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The glamorous side of productivity and self improvement is the big changes. You put your stake in the ground, decide to make a change, and you do it. You start a new set of habits or a new project. These are positive things, but we sometimes forget about the other side of forward progress.
Throughout our lives we are constantly introducing chaos and friction. A new business might mean a new bank account, IRS forms, email address, and a new web site to maintain. A new relationship can disrupt your regular routine. A new set of habits adds more obligation to your day.
The less glamorous side is systematically reducing friction. Sometimes we forget to do this because reducing friction doesn't look like forward progress. It looks like janitorial work, and that's not very exciting.
But reducing friction is what helps you get the most out of each stroke. It makes it so that you can sustain your progress and do more each day with the same amount of effort.
Here are some examples of things that I did recently to reduce friction:
- I made some mailing lists for groups of friends that I email frequently
- I bought a few years of extra batteries and toiletries from Amazon
- I sorted through all of the paper in my office and all of the mail in my mail scanning service
- I organized my tea, loose hardware like nails and screws, and my tools
- I bought better pliers because my old ones annoyed me whenever I used them
- I moved all of my vehicles to the same LLC and the same insurer
- I sold the small amounts of cryptocurrency I had in coins like CVC and BCC because I was too distracted checking the prices
- I bought new sandals because my old ones were annoying
- I bought a new projector because the remote stopped working on my old one and I had to reach under the couch to turn it on and off
- I went through my shelves in my little shed and closet and got rid of everything I didn't need
- I made some tools for CruiseSheet to make routine tasks take a fraction of the time they used to take
- I polyurethaned the shelves in my tea room and the nightstands I made in my bedroom
None of this is glamorous stuff. And each little item is so small that it almost doesn't feel worth working on. Better pliers? Extra batteries? Deleting old mail? But the cumulative benefit is huge.
I was working on some electrical stuff in my car and was trying to crimp wire connectors with pliers. It works but was a miserable experience. Then I finally paid $18 for some actual wire crimpers and the rest of the job was not only quick and painless, but actually fun. Efficiency feels really good.
We are all going to add stuff to our lives naturally. If I make a new friend, I'm going to make time for them. If I have a new project idea, it's not hard for me to get motivated to start on it. If there's something I really want to buy, I'm probably going to do it.
If we don't watch out, though, we'll never remove stuff from our lives. That's the mechanism we use to create space for the new things, though, temporally, physically, and mentally.
I always try to remove friction. I try to travel with fewer things in my backpack. I like getting rid of things in my house. I unfollow and unfriend people on Facebook all the time. I love spending focused time building something that will save me from tiny annoying bits of work throughout the year. I used to try to calculate if the time savings was worth it when automating things, but now I just do it no matter what, because I've never found a time where it wasn't worth automating even a semi-frequent task.
All of this feels like a huge secret weapon to me. Every item in my environment makes it easier for me to do whatever I want to do. The constraints on my time are probably fewer than the average retired person. This doesn't lead to me living a coddled idle life, it enables me to do a lot of work with no stress, no encumbrance, and no distraction.
Take a week and notice anything that distracts you, contributes even a tiny bit of stress, or annoys you. If you can afford the time or money to solve the problem, just do it. Try to do a lot of them. Every year or two I'll spend 3-4 weeks and focus on this stuff, and it really pays off.
Photo is a weird gold + mirror mannequin I saw in a museum.
Based on feedback from an offhand mention in the last post, I'm going to put on an event in Vegas. I have a bunch of ideas for it, but I'd love to hear what you'd like to experience if you were to sign up for such an event and spend a weekend with me and 10-20 other awesome people. Looking to do something more more fun and interactive than me standing in front of a room and talking all day.
In 2003, Rick Rubin offered me a ride in his Bentley Arnage. I declined because I thought the place we were going was within walking distance, and only after he drove off did I realize that I was thinking of the wrong place and had missed a chance to ride in what I still believe is the most beautiful car ever built.
Ten years later I was reading an article of the top ten most depreciated cars, and the journey from number ten to number one ended in that very car, the Bentley Arnage. Bentleys retail for $250,000 or more, but at the time of the article the Arnage could be had for $30,000. That was still more than I would spend, but it brought the idea to earth at least.
I'm not really a car guy. I have a soft spot for Mercedes, coupes in particular, but I'm mostly interested in getting from point A to point B. I've never financed a car, and when I bought my last car the only three categories I'd consider were Japanese minivan, barest-bones econobox, or 90s era Mercedes. I ended up buying a 1996 Mercedes C220 for $1600 and spending $900 to get a couple problems fixed up. It shifted with a bit of a thud and the AC was cool, but not quite cold. I figured it would last a year or so, but it's still going strong two years later.
A few months ago I decided to see if Bentleys had depreciated further. Sure enough, they had. Some could be had as cheaply as $20k. The Mercedes was still clunking along, but at that price I couldn't help but do a little research. What I found whipped me into a bit of a frenzy.
Six months ago I began accepting coaching clients beyond my one initial client. I had this plan that after six months I'd collect a bunch of testimonials, write about coaching, and sign up a new batch of people. But the truth is that my schedule is pretty full, so I'm not really trying to sign up new people. The coaching process has been much more interesting and lesson-filled than expected, though, so I still have a lot to share about it.
I have around twenty people that I coach now. What's surprising to me is how much I like all of them. I guess it makes sense that the people who would sign up would be those with whom I had a lot in common. Most of them are working on projects or life changes that are exciting to me, so every month when we have our call I really enjoy hearing about their challenges and successes.
My initial worry was that these calls would be draining, but it turns out that most of the time I find them energizing because I've spent an hour or so talking about exciting stuff. Sometimes the initial calls are draining because I put a lot of pressure on myself to understand the person and find some immediate action steps they can take that well result in real progress, but the ongoing ones are really enjoyable for me.
