiping company culture.

AuthorKevin McAllister

This Radio Flyer was an excellent investment.

I would help my two little girls carefully climb into the seats. Make sure the stuffed friends, drinks and sunscreen were down in the ample room by their feet and we'd walk the half a mile to Roslyn Park and play on the playground. We'd make up chasing games where we'd be heroes protecting the park. And we'd order "Cherry Whipples" from the little counter under the climbing wall. All of this was probably four years ago.

Just recently I created a little spark of interest in X-Men reading to Ashley on the flight home from Disney and she has just fanned that spark into the full flame of obsession that today has even overtaken her sister. So after Michelle and I put the trampoline together today (in record time) we played X-Men all afternoon. Part of this somehow entailed squeezing some much larger little people into the Radio Flyer again.

And even though we're all older—and all have many more super important things to do—somehow a playing all day like the wagon was still a perfect fit.

AuthorKevin McAllister

Someone once told me that raising children would have good times and some rough times, but that the overall trend was always upward in his experience. After 8 years and 4 months I am in full agreement with him.

And it's nothing huge that makes me say that. I suspect it would probably qualify as boring or at least plain evening for lots of folks. But I sat and read some X-Men comics with Ashley and then sat and read a chapter of Watership Down with Allison before they went to bed. And this is the type of stuff I couldn't wait to do when they were born. Share my interests, discuss the various characters ask and answer questions.

It was a great night.

AuthorKevin McAllister

One of my favorite podcasts spent their whole show talking about this article.

Get comfortable with the idea that you won’t know what’s good until it’s already happened.

It's a very good article on working when you don't have any idea what your doing.

It's convinced me that I should be listening to the whole back catalog of Radiolab.

AuthorKevin McAllister

A great example of someone paying close attention to reality while experimenting with changing their way of working to achieve success they didn't believe possible.

Definitely worth a read.

AuthorKevin McAllister

The challenge in doing creative work is understanding and managing limits. The most obvious limit is the amount of time you have to work. However, even if you could somehow remove all interruptions and practical concerns you couldn't possibly do high quality creative work for 18 or even 10 straight hours a day. You only have a fixed amount of creative energy to use before you need to relax and renew that energy store. Even if you're young, highly motivated or if you drink all the coffee, there is no sense in working beyond that limit. The work you do will either be junk or your mind will freeze up and slide you right into procrastination mode. Sometimes you may be able to push hard and get another hour or two but this usually comes at the expense of tomorrow. This creative energy is your most precious resource. There are many ways you can waste that energy but I think a very insidious way is by inventing new ways to repeat yourself. When you do creative work you are inventing not only the thing you make, but also a way of framing the problem. To do any of this you have to think. When you complete your work you will forget that thinking. The next time you work on a similar problem you will waste energy re-thinking it. Any work you do isn't really done until you can repeat it.

Maybe one of your many responsibilities is fixing broken technology. You can treat each incident as separate, start from scratch, and try to determine what things you need to know about the problem. Then you can hunt down evidence and follow the leads from the symptoms, take broken notes, and you will eventually build a solid mental picture of what is wrong and a possible solution. As an alternative, you could automatically do a standard workup, and get some crucial statistics about the problem like the equipment involved, time, software versions, and captures of log files. It would be as easy creating a form for yourself to fill out. This standard format for reporting your findings is good if you work as part of a team, but even if you don't this can give you a head start on the problem and let you save your creative thinking for the hard part.

Or you wish you were a writer of some sort—be it books, blog posts or documentation. You could just sit down and write what catches your fancy when you feel like it. You might be pretty successful. Or you might never find yourself writing; especially if writing is your second, third, fourth or tenth job. You could decide it's important enough to schedule 30 minutes every day to move it forward a little bit. You could formalize it further and create a rough outline of your writing process, developing a progression that starts at finding an idea and maps next steps to the end result. Then you can really use short bursts of work daily, because you have a framework to let you jump right into the actual work. For example, after not writing for years it was only by giving myself permission to write for a short block of time every day that I created this site.

You may rebel against this idea by thinking that working to a checklist is dooming yourself to boring bureaucratic work. Or maybe you see this as selling out and turning yourself from a creative person into a drone of a factory worker. If you don't give yourself a checklist to follow, then you are choosing to waste your creative energy on a solved problem—a problem that you solved already. If you've come up with a way to write an article, why throw that away and start fresh with the next article? Why not start with that scaffolding in place next time to let your creativity soar in new ways you didn't have room or energy for last time, because you were busy inventing the scaffolding? You are going to do the work in some way. Why not be serious and deliberately choose the way you are going to do it?

And the most important advantage to this type of approach is you can build on your framework. You can build gradual improvement into the way you do everything. If the next time you do some work you take a minute at the end and think about how you can do it better next time, you will be giving the future you a head-start. If you don't do this, you are choosing to put a limit on your best by not recognizing and embracing the fact that you have a limit on your best that you can do in one sitting.

The only thing you need in order to take advantage of this idea immediately is a notebook that you know you'll look at again. And the next time you finish a task, open that notebook, set a timer for 5 minutes and answer one question in full sentences, "how can I make this better next time?"

