An Email Problem

I hear a lot of people complaining about how email is the most evil part of their life. You ask them what they did that day, and what they dread most about tomorrow, and they’ll tell you, “email”.

But email isn’t the problem.

On the contrary, email is one of the most useful and beautiful technologies we’ve encountered over the last twenty years. It’s the most reliable, functional, simple, and effective communication tool we have. It’s robust and it’s easier to protect yourself from than say, a text message or phone call.

Email isn’t the problem. People are the problem.

I did an experiment a few years back in which I tried to email like I tweet. I wanted to write emails within one hundred and forty characters – professional email or not. A truly remarkable thing happened… I got short emails back.

You see, the thing is, people are busy. Way too busy to hear your life story in an email. The truest sign of a clear thinker is simple, clear and direct communication. If you want to be professional, respect people’s time. That’s being professional.

Whatever you do, please don’t do your thinking through email. Stop, take a moment to think through everything, and then write your simple, clear and direct thoughts. Things will happen faster and you’ll find that you don’t spend light years reading mundane text.

Let’s not waste each other’s time here. Write a short email. Think first, and for the love of all things beautiful, please watch your signatures (lose the images).

An email problem is a people problem. But it’s not without a solution.

Life Before Industry

What was life ever like before 1920?

We take the last decade, with all of it’s clothes, cars, homes, credit cards and restaurants, totally for granted.

What would happen if technology made it so that we once again lived like it was 1920?

What would our lives be like if industry as we know it collapsed and we were forced to change the way we work because there ceased to be any jobs to maintain the consumerist lifestyle?

What would happen if we truly had to think about every individual thing we owned? What if we went back to living in small homes and without the six-figure job to support our many habits.

Well, we might be finding out.

The economies of the world do not show much promise and pressure from the EU is mounting in countries like England. The job market is slowly shifting and technology sits in the hands of only a few companies.

Now this isn’t to be a post of doom. I like to think of it as a post of light.

The coming transition will be painful, but it might actually force us to take our lives back.

Or, we could choose to take them back now.

A simple life of few material possessions, low overhead and no debt is a life with freedom.

Freedom to chose, freedom of work, freedom of time.

It might not be a bad idea to stop and be honest with ourselves about where things are going, and start shedding the unnecessary waste, possessions and work hours.

Maybe we don’t have to wait to be forced to scale back.

Maybe we could beat the curve.

We forget that this way of life was designed to keep us working in factories and that we’ve been programmed to buy things that we don’t need in order to keep it all working.

That cycle is likely to stop – and very sudden.

We might just be going back to life before industry.

Doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, really.

Children as Advisors

One of the things we all found fascinating when iPads first hit the market, was that they were so simple that infants could use them. Children became the new litmus test of simplicity in interface design.

(They were so simple, that older individuals were actually confused because they weren’t complex.)

The other day, I was helping a six-year-old write a story about a sleepover she had. Her style was very simple. “My name is…”, “my friend picked me up at…”, “we did this…”.

I explained, “maybe you want to add a time-of-day when your friend picked you up so that you can help the reader’s imagination establish a setting?”. Nope, not having it.

Through this process it helped me see writing again at the most basic structure.

We often ask our peers and collegues their opinion on what we design, build or write. Many times, it gets more complex the more help we solicit – especially if it becomes design by committee.

Next time you design an interface or write copy for a site or post, ask a group of children. I’m not saying that it will result in your final product, but it will certainly keep you in check from a “simplcity of use” and “clarity of communication” perspective.

Children make great advisors.

Get Paid for Playing

I was listening to a lecture by Alan Watts last week and something he said struck me.

I’ve always wondered how a teacher or philosopher would have a good shot at making a living doing what they love. I have a sense that most people feel this way about the things they truly care about – the things they would do if money didn’t matter.

Watts chuckled in his signature laugh and simply stated, “I get paid for playing, which I guess, is the goal of any educated man.”

“Getting paid to play” is exactly at the heart of what I want for people. Now, play is by no means void of work here, but when you’re doing the work that is in harmony with who you are, it feels like play.

As you go through life as I am having to go through life, with all of the risk, sacrifice and joys that come with the hard work of discovering your stride, remember this short mantra from Watts. It’s a simple phrase that can serve as a simple, clear and direct reminder of where to aim.

“Get paid for playing”.

We certainly aren’t meant to work our lives away.

Don’t Fear the Mysterious

The power of science fiction or the imagination of someone like Stephen Hawking is in bridging the gap between what science has already discovered and what it will eventually discover.

No matter how insane a movie like Star Wars or Ex-Machina may seem in reality, there is some validity to its possibility based on the fact that the human mind was capable of imaging it.

Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

The mysterious is real or else we could not imagine it. If you feel inspired or your intuition is pulling you into a direction without logic, feel safe going into it. It will become logic once it is found to be true. You don’t need it to be true yet.

Tesla was seen as a madman for playing with electricity until his electricity powered cities. Mark Zuckerberg was undoubtedly seen as pompous believing he could connect the world from an app built for college students.

The truth is, your inclination to explore the mysterious is only mysterious until there’s proof for everyone else to believe in it. You don’t need that kind of permission to explore what you’re naturally drawn to.

Whether you feel your intuition pulling you towards any psychic development or you believe you can create an app that prints pizza, don’t fear the mysterious.

In the long run you may end up better off because you spent time there.

What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

Every one of us reaches that point in our lives or our work when we just feel out of gas. It is in these moments of desperation that we make decisions that alter the course of our lives.

