Hustling

Hustling can seem like frenzy. But it’s not. Like not sleeping, working late, moving like a hurricane.

So many people seem to hold this as the ideal. Like sleeping only 4 hours a night is a point of pride. But in most cases it’s not. It usually just means you lack focus, and the discipline to say “no” to wasteful actions.

Elon Musk said matter-of-factly in an interview that if you’re working 80 hours a week you’ll get twice as much done as the guy who is working 40 hours a week. But he’s ignoring the effect of diminishing returns. I would wager that hours 41 through 80 aren’t nearly as effective as the first 40. How can he not see the flaw in this? Why is he letting his ego run the show?

Maybe hustling doesn’t look like frenzy– maybe it’s more like a quiet intensity. The ability to focus on a single point. To control yourself so you can control the task. Maybe that’s hustle.

Then you swiftly, calculatedly move on to the next one. Keep your desk clean, literally and metaphorically.

A rifle, not a shotgun.

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Stop Procrastinating

Some people never procrastinate. I am not one of them, and I don’t understand them.

Instead, I struggle every day against the tendency to sit around, waste time on the internet, and generally sabatoge the opportunities that I work hard to expose myself to.

I have a wide assortment of tactics which I’ve pulled from a variety of sources. The best way I’ve fount for beating procrastination is to alternate between these approaches. They all achieve the same end, but they attack the problem from different angles. I’ll work with one concept, study it, write reminders, and try to keep it at the top of my head for as long as possible.

But no matter how hard I try, it’s effectiveness inevitably fades.

As Emerson says, “each will bear an emphasis of attention once, which it cannot retain, though we fain would continue to be pleased in that manner.”

When it happens I move on to a new approach.

Here are a handful of anti-procratstination tactics. I’m sure the list will grow as I get older, but I hope it’s of some use to others who read it today.

  1. Wage war. Inspired by the word of Steven Pressfield, namely the War of Art. Imagine yourself entrenched in a violent battle with Resistance, the malicious force that keeps you distracted and complacent. Now respect yourself like the warrior you are and go beat it into submission.
  2. Have fun. The opposite of #1, but equally effective. Remind yourself that you’re doing this because you enjoy it. (If that isn’t true deep down, then you have other issues you need to address.) Treat the task like a game. Use humor. Try to introduce an element of lightness to it, and the hardness will dissolve away.
  3. Personify it. Tim Urban of Wait But Why created the concept of the Instant Gratification Monkey and his counterpart, the Panic Monster, as a way to understand the forces at play in your head when you’re engaged in your work, distracted, or anywhere in between. If you can name your emotions, then all of a sudden you’re not having an inner struggle of willpower anymore. You can be objective and strategic in your efforts to get shit done.
  4. Be an artist. Become the artistic director of your life. This is related to #2. Realize that your life is one big art project. Your job is to make it a masterpiece. Read biographies and obituaries for inspiration and see how masterfully others have pulled it off.
  5. Put your back against the wall. People fight harder when they’re backed into a corner. Harness this power by finding something that stresses you out enough to buckle down and get to work. Imagine your future children– how are you going to feed them? Or your own retirement– have you even begun to prepare? If you don’t have a compelling stressor, invent one. Drop out. Quit the job. Pledge to make a donation that you can’t afford. Make it public so you won’t back down. Now get to work.
  6. Anticipate death. Robert Greene’s advice is to remind yourself this 10 times every hour. You will find yourself wasting less time. People have been doing this for centuries, in fact. And it works. If you feel death hanging over you every day, you want to make it count.
  7. Sweat it out. Go for a run. Lift. Box. Swim. Anything to get your body moving. This gives you a little win which you can use to boost your confidence. When I run 5 miles first thing in the day, I feel like I’ve already won. Now I can start working on whatever task comes up, because if I make any progress it’s like extra credit.
  8. Small steps. Break it down until it’s managemable.
  9. Think of how far you’ve come.
  10. Remember all the people who are counting on you. Don’t let them down.

