Experiment Publicly

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Experimenting is a great way to learn.  With an experiment, we learn if we succeed or fail in an environment where success is not a necessary goal.  The issue is, many of us conduct experiments in both isolation and in private.  While this type of experimentation lets us hide our failures and/or crazy ideas, it also reduces our chances for success and the depth at which we can learn lessons.

Zen of Technology is one of my public experiments.  I’m providing all my content for free – via e-mail and then on the web.  I include no advertising, and will not be charging for access to the content.  I’ve had some good posts where I get positive feedback, and some bad posts that are weak on content.  After a string of bad content, people drop off, and I’ve contacted them asking for feedback.  That feedback has been wonderful in helping me to shape future content and really see what people’s needs and wants are.  None of this would be possible if I simply wrote all this content down in a private Google Doc hoping to turn it into a book at some later date (which is something I do hope to do).

Additionally – I’m building a brand.  Even if everyone dropped off the mailing list, in the future, I can point to the content I’ve generated for my resume and talk about my efforts and tangibly demonstrate that I was able to keep a commitment even when there was no financial reward.  Also, simply by the act of doing something publicly makes you work a little bit harder.  Even though chances are – without marketing – only a few dozen people will see your work, the fact that it will be seen makes you try harder and produce better quality work.

It doesn’t have to cost you anything

I pay for hosting (where Zen of Technology lives, as well as a few of my other experiments) but if you simply want to have a blog, you can get one for free.  WordPress, tumblr, and many other blogging platforms allow you to have blogs for free.  If you’re looking to create coding projects, things like GitHub have free options and you can get very cheap hosting ($5/month) at a slew of places (such as DreamHost.com whom I’m using for ZoT).

Public allows for easy collaboration

By having a project public, you have the option of enabling quick and easy collaboration.  For example, one of my experiments – regexquest.com – had a contributor do a complete design overhaul of the site (because my original design was quick lacking).  Blogs allow users to comment, and there are tons of feedback mechanisms for other types of projects that let users communicate directly with you and provide feedback.  You may not want collaboration and feedback, and can turn these features off very easily.

You may fail – but you may inspire others

You may start a blog focused on DIY projects – turning IKEA furniture into sculptures, drawing, painting, coding, etc, and give up on it 3 months in.  Traffic was low, comments were low, and you lost the inspiration to continue – it happens.  But, your content is out there.  If you did something unique and provided value, others will eventually find it and extract that value.  A personal story may help someone through a difficult time.  A programming tutorial may help a programmer solve a problem much quicker.  A DIY project may inspire someone to start their own business selling homemade furniture.  These things may be impossible to track, but, if your content/experiment was never there, then the chance of it making a positive effect are zero.

Following up – what are your experiments/projects

Share with me (in comments or via e-mail) any experiments you have going on.  Why did you start it?  Why are you still doing it?  Also – let me know if you are OK with me sharing them with the mailing list, I’d love to put together a list for others.

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Sleep

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You are the greatest tool that you possess.  And, unlike your computer or laptop, you can’t throw it away and buy a new one if it’s running sluggish.  If properly honed, your body and mind can do amazing things.  If treated poorly, you will be sluggish, impatient, and your decision making skills will go out the window.  The worst part about this state of mind is that while you are in it, you are rarely aware of it.

Each person’s body is unique, but general consensus recommends you do the following to remain in peak mental condition:

  1. Sleep 6-8 hours per night – Also note – you can’t bank hours.  Getting 4 hours per night during the week and sleeping 12 hours on the weekends is not the same.
  2. Drink water – Ultimately you can drink any fluid, but I prefer water.  Mayo Clinic say the “Drink 8 8-ounce cups of water” rule is reasonable, but you want at least 2 liters of water per day.
  3. Eat food – Having your blood sugar too low can really throw you off (and isn’t always obvious to you).  My personal recommendation is to eat 3 meals per day (Breakfast, lunch, dinner) and snack regularly between.  Always keep a snack on hand if you’ll be away for a while.
  4. Take a walk – While regular exercise is always recommended, sometimes going to the gym can be hard to schedule.  Make sure that you walk at least a mile a day, and try to get outside and get some sun.
  5. All things in moderation – The human body is a precision instrument.  Give it too much or too little of something and it gets confused.  The body doesn’t handle extremes very well.

 

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Paths

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There are many ways to get from point A to point B.  In fact, for most problems, there are also many solutions.  For problems we frequently encounter, the most comfortable or familiar path can gets followed most.  Soon enough, we see this as the only path.  That route becomes habit.  Additionally, we lose sight of the individual steps and start to see the path as a single step.  This can lead to difficulty when road block occur.

If you break a problem down into steps, when you hit a roadblock, you can simply back up a step and find a new path from there.  Additionally, you can look to see if there are quicker solutions.

If a solution is clear, working backwards can be a great way to discover new paths as well as roadblocks.

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Less is More

 

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Overcommitting seems to be the norm today.  For many reasons, we have a hard time saying “no.”  Additionally, with such quick access to information and do-it-yourself guides, we often have a long list of things we want to do in our spare time.

A task never completed is worse than a task never done, as it is (consciously or subconsciously depending on your personality type) a reminder of failure on neglect.  Additionally, if we have a task list with 9 items and add a 10th, it’s possible that completing that 10th task will mean the quality of the 9 original tasks will suffer.

Quality really does win over quantity in the end.  Doing one thing very well will make you much happier and successful than doing a few things well, or even worse – doing many things passably (or poorly!).

There is a simple rule that can prevent this and increase the quality of your work – task removal.

