Don’t worry about long-term plans

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Long term plans are tough, mostly because we don’t know the future. If you’ve got a 20-year long term goal that’s great, but it’s probably not going to happen, at least not the way you planned; who knows what will happen in the next 20 years? It’s not bad to set long goals if only to set you in a direction, but don’t marry those goals, don’t die on their hills, don’t forsake all other paths or options. People achieve success more often by focusing on what’s right in front of them. It’s called short term planning. When an opportunity arises you make a decision, you work hard at the work in front of you, you make plans for things that are actionable and semi-immediate. Success tends to favor those who, instead of working backward from a goal in the future, make a decision based on the currently available options which will give them the best range of options in the future. They actually keep their options open. It’s a different perspective, instead of an early determination to go all out in one direction or after one thing, you can take things as they come. You’ll obviously still work hard and make good decisions when options present themselves, but you don’t have to sell out for a long term goal. Don’t worry about the next 20 years, worry about the week, the day, the hour in front of you, and make the most of it.

iPad Pro vs Mac: The Focus Question

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Macs are great devices, they’re capable, they’re powerful, they’re reliable, they even look nice. A large swath of the population relies on their Macs daily to be productive. Steve Jobs famously equated desktop operating machines to trucks, full of power and function.

iPads are also great, but for different reasons and different purposes. The iPad, for most of its existence, has been seen as a consumption machine, but the release of iPad Pro and more recently, iPadOS, the understanding of the iPad has expanded to include creative and productive tasks. When Jobs equated computers with trucks he also equated mobile operating machines (iPads) with cars. As a society/economy evolves, fewer people need the power and function of a truck, or a full desktop computer, opting instead for a less power-hungry, easier to use, mobile operating machine.

This is a helpful comparison between the two types of devices, but I think the iPad vs Mac discussion goes deeper than a distinction in functionality.

iPad-as-a-computer-replacement discussions seem to generate significant traffic in online discussions and forums. I’ve read through countless articles and comment sections weighing the pro’s and con’s myself. As far as I can tell, many people would love to use the iPad as their primary productivity tool but are held back by questions of functionality. Can the iPad really handle all of my computing needs? Will the sacrifice in function be worth the trade-off in form? These were my questions as well. Previously, when I purchased an iPad Pro I thought about it as an all-or-nothing endeavor, either I would cut ties with macOS and use the iPad Pro exclusively, or I would get rid of the iPad Pro and stick with my MacBook. Either the iPad Pro could be a computer replacement or it couldn’t. More than once, I ended up frustrated with the function of the iPad Pro and went back to using a MacBook after a few weeks. I was thinking about the iPad Pro as a MacBook, and since it didn’t perform as well as a MacBook in a MacBook workflow, it felt inadequate. The question was never about the purpose of the device, it was about the raw functionality it offered. The problem with this line of thinking is that raw functionality is not the most important correlate to effectiveness. The function question isn’t the only question, maybe not even the most important question, when thinking about tools and productivity.

Productivity tools exist on a spectrum between function and focus. In order to enhance focus (and effectiveness), it can actually be helpful to give up some function. We think about tools and devices almost entirely as a form of function. Which tool is most capable of performing the tasks I need, or might need, to complete? Because of this, it makes sense that we talk about how the keyboard feels, the power of the processor, the capability of the OS, and the amount of RAM or storage that would best support our use case. Those things aren’t bad, but what we neglect almost entirely is how the tools correlate with our focus, which is arguably more important. We don’t ask how well we’re managing all of the function. Are we distracted by the multitasking capabilities? Have we spent too much time off task? Is all the function actually causing a decrease in our output? Are we burning through diesel gas driving around town? Desktop operating systems by nature offer as much function as possible, and that’s not a bad thing, sometimes we need a truck-type computer to accomplish specialized or complex tasks. But instead of only asking the function question, it’s important to also consider the focus question.

I’m really good at wasting time on a Mac. It happens automatically. All I have to do is turn on the machine, then those floating windows pop up, I see red dots in my dock, a bunch of open browser tabs catch my eye, suddenly I’m clicking links, reading stories, remembering something I wanted to check on, it’s like my mind falls into a state of hyper distraction. And then an hour has gone by, I’ve made no progress on the things that are most important to me, and I’m stressed. I’ll admit, this could be an issue unique to me, and there are ways to clamp down on the distractions of a desktop OS. If nothing else, take this as an exhortation to think about the relationship between your tool and your focus. For me, it has been helpful to use a different type of OS, one that’s not designed for multitasking, one that doesn’t encourage hypnotic attention deficit, one that leans toward the focus end of the spectrum. The iPad Pro limits multitasking, it does away with floating windows, it hides the dock automatically, and it forces the user to attend to one thing at a time. In fact, one of the most annoying things about using an iPad Pro is the friction involved with switching apps and tasks, all those taps and drags. It’s also simply harder to do some things on the iPad Pro, like manage files or build a spreadsheet. Those things may seem problematic on the surface, but when I think about the amount of time I waste task switching and managing files, and the relative unimportance of those things, the tradeoffs don’t seem quite so severe. It’s hard to quantify all of the differences between working from a Mac and working from an iPad Pro, but I know that my mind is more calm and less distracted with an iPad Pro, I know an iPad Pro encourages me to spend much more time on the more important parts of my work. The tool enhances, rather than hampers, my focus and effectiveness. The iPad Pro isn’t the most functional machine you can buy (though it’s come a long way in the last few years), but that very fact is what enables it to strike a balance between function and focus that could have vast implications for your effectiveness, and your stress level.