There are a million and one productivity tips and life hacks out there, but sometimes it feels like they’re treating a symptom of a much deeper affliction. If you don’t understand and address the core of why you’re procrastinating– maybe unhappiness with your life, low confidence, fear, or poor health– then all the life hacks in the world aren’t going to help you.

What’s worked for me, and what I suggest to others: Stop looking for hacks. There is no magic bullet.

Ask yourself what you really want. Don’t stop asking until you know. It doesn’t have to be ultra-specific, but it probably needs to be more specific than it is right now.

In the mean time, accept that procrastination is not something you beat all at once, like a lightbulb going off. There will be no epiphany here. Instead, try to fight procrastination 1% better every day. You will make progress.

I’m Making a Product

I thought since I’m bringing a product to market that I ought to record what I’m doing. I’m starting late, so here’s a summary of what I’ve done so far.

The product: I’m creating a card game for musicians. This was inspired by the fact that I’ve always been drawn to improvisation, but I’ve never been very good at it. Or at least I’ve never been very comfortable with it. Also, I think people have a real desire to learn improvisation in a way that isn’t strictly based on jazz or rock.

In short, I see some problems with the way music is taught is all wrong. I assume there are other people who feel the same way. So I think there’s an opportunity to help. They say you should scratch your own itch, right?

Timeline:

  • February – Brainstorming obsessively. Trying desperately to get all my ideas down on paper, whether they’re relating to strategy, marketing, design, influences, or the product itself. I tried Evernote but it got too hard to manage and I ended up putting everything into a massive Excel spreadsheet with a million tabs, one for each “theme” that I need to be thinking about.
  • Early March – Actually started creating the game. To test the market, I decided I would make something PDF-based so I could give it away for free. I read a few books about improvisation and music, and revisited several more, along with papers and albums from a few years ago when I was studying music seriously.
  • Mid-late March – I settled on a name (Tonic), pulled the nuts and bolts of the design together (fonts, colors, format, etc.), and build a basic landing page. The page linked to a PDF which I designed in Word and had an email subscription list. I posted to Reddit and got about 100 email signups, 5000 downloads, and hundreds of enthusiastic comments. My idea was validated. I decide to launch on Kickstarter. Full steam ahead.Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 8.19.34 PM
  • Early April – I researched manufacturers and decided what the game would look like. This was a lot of late nights emailing manufacturers and trying to understand design software. In the future, design is something I will definitely outsource. Not a strength or an interest of mine.
  • Mid-late April – I have samples in hand that I am satisfied with. Created a twitter account and am building it by churning followers and posting daily-ish improv-themed inspiration videos. Averaging about 30 new followers per day. Starting to think about the video.
  • Early May – Here’s where things get tricky. The social media ends up taking way longer than I had expected, and now it’s time to figure out how to sell this thing. I’m spending a lot of time writing and rewriting the positioning statement. Who specifically is this product for, and why do they care? This is all multiple times harder because I should have done it long before the product was designed.
  • Mid May – I am finally fleshing out the positioning and am working on the video. Identifying a story board is like pulling teeth. I spend a day or two filming and editing a rough cut. Then I trash it and to another one. I am humbled to realize just how little I know about video, photography, lighting and audio. Everything I do seems amateurish. Should I hire a professional and sacrifice control? Or do it myself and have the last word on everything? I opt for the latter.
  • Late May /early June – I scrap video #2 and do it again. Between filming, re-shooting, and editing, it takes days. But it’s getting closer.

Today is June 2. Video #3 is pretty good, but I need help with the audio. My voice isn’t good enough. I decided to hire a voiceover professional on Fiverr.

The Situation

Someone did you wrong and put you in an awkward position. This feels uncomfortable, but it is an opportunity in disguise.

