Deeper, Not Wider: Some Upcoming Changes to the Blog

Wow. This blog is officially six months old.

In less than half a year, we’ve built an email list of 20,000 readers and get hundreds of thousands of readers each month.

How did this blog grow so fast? Well, mostly because I focused on growth.

But now that we’re a decent size, I think it’s time for some changes.

There’s no point in constantly fighting for new readers if I’m losing old ones. Somebody who reads just one of my articles doesn’t benefit too much in the long run. It makes more sense, then, to focus on deepening relationships with existing readers.

To do this, I’m making a few test changes in the coming weeks.

Blog Post Styles

Usually, I spend hours trying to get the “presentation” just right for blog posts. I’ll edit, re-edit and re-re-edit the structure of an article to make it the best it can be.

This is great for getting a post to go viral (and reach lots of people). But it doesn’t help my serious readers—they always read everything I write carefully.

All the time spent on presentation means less time to do other things.

As a result, I have a backlog of ideas that (1) I don’t have the time to write about and (2) are to “nerdy” to resonate with a wide audience.

In the next few weeks, in addition to “regular” articles, I’ll be writing more nerdy stuff to see if you guys like it.

Patreon System Updates

One big goal this year is to make the blog self-sufficient.

This means having everything work without relying on advertising or product sales. This is only possible due to reader support.

The patron system has been great for this.

However, the reward tiers that involve boxes of gifts have been a problem.

Two reasons for this:

  • Anybody can assemble a box of gifts and send it to you
  • Time I spend shopping is less time spent on reading / writing

So, I’ll be making some adjustments to the reward tiers in the coming weeks.

I’ve changed the setup to offer monthly video calls, and I’ll be adding more tiers with reader feedback.

One-On-One Coaching

A lot of people have contacted me acting for help with specific, personal problems.

Until now, two things have kept me away from coaching:

  • Many-to-one philosophy. I thought that writing was the best way to reach as many people as possible. Which is still true. But it’s also a terrible way to establish a conversation with you, the reader.
  • Fear. Coaching puts me directly responsible for the well-being of one person. And I hate letting people down, so there’s a lot of pressure there.

Recently, work with a few people in my private life has convinced me that there’s nothing better than coaching for people who (1) need serious help or (2) want results fast.

And there’s a lot in it for me too, because I find that—aside from books—I learn the most about human nature via deep conversations with people. Helping you with your specific struggles teaches me about how to help everyone else as well.

For the next quarter, I’m trying out a new coaching method of which focuses on giving you the skills to manage yourself.

If interested, send an email to charles {at} marketmeditations {dot} com with the subject line “Online Coaching”.

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Hope that gives you some context on what changes will be happening going forward.

Thanks for being a reader, Charles

Paul Graham on Getting Rich – The Two Things You Need

There are many ways to get rich.

But, in my mind, there’s only one real way:

“Want to become a billionaire? Then help a billion people.” -Peter Diamandis

Paul Graham knows all about getting rich this way. He did it in 1998, when his company, Viaweb, sold to Yahoo! for $49.6 million.

Now, he helps others do the same a Y Combinator, which helps “incubate” promising new startups. The combined value of YC companies is over $65 billion dollars.

In his book Hackers & Painters, Paul Graham has a chapter titled “How to Make Wealth” that shares the principles behind getting rich.

Let’s take a look.

The Weight of the Average

First, let me clarify something.

Money and wealth are not the same. Money—be it pieces of paper or numbers on a screen—is a store of value. Wealth, on the other hand, is value itself.

Businesses (non-corrupt ones, at least) aren’t about making money:

“People think that what a business does is make money. But money is just the intermediate stage—just a shorthand—for whatever people want. What most businesses really do is make wealth. They do something people want.”

Now, there’s a downside to working for a company. Whenever you’re part of a bigger whole, you can become burdened with the “weight of the average”:

In a company, the work you do is averaged together with a lot of other people’s. … if they are paying you x dollars a year, then on average you must be contributing at least x dollars a year worth of work, or the company will be spending more than it makes, and will go out of business.”

These days, people throw around the word “equality.” But let us not confuse equality of opportunity with equality of outcome.

Graham mentions how two programmers (getting the same salary) can be entirely different in effect:

“…there are huge variations in the rate at which wealth is created. At Viaweb we had one programmer who was a sort of monster of productivity. I remember watching what he did one long day and estimating that he had added several hundred thousand dollars to the market value of the company. A great programmer, on a roll, could create a million dollars worth of wealth in a couple weeks. A mediocre programmer over the same period will generate zero or even negative wealth (e.g. by introducing bugs).

