Dumb

Todays’ inspiration comes from the excellent post by Shawn Blanc from several months ago – Dumb – a post by Shawn Blanc.

I am fortunate enough to own a decent watch – a Tag Heuer, given to me by my father when I turned forty years old (nearly four years ago, now). The watch tells the time, and gives me the current date in a little window. That’s it. It’s waterproof, shockproof and looks beautiful. It also cost more than my iPhone – in fact, it cost twice as much as my first car.

If I were to be offered such limited functionality in anything other than a watch then I would be horribly disappointed and wouldn’t buy it. Yet I put up with this in a watch simply because it has two functions – to tell me the time, and to act as the only piece of jewellery I wear (apart from my wedding ring, of course). I have seen the pebble on another mans’ wrist and it looks like a ridiculous piece of cheap plastic.

Perhaps this is me being a snob – no, I take that back, this <strong>is</strong> me being a snob. I love my expensive watch for the sense of pleasure it gives me when I look at it, the heavy sense of solidity I get when I snap it onto my wrist, and the feeling of value I have in this adornment – it carries value and will do for years, and in years to come I’ll be able to hand it down to my son as a family heirloom.

My phone provides me all the notifications I need and it sits in my pocket. If I need to check my twitter feed, or email, or anything else, then I pull the phone out of my pocket and I check it. It’s that conscious action that makes me mindful of the time I am spending on it, and as such it stays at the front of mind. By slightly pulling up my shirt cuff and glancing at my watch I find out what time it is – I don’t need to interact with my phone and I don’t get distracted as a result.

I know that this level of interaction is not the norm for a lot of geeky people; especially if they use their devices to handle their daily interaction. I use a desk phone at work, and a company laptop, so I only rely on my phone for personal stuff and so I can afford to put it in my pocket and ignore it. I am fortunate in this regard. I can understand the need for notifications if it is work related, but do we really need every facet of our social interactions to be pushed in front of our eyes at the moment it is received? I get enough of that on my phone when I do occasionally look at it; having that information in front of me at all times would be a special kind of torture.

In the future, when I earn more money and have more disposable income, I’ll upgrade my watch to something more expensive and equally jewel like. It will still just tell the time.

Progress

I may have used that title before.

At 80% through the current 100 day cycle, 90% through the 200 day cycle, I thought I’d pause for a moment and reflect on my progress so far. This is helped by the lazy Sunday morning feeling I have right now.

So far, I haven’t skipped a day in my 500 word journey, and neither do I intend to. Bloodycomplaining.com got this far before I shut it down as I had nothing to say; I’m clearly better at sticking to some things now.

Public posting takes its toll on the writing – as I expected, I now write more slowly and am less open. That’s absolutely where I expected to be and I’m fine with that.

Looking back at projects doesn’t show a lot of progress so far. This isn’t a great surprise, but I did wonder the other day if I’ll ever be as productive as I think I want to be. It’s a strange set of circumstances that causes me to have loads of project ideas but fail to achieve anything with any of them; most of them struggled to even get started.

I didn’t write today’s post to start remonstrating with myself about a lack of progress on projects which were never going to get done. They all share the same characteristics, which was an overwhelming enthusiasm which lasted all of three days, followed by a slow decline into mediocrity, procrastination and ultimately realising that they are never going to happen. I’ve killed a lot of projects that barely even got off the ground.

I’ve also done the self analysis thing endlessly and that hasn’t turned up any answers either. I don’t know why I don’t continue with the projects, but lack of motivation obviously is a huge factor. Browbeating myself into working doesn’t work either.

I would like to come to the conclusion that acceptance of my current position is the best way forward. I am the sort of person who had a lot of ideas and doesn’t make any (yet) work. That doesn’t mean I should give up – far from it, I would rather have all these ideas and build up experience than just sit and do nothing – but more that I will have to be happier with the lack of progress until one of two things happen:

  1. a project comes along that galvanises me so much I have to do it at all costs
  2. I manage to pick a project to work on that I can keep pushing through the pain of procrastination and turn it into a success.

My definition of success is not that it’s popular – just that I have completed a project and can say it’s finished. It’s popularity after that will be unimportant as it’s progress that matters here.