  • Confront the problem head-on. Think of all the things you can use this to practice: empathy, acceptance, peristance, courage.
  • Notice I didn’t say confront him head-on. There is a difference.
  • Place your emotions and your preferences firmly on the bedrock of WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL.
  • Go back in that room and act with courage and nerve. Let his actions and words flow over you like waves crashing on rocks on the shore. They can never touch what is inside.
  • You lost some money. Forget the money. Deal with this problem and it will teach you lessons that you would gladly pay to learn. Dollar for dollar, it’s probably paid for itself already. Pretend the money is gone, never to return. Now make the most of the opportunity.
  • Apply amor fati. To not wish it was any other way. Not “this isn’t so bad,” but “YES. This is right. I love that this has happened.”

Does it make sense yet?

  • You acted today with dignity and courage already. Don’t waste your time wondering if this was a big deal or not. It is important to you, and that’s all that matters.
  • Remember that he and you both will be dead soon. None of this will matter. Neither of you will care and neither of you will exist. Whoever can wrap his head around that fact and feel it in his gut more deeply is the winner.
  • Most of all, remember that this conflict is a moment in your life. To deny it and to wish it were any other way is ignorance. To be ignorant to the reality of your own life is to deny your existance.

You already know what principles should guide your life– so go do it. Be the man in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and blood. Get embarrassed, humiliated, sweaty, angry, and flustered. Let him fight you, piss you off, tear you apart.

Because the alternative is to do nothing. Is that what you prefer?

Deprivation

I went into an isolation tank this weekend. It’s a coffin-sized enclosure filled with a few inches of saltwater. You go in and you float on the water for 90 minutes or so.

You are completely in the dark, no sounds except for your own breath and your heartbeat. Total nothingness.

When people talk about information overload, they’re usually talking about digital stimuli. Mass media, social media, email. The isolation tank helps with this.

But there’s a different kind of information overload that you can’t stop by crawling into a tank or wearing a sleep mask.

It’s the kind that happens when you see it when you share an idea with someone before it’s ready. And they give you their opinion, and just like that, your idea has changed. Maybe you lose a little confidence in yourself, or maybe you change your idea without being aware of it. New ideas are fragile. They’re vulnerable to the opinions of others, and they’re easily swayed from their original course. In a sense, the problem is that there’s too much information out there. The new idea gets overwhelmed and crippled or altered to an unrecognizable state. The extra information didn’t help.

The same thing happens when you hear a brilliant piece of advice from a book or a friend. You cling to it because you know it’s important. But soon it gets crowded out. Diluted by the constant flow of social interactions and activities and information that make up daily life.

Emerson wrote about this: “None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to the whisper which is heard by him alone.”

It’s tragic that we are usually aware of these fragile ideas and important thoughts, but we let them die anyway. We are often keenly aware of our failures to protect them. The whisper that Emerson mentioned is lost like a sine wave in a sea of white noise.

Limit your consumption of literal information, media, messages, but also limit the exposure to anything that makes it harder to hear the whisper. Identify and avoid things that sap your confidence, upset your flow, and make you second guess your intuition.

Information doesn’t just come in the form of a scrolling feed on your phone. Information is an unenthusastic opinion. It’s standoffish body language. It’s reading so many new books that you forget the best parts of the old ones.

There is value in deprivation. In having fewer thoughts and less social exposure so that your thoughts can mature and take root. And once they do, if they last long enough, they become strong and sturdy like an oak tree.

Resources for Doing Business in China

Blogs:

The Elevator Life – A couple young guys who moved straight to China after graduation to start product businesses. Great short videos and a whole community of makers and entrepreneurs.

China Importal – General info on importing, fraud prevention, dealing with factories.

Jacob Yount – An industry pro with valuable insight into the cultural differences that you need to take into account.

Articles:

The meaning of art according to Xi Jinping

Cultural psychology of the West and Asia

My experience so far with Alibaba (Reddit)