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Week 39, 2020: Observation is my superpower

Having just entered my 29th year, I thought it well timed to do some serious self reflection. Apt, given last week touched on goal setting and how to go about it. Time to put my words into action.

David Miranda, creator of Remake, asked a very poignant question on twitter at just the right time too:

My answer?


If I look back at the last couple of years, the biggest improvements I have seen have all come through observation. Looking at even the most menial tasks and being attentive to what is happening. The difference is night and day.

Even what appear to be simple tasks, like drawing a straight line, are difficult in practise. By paying attention to why that is, gives you an immediate insight into how your attempts can be improved upon.

Take the drawing example. I’ve found myself moving my hand away, gripping tightly, or using my hand to do most of the work. All mistakes that lead to inconsistent and wobble lines.

When you break down the movements. When you change subtleties of your approach, that is, draw the lines towards you, loosen up your hand and use different levers (your arm), straight lines suddenly become possible.

Another example is my emotions. By being aware of my emotions—by observing my current state—I can reevaluate my approach to life. Raising my emotional awareness like this means I can remove the emotion from a situation and be objective. While still airing my grievances.

It means I'm a whole lot more constructive, and can defuse conflict a lot faster. I’ve countless proof points of this, throughout my three year (and counting) relationship with my other half.

Becoming better at observation hasn’t happened overnight, nor has it happened because of something I changed during my 28th year. Rather, it’s the cumulation of a mindfulness practice which has included various forms of journaling and meditation over the past three years.

Mindfulness is observation of the self. But it's effects extend well beyond the immediate benefits.

This piece isn’t about trying to convince you to start your own mindfulness practice. Rather, it’s commentary on some of the benefits I’ve seen from it. Though, if you’re looking for somewhere to start, take a look at The Power of Now or an app like Headspace as a starting point.

Applying my observations

An observation I've hit on (half pun intended) is how low the bar is to becoming competent at something. A few good lessons, or one well chosen book, will put you head and shoulders above much of the competition.

Tim Ferriss is a master of this. His continual drive to understand meta-learning (that is, the learning to learn) makes it impossibly easy for folks like you or me to start much further up the track than everyone else. The 4-Hour Chef (a book on meta-learning masked as a cooking book) is a great place to start if you're interested in learning more (and becoming a better cook in the process).

To give an example of competency's low bar, look no further than myself and my money management.

I have never been good with money. Until late 2018, I was living from paycheck to paycheck, with very little savings to my name, and not much to show for it. Earning a decent salary, and living paycheck to paycheck is pretty embarrassing.

But now I'm saving more than I ever could have imagined. I understand where my money goes, and I’ve been able build a system to automate a lot of my struggles away. I’ve cut back on unnecessary and under utilised costs.

How did I learn to do that? I read one book.

Although it's catered for an American audience, I Will Teach You To Be Rich has changed my financial life for good, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I owe Ramit Sethi quite a few drinks by now, I'm sure.

In a joyful turn of events I’ve stumbled across Oxford's Very Short Introductions series, which opens the door to more subjects that I could have ever hoped. David Perell has come up with the goods once again.

I've already started filling my basket with them. The more the better (when curating an anti-library).

It's a similar secret which I touched upon last week. That having any plan is more than most people have. Having a base level of pre-vetted knowledge, puts you above the majority of the competition already.

On Timo

I found myself finding it difficult to bring myself to look at Timo over the past few weeks. Sending beta invites manually—although deliberate—is tedious at best. Gmail doesn't even have Apple Mail's swoosh noise as the emails send.

While the invites are heavily personalised, a lot of the message remains the same, so why not automate at least some of it?

Generating passwords and formatting the email, both things that computers can do for us. So I did. Downloading the CSV from notion, and a node script later, we've now the basic emails to be sent to the remaining users on our list. Exciting times.

We're also very close to internal testing of the firebase-backed version. This means tasks will be accessible across devices. But it also means the potential for substantial cost. Firebase is not the cheapest infrastructure in the world, and we're taking a gamble by pushing forward with it.

My rough maths suggests it should be fine, and we should be able to price Timo fairly. Otherwise, we might end up scrambling for a better solution later.


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