AuthorKevin McAllister

A few interesting things in this article.

I don't advise playing the game Sheryl Sandberg was playing trying to look like she was working more than she was, but I certainly understand the pressure.

Also really liked the idea attributed to Marrisa Meyer.

If you resent the fact that you don’t eat dinner every night at 8 then you will get burnout and your work will not be as good.

The fact is you can only do so much so you have to ruthlessly prioritize. And if you resent the fact that you can't do everything with unrealisticly high quality you'll just invite more pain and anxiety.

AuthorKevin McAllister

There are alternatives.

AuthorKevin McAllister

Here is a story that illustrates exactly the type of work decisions that led to this site. Daniel's article focuses on the lack of empathy in the person who questions his start time. I do think her reaction was unjust and I also think the young heroic Daniel took a physical and emotional beating that is better avoided.

I completely understand the need to continue working on an active problem—especially when all the distractions are gone. But I suspect he probably paid for that hard work in more ways than being insulted by a co-worker.

AuthorKevin McAllister

It didn't work. In frustration you reach for your cup of tea and find only the dregs, long cold. You write another email to your co-workers explaining why the latest attempt at a fix failed. Usually writing it out helps you think of something else to try. Nothing new comes to mind. It goes in the Sent folder next to the other three un-replied-to messages from tonight.

You lean back and close your eyes trying not to think about the call from your boss.

Look, I know it's probably complex and hard but we really don't care about the details, we just need it to work.

Facing a problem alone has never bothered you, but you're not alone are you? Your wife and children are sleeping upstairs. If you can't figure this out and the company collapses, then what happens to them? Certainly not that trip to Disney or the American Girl dolls for Christmas.

Opening your eyes you see it's 2:37 AM. You've got nothing left and sleeping is better than feeling sorry for yourself. Standing, you reach for your mug.

The flash comes.

You're back at the keyboard, leaning forward. You see the connection. You're not sure yet. But you are sure—you've never been more sure of anything. You laugh. It's so simple. You put the patch together and push it to production. It's fixed. You were so stupid not to see it sooner, but that doesn't matter, it only matters that it works. You write your triumphant email. Wired, you sit and watch it work. You finally head to bed after four.

Instead of a hero's greeting when you enter the office you are ushered into a the conference room and grilled about the fix.

What makes you so sure it won't happen again?

You are happy to explain. But no matter how clearly you explain the situation the hostility and uncertaintly remains. A wild thought occurs to you; they seem dissapointed that your fix hasn't retroactively wiped the problem out of existence. You realize again—you don't understand people.

So what is the status of your current project? We'll need to catch that back up.

Current Project? You vaguely remember you were working on something else before the crisis. You promise to give people updates after you get your bearings. You go to your office and sit back and close your eyes, trying not to be annoyed at the idea that you are now behind on your project, or what is meant by "we."

I've been here, more times than I care to think about. This is not a specific story in my life, but it is every heroic work story. An emergency creates clarity by forcing exclusive focus on a single goal. You can learn more about the way your systems work in one crisis than you might in a whole year. And it's exhilirating beyond description to face down the stress of an impossible problem and come up with the answer. But the hard truth is, working this way is a huge mistake. You not only harm yourself, but you have made the company and the the product, which you're willing to bleed for, worse.

Possibly you are that hero or you work at a company with one. Maybe you want to do the heroic things. It's exciting and you get to break all the rules. And you seem to have a limitless supply of the confidence needed to relentlessly seek an answer. But there's a reason you work with other people, and when heroic individual effort is always necessary to stave of disaster it's a symptom of a greater sickness in the company.

Sure it's great to watch superhero movies. But you certainly don't want to live in Gotham City—that place is a real mess. If you are that hero, the best thing you can do is learn how to disconnect the Batphone; it will not only improve your own life, but it's the only chance to save that company and really build something great.

This story will serve as the manifesto for Boldocity. For fifteen years I have strived to become the tragic hero depicted in this story. But recently I have started to understand that working this way is a mistake. The articles I write in the coming weeks will work on illustrating why I've made these claims. Hopefully as I am able to more fully explore the issue through writing I will learn and explain the right way to do heroic work.

AuthorKevin McAllister

I saw a great sign at the Franklin Institute the other day.  It was in the Franklin Food Works, it said, "Please, Step up and help yourself."  (Here's a photo) Some employee was clearly trying to overcome the confusing layout of the place.  But he did more than that, he offered a tremendous life lesson.

Waking up and going about your day should not be drudgery, it should represent the thing you want to do more days than not.  If you find that is not true then, what are you waiting for, figure out why.  There are tons of people out there who will help you learn and cultivate the things you want, then the crucial thing is to make a plan to get there.  And don't let anything stand in your way.  The only way things will change for you is if you change them.  So what I have to say in response to that sign. That's god damn right!

This is all stuff that's been said thousands of times in much better ways than that sign, that movie clip I linked to or this blog post.  But I think it's helpful to have it pointed out in a variety of ways.  It can be surprisingly easy to go numb to things around you if you don't remember how wonderful it is to be alive.

AuthorKevin McAllister