I read a lot of content every day, but one of the few that I revisit often is Paul Graham’s “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule“. Essentially, Paul writes about the difference between how a maker schedules their time and how a manager schedules their time.
The reason I found that article so memorable and fascinating is because I found myself able to relate to both sides on a fairly deep level. Sometimes I work well on hourly divisions of my day, and sometimes I just need to focus in on one thing for a whole day and not be interrupted.
But most days, it’s a combination of the two. I’m generally a maker by early morning and late at night, and a manager by day and afternoon. In fact, I generally feel more productive in the mornings and evenings much more so than the afternoons. I call this “bookend productivity”, the reason why I have lost so many afternoons to unproductive slumps.
I’ve tried a lot of things to be as productive as possible, but somewhere along the line I realized that I was looking at time management all wrong. Connecting it with Paul Graham’s ideas, I realized that to be effective at time management, I had to learn how to be effective at energy management. In other words, it’s not so much about dividing up my time as it is dividing up my energy in a way to get over the humps of the days, weeks, months, and years.
That simple shift in thinking changed almost everything. I began paying more attention to where my energy was going, and what kind of energy certain activities were using. For example, I found that listening to podcasts and reading books work best for me late mornings / early afternoon. I also found that since afternoons seem to be too difficult to get any work done, I generally use that period to meet with people / do more social things.
In the past couple months that I’ve been paying attention to where my energy goes, I’ve found that there are a couple different areas:
- Social energy, the energy that I expend when I’m around people.
- Cognitive energy, the energy used when I’m working on a problem, writing code, etc.
- Linguistic energy, the energy used when reading, writing, or listening.
- Physical energy, the energy used when exercising.
- Emotional energy, the energy used in personal relationships, movies, or other forms of entertainment.
And instead of looking at these energy sources as a reservoir that gets used up, think of it as a muscle that needs to be trained. The more you work on one of these, it will feel good but drain you in the short term, but work you up to be more capable in the long term, and if you work any one of these too hard at any given time, it can drain you to a point where you can’t do any of them.
I’ve found that my most satisfied, productive, and fulfilled days are days in which I have a good combination of all areas and aspects of life.
I’m learning how to drive manual.
And in learning how to drive, like any other active learning process, there are two mentalities that emerge. The Inner Game of Tennis talks about these two mentalities that often are at odds with each other, often leading to a self-sabotage of the learning process.
The first, called the outer self, is the part of the learning process that thinks logically about the situation. For example, in driving stick, the outer self sets specific speeds at which to change gears, and attempts to give specific instructions on what to do with the stick at what point.
In contrast, the inner self is the part that learns intuitively and by feeling. When someone learning to drive stick stalls the car, the inner self assesses how the car felt during the time, and internalizes the feelings associated with failing.
As Timothy Gallwey argues, the inner self is what allows tennis players to achieve mastery through proper focus and mental performance. Most of the time, the outer self is much louder than the inner self, and reacts negatively whenever a mistake is made.
Thus, the challenge in letting the inner self learn properly is about knowing how to quiet the part of the mind that is micromanaging every action. It’s about learning to direct your focus on how things feel, and trusting yourself in the process.
While learning manual, accidentally stalling the car at a stoplight brings out the intense conflict between the inner and outer self. The outer self is calling myself stupid, while the inner self is attempting to learn from the mistake. Of course, since it all happens so fast, it’s easy to let the outer self take over, panic, and stall the car three more times at the same intersection.
Quieting the outer self is about being intentional about recognizing and acknowledging thoughts, but not engaging with or judging them. It’s about learning to focus deeply on what is happening, and how your focus or lack of focus on the task itself is affecting the outcome.
It’s not positive thinking, it’s properly directed focus.
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” -Robert A. Heinlein
Growing up, I was instructed to pick one career and take the path from high school to the lucrative career of my choice. Over and over again, I heard the advice to focus on one skill in order to make a career out of it.
I don’t know about you, but my natural tendencies and interests make such advice nearly impossible to follow. My interests range from technology to education to agriculture to health, making it really difficult for me to simply focus on one of the above.
Recently, I came across Tim Ferriss’s post about being a jack of all trades, and it started to get me thinking about the principles behind the well-intentioned specialization advice.
The argument for becoming a specialist rather than a generalist is that specialists have depth in one field, making it easier to leverage that one skill in order to make money and be effective in his or her career. I find the reasoning behind this argument extremely sound, and agree that everyone should aim to for depth in fields that their interested in.
But what I’ve begun to realize is that people generally overestimate how much time it takes to becoming world class at a skill. With the level of resources we have available to us in our modern day, becoming an expert at certain skills has never been easier.
In fact, I’ve found that people who are constantly learning new things beyond the scope of their comfort zone have an even easier time becoming world class at new skills.
