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

When you're old and curmudgeonly like I am you become set in your ways.  It's hard to believe but some of these ways are wrong.  Your habits are a result of your old thinking and most importantly your old actions.  Since I know everything now, it's conceivable to me that a younger version of me may have made an error in thinking and ended up habitually doing something silly, without thinking, like screwing around with my iPhone at every single spare moment throughout the day.

See what I did there with the bold.

We do things, we make decisions and choices without even considering the options.  Our subconscious not only can provide us with important facts, like all the words to the closing song of Gilligan's Island, it also will bring up complex thoughts like the results of thinking or provide a course of action.  Don't believe me?  Think of the last time you drove a car somewhere and had one of those realizations like, "Holy crap I'm driving a car and not paying attention to where I am or where I'm going!  How did I make it this far?"

Learning anything requires repetition, so does unlearning.  But before you start training yourself what you want to do, like Zippity the Zebra in Man vs. Beast you have to "realize it's a race."  The key there is to set yourself a standing order to notice when you do some physical thing . Go on, put that subconscious to work for you noticing you taking the phone out, or eating that 28th cookie.

Now you are at that crossroads, where you make the choice.  The thing you've done at up until this point over the last 87 times this choice came up, the thing you decided you wanted to change for some reason, will seem very compelling.  It may even seem crazy that you ever wanted to or could change.  Here is where you will need to have thought out the good reasons for why you will change, to overrule the habit and emotional response that is tied into taking that habitual action.  What you want to do here is put yourself in the right frame of mind to realize, that, yes there are actually other things you might want to do besides restock the floors in Tiny Tower.

The way I recently learned and am trying to do that is to have a nice little slogan, "WWID?"  This means, "What Would I Do? Where I, is me heroically taking into account my full hierarchy of values."  This is a pretty general mindset, depending on the particular habit I'm trying to change I may just focus in on that one for a few weeks and have a different slogan to recall in my time of need.

So in summary, I plan to take certain things I don't want to do anymore and notice when I'm doing them so I can wake myself up enough to know, "it's time to make a choice," and then put myself in a heroic frame of mind to make that choice.

AuthorKevin McAllister

As I indicated in a prior post, The game of life, I planned to post updates to help my motivation.  I've learned that my projects go much better when I periodically look objectively at my results thus far and make a conscious decision how to proceed.

I had initially planned an update every 9 days since it just happened that I was 108 days out from my goal when I started and being a geek I couldn't help but see the evenly divided intervals.  But, alas, I have missed not only 99 days but also 90.  We now stand 86 days from my goal and this is my first update.

So from an eating perspective it's been easy, I've been able to avoid all but a very small taste of sweets and all but a very small amount of grains.

I think it was easy because before starting I made an effort to pay attention to how crappy I felt.  How I was tired and always lacking something trying to find it in sugary snacks or in caffeine laden beverages.

And—I think this was stronger motivation—I also made an effort to actually imagine two alternate futures.  One where I now took responsibility for my health and one where I continued to drift eating and acting based on whim or emotion.

The first was me in 20 years, strong and healthy working with my daughters on some sort of outdoor project, maybe helping them build a new garden or shed in one of their homes, but here I was a man of 55 (the same age as my father when he died) doing hard physical work with my shirt off and not inappropriately.  Feeling temporarily winded from a recent extreme exertion and resting for a moment, taking a deep breath and feeling the exhilaration of being alive and reshaping existence to my will and paying with my effort.  And I was just at that moment before I plunge back in and continue at a hard task that will still take another hour or so after which I will enjoy a restful afternoon with good food and surrounded by loved ones.

The second I don't like to think about, but I do anyway.  It was me in 20 years.  I can't really picture myself like I can in the first vision, but I am able "…to guess by hints, to see everything through the greater intensity of implication."1 And in this case I am looking out.  I see myself in the sterile hospital environment.  I am uncomfortable, I've just woken up and have been laying this way for a long time, a few hours, a few weeks? I am just so tired and sore I can barely muster the energy to move.  I finally notice that here again I am surrounded by loved ones.  But this time the looks on their faces are masks of tragedy.  In this imagining I really pictured my daughters as young adults, they were beautiful if they weren't so sad.  I wanted to tell Allison that nothing could be so tragic as to put such a look on her face, and she tried to smile for me when she saw me awake, but the pity there was worse.  And Ashley never one to attempt to hide her emotions wouldn't even smile and was barely able to look at me.  I reached out for them with a tremendous effort and saw the tubes snaking around my arms.  And my arms were thin, flabby and pale.  Then I saw Michelle and it the suffering she was obviously trying to hide from me was more than I could bear.

I didn't bother to fill in details about what particular disease had put me in such a terrible condition.  But to concretize the threats to my future of living a lifestyle where I ignore what I've learned about nutrition has helped my motivation tremendously.

I've diverged a bit from my original intent of this article into that motivation that has made the choice on what to eat easy.  Now to sum up my update.  My two primary measures of the effectiveness of my health sprint are my weight and how I feel energy wise and general comfort level.

