Weekly Review #36: Cold showers, loving hard, and the portfolio of productivity

I’m one week into a strict cold shower regimen and loving it. It’s a great SIDCHA (self imposed daily challenge) that wakes me up fast, force me to confront discomfort, all while saving water and energy. Joshua Spodek is a month ahead of me and has even more great reasons to give them a try. (I’d heard of cold showers a long time ago, but always wimped out. Now I wake up determined not to quit!)

I discovered Mixergy.com this week – great portfolio of entrepreneur interviews and learnings. The founder Andrew Warner has quite the story as well – he named his first company Bradford and Reed because ‘it sounded like a company people would accept calls from’

Big study on fertility and happiness finds that kids decrease happiness at first, but increase it once you pass 40.

  • Our analysis of World Values Survey responses from 86 countries indicates that, globally, happiness decreases with the number of children parents have.
  • Most importantly, the association between happiness and fertility evolves from negative to neutral to positive above age 40
  • These results suggest that children are a long-term investment in well-being, and they highlight the importance of both the life-cycle stage and macro contexts to the happiness/fertility association.

An interview with the CEO of Craigslist (hint: not Craig) was interesting for many reasons. (Craig stepped down because he knew Jim was a better manager, and besides, he was happier with customer service anyway). I particularly like his response to a question about donating to charity:

  • “We give away at least 1% of revenue, but we haven’t had a chorus of users suggesting that we should run ads to generate funds for charity. People have that money now, and they can give it away. We’re not in a position to be an arbiter of where that money should go.”

My friend Adrienne Tran has a great post on relationships:

  • If you’re going to love, love hard. It’s a lack of open communication that leads to love pain, not the emotional investment.
  • Prioritize the person over the relationship. Otherwise things become binary (future wife or just a friend).
  • “Our relationship is not defined by my constantly looking into the future and weighing the value you could add to my life — it’s defined by the deep experiences that we’ve shared in the past to create the meaningful relationship we have now.”
  • “When you meet someone you believe is worth emotionally investing in, instead of asking, “Is he the one?”  ask, “Am I building something amazing with this person?””

HyperInk.com turns thought leading blogs into pretty books quickly and easily.

Ever heard of the sales challenge to “Sell me this pen?”. The Senator Club has a clever answer to blow that out of the way.

I’m back into a routine with a daily commute, so that means a whole lot more Competitive Edge Summaries! Brace yourself.

Tactics from Wiley Cerilli, CEO of SinglePlatform

  • Never ask your friends for advice on your ideas. Instead, tell them “Oh, my friend has this idea”, then your friends won’t be afraid to shoot it down and damage your self esteem
  • The four mindsets of people being sold to: controllers, who look for persuasion, analyzers, who look for data, stabilizers, who look for harmony, and controllers, who want to get it done.
  • Whenever somebody asks you about your company, respond with “Well, what do you want to know?”  Then they will tell you exactly what they’re interested in, which you can use to harmonize with them.
  • Powerful quote: “if you want to sail the sea, you don’t gather a bunch of men and tell them to build you a boat. You teach them to yearn to sail the sea and they will build you that boat”
  • ‘I think it’s a complete fallacy that a CEO and a leader can motivate people but what they can do is provide an environment where motivated people can excel’ – Brad Felt
  • There are two stages of a business: the testing phase (small team, everyone doing everything, figuring out if there is a business there), and the tuning phase (tune the thing to scale it up, people start to specialize)
  • Don’t brag that “We worked with Google”. Say “One of the things Google loved about us was X”
  • “The winner between an alligator and a bear is determined by the terrain.” CEOs want to dominate water and land, but you have to say, screw it I’m a bear and then dominate just one. SinglePlatform did this by focusing on serving only bars at the beginning.
  • “Set your life on fire and then seek those who light your fire”