Every day, remove one item off your task list.  Don’t just de-prioritize it, but remove it altogether.  After a few days, this task may become more difficult, so change to a frequency of once a week.  Ultimately you want to get to a point where you aren’t adding these types of tasks to your list, but this is a way to prune your existing list without changing your current habits.

 

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Filtering Superabundance

In Clive Thompson’s new book “Smarter Than You Think” he talks about how the internet and our technology tools have helped us generate a wealth of content.  Even if only a small portion of that content is relevant to you, the sheer volume makes it impossible for you to keep up.  Thankfully there are things you can do to help weed through the drudges, keep up to date, and still have hours left in the day to do your job, be with your family, and actually live your life.

  1. Rely on a few aggregation sites – Based off your interest, there is most likely quite a few options for websites that will scour the news and myriad of amateur blog posts and bubble the best ones to the top.  The Gawker network (Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker, etc) do a very good job of this.  Additionally, there are sites like news.google.com that will aggregate based off topic.  Limiting yourself to aggregation can be a good way to stay informed, while keeping away from being overwhelmed.
  2. Limit your connections – While you may feel a sense of pride from having a high twitter follower count, there is clearly no award for following the most people.  Additionally, if you follow too many people, your stream can turn into a gush which quickly becomes unmanageable.  Regularly unfollow people who’s tweets are not relevant to your interest in using twitter.  The same goes for Facebook – if someone constantly posts about some cause they are behind but not relevant to you – remove them from your stream (you can do this without unfriending).
  3. Accept that you cannot know it all – It truly is impossible to read every blog post about a topic, every comment, watch every youtube video, etc.  There will always be more LOLcats pictures and silly memes.  Most things on the internet come and go very quickly.  By the time they are gone, it is as if they never existed.  
  4. Organize – If you read something that you find valuable – bookmark it (in a logical folder structure).  If you find an article that you want to read later – bookmark it.  Even if you never end up reading that article, having an organized list of articles and information to refer to will help you (you never know when you will want to read it).

By no means should this replace any enjoyment you may have in diving deep into a reddit thread, watching youtube videos with less than 300 views, or following hundreds of blogs via RSS.  Often times, when faced with too much information we say “TL;DR” and end up reading nothing – the above rules give a good guide on how to quickly access relevant and curated content.

-Nick

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Passions

We often hear advice that tells us to follow our passions.  While obvious, it isn’t always the most useful.  If everyone quit their job (assuming their job is not their passion) and followed their deepest passions, I have a feeling society would unravel.

One way to flip that while making it more useful is to say make your job your passion.  There are a few key things you can do:

  1. Determine the value of your job – Try to extract the societal value of what you do.  If you’re a sanitation engineer, think of your job as cleaning up and making the area more beautiful.  If you work as a barista, think of your job as helping people start their day and enjoy a nice beverage – not just making coffee.
  2. Have a goal – If you don’t already have at least one life goal, come up with a couple.  Then find ways that you can link those goals to your job.  Even if it is simply building a skill that lets you achieve your goal.
  3. Find the good – Spend 5 minutes each day finding the parts of your job that you enjoy.
  4. Make it a game – Sometimes we have to perform repetitive, boring, or otherwise unenjoyable tasks.  These can be made much easier by setting up milestones and rewards.  For example, if you have to clean the bathroom, give yourself the challenge of finding 5 things you can do to bring a smile to those using the bathroom – such as folding an origami crane out of a piece of toilet paper and placing it on the toilet lid.  If you find 5, then you can take a 5-minute snack break when you’re done (don’t forget to wash your hands first!)

If you’re in a job where you simply cannot find a way to enjoy it, or make it your passion, then you should consider finding a new job – not all jobs are right for all people.  What you will find, is that as you start to make your job your passion you will be better at it and have more success which will make it even easier to make it your passion.

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Dealing With Tech Frustrations

Technology is wonderful – when it works.

I’m sure this scenario sounds familiar – you open a new application, select a file to open and then – disaster strikes.  Either the Mac beachball of doom, or the windows hourglass appears.  It spins and spins and spins and you hope that it will stop and everything will simply work.  But no, the file fails to open, and the application crashes.  What to do next?

First – relax.  Your computer may seem to be angry at you, but it has no emotions and sometimes just needs time to finish whatever processes it is chewing on.

  1. Give your computer a minute to catch up.  If you have tons of things processing, that can slow things down and may have been the cause of the issue.
  2. Try again.  Computers make millions of calculations per second and errors happen in rare cases.  Sometimes simply trying your action again will solve your problem.
  3. Restart your computer.  Give your computer a fresh chance and open your file/application as soon as your computer is up-and-running.
  4. Update your software.  Take the time to make sure you have the latest version of your operating system (Mac OS or Windows) available to you and that the application you are using is up-to-date.  Often we get notices saying “Your software is out of date, do you wish to upgrade now?”  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it works, but as soon as it is broke – fix it.
  5. If all else fails – Google.  Get the full text of your error message and search for it in Google/Bing (make sure to remove anything like the file you tried to open, or anything specific to your computer.  This sort of specific information will limit search results).
  6. Ask for help.  I leave this step last, because if you ask a “computer person” for help when you first get an issue, they will go through steps 1-5.  By waiting until now, you will most likely have found a solution, and if not, you can let that person know you’ve come this far and still have no solution.

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What is with that horrible drawing?

I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw.  I never had an innate ability, but I love to doodle and my business notebooks are full of doodles.  Since I have used this as a way to discuss learning new skills, I decided to take this opportunity to learn a new skill for which I have no natural talent for.  This image above is without any reference or lessons.  I will be making a drawing for each post and I hope to see progress with every post.

 

 

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