The specialist who spends their entire life learning one skill may make more money doing what they do best, but the generalist who intentionally, systematically, and purposefully learns and explores are much more fulfilled with a vast variety of experiences, can make internal interdisciplinary connections, and are all around much more interesting people to be around.
The key to being successful as a generalist is to be constantly mindful of the story you are creating. The worst generalist, the person which the conventional wisdom warns not to be, is the one who can’t make up their mind about what they want to do, switching focuses whenever something becomes too challenging or emotionally distressing. To be a successful generalist means being very focused on a day to day basis, specializing on a daily basis so that they can generalize on a yearly basis.
The point is, specialization is for insects. Humans have such great capacities to learn and explore a whole breadth of topics as well as take the time to explore the depth, so long as one is intentional about it.
Everything in life whether it be business or family or otherwise, all boils down to interactions and relationships with people.
Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks, A black woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus during the era of racial segregation. But the reason Parks was able to spark such a movement was not because of her brave act. Many blacks during that time were also standing up for themselves when whites mistreated them.
But why was Rosa Parks so successful?
Simply put, Rosa Parks was extremely well connected. She was known by government officials for her work in the NAACP and known by communities for being extremely supportive in schools and churches. She had a way of building rapport with everyone around her.
Then, when the famous event happened on the bus on that historical day, it united everyone who knew her and stirred up a reaction big enough to put the event into history.
The same goes for countless of other instances in history.
It’s easy as a creative or an entrepreneur to think that as long as I build something of quality, people will come. It’s easy to just focus on our craft and not get to know the people and the markets around us. Especially with the internet it’s easy to assume that posting on facebook or tweeting a message will get engagement, but that has no comparison to truly getting to know and building a relationship with someone else.
If you just know how to connect people and don’t have anything of quality, people won’t stay. But when you are both connected and have something incomparable to anything else out there, you can start a movement.
Many of us have dreams.
Whether it be solving a global problem, amassing a large fortune, growing a family, or climbing Mount Everest, all of these tasks are much easier discussed than accomplished.
Because even the grandest dreams are built of seemingly mundane and boring tasks. Becoming a billionaire starts with earning one dollar. Painting a masterpiece starts with one stroke. Climbing a mountain starts with one step.
But others of us just collect tools.
Not everyone has a grand dream for their life. Some people go through the system and conquer the mundane because they are told that having tools will lead to success. They never take the time to find the unique value proposition they bring to the world, because they don’t believe they have any great ideas inside of them. Some people collect multiple degrees, hoping that someday somewhere a company will be kind enough to support the lifestyle they want to lead.
But just as a house won’t build itself by having all the right tools lying around, neither will it get built if there is only a blueprint. Sometimes, the process bears little resemblance to the finished product, but it’s through a combination of vision and execution that a house gets built.
The people who are able to think big, but also persevere and show up regularly are the ones who truly accomplish anything they set their mind to.
Yesterday, upon returning to my car in the parking structure after a long class, I found the driver of the car parked next to me writing a note. As soon as he noticed me, he stopped writing the note and came around my minivan.
“This ain’t a compact car, look how much space you gave me. You’re lucky your s*** doesn’t get keyed.”
It didn’t seem to matter to him that I was clearly parked within the lines. I recognized his frustration, apologized, and went my way instead of attempting to defend myself. As I was driving home, I found that some of the negativity that the guy came to me with had rubbed off on me, and I was replaying what I could have said in that scenario.
Ironically enough, I have been reading Ryan Holiday‘s The Obstacle is the Way, a book full of proverbs based upon stoic philosophy and life lessons. I’ve found countless of situations where the topics discussed in the book are applicable to my daily life, but this situation was one I could not ignore.
Perception is seeing a situation from one’s own perspective, which is often skewed with different emotions and biases. Observation, on the other hand, is being able to see things for what they are, without any hype, emotions, or biases. Someone who perceives will often get caught in a cycle of reacting emotionally and irrationally, and can easily miss an opportunity or solution.
Have you ever noticed that it is much easier to be objective with other people’s problems than your own? Many times our own problems seem to be impossible, insurmountable, and hopeless until we decide to open up and have someone else take a look at our problems.
An outsider brings a fresh, observant perspective because they are usually able to see things for what they are without being tangled in a mess of emotions.
Instead of letting the situation bother me for the next couple of hours, I decided to first put myself in his shoes. He probably had a long day of classes too, and probably just wanted to get home, adding to the frustration when he found it would be difficult for him to get into his car.
Next, I put myself in an outsider’s perspective, seeing that I could have simply been a little more thoughtful next time I parked my minivan into a compact spot, even if I clearly was between the lines.
It’s not about who is right or who is wrong, but seeing the situation for what it is and seeing the lesson.
What stands in the way becomes the way. The obstacle is the way.