Chris Bailey from a Year of Productivity

  • Productivity is a confluence of three things: your time, your energy, and your attention. Where they overlap is how productive you are
  • Slow down and ask myself “Why am I doing what I’m doing right now?” Oftentimes, it’s just because you’re bored, or because you are on autopilot entertainment. Observe the intentions behind your actions
  • 40% of everything we do on a daily basis is a habit.
  • Ask yourself at the beginning of the day “By the time this day ends, what do I want to have accomplished?”
  • Chris keeps his phone in airplane mode from 8pm to 8am, even though he sleeps from 9 to 5.
  • Your life is a portfolio of 7 things: mind, body, emotions, career, finances, relationships, and fun. You need to make sure you diversify your investments.
  • Martin Seligman: “How happy something makes you is determined by three factors: the pleasure it gives you, how engaged you are with it, and how much meaning it gives your life.”
  • “People are more motivating than really anything else you do, except maybe the basics like eating well and sleeping.”
  • The biggest mistakes people make with productivity is that they don’t exercise, get enough sleep, or eat well. Everything else is built upon that.
  • Make a list of all the work activities you do in the course of a month, and ask yourself “If I could only do three of these activities all month, which would it be?” Chances are those three things are the things you are the best at and enjoy the most.

Sebastian Marshall

  • There are two kinds of knowledge – the cognitive and the experiential. You can understand that someone’s parents are dead, you know what happened, but you don’t really know how it feels. You don’t ‘actually get it’. Be aware of this difference.
  • Scott notes that he doesn’t read many books, because he’s learned better in real life doing things. Sebastian notes that its easy to focus on what you’re good at, so if its books, you may focus on that at the expense of experience, or vice versa.
  • Sebastian thinks that you don’t really decide your thoughts so much as think whatever you body is primed to do so given the situation. So shape your time and surroundings to help you think and do what you really want to.
  • If you can handle yourself being bored or aggravated, you can live a lot more intentionally. The next time that happens to you, just own it. Recognize that you are bored or aggravated, but don’t do anything about it. It’ll pass.
  • Oftentimes you do harmful things to yourself as a compromise to worldly minutiae (like accepting toast at a restaurant when you’re gluten free). Who is better off because you accepted that toast? Nobody. Who is better off if you deny it? You.
  • Recognize what you are vain about. The preservation of your vanity or ego is often damaging to your life goals. You’re the only one who really cares about your vanity, and you’re the only one suffering from it. Let it go.
  • Make things binary: “Did I eat healthy or didn’t I?” Less room for weakness, easier to make the right choice.
  • Make universal rules for your life that allow you to avoid getting stuck fighting fire.
  • Like IF-THEN statements: IF it rains during my run time, THEN I will still go out and do a lap of one block before deciding whether to continue
  • When Sebastian tries to adopt new habits, he aims for at least 70% success rate. If he can’t hit that, he scales down so that he does. If he does, he ratchets it up.
  • Study your successes. If something went well or you did it well, stop and look at what went into making that successful. Then you can recognize what worked and use it elsewhere.
  • The arrival fallacy – “Once X happens, then I’ll be happy”. Recognize that you can be happy even when things don’t happen as you wanted them to. Recognize that each day as a battle you could lose and still win the war of life.
  • Peter Gollwitzer, NYU professor on goals and decision taking

Andy Drish on finding your unique genius

  • ‘the people who are closest to you don’t want you to change because if you change, the ways in which they used to manipulate you won’t work any longer’. The expectations you set for yourself are the expectations set by your peer group
  • Dan Sullivan’s ‘Unique Ability’ book, Gay Hendricks ‘The Big Leap’
  • Ask yourself “What’s your favorite movie character? How would you describe them/what characteristic do you think they embody? How much does that align with the perception you have of yourself?” You gravitate towards characters who are like you.
  • Write down the tasks you loved in your favorite jobs. Find common threads.
  • Four types of tasks – incompetent (you’re bad at it and hate it), competent (can do it but don’t like it), excellent (can do it well) and genius (do it well and love it)
  • When two people are having a conversation and you join them, how does the feel of the group change? What is added or subtracting in the groups’ feelings?

Urgent or Important? Proactive or Reactive?

