Commentary

Nothing More, Nothing Less: A Visual Update

I’m a young man. It’s pretty cool. I have the chance to screw up a lot of things before I run out of chances to screw up a lot of things. So, why not take a leap?

This post is about a visual update, but it is also a personal update. You see, the site is going through a trim down. The previous design, while short-lived, was yet another stage in personal development. It was a clean, feature-filled distillation of a long-running dream to create this very blog. But the new, minimal design is a trimming down of the extraneous to what really matters: substance.

In addition, the new design is an attempt to follow the development of the Internet in tandem. People are reading on phones, tablets, laptops and the like and design features like good typography, large images, and scalable interfaces are more important than ever. This design, in my humble opinion, hits all those bases with aplomb.

So I hope you enjoy the trip. What you’re witnessing is one man’s journey, but I hope that through the mirror of your reading and reflection, you take a bit of a journey yourselves.

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Productivity

Don’t Get Busy

I’m big on avoiding burnout. It’s a problem that’s plagued me for years and years and years, hamstringing my productivity at the worst times and forcing me to take a break from the hobbies and pursuits that I enjoy most.

There are simple ways to avoid burnout in the short-term, but a long-term solution requires quite a bit more understanding of how success is constructed.

In this article from the blog Study Hacks, the author details a study conducted by psychologists at the Universität der Künste (the Wolverines if I’m not mistaken…). The short version is that the most successful individuals studied spent their time hyper-focused on one task at a time instead of overloading themselves with many tasks at once.

But while this may be hard to stomach or comprehend, it’s the truth, and it is exactly that psychological bias that causes us to stay in patterns of burn-out. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, if you have to exhaust yourself physically and mentally to slow down, you may be relying on faulty assumptions such as the desire to be perfect, the belief that you should not feel stressed, and the need to delay relaxation until all tasks are done.

There is no easy formula for preventing the big BO, but there are patterns we can recognize within ourselves to improve our quality of life. The most important message is to cut yourself some slack, relax, and do less with more focus. Trust me, you deserve it.

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Habits, Philosophies, Productivity

Spring Cleaning

It’s snowing. Again. It’s always fucking snowing in the state of Iowa. At least, that’s how it feels this year.

So in order to vent my cabin fever, today’s post is about Spring. Spring cleaning to be specific. You see, as of late I have spent a good deal of time trying to get organized, scheduling and rescheduling perceived obligations, and looking for holes in my personality that have led to such a challenging few months.

But the truth is, as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the problem is not as simple as it appears.

One approach, featured on the Happiness Project blog, approaches the organization problem with a simple strategy: don’t get organized. Don’t keep things around that you don’t need and be honest with yourself. I mean, what are the odds that you’re going to use that five-year-old coupon to El Pollo Loco?

Extend this concept even further into your life. I had to come to grips with the fact that, despite my desire to become fluent in Japanese, my life is simply too cluttered, and my goals simply too divergent from that knowledge for it to be kept around. I do plan to go to Tokyo some day, and at that time the language will be useful and thus, the habit. But in the mean time, it’s much more advantageous to refuse to become organized.

The important thing to remember is priorities. Though certain scholarly pursuits, hobbies, or activities may seem like great fun, keeping clutter around for sentimental reasons is not nearly as rewarding as keeping a clean house and a clean mind.

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Philosophies, Productivity

Breeze, Breath, and Bravado

I am an app-aholic. I love getting on my iPhone and discovering what tasty new code candy will improve my life in some way shape or form. Generally, the applications are productivity based; helping me organize my thoughts or daily habits in ways that breed success. The overwhelming majority of the rest are aimed at improving my capacity for life consumption. By this I mean, anything that allows me to somehow make sense of all the books, movies, places, restaurants, recipes, thoughts, articles, and albums that I want to experience.

The habit is a consistent one. I am constantly looking to expand my realm of impression. I’ve always felt that by digging deep into the gold mine of culture that our world offers, I will somehow become a better person. So I create lists of books, rate old movies that I’ve seen, and delve into historical albums that influenced their generation. But certain apps don’t have the books I’m looking for. I’ll try this one. What movies did I watch in 2007? Better just sit down and knock that off in a weekend. This list of influential artists seems a bit biased toward one genre or another, so I’ll just listen to the lists from several different sources. But that’s gonna take time, I’ll have to listen to those while I’m reading NPR articles. You know I’ve always been interested in science, this new science blog seems like a good fit to my Google Reader account. I’ll have to remember to add that to my to do list…

Ad nosium.

The task of trying to take in, be, and do everything is a daunting one. I equate it to the image of a man carrying a tall stack of books, knees buckling under the weight, struggling to keep the stack from crushing him. The task has lead to persistent and sometimes debilitating anxiety in my life and I know now for certain, after quite a bit of reflection and professional advice, that making the trivial far more important than it really is, is the culprit.

Since the apex of my confrontation with anxiety, several things have changed. When I listen to an album, sometimes I will close my eyes and allow only one sense to partake in the experience. When I write posts, I minimize every other window and utilize a minimalistic text editor that cuts out distractions. In conversations, I minimize exterior annoyances and keep my mobile devices on silent so as not to interrupt my concentration and my colleague’s or friend’s thoughts. I’m doing my best to live simply, focusing on priorities, shoveling off what is unimportant.

It takes practice, but the benefit is palpable. Even after weeks of practice, Ijust had to re-listen to an NPR story about the social impact of Honey Boo Boo because I was too distracted by other things. I spend close to an hour a day (split into three installments) meditating and the result is a more calm, more coherent perception of the world. My journal is always at my side so that I may record my felt impressions on a moment’s notice and I no longer conflate emotional flare-ups with fictitious greater life issues.

Granted, my ideas and practices may not work for everyone, but the concept is universal: live simply. Consider the house pictured above. Imagine the peace the owner must feel, the connection they experience tied to the land, and the focus they feel devoid of traffic noise and obfuscation. Regardless of your practice, all of us can benefit mentally and physically from a simple life. Prioritize what is important in your life and get rid of the things that aren’t. I’m not saying go Spartan and shirk smiling because it wastes energy that could be spent studying astronomy, but we can all take a moment to look at the clutter in our lives, in all its forms, and do some cleaning.

The process is not easy. The tools to enable an over-saturated lifestyle are in our very pockets. But with a little effort, we too can become pioneers of our environment, cutting through the underbrush and constructing something truly awe-inspiring, learning about ourselves and providing the best for our loved ones in the process.

Photo from ISO50

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