All of this is in my future. I promise myself I won’t let progress tail off on writing, and I’ll just keep on going when it comes to turning ideas into projects that at least get started. One of them will eventually turn a corner, I know.

mixed feelings

Today I have a couple of things on my mind. As I write this, it’s Friday and I’m not working today. I have started to think about the project I mentioned a couple of days ago in the motivation piece and I’ve realised that the initial surge of enthusiasm has started to wear off and has been replaced with only a couple of points of concern for me about how I should continue.

One of them is copyright. The material I am working from is highly subject to copyright issues and as such, I may well be incredibly restricted to use or refer to it. While I am still driven to create the content I want to create, the impending problem of having it struck from the internet at a stroke is not very helpful when it comes to the idea of making a living from this sort of thing. Yes, I have an ulterior motive – I want to be able to make money doing hard work – is that so bad?

The other issue is my lack of note gathering experience. I never went to university, and as such, I never really built up the skill of gathering notes on content as an addendum to learning. I will have to build the skill as I go which means I may well end up redrafting early content as I go and the skills improve.

As I started with, the initial enthusiasm has worn off, but not so much that I consider abandoning the project altogether. By going through this, I will pick up a number of valuable skills and a qualification with the potential to earn money so I have an opportunity that I can’t really turn down.

Even as I typed that, I had a sinking feeling that I will abandon the project as fast as I start it. That is not something I want to do – obviously – and as such, this is the sort of test I want to build up my mental endurance. The way to achieve success in this type of thing is to simply stick at it. I’ve managed 277 days of writing 500 words a day – irrespective of the quality – and I want to be able to draw a parallel between that and achieving other tasks. I wrote several months ago that the difference was that the writing I did then was not public, so it could be as poor quality as I liked and I wouldn’t have to think about it. Now that it is public, I’m not terribly sure that the quality has improved measurably (although I am thinking about it more), but I am no more convinced that it is linked to continuous productivity elsewhere.

I’m getting my messages mixed up here. I am trying to create that ‘stick to it’ skill, and writing publicly, I thought, would be a stepping stone. I’m not very sure that this is the case.

I will soldier on. I have an inkling of interest in this project, still, and I have the tools I need to take notes. I have identified a step where something can go wrong – the actual condensing of notes into a publishable form, rather than putting them to one side and telling myself I’ll do them later – and if I can maintain progress and keep on doing all the tasks I need to do to make this work in parallel, then I’ll be good.

Ageing

In less than a weeks’ time I turn 44 years old. I’d like to point out right now that this is not an impassioned plea for presents. I’m not going to put a link to my ~~Amazon Wishlist~~ here.

Over the last few years, I’ve started to realise that getting old is a real thing, and the body changes. I make noises when I sit down. I’m always looking for a place to sit down. My knees hurt sometimes. I have ringing in my ears occasionally. I am beginning to reminisce about the way things were. I was never particularly nostalgic, but I catch myself occasionally donning the rose tinted spectacles and thinking back to days gone by when things were simpler and easier. I’m not in any hurry to rush back to those days, mind you – a distinct lack of internet would make it a tad difficult for me to keep myself entertained.

I am, I think, firmly approaching the territory of middle age. I suppose I would never want to admit I am actually middle aged, but I suppose at some point I just have to give in to inevitability. When I was younger, middle aged was when a person reached their forties; now I am pushing that definition back to the fifties, but that milestone is still only six years away. Never mind, I’ll be well on my way to millionairehood by then.

It’s funny how the feeling of getting old changes dramatically depending on your perspective. My sense of oncoming age is brought about more by the physical differences – the hearing, knees, hair in ears syndrome – rather than an internal sense of ageing. If you were to ask my subconscious, it would swear blind that I was about eighteen but had a massive amount of experience and memories to draw from. Nevertheless, my subconscious can’t ignore the fact that the eighteen year old it thinks it is, has a spare tyre and can’t jog up stairs as easily as it expects to be able to.

In a post like this, where I address productivity issues, or getting better after an illness, or being more determined to do better at a thing (hence the mini torrent of writing every day), I’d look to come up with a plan for improvement, but of course I can’t do that with old age, I just have to grin and bear the wispy hair and crinkling skin, the irritability and temporary deafness, the creaking knees and expanding waistline, the failing eyes and the ability to simply sit and stare into the distance for ages. I also get cold easily.