I don’t recall which productivity guru introduced me to the axis of urgency and importance. Google tells me it was Stephen Covey, so I’ll go with that. But regardless of who it was, the exposure of this binary classification changed the way I worked – I started thinking about whether this was the most important thing to do, or if it was just the most pressing. Josh Waitzkin on a recent Tim Ferriss podcast, exposed another binary with two different qualifiers – proactive task versus reactive ones. One is what you do in response to something, whereas the other is undertaken of your own volition.

These four adjectives overlap into two categories, albeit imperfectly. Most proactive tasks are important, and most reactive ones are urgent, but not exclusively so. You could reactively pay an urgent rent bill, for instance, or proactively decide to step to one side rather than block an urgent punch to your face. Let’s run down them one by one.

Urgent vs Important

Urgent tasks are often referred to as firefighting. These are the daily needs that require your immediate attention – from making breakfast to responding to that ringing phone on the desk. If you ignore them, bad things will happen. They may not happen immediately, but if you ignore too many frivolities eventually big stuff will start to fail. (Don’t eat lunch and you’ll live, but too often and your health will suffer, etc). Your email inbox, deadlines, and looking good for your boss are all urgencies.

Most urgent tasks are not important in the big scheme of things, but many are integral building blocks to success. It is important to identify which tasks are which, but many people simply come in and tackle the urgent problems first because they are more pressing, at the expense of the important ones.

Important tasks are critical to the success of project. Ignoring them will be devastating eventually, but their cruciality may not be immediately visible. They might be things like paying rent (it’s not urgent until overdue, but very important) or working on refining a process you use everyday (you could keep using the old process no problem, but streamlining it would improve efficiency and save everyone’s time).

Important tasks often fall behind since they are not constantly reminding you to get them done ASAP, which hurts your goals. Many of them are passively urgent, lurking in the back of your mind saying “I should really get to that today” but you never find the time.

These two terms neatly split up your to-dos into halves that are integral to your plans, but do not hold equal weight. Focusing solely on the important would bring you forward but probably with a reputation for unreliability and carelessness, while focusing solely on the urgent would  have you running in place with the illusion of productivity, yet slowing sinking as innovation falls to the wayside.

Reactive vs Proactive

Another way of dividing up the to-dos is with the reactive/proactive divide. Nearly all urgent tasks are reactive – you do them in response to something happening to you. And while you can be proactive towards urgent things, the act of deciding to do something of your own impetus rather than as a result of someone else’s usually means you are doing something important to you.

Reactive tasks are things like responding to email, (which could be described as somebody else’s to-do list) paying bills, and answering the ringing phone calls. They’re relatively easy to do, and completing them makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But reactive tasks can never move you forward – they can only keep you in the same place.

It takes a proactive task – one made of your own accord -to move you forward. You decide you need to do something and then do it, regardless of the environment around you. Examples include storyboarding the overall design of a project, refining your operational process, writing for yourself, or recalibrating your goals as a result of recent findings. The ‘big stuff’. These things are more truly yours than anything you do as a response to an external stimuli, and as a result, are critical to your success rather than someone else’s. You do them because you think they should be done.

Yet so many people spent their days reacting to email and other urgent frivolities that invade their days, then go to bed feeling busy and productive. Such a person is never going to be fired, but they’re never going to get promoted either. Busy is not productive, just as urgent is not important.

You may know what these words mean, but have you ever stopped and considered the ramifications? Think about it – almost all of your life is reactive! You go to school to get a job because thats whats accepted to do. Most of the things you do, watch, read, and eat are because that’s what everyone else does, or just because it’s what is available. Even your friends are made reactively. You meet the people you do because they’re the ones that work with you, live nearby, or happen to do the same things you do. Just look at how many people don’t stay in touch with their friends from high school. It’s because they hung out with those people simply because they were there, not because of any underlying affinity. (although you could also say you matured in different directions since then).

The best people and opportunities out there aren’t going to fall in your lap for you to react to them. You have to proactively get out there and find them yourself.