Put another way:

“In the right kind of business, someone who really devoted himself to work could generate ten or even a hundred times as much wealth as an average employee.”

This explains why it’s hard to get rich in big, slow-moving companies:

“If you want to go faster, it’s a problem to have your work tangled together with a large number of other people’s. In a large group, your performance is not separately measurable—and the rest of the group slows you down.”

The Two Conditions for Riches

At a company, if your work helps a million people, you probably won’t become a millionaire. That’s because you aren’t directly paid for wealth created.

So the first step to riches is to step away from this to a system where you are directly rewarded for your contribution.

Paul Graham calls this quality measurement:

You need to be in a position where your performance can be measured, or there is no way to get paid more by doing more.

An example of this is software development. If I develop software on my own, selling it to 10,000 people instead of 100 people gives me 100 times the payoff. I get paid for doing more and reaching further.

There’s a second piece to the puzzle, though. How are you going to help a million people in the first place?

People that do this, says Paul Graham, are in positions with leverage:

“…you have to have leverage, in the sense that the decisions you make have a big effect.”

Everyone who gets rich of their own efforts has both of these qualities, says Graham:

“I think every one who gets rich by their own efforts will be found to be in a situation with measurement and leverage. Everyone I can think of does: CEOs, movie stars, hedge fund managers, professional athletes.”

The Takeaway

But I’m not big on “riches for riches” sake. I’m more interested in the wealth side of things. I want to be rewarded for helping as many people as possible.

That’s what’s so appealing about writing.

The way I have my writing income set up (via Patreon and other sources) is that I only make money when I am doing well. If I don’t get results, I don’t get to eat. The upside, though, is that a perfectly executed article can go on to reach 100k or even 1M people—maximum leverage.

This type of work is not for everyone. There is safety among the average…

But if you want the challenge, if you want to have a bigger impact on the world, and you enjoy the idea of getting paid for your contribution perhaps a measurable, high-leverage occupation is what’s right for you.

All or Nothing Productivity: How Excellence Creates Excellence

There’s a popular saying.

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

I don’t like it.

It’s true, of course. Nothing good in life comes without a tradeoff. But many people misunderstand this. They tend to think that all downsides are equal.

An example. People say things like, “Oh, I want to go to the gym. But I’ve got to focus on my career right now and my work and I just don’t have time. I’m so busy!” The underlying assumption: we must choose between our health or our work.

Nope.

Let us look at an excerpt from Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile:

“…it is a well-known trick that if you need something urgently done, give the task to the busiest (or second busiest) person in the office. Most humans manage to squander their free time, as free time makes them dysfunctional, lazy, and unmotivated—the busier they get, the more active they are at other tasks.”

There’s an asymmetry at play here…

All or Nothing Effects

I’m interested in a lot of things—philosophy, entrepreneurship, biohacking, movement, psychology, writing, social dynamics… I can go on and on.

At any time, I have half-a-dozen projects going on. Recently, I’ve noticed something interesting: When one thing is going well, everything is going well.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you randomly choose one week of my life from the past year. You have a little computer that pulls up all of my “data” from that week.

First, you check my biology. My body fat is under 10%. I’m strong (I just PR’d in the gym). My blood work is excellent. Looks like I’m in good health.

What does the rest of my life look like?

Writing? I averaged 2000 words a day. Reading? Four books finished and twice as many started. Copious notes too. Social life? Excellent. Happiness levels? Consistently 7+/10.

Compare this to another week, when things are not going so well…

My abs have disappeared. Blood pressure is high. Joins are inflamed. I’m sleeping less, eating poorly. Writing quality has dropped. I’m struggling to read, and wasting time on social media. No human contact all week. Happiness levels are at a 4/10 and dropping…

You get the point.

When one thing is good, chances are everything is good. And the opposite is true too.

It’s Not Just a Hamburger

Now, what does the above have to do with you?

Follow me along for a thought experiment…

On your way home from work (you’re walking) you catch a whiff of a rich, salty smell. Hamburgers, from the local fast food joint. Lunch was 6 hours ago. “What the hell,” you say, “it’s just a burger. It won’t matter in the long run…”

Oops.

This is where people get caught. Most of us see decisions in a vacuum.

Yes, a single hamburger won’t make you fat or unhealthy. That’s not the point. The real risk is in the downstream effects of your choices.