The benefits of being middle aged is that one is expected to have disposable income at this point; If I were like some friends, I would be in the position that my children would be grown up by now and ready to fly the nest, and I would have a life of a paid off mortgage, cruises, and a mercedes benz parked in the garage. But, because I like to do things differently, I am a father to a newborn, and I am discovering that life as a 44 year old new dad is pushing my energy levels to new lows every day.

Please note that despite all this, I cannot complain. I have a good life, the experiences that mean I am unlikely to make catastrophic mistakes, and the love of a beautiful woman and our beautiful little boy. I may be old, and getting older, but I am a happy man.

Motivation

It’s funny how motivation can strike you in different ways. I am suddenly taken with a burst of motivation for a new project, and at the moment the motivation is bleeding off into other things too – not that it’s diminishing the optimism I have about the new project, but it seems to be growing. I can give myself a few minutes every now and then to research an aspect of the new project, or record a series of (organised) notes about the new project, and it spurs me on to get going on my other things and daily work too.

This is a good feeling.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt motivated about a personal project, over and above the initial surge of enthusiasm. I hope that this feeling stays, but based on previous experience I have to be mindful of the potential for this enthusiasm to fade away after a couple of days once the project starts to grip and the workload starts to bite. I think this one helps because I actually have a reason to do it that is associated with the adoption of a skill, the skill will benefit me throughout my life, and the acquisition of the skill is not one that is trivial. I also understand the principles of the skill and so am more confident that I can build a solid platform for disseminating what I learn to other people.

I’m trying not to break into details about this project because I’m mindful of not overcommitting. There is a balance to be struck between going on about something and overcommitting myself into revealing too much and getting carried away about what I am capable of delivering. I want to be able to ship this project. I want to be able to make sure that this is something that happens and I make sue I make the most of my enthusiasm and have enough grit and determination to actually deliver the thing when it turns from a fun idea into a hard project. The skill that I am learning is one that I have wanted to learn for several years – almost a decade, in fact – and as such I well know that I have started several times over and abandoned the idea when it turned into something too hard to learn.

There are multiple ways of dealing with this – I fervently believe at this point that the process of not only learning, but building a set of tutorials around what I learn, will help me fix the knowledge more firmly in my mind – thus ensuring that I maintain the level of knowledge without losing interest because I forget things as fast as I learn them – and by building tutorials I will actually be able to teach others and help them, so building a useful resource in the future. It essentially hinges on the fact that I want to learn this anyway, and I’ll be able to maintain this momentum when the going gets tough.

Small business

A few years ago I owned a small business. Well, I say I owned it, what I actually did was register a company name, have business cards printed, set up a website, print flyers, and attend a couple of local networking events, but do you know what arose from that?

Unsurprisingly, not much.

I learnt a lot about myself over those three months – a time when I was between jobs, having been made redundant thanks to the crash of a Building Schools for the Future marketplace and yet to be offered a job at an IT company. I had decided that I should tap into all that lucrative consultant moolah just at the worst point, when the market was suddenly flooded with thousands of people with exactly the same skill set as me. Sadly, I had also decided that my animal magnetism was sufficient to draw in all the customers like magic and I could simply spend a little time pretending I was working on finding business, when in fact, I was kidding myself.

I managed to get up early and go to networking breakfasts, and even had a couple of conversations with people who were all desperately trying to sell me services I neither wanted or could afford, and the arrival of another unconnected newbie in their midst did not do much for their prospect of raising business. In fact, as I write this, I recall two different networking meetings – one which was tiny and clearly trying to get itself started, and the other a massive monopoly that shut me out after three sessions for being in direct conflict with another on the group.

Looking back, they were probably right. I wasn’t prepared for that life at all.

The lesson I learned from that little episode in my life was that preparing to strike out on your own takes a lot more than getting business cards printed. I still have those business cards, and they are very nice. I never earned enough to cover those, never mind all the other bits I had acquired. I still have a box of leaflets in the attic that I haven’t thrown away yet. No, the life of a self driven consultant is one of being constantly hungry for new business and being able to dive right out without a safety net, something I was never all that good at. I have a friend who is, and as a result he is constantly turning new opportunities down, and earns considerably more than I suspect I ever will.

Still, I have learnt that my place in life is surrounded by others. As much as I do want to do something productive with my life besides the day job, I must reluctantly admit that the execution of my many ideas has absolutely non existent, and I can’t claim to be the type who doesn’t have ideas. This blogging experiment – the 30 days of posts – is to get me more comfortable with the feeling of public writing and the need to create something every day. If it sparks an idea in me, then great – but right now, it’s simply a healthy distraction from the feeling that I should really be doing something else.