Over the past 18 days I've felt great.  I made a great effort to get plenty of sleep, and I can't remember being better rested.  My energy level has been excellent.  I seem to wake up ready to take on the day and keep a more or less constant energy level until the end of the day when I start to get tired and ready for bed.  My creativity level has been high, and my stress level has been low.  I take surprises and emergencies at work well and have been less defensive when criticized or when I perceived criticism.  Also I've been very productive at work and in my personal projects making great strides toward my goals.  Finally I feel stronger.  I've been doing pushups occasionally at work and they've certainly gotten easier to do.

As far as the scale, well that is the millstone, and the challenge or opportunity.  I've only dropped about 2 pounds per the chart software I use.  In the past when I've done this I've dropped weight more rapidly.

HackDiet chart

Based on this I am going to tweak my approach in an attempt to speed things up a bit. My plan is:

  1. Cut out dairy (I got a milk frother for my birthday and have been enjoying tea lattes so for now that will pause)
  2. Go to the gym more often, I am going to target 1 trip every 3 days.

Other than that it's no sugar, no grains as I stated at the outset.  I anticipate feeling great, stronger and being lighter.  I'll plan another update in a few days.

Maybe on 81 days to go.

  1. Borrowing a short quote from my favorite book of all time The Fountainhead.

AuthorKevin McAllister

Another change I've made recently to help with my overall health is to try using a scheduling infrastructure for my day. For about three weeks now I've been using the Pomodoro Technique to plan and track my activity throughout the day. It's improving my productivity and also helping me lose weight. This relates to my physical health in two ways, first if I spend my days full of anxiety about all the things I'm not doing I can never get physically well. Second it makes me do push-ups.

That probably needs an explanation. Pomodoro is a time-boxing technique that guides you to do 25 minutes of highly focused activity followed by a short 5 minute break. In the PDF the author suggests it should be a real break from any thinking about work. I found the transition from a hard thinking task to a state of mental relaxation to be very difficult to pull off, my mind–already warmed up to the topic–would wander back to the problem I was working on. So I decided to do a set of push-ups to help me relax.

So far I've gotten better at pushups, squats, and sit-ups. Oh, and I'm enjoying my productivity based primarily on the structure to my day. It helps me concretize the idea that I can only do so many things in a day and helps me at the hard task of prioritizing my time. It also helps me measure how long I take at certain tasks. Since I chronically underestimate I welcome the opportunity to improve my judgement.

AuthorKevin McAllister

When sacrificing sleep to do important work or play I've often made the remark, "I'll have plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead."  But little did I realize that by not getting adequate sleep I was working to bring that day closer.

I was clued into this fact by the various Paleo resources I've studied over the past few years particularly Robb Wolf's, The Paleo Solution.  So I started paying attention to how I functioned on various levels of sleep.  I learned that I was able to think, act and feel much better when I was well rested.  I remember thinking, "Does anyone else know about this? It is actually possible to walk around with nearly super-human ability simply by consistently getting a full night of sleep!"

Now in my defense, I not only attended college but also have two young children and have worked primarily at technology start-ups throughout my career.  So sleep was scarce in my life and somehow I just had to find a way to get things done.

But it's not super-human, it's regular-human to sleep when tired, wake up well rested and feel alert and energetic during your days.  A good sign of trouble is you need chemicals to wake up and function at all and at bedtime you can't figure out how to fall asleep.

So I failed to mention in my initial post on my plan to win at the game of life that one other thing that is going to help me meet my health goals is to get plenty of glorious sleep. You too should get plenty of sleep tonight, you deserve it!

AuthorKevin McAllister

For a while now I've been trying to do a lot of things and getting many accomplished, but really want some focus on less things that I make tangible progress on.  And so I am looking to set myself some constraints in order to actually get things where I want them to be.  A few vague plans I have are to ship a game this year.  Actually I'd like to ship two games, but I am still floundering in the beginning stages of understanding and putting together a basic 2D OpenGL game engine.  So my plan is to have a rough beta version of something that at least works by my birthday.  Then I can set a new goal for shipping it.  That should help give me some focus.

Also along that front I'm thinking I should blog consistently about the things I do and learn while working on the game so it forces me to really solidify my understanding.

I'd also like to really get my health to a better place.  On Saturday Allison's karate school, East West Karate, had a class for parents of new students to learn a few basics so we can experience some of what they are doing first hand.  It really made me miss my training.  Now I haven't been to the gym or done any serious workout in months so I've been sore now for two days.  But on top of that I've gotten the best nights of sleep that I've had in recent memory due to actually using my body a bit.

So I'm considering joining their adult classes.  As I've already earned a black belt, they would allow me to wear it to their school and help me have an accelerated version of their curriculum.  But I have mixed feelings about that.  I did work hard and earn it, but I am severely out of practice and wouldn't want to embarrass myself or the school who awarded me my black belt by showing up there next week.  Also I'd want to do it only if I really am sure I'm committed to it.  So I'm thinking I'll set myself a target of June to get myself into better shape through a concentrated training program at the gym, and probably 2 or 3 days a week run myself through some exercises trying to recall and practice some of the martial arts skill that I had earned through hard work and let slip away.

Also I have plans to attend a Thinking Directions pilot class in New York City on Saturday from noon — 3, and I'm also very excited about that.  I'll have to see if I know anyone in New York that wants to grab dinner before I catch the NJT back to Trenton.


AuthorKevin McAllister