Let’s follow the stream downwards.

You eat that hamburger. It sends a rush of pleasant hormones to your brain. You’re happy. The food toxins are absorbed through your gut lining and flow to the brain. Bam, brain fog. Clouded judgment.

Suddenly, fries don’t sound so bad. So you eat some fries. Well, what the hell. Why not some ice cream too.

We’re not done yet.

When you bought that hamburger, you flipped a switch in your brain. The switch says, “Hamburgers OK.”

Guess what happens tomorrow when you walk by the same burger joint? It gets a bit easier to do it again. By eating that burger, smoking that cigarette or shoplifting that pack of gum, you’ve made that much easier for the you of tomorrow to do the same thing again.

So no, it’s not “just a burger.” We’re talking about how one decision affects every single decision for the rest of your life.

That’s the power of downstream effects.

Spirals, Circles and the Power of Momentum

Now, let’s connect downstream effects with the topic of “all or nothing” productivity.

Let me introduce two mental models: the virtuous circle and the minus spiral.

Minus Spirals

The Japanese love making terms that don’t exist in English, and minus spiral (pronounced mainasu supairaru) is one of them.

I like to think of the minus spiral as a whirlpool of negativity. Bad decisions cascade into more bad decisions, which then trigger more bad reactions… Like some crazy nuclear reaction, you get stuck in a downward spiral that is almost impossible to escape from.

Virtuous Circles

The virtuous circle is the opposite of the minus spiral.

Making good decisions, working on health, spending time with good friends, doing good work… All these things feed into one another. More of one thing can lead to more of another.

The farther you are “up” the virtuous circle, the easier it is to stay there.

Excellence creates excellence.

The Takeaway: Invest in Momentum

When you’re charged with positive momentum (you haven’t had junk food in years, you’ve got lots of positive people in your life, you’re working on fulfilling work), bad decisions are easy to recover from.

But when you’re stuck in a minus spiral—hurtful people around you, a shitty job, bad diet, poor sleep, etc.—good decisions are impossible. If you fall too far, it’s impossible to get out without help.

The takeaway: the less positive momentum you have, the more important it is to make the right decisions.

Now, when I recognize I’m losing momentum or even drifting into a negative spiral, I’m willing to spend a lot of resources—money, time, energy—to make sure that things don’t get worse.

Next time you catch yourself asking “What’s the harm?” or “What’s the point?”, don’t forget about the downstream.

Stuck in Unhappiness: How We Get There (And How to Get Out)

There’s a story unhappy people tell.

This story—this myth—is a big reason why unhappy people stay unhappy.

Let’s look at a story I tell myself sometimes, from Theodore Zeldin’s A Intimate History of Humanity:

“…in the beginning everybody lived cosily in a family or tribe, people did not originally even know what loneliness was, never conceiving of themselves as separate individuals. Then suddenly, quite recently, togetherness crumbled. Now, not only is an epidemic of loneliness sweeping the world, hand in hand with prosperity, but the more successful you are, the more likely you are to suffer from it; and money cannot buy you out.”

Pretty convincing, yea? Part of me still believes it.

Zeldin warns against this self-storytelling. If we believe happiness is an impossibility—a long-dead artifact of ancient times—why search for it at all?

Our belief defines our reality.

Humans have always been unhappy at times. And, in each age, they have found a way to fight back.

For another perspective on this matter, let’s dig into the personal notebooks of Samuel Butler, written over 100 years ago:

“At least one half of the misery which meets us daily might be removed or, at any rate, greatly alleviated, if those who suffer by it would think it worth their while to be at any pains to get rid of it.”

How We Get Stuck

How to be happy, says Butler, is not something they teach in school:

“One can bring no greater reproach against a man than to say that he does not set sufficient value upon pleasure, and there is no greater sign of a fool than the thinking that he can tell at once and easily what it is that pleases him. To know this is not easy, and how to extend our knowledge of it is the highest and the most neglected of all arts and branches of education.”

In school, they taught us math. They taught us science. But, in my experience, nobody taught us how to live.

It’s not my goal to argue whether happiness is worth chasing—that’s for you to decide. But if you do want to be happy, then it makes no sense to wait for it to come to you.

Go get it.

There are reasons other than self-storytelling that make people unhappy. Butler shares one of them:

“One reason why we find it so hard to know our own likings is because we are so little accustomed to try; we have our likings found for us in respect of by far the greater number of the matters that concern us; thus we have grown all our limbs on the strength of the likings of our ancestors and adopt these without question.”