I’m not saying you have to buy an iPad Pro to be more effective, I’m not even saying that I’ll never buy a MacBook again, but for me, for now, the iPad Pro better accounts for my human weakness and allows me to be more effective by sacrificing some function to enhance focus. If you’re only asking the function question an iPad Pro will probably be found lacking, you can do more things faster on a Mac. But ask the focus question, that’s where the iPad Pro shines. Previously, I tried to use an iPad Pro for productivity because I wanted a better computer. But the iPad Pro is not a better computer, it’s a totally different productivity tool.

Reframing

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Personal change is not caused by will-power. There are many components to effective change, but an important one, and one I want to dig into a bit here, is reframing. I came across some of these ideas in Alan Deutschman’s excellent work Change or Die.

Reframing is a change in occurrence, it’s a different way of seeing and thinking, and it’s foundational to any real personal change. Unfortunately, humans are really bad at reframing on our own, in fact, we tend to become more entrenched in our thinking as we grow older.

Through the incredible story of Delancey Street Foundation, a sort of residential rehabilitation institution employing what looks much more like coaching than therapy, Deutschman introduces a concept he calls ‘acting as if:’

It’s obvious that what we believe and what we feel influences how we act. That’s common sense. But the equation works in the other direction as well: how we act influences what we believe and what we feel. That’s one of the most counterintuitive yet powerful principles of modern psychology (P78).

At Delancey Street, constituents are not required to undergo any intensive therapy or high octane educational course, they’re required to act like functioning members of society. The simple practice of acting decent creates an entirely new framework for them.

Deutschman notes that reframing can’t happen simply by listening to a person explain a new perspective. Our frames have been embedded in us through repeated experiences over time, which is part of the reason it becomes more difficult to reframe as we get older. In order to reframe, new experiences are required, “you have to do things a new way before you can think a new way” (P79). When you do things a new way a whole new world of possibilities begins to emerge, you realize that things, or you yourself, could actually be different.

So if there’s something you’re trying to do or change, figure out what normal daily practices you’ll need to commit to (example: if you want to lose weight you should diet and exercise), and just try doing it. It’s certainly not the whole equation, your problems won’t be magically solved, but start by acting, you might be surprised what you find.

Investing is like working out

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Everyone knows they should be exercising. Everyone would love to tighten up the softer spots, see some muscle definition, feel strong and energetic, and be more confident in the way they look. Unfortunately few do it.
The formula to accomplish all of these great benefits is not complicated. Everyone knows about a gym nearby they could join or maybe already have joined, everyone knows how to walk or run on a treadmill, everyone understands basic dumbbell movements, everyone has broken a sweat at some point in their lives. We know what exercise is, it’s a pretty simple concept.
So why are so many of us overweight and dissatisfied with our physical selves? Working out is simple, but it’s also hard. It takes work, it takes some pretty intense discipline, and it takes a severe level of consistency.
Investing is similar (although, maybe a little more complicated). Most of us understand the concepts of buy and hold, diversify, and making regular contributions, but it’s tough to do it right and do it consistently. When the market recessed in 2008, net redemptions (the amount of money being pulled out of the market) were astoundingly high. Buy and hold philosophies went out the window when things got scary. When trade wars make the international investing landscape seem less certain, people begin wondering if they should be invested outside the U.S. at all. When people want to buy a house their retirement accounts seem like a good place to pull money for a downpayment. None of these things are evil, but they’re often hampering financial progress, and sometimes lead to devastating effects. It’s simple, but we still mess it up.
What’s the solution to these things that are simple but hard, these things that we know we should be doing but have a difficult time actually doing? The solution is a coach.
We get coaching from all over the place, books we read, people we trust, professionals, etc. In fitness, a coach is someone who gets you to the gym and shows you what you need to do. In investing, a coach helps you understand investing, avoid pitfalls and panics, and achieve outcomes you’re pursuing.
So work with an investing coach, and hit the gym.

What phone do you have?

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For technophiles, like yours truly, this is a really fun question. It clues me into your level of technophilia, tells me something about your priorities, and it’s a nice way to get a light conversation going on a subject about which I probably know more than you do.
But, as a confessed technophile, it’s a question I don’t only ask other people, in fact, more often it becomes a conversation I have with myself. I regularly overthink about which phone I have, why I have this phone, if I should get a different phone, if I were to get a different phone which one would it be, if I did have a different phone in mind how would I go about procuring one, and it goes on (that sounds much more disturbed as I write it out than it does when it’s happening in my brain). It doesn’t only happen with phones either. I fret about which computer to use, what configurations would be best, what size, what model, should I use a iPad instead, what if I got a desktop, if I were to get something different where would I get it, what would I do with my old one, and on, and on, and on (now I’m starting to think I may have a problem). The questions themselves aren’t bad, and the