Do we buckle under the pressure and get a safe job, or do we suck it up and press on doing the thing that keeps us up at night?

It seems that either way we ask ourselves, “what’s the worst that could happen?”.

The approach to this question is where people you and I look up to – are made. The ones that took the cowardly approach to this question are the ones we’ve never heard about.

Life is short and the way we’ve been living it only serves to steal more of our already short life. I’ve recently learned that we are no different than the streaming river. We can’t control our lives and when we try to push against it, the resistance only gets stronger.

Life is short. Too few people are focused on what will make them happy. Too many people have buckled.

Be the like the stream. Go with the flow. If life brings you hardship, don’t fight. Flow with it.

Stop and ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen?” – in the right way.

Look this short life in the eye, and give it hell.

The Compounding Effects of Stress

Stress can do really funny things to you. A little stress sneaks into your life, it plays with your mind, focuses your mind in a pessimistic way, which then invites more stress.

When this stress starts to compound it can turn into anxiety and depression which then leaves you powerless and without the energy to fix what has you down. It can even lead to sickness and the decline of your health.

Small stresses should be avoided at all costs in order to keep them from starting this chain reaction. If one little stress finds a way to sneak past your defenses, try your best to handle it in the moment, before it starts the snowball effect.

Little stresses are beatable, but sometimes our defenses are powerless against depression.

Avoid the compounding effects of stress and try your best to be aware of any small stressors.

Working through these means more freedom, a sense of feeling “light”, and it makes certain we’re always doing what we need to, to have the life we want.

The Power of Exponential Loss

When was the last time you were able to sit and have absolutely nothing to do? I think we’re all realizing that we’re too busy, but why are we so busy?

I believe the battle lies in the power of exponential loss.

If we agreed to send shorter emails, we would get shorter emails back. If we agreed to shorten meetings, Parkinson’s Law would kick in and we would finish those meetings in less time (and honestly be a lot less bored).

If we limited the amount of time we allowed ourselves for inspiration, ideation and surfing the web, we could add more time to quality production and focus would make us better at leveraging our time.

In the car manufacturing industry they call this lean manufacturing. Individuals calculate every bit of material waste and time waste, because waste is money.

Our time is our most valuable currency yet we don’t look to areas where we could waste less.

That’s the power of exponential loss.

If you find yourself only only working productively for about two hours a day, it’s impossible to have anything of value at the end of the month.

Guard your time with your life, because that’s exactly what it is.

The Things We Are Drawn To

Everyone has that thing. The nagging interest, hobby, passion, creative outlet or desire. There may be a book you have always wanted to write, a guitar you have always wanted to play, or a gift you have always wanted to share with the world.

At some point, you thought you couldn’t do it. It was never going support you and you could not possibly do it as well as someone else already doing it.

Nah, let someone else do it.

You should probably go back to suppressing it. Go back to the routine where everything is safe. Go back to the place you have been programmed to believe you belong. The place where there is no risk, no passion and no reward. The place where you believe in the inevitable truth of future failure, despite the lack of trying.

You could do that… again

…or this time you could sit in it until it speaks to you. 

This time, you could acknowledge all of the reasons the universe might have been pulling you to your thing all of these years. You could listen to the natural inclination you have towards exploring something that is you.

The world is full of poor art, writing, music, painting and ideas — what we lack are people that listen to their thing and act.

The beautiful thing about being human is that we can do damn near anything we want to, with focus and intent

The challenge is, first, a belief that we can’t do it, even though we have no way of knowing that we can’t.

The second challenge is that we are too preoccupied with everything that stands in our way of pursuing our thing.

Listen to the thing you are drawn to, believe you can do it (because we can do anything), and tell everything else to get the hell out of your way.

You Are Not Broken: The Myth of Self-Improvement

There are whole industries built around the idea that you are broken. I’m not sure how it happened, but for some reason we are taught that we need to better ourselves. That somehow we are born broken and that we are in a constant state of needing improvement.

I would like to argue the opposite.

I believe we are perfect the day we are born. It is our programming from day one that teaches us to forget that we are perfect — thus beginning the cycle of never feeling good enough.

As adults, it is not our job to improve ourselves, rather it should be our position to remove all of the noise and the muck from our eyes and see that we are exactly who we are and who we were ever meant to become.

In our innate human “perfect-ness” we will naturally seek out meaning, purpose and new skills. This is after all, what separates us as animals. We are conscious of our meaning and purpose in life. It is our nature to question, and this questioning is not us improving ourselves, but finding a way to be more in tune with ourselves.

This morning as I thought about the idea behind this post, I looked out of my window in Brooklyn and I saw Canadian geese flying in their signature “V” formation. They don’t think about flying in this formation, they just do it.

We cannot decide to improve ourselves, just like the geese cannot decide to fly when the seasons change. They just do. We are no different than the geese, the mountains, the lakes, the canyons or the oceans — we are part of the same. We are part of this universe and we are no more broken than the sea.

My challenge to you is to strip away everything you have ever been taught in school or any programming you may have received from parents, friends, teachers, clergy or otherwise. Find the person you were born to be. Follow your intuition and know that you are already everything you will ever be.

Just be.

You can now let yourself off the hook. You don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself to improve. You can give yourself permission now to be everything you ever wanted to be.

You are not broken.

Self-improvement is a myth.

The self is broken, but the Self is already perfect in every way.

Decide to live, accordingly.