I’ve seen it happen. When people make effort to change themselves, they do. In the past, I would look down on those who didn’t change, calling them “lazy” or “stupid.”

Lately, I realize it’s not the case.

People aren’t lazy, they’re just stuck, stuck in a whirlwind of habit and false belief. Without outside help, sometimes they’ll never get out.

Some things that might cause this:

  • Learned helplessness. If you don’t believe it’s possible to improve yourself, you won’t.
  • Blaming the environment. People who complain a lot often believe that it’s the world (not them) that is the source of all their problems. You’re just a drop in the ocean. Why bother to change?
  • Limiting beliefs. When every around you believes money, test scores, prestige, etc. brings happiness, you might believe that too—until it is too late.

You, the reader, are lucky. If you’re here reading this, it means you have the power, the agency, to direct change in your life.

But how do we direct change?

Butler has some ideas on that too…

Getting to Happiness

In his notebooks, Butler goes on to explain how to take control:

“To those, however, who are desirous of knowing what gives them pleasure but do not quite know how to set about it I have no better advice to give than that they must take the same pains about acquiring this difficult art as about any other, and must acquire it in the same way—that is by attending to one thing at a time and not being in too great a hurry.”

Sorry folks, no magic powder here. You can’t buy happiness for three easy payments of $99.99.

With that said, the process is simple (it’s the doing that’s hard). Learning how to be happy is not much different from, say, learning how to juggle.

Challenge Assumptions

First, Butler says to doubt your beliefs:

“Above all things it is necessary here, as in all other branches of study, not to think we know a thing before we do know it—to make sure of our ground and be quite certain that we really do like a thing before we say we do. When you cannot decide whether you like a thing or not, nothing is easier than to say so and to hang it up among the uncertainties.”

Or, put simply:

Make sure you really like something before you say you do. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”

Get in the habit of looking at what you (and the people around you) believe to be true. Ask: “Does this really make me happy? How do I know?”

Test Drive

Sometimes, no amount of armchair philosophy will get you to the right answer.

In times like that, Butler says to a test drive:

“Or when you know you do not know and are in such doubt as to see no chance of deciding, then you may take one side or the other provisionally and throw yourself into it. This will sometimes make you uncomfortable, and you will feel you have taken the wrong side and thus learn that the other was the right one. Sometimes you will feel you have done right. Any way ere long you will know more about it.”

Or, put simply:

Can’t decide? Pick something and try it. If it went well, maybe it’s good. If it didn’t, maybe it’s bad. Keep going until you’re sure.

I thought AcroYoga was the silliest thing ever, a perversion of an ancient art. But hey, I tried it and it was really fun.

The more serious the decision, the more you should in invest in getting it right. Couples that get married a few months after meeting rarely turn out well.

The Great Experiment

If you think about it, what Butler is telling us is something we all knew already.

He’s telling us to:

  • Challenge commonly held assumptions. This includes both your own beliefs and the beliefs of others.
  • Test those assumptions. Instead of philosophizing, live out (or simulate) each option as best you can.
  • Reflect on what you learned from your tests. Apply. Identify new problems or questions.
  • Repeat your tests to make sure you got it right.

Sounds familiar? We learned it science class all those years ago. It’s the scientific method.

So here’s the big takeaway for me.

The how-to of life is not a science. But this does NOT mean we shouldn’t apply methods of science to our lives. And, of course, no easy answers does not mean there are no answers at all.

Maybe that stuff they taught us in school wasn’t so useless after all.

Peter Drucker: How to (Actually) Manage Your Time

Many consider Peter Drucker the most influential thinker in the history of management.

Which is great, if you are a manager.

But what if you’re not? What if you’re a freelancer, an office grunt, or just a hermit living in the woods? Can Drucker still help you?

You bet.

There’s one thing that everyone has to manage. It’s something very close to us—ourselves.

For Drucker, this self-management starts with time.

In The Essential Drucker—an excellent intro to Drucker’s prolific writings (over 30 books!)—there’s an entire chapter devoted to his method of time management.

I’ve used a variant Drucker’s method on and off for a while now. When I do use it, I am a productive beast, averaging 7-8 hours of quality work a day. When I don’t, I average 2-3 hours—no better than the average American.

Let’s take a look at Drucker’s method.

Why Time?