  • Whenever you do something, (or especially if you find yourself ‘very busy’, stop and ask yourself: “Am I doing this because its urgent, or is it really important?
  • Ask yourself why it is you are doing this task. Was it your decision, or was it simply the reasonable reaction to do given the circumstances?
  • Prioritize important proactive action over urgent reactive ones. (duh)

Weekly Review #35: Family NYC and World Domination Summit

Continuing the New York City adventure, this week I did a lot more of the touristy/expensive stuff with my family. We did the MuseumHack tour of the Met (highly recommended, young energetic guides show you the weirdest parts of the museum), Escaped the Room NYC, (puzzle room where you’re locked into a room and have to escape, great fun) the Top of the Rockefeller Center observation deck (great view, but overpriced and you get treated like tourist cattle), watched Kinky Boots and Of Mice and Men on Broadway (first was high energy fun, second unimpressive), and went to a showing of The Late Show with Seth Myers. I found it amazing that they go to all the trouble of getting a live audience just for authentic laughter – surely a laugh track is easier? They have a dozen security goons herding you in and making sure you don’t jump Seth, and the tickets are free, just first come first served. Bizarre.

I found Nathan Pyle’s NYC Etiquette gifs to be both hilarious and apt during this time, especially ‘how to avoid clipboards’. Ryan Holiday’s ‘40 Reasons not to move to NYC‘ also struck a chord, as it paints the city as an overbooked stock popular only because everyone else is there.

Then it was off to Portland for Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit, an entrepreneurial conference full of speakers and parties. I didn’t get a ticket for it, however, as I had noticed at SXSW that all the best stuff happened outside of the buildings. Apparently it’s a whole movement called ‘unconferencing‘. Basically I’d hang out near the building in between speeches, monitor the #wds2014 hashtag on Twitter for extra curricular meetups, and strike up conversations with other badge holders. Worked pretty well!

WDS was a lot less pure business and more woo wooey than SXSW was. While my read of the mission statement “How to live a remarkable life in a conventional world’ tends towards the entrepreneurial, for a lot of others it meant building tiny houses, affirmative self talk aimed at ‘finding your truth’ (the word chakra was thrown around often), and subsequently a large percentage of the attendee’s were life coachs. Personally I find the idea of paying a stranger thousands of dollars to give you advice absurd, unless you’re trying to do something they have already done, but what do I know. These people were really good at empathizing, I’ll say that.

Scott Berkun has a decent summary of the official talks inside, but here’s all the colorful people, habits, and things I learned from the outside.

Overall, it was a great way to meet other entrepreneurial minds and see what everyone is up to. Maybe I’ll be back next year – doubt I’ll get a ticket though!

Can’t forget the online findings: France banned the checking of all work emails after 6pm in an effort to salvage work/life balance. Doubt that’d work in the US, but I love the idea.

This algorithm calculates the most beautiful route from A to B using data from UrbanGem.com, rather than the shortest. Clever use of an existing dataset.

The story behind RapGenius.com’s path to success is an entertaining parable about unreasonable cofounders.

Simon Baron Cohen theorizes that women tend to approach the world through empathy, while men do it through systems. Makes sense to me. Speaking of which, this can lead to men rudely interrupting women and discounting their opinions – so interrupt back!

And this guy asked Kickstarter for ten bucks to made a potato salad. Now he has $50,000. Ah, America.

How to do ‘Escape the Room’ better

Last week I successfully Escaped the Room in NYC, a puzzle game/event where you are locked into a room with 9 other people in order to find clues amongst the commonplace items inside that can lead to a way out. The experience was great fun and appears to be a nascent fad – the New York Times had a piece on how it originated in Hungary and has spread across the world in the last few years. New York has two services that I know of, and the original guys (who I did it with) have two locations with a variety of locations to be locked into, including a theatre, office, or apartment.

We arrived to the location and followed a few hastily made signs upstairs where two bearded and tattooed hipsters crouched over an improvised closet control station which offered live feeds to the rooms in question, letting them monitor progress. They sat us down to wait and provided us with wooden hand puzzles to practice on ‘in order to warm up our brains’. As we did that we noticed pounding on a nearby door and a frustrated scream, as a nearby group almost escaped but ran into a final obstacle. Great way to set the mood!