Humble

There’s a lot to be said for being humble. Let’s just define what I mean by humble – because it has a lot of different connotations depending how arrogant you are.

I define humble as not being arrogant. How’s that for a circular argument? OK, let’s start again; I think that being humble is associated with a number of other qualities – being quietly spoken and certain of your position in life, showing confidence but not overly so, being polite and considerate to others, regardless of their behaviour around you or those you love, showing respect to others whether or not they have earned it, avoiding bragging and acknowledging others’ help in achieving your successes.

A lot of internet fame and fortune is, in my eyes, bought at the expense of others. To be humble doesn’t mean that you don’t celebrate your successes , far from it – you do so with obvious happiness but in doing so you celebrate with those around you, showing them you appreciate the role they played in your success. Before you think you are capable of doing everything on your own, think again. I’m writing this on a laptop which was manufactured for me by another company, comprised of thousands of hard working people who work together to make a product I know and love. The laptop runs an operating system that has been continually revised to make sure it’s cutting edge and these upgrades have been provided for free.

I use publishing software which is free, run on a server which is incredibly cheap as a result of others working hard to consolidate their purchasing and configuration power into making servers fast, cheap and accessible. Anything I write on this site which is popular (eventually, I hope) had sprung out of my mind but the only way I can get it to you, dear reader, is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Everything I do in my day to day life is based on the actions of others, and I am at pains to make sure that they know that. I can create whole new streams of business at work, but the trust the customers place is not just in me, but the reputation that has been built by many others before me. I define humbleness as the core part of my being because it grounds me and makes me aware of my place in the world. Through this, I can stand tall and be confident, knowing that in doing so I have a team of people around me that are supportive of me as I am of them.

I can go home and be loved even when I am ill and cranky, my son will fall asleep in my arms because I offer him a warm and comfortable place to be that he can trust, and when he falls asleep I know that my role in life is complete.

Being humble, to me, is about offering support, warmth and love to others before I seize it all for myself. It’s about being aware that I am one of many people, and together we define what happens in this world.

I know just when to do things

I have been struggling with productivity today, because my jaw is aching and my teeth are bleeding and I feel tired and grouchy and oh for god’s sake just leave me alone!

This is the best time to get something done. Funnily enough, I had just that thought when I was moping about the house and it has led me into writing todays’ post (I’m writing this on Sunday for posting later on in the queued series I have built up). I felt like crap and I wanted to lie down on the sofa, despite the fact that I knew I was just feeling sorry for myself. I took this as my cue for getting up, grabbing my mac and just starting to type.

These sorts of inspirations don’t lend themselves to easy editing later on, but as I’m mentioned earlier, I don’t tend to edit these posts – I just leave them where they stand as markers of my writing ability at the time that I threw them together. For me right now, the writing is the important thing. I must keep going on at the ability to sit down at a laptop keyboard and type, even when it feels like my mind is empty and I just can’t think of anything to keep me going.

I suffer really badly with ‘put it off until tomorrow’ syndrome – otherwise known as blatant procrastination. I have a wealth of thinking on the reasons and have tried multiple ways of dealing with it, but ultimately it does all come down to simply getting up and doing the thing that you have been putting off. There’s an argument for having a bunch of tracker tools and reminders to keep you in the zone – and I certainly have a wealth of those – but there is no replacement for just getting up and doing the work. That’s why I am plugging on now, writing this, when I should really go back and check the work and the quality of what I’m writing, instead of letting it just spill out of my mind and onto the page.

The desire to stop, go back, and revise as I write is another thing that has to be avoided as much as the desire to not get up and do the thing that you are supposed to be doing right now – the voice that causes doubts, or gives you alternate things to do when you know you should be concentrating on the thing that is important to you. Seth Godin put it brilliantly when he has described it several times as the lizard brain. The Lizard brain is the neanderthal mind and reaction to challenging things that causes you to stop and crawl back into your cave – just do nothing.

All of us have this, it’s just our ability to ignore it that is stronger in some rather than others. I have a particularly weak ability to do it and I use a variety of tools to get me up and get me going, and ignore the lizard brains’ cries to go back and edit and revise and do something else altogether that is an awful lot easier.