The only parts I didn't like about coaching were scheduling and keeping track of payments, so I made a fully automated system that shows my schedule, takes bookings, checks for payments, sends reminders, and adds appointments to my personal calendar. All I have to do is check my phone and show up for the call. Removing the administrative parts of the business allows me to focus all of my energy on my clients and eliminates almost all of the stress.
I wouldn't say that my younger cousin and I are competitive, but let's just say that when she got good at crossword puzzles, I felt that I had little choice but to also get good at crossword puzzles. So for the past few months I've averaged probably 2-4 crossword puzzles per day.
Crossword puzzles, to me, are the ideal diversion. They're fun enough to kill time in line or on an airplane, but difficult enough that you're not going to spend all day doing them. They obviously aren't useful like doing actual work, but I like how they make me think about words.
New York Times crossword puzzles are the gold standard of puzzles. Mondays are so easy that just about anyone can do them, while Saturdays are very difficult. Sundays are mixed difficulty and are always very big.
For a while I could do Tuesdays and Wednesdays consistently but could never do Thursdays. Thursdays have much more abstract and tricky questions than Wednesdays. For example, "Hebrew leader?" is "ALEPH", as that's the first letter in Hebrew. It took me a while to get a handle on those.
I have to admit that I never thought that I'd write a blog post on how to relate to others. For most of my life I realized that I wasn't particularly empathetic but didn't prioritize changing that.
Then I met a very empathetic friend (she wrote The Charisma Myth) and she just point blank told me that I should work on being empathetic. So I did.
I'm sure I still have plenty of work to do, but even though I'm not an expert, I have a lot of ideas to share on how to relate to people, maybe because it's something I had to consciously work on.
Maybe the biggest change I made is in how I judge other people. I can be pretty judgmental by nature, but that's changed a lot for a few reasons. I now have a process I go through to try to be more positive and understanding towards people.
Once in a while I do something that threatens my status as a minimalist. It was pretty clear cut when I traveled the world with nothing but a backpack and had nothing back home, but now it's not so clear. I wear the same shirt every day, but I have real estate in a few different places with my friends.
Identities are comfortable because they give us a way to describe ourselves to the world. We can say a lot about ourselves in just a few words, and we also have some assurance that even if our identity is an unusual one, it will be accepted.
This is true even of negative identities. There are people whose main identity is "likable unlucky guy" and those people will actually feel more comfortable when things don't work out for them than when things do.
The fundamental problem with identities is that they are constraining. Because it's uncomfortable to do things that don't fall within the sphere of your stereotype, you'll be less likely to branch out, even if it's best for you.
My recent car purchase has been something of a disaster. That's why I haven't written about it yet (or, rather, posted the rather excited blog post I've already written). The car is currently back with the seller, who owns a shop that repairs these sorts of cars, and he's trying to figure out why it won't go over around 20mph and to fix it.
One of my friends asked if I was upset about it or if I regretted buying it. Not at all!
I did a lot of research before I bought the car. I knew that despite it being one of the most reliable cars the manufacturer has ever built, it was an older complicated car, and that things might go wrong with it. I didn't think they'd go wrong on day one, but it wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility.
I checked out the car in person and got to know the seller. He was obviously someone with a lot of integrity and we got along well, so I was confident that if something did happen right off the bat, he'd take care of it.
Yesterday, in a fit of inspiration, moved the furniture out of my bedroom and tore up half of the carpets. A few months ago I did the floors for the rest of my house, but I ran out of time and my bedroom threshhold was a natural stopping point. And then... there was no natural restarting point.
So for six months I've had a pile of flooring, two rolls of rubber underlayment, and an air compressor sitting on my floor.
My neighbors go to sleep early, so I didn't make much progress the first night. I just removed the carpet, scraped the floor of old glue, pulled off the baseboards and molding, and pulled extra staples.
The next day I got a late start because I had some other work to do, and when I was done with it, I just didn't feel like working. I moved at a snail's pace and before I knew it, my power tool curfew was past and I couldn't get anything more done. I really only got an hour of work done in three hours.
I went to a Roger Waters concert earlier tonight. I got a free ticket and I make it a habit to see anything or anyone who's supposed to be one of the best, even though I don't like rock music.
One of my first memories of music is listening to Another Brick in the Wall in my dad's car as a kid. I loved the song, not because of any musical aspect or because I really understood the song, but because of one line: "we don't need no education." Even then my enjoyment of the lyric wasn't very nuanced. I just didn't like doing homework, and leaving the kids alone sounded like a good idea to me.
The last song I saw tonight before I left at intermission was that one. Waters brought a bunch of kids on the stage who danced and sang the chorus. When they bowed at the end they were all a bit too enthusiastic about their contributions, just as I would have been at that age. That made me think about the first time I heard that song, probably when I was around their age.
My life always feels like it's short until I stop and think about all of the things that have happened in it. I thought back to the kid who didn't want to do homework and thought about how he'd never believe my life is as it is.
External events often have to be left to chance. You submit your book proposal, and maybe it gets accepted and maybe not. You go talk to the cute stranger, and maybe you're compatible and maybe you're not. You plan a camping trip a month ahead, and maybe it rains or maybe it doesn't.
Often, though, people leave things to chance which don't have to be. Will you finish your book? Will you learn how to code? Will you have a good group of friends? These are all things that are entirely within your own power, and yet you may not be sure if they'll happen.
The value of ten half-finished projects is roughly zero. Not exactly zero, because hopefully you learned something, but close enough. The value of five fully finished projects is, well, a whole lot higher. Making plans is worth a little, working towards goals is worth a little, completing goals is worth a lot.
For that reason, I highly prioritize finishing.