Then we entered the room, were paired with 5 vaguely French strangers, and were given exactly one hour to escape! Said goal was contingent on unlocking seven colored masterlocks on a key box next to the door, but as time went on it became obvious that some of the keys were hidden behind other locks of their own – many with numbers or tumblers to decode. Ideally one would proceed through the locks sequentially, but our haphazard approach meant that we jumped around a little bit, which made it harder to pick up the trail of the next clue. Finally we finished with 4 minutes to spare and posed jubilantly with a ‘we made it!’ sign.

I’m not going to give away the particular secrets of the room (the guy says that he searches Google every day to make sure that nobody spoils the fun), but I do want to talk about the three axises along which I think the process could be improved: through Clues, the Sequence, and the Obstacles themselves.


We were given 3 clue opportunities to use throughout the hour, engaged by holding up a “HELP” sign to one of the security cameras in the room’s corners. Then the bearded owner would physically enter the room, size up where we were in the solution, and offer an top as to what we should be looking at in order to move forward.

The clues were helpful without being totally obvious, especially at moments when we were at a loss for which of the  puzzles in the room we should tackle next. I remember at one point giving up hope and sitting down exasperatedly on the couch to fiddle with a toy car we had already inspected, only to be galvanized by a fresh clue. But the fact that the owner physically entered the room, looked around, and then gave us a pointed observation slightly ruined the atmosphere. Obviously they can’t actually lock you inside the room for legal reasons, but to have the door open 3 times during your hour and have this guy waltz in there like he owns the place (which he does) destroys the sense of true escapism.

It’d be better to have him on a microphone giving directions from the outside, or perhaps give oblique suggestions constantly, like “Have you thought about [this object] yet?”. Heck, he could even throw in riddles. But coming in and pointing out what to work on can’t be the best solution. There has to be a more authentic way to set users on the right trail than physically pointing them to it. Heck, set the whole thing in a jail cell and have an Russian accented comrade on the outside whispering directions to you. Theatrify it.


As mentioned above, the 7 colored locks were meant to be completed in order, and after we finished our room the main guy traced the correct sequence of steps we should have done in order to complete them as such. Turns out the whole system of locks is lined up like dominos, so that in retrospect solving puzzle A leads to puzzle B neat as can be.

But that wasn’t obvious to us as the users – the exasperation gaps where we didn’t know what to do were exactly in precisely the parts where we had deviated from the established completion order, or failed to grasp a specific jump. If the escape process is going to be sequential, it should be obviously so, whereas for us we just tore the room apart and found at least 3 different leads which eventually lead to different keys, though only one was the correct ‘first lock’. Make the hurdles difficult, but the path obvious.

Better yet, there could be multiple ways to escape the room, like one method that relies on code cracking while another relies on using found objects in a novel manner, or maybe one that finds a hidden escape door, or so on. This might overcomplicate the process, but if it was obvious which completion strategy you were pursuing it could be a fun way to split up the task and let people work together without getting in each others’ way. Sort of like in videogames where you can choose to defeat enemies using strength, wit, or subterfuge.


The things standing in between us and freedom were almost exclusively number codes, with a few safe tumblers, key driven masterlocks, and one colored button sequence pad. While it is exciting to figure out exactly which 4 digit code applies to which lock, it gets rather old after doing it five times in a row.

I feel like there is so much more opportunity in this field. The room is being used explicitly for Escaping – modify it to have hidden walls, false panels, bookcases where you have to tap the uppermost left tome, etcetera etcetera! Instead of trying to hide digits, have us be feeling around the room and using our hands. You could incorporate tactile senses into the solution, or even smells and hearing. Instead of searching for a key, have us search for the correct sequences of moves required manipulate a taxidermic deer head in order to open a hidden compartment. There are all sorts of options beyond digits and keys.

One special moment was when we were required to look out the window and distinguish a specific piece of information from signs across the street and then input that into a lock. Taking that a step further, you could have actors in the street who complete a certain action at a certain moment in order to help break the code. If combined with the theme (say, prison escape), this could make the entire thing far more memorable.