I won’t go into them now. I’ve just managed to blast out 500 plus words, my target for the day, by simply keeping my head down and writing. My apologies if it’s all garbage, but it’s been produced in the face of wanting to do something else so it stays.

One week in

One week ago I decided to take the 500 words a day that I was writing for myself, and make them public. One week later, I’ve found a change in the way I write and what I write about.

Whereas before I wrote for the Day One app that I used to store all my daily notes, now I find myself writing for the web; and although I am not consciously editing my work, I am taking a little more care with the stuff I write.

I must say that I am a long way away from full blown editing of the written pieces and this shows in some of the content I’ve written. I have found that I am more willing to write content in advance – and in some instances I have felt inspired enough that I have written huge chunks in one go and given myself the time to edit it later. This is a blessed relief as I had two teeth taken out on friday, and it’s not been easy to cope with the continual bleeding and discomfort, which is sadly a natural part of having teeth removed when you’re on warfarin.

But, back to the point. I have considered what I’m actually achieving by writing 500 words a day, and so far the only reason I can come up with is that it’s a worthwhile exercise – a commitment that shows I can do regular work and not bow to the temptation to avoid it, or put it off.

It’s amazing what building up a commitment streak can do to your desire to keep writing; I’m amazed that I have managed to continue to churn out such volume over such an extended period. More so now that I am publishing this stuff on the web.

My original commitment was to build up the habit, and now it’s to sharpen my prose. When I started this a week ago, I had no idea if I were capable of writing decent quality words everyday, but so far I have surprised myself. I can only imagine (and hope) that my writing gets better over time. Still, the writing has to result in the means to an end. Despite all the projects I have promised myself would get off the ground once I have managed a better writing style, I have not yet done anything with them – it’s hard to say why at this point, other than just blame it all on procrastination, which sometimes feels like a handy excuse.

I’m still searching for the thing that I can do that gives me a sense of purpose outside of the normal work environment. I find it a little sad that I haven’t managed to locate it yet, despite quite a few years of searching; of course the thing I am looking for might well be there already and is sitting in the pile of great ideas waiting for me to shine the light of my attention on it. I really hope so.

While I enjoy my writing, that fact that I have to set myself a writing streak simply to do the words every day is a sign that I might not be as committed to the projects as well as I thought.

Fear

I write this in the waiting room of my dentists surgery, gripped with fear and quite frankly terrified. I’m about to have a wisdom tooth removed and two fillings.

This post will show both sides of the fear as I am unlikely to have this finished before I am called into the surgery.

Even as I write this on my phone, I’m finding myself distracted and drawn away by other things – my brain is desperately trying not to think of what is coming up next, so I am unwittingly diving off into mental tangents all the time. For example, that series of leaflets over there on charges? Fascinating. Instructions on sneezing safely? Really important. There are a host of wall mounted posters here that are constantly dragging me away.

My relationship with fear is, well, not easily explainable. I have had far worse healthcare treatment in the past that lasted longer and undoubtedly was considerably more painful, but of course I know that after the fact – I remember how bloody scared I was before that started, but a week in it was old hat.

Rationally, I know that this will be exactly the same way. I can’t help, however, imagining all sorts of horror stories that will occur to me in that chair. I find it funny that despite my age and my life experiences, I still manage to be terrified about new things.

It’s the new things that scare me – the new experiences, good or bad. I have had trepidation about the smallest things – meeting new people, taking on new responsibilities – a host of new things that always, without fail, end up to be trivial and not worth the worry.

I am writing this second half of five hundred words several hours after the dentist has finished with me. As I suspected, I was not wracked with pain or had my teeth mangled, so I should be able to face it in the future without concern. The tone of this writing may well have changed from the first part not least because I am now full of painkillers, which have tended to give me a different perspective on life; funny how codeine can do that to you – but that’s a different story.

Have I got a new perspective on fear now? Well, you’d think that I would, having just seen both sides of the coin in a single day. But, sadly, not. I am still well aware that if I were to be put back into the same position I was this morning, even with the knowledge that I have now, I would be just as scared and just as worried. Dealing with fear isn’t something that simply goes away – we are scared for a reason and I’m not one of those people who can simply rationalise it away.

I’ve been scared of treatment before, and that’s for good reason. The fear I experience when contemplating meeting new people or putting my writing on the line for public consumption doesn’t come with such a good reason, but it’s no more easily explained away.