I have a friend who never runs out of startup ideas. Every few weeks, he sends me an excited message that goes something like this:

HEYYYY MANNN! I’ve got this AWESOME idea. Nobody’s thought of it. There’s an inefficiency in the market. All I have to do is exploit it, and BAM!!!!11!!! It’s gonna be the next Facebook!”

Yea, man. You got this.

Five years later, there’s still only one Facebook. And this friend is still teaching English.

What’s wrong here?

Well, a lot is wrong. But, according to Drucker, the most obvious mistake is that he is starting in the wrong place:

“Effective knowledge workers, in my observation, do not start with their tasks. They start with their time.”

I see this often. People make intricate plans for diets, businesses, or world travel and, well, none of it happens. It’s a pleasant fantasy. If you want results instead of fantasies, the first step is to start executing.

And execution starts by mastering your time.

The Three Steps to Master Your Time

Drucker’s method can be roughly divided into three steps.

The first step is to understand.

1. Record Your Time

If you’re like me, you probably read “record your time” and thought something like this:

Pshhhh. Are you kidding? I’m me. ME. I lived it, so I know where my time goes. Why bother to track it?

Nope.

Our minds are fickle, says Drucker:

“Man is ill-equipped to manage his time. Even in total darkness, most people retain their sense of space. But even with the lights on, a few hours in a sealed room render most people incapable of estimating how much time has elapsed. […] If we rely on our memory, therefore, we do not know how time has been spent.”

The only way to stay honest is to track in the moment.
There are countless ways to do this:

“The specific method in which the record is put together need not concern us here. … The important thing is that it gets done, and that the record is made in “real” time…

It doesn’t matter how you do it. Just make sure that you do.

Here are some ways you can try:

  • Automate the tracking with RescueTime. (Note: This only works well if you spend most of your day at your computer.)
  • Semi-automate using a digital time-tracker like Toggl
  • Outsource it to your secretary or VA.
  • Track manually with a spreadsheet or good ‘ol pen and paper

Personally, I track on paper and record everything to a spreadsheet at the end of the day. Drucker recommends doing this for 3-4 weeks. I think 1 is probably enough, for starters.

Either way, take your records and…

2. Diagnose Your Time

The next step is to analyze your records.

Nobody spends their time perfectly, says Drucker:

“I have yet to see a knowledge worker, regardless of rank or station, who could not consign something like a quarter of the demands on his time to the wastepaper basket without anybody’s noticing their disappearance.”

I find that, without time-tracking, more than half of my time goes towards “useless” activities. (Note that is work time. Whether or not to track your social life is a topic for another time.)

The goal during this step is to figure out where time is being wasted. To help figure it out, Drucker gives two questions we can ask.

Question One: “What would happen if this were not done at all?”

“[Ask:] What would happen if this were not done at all? And if the answer is, Nothing would happen, then obviously the conclusion is to stop doing it.”

This is pretty straightforward. If you think something might be useless, take it out and see what happens.

Question Two: “What activities could someone else do better?”

I get stuck here a lot. I tend to think I can do things better than anybody else. Even if that’s true (it’s not), that’s not the point.

The point is that I do some things better than other things. It makes sense to delegate, outsource, automate things that I am less good at so I can do more of what I excel at.

Some things you can try:

  • Automate repeated tasks using apps like Zapier or IFTTT.
  • Optimize work done repeatedly by creating an “Operations Checklist.” (See Marshall’s Progression for more on how to do this.)
  • Outsource by hiring a freelancer to do things that you are less good at (scheduling, babysit, web design, walk the dog, outreach, marketing, etc.)

3. Consolidate Your Time

Step two was about finding wasted time and eliminating it. But there’s another way to manage your time: you can reorganize it.

A one-hour block is not the same as ten six-minute blocks. High-level creative work needs around two hours of focus. If you’re always interrupted by meetings (or kids), no real work will happen.

Drucker recommends that we “block off” at least a quarter of our day to do private, focused work:

“Even one-quarter of the working day, if consolidated in large time units, is usually enough to get the important things done.”

If your work is highly creative (writing, etc.), you might need to block off a lot more.

One Last Thing

Try doing the above three things for a few weeks. I’ve seen impressive results from it.

But there’s a caveat.

This is not one of the things that you just do once in a lifetime. Without periodic attention, we “decay” to our old selves, says Drucker:

“…effective executives have the log run on themselves for three to four weeks at a stretch twice a year or so, on a regular schedule.”

And, when you’ve made the time, consider checking out The Essential Drucker. There’s a lot more good stuff in there.

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