But it’s still really fun

I enjoyed the experience greatly – it should be noted I’m just noted the things I think could make it better. It could also be combined with other existing entertainment like NYC’s famous dinner theatres, or the murder mystery dinner parties. Have dinner and then escape the room. Or have something bad happen when the hour is up, like mist starting filling the room, an approaching monster hitting the window, or just something more than just a ‘times up!’. Then you’d be even more frenzied in your attempts to escape.

The options are endless!

Weekly Review #34: Solo New York City and the Hamptons

I’m in the middle of a New York City trip, alone at first but to be joined by my family next week – which will make for two very different snapshots. This is my first visit with enough time to do the place justice, and so far it’s been all good. While New England isn’t a different country from California, I notice all the little difference from home just like if I was abroad. Namely, everybody smokes, people are more patriotic, awesome lightning storms, and they have ridiculous Long Island accents.

I found it humorous that many NYC residents hardly ever leave their neighborhood, despite the Big Apple’s many offerings. It sort of makes sense, since each area is overflowing with stuff to do, and even on a direct subway it can take up to half an hour to get from one half of Manhattan to the other. It’s just crazy to think that in this huge metropolis, you’d want to stay in only one corner. Oh well. Other Manhattan takeaways are the incredibly high number of stunningly gorgeous women on the streets, and the preponderance of preposterous characters (obviously) straight from the pages of Humans of New York.

I popped out to the Hamptons to visit my good friend Elly, who works at a fancy hotel there. While swimming in the jellyfish infested waters (I got stung), bearing the humidity, and walking the rocky beaches, I felt bad for the East Coast rich people who use this place as a vacation destination. But I’m just spoiled by California.

I spoke with a few interesting characters out there, like the Peruvian chef convinced that everyone is naturally bisexual, or the Bahamanian retired butler who has spent years living withand serving a rich NYC pharmaceutical executive. I asked him what the hardest thing he had him do was and he said “Party with him nonstop for a month” and regaled me with tales of him traveling with thousands of dollars in cash on a money belt, next to another money belt full of exotic recreational substances. Best accusational quote of the recollection “You ate all my Xanax!” 

I spent a few days exploring. Some highlights include the Duck Duck Bar in Brooklyn (good DJs/ambiance), the famous Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho (croissant + donut = cronut, shot glass made out of cookies filled with milk), the DoubleDown Saloon in East Village (super dive-y, has oddly delicious ‘Ass Juice’ [because you pound it]), a giant abandoned 20th century granary in Red Hook (I climbed it, skirted danger), the Barcelona Bar in Midtown (expensive spectacle shots a la Espit Chupitos), Koronet Pizza ($4 pizza slices, each piece is like a square foot), Mamoun’s Falafel and Papaya King in West Village (‘best falafel’ and hot dogs in city, respectively), and seeing a man walking around with a live, nonplussed cat on his head.


In online happenings, theskint.com gives you whats cheap and free around NYC every day, while Babycastles is an Arabic video game art collective in Brooklyn with some of the most ersatz web design I’ve ever seen (click through and see). Then there’s Circle Rules Football, created by an NYU student and played with a yoga ball, one goal, and perpetually wrestling goalies. I gotta find my local chapter!


Astore by Amazon let you make a little corner of the web filled with affiliate links – handy.

AdventurousKate.com aims to show the world that solo female travel is possible – certainly a misconception I’ve had to disprove many times over the years.

The OODA loop was created in the military but now used in commercial and business endeavors – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Less of an command than a way of thinking, apparently many tech companies use this when reacting to competition.

Lastly, David Cain’s piece on how the forty hour workweek has already designed your life for you hit me hard. He highlights the disparity between the traveler, who has plenty of time but no money, and the white collar worker, who has plenty of money but no time. Thus, we spend our money on high cost, high entertainment pursuits in the scant evenings and weekends we have left – reminds me of my Frugal Margarita observations on freedom versus value. Yikes.

  • “The perfect customer is dissatisfied but hopeful, uninterested in serious personal development, highly habituated to the television, working full-time, earning a fair amount, indulging during their free time, and somehow just getting by. Your dollar goes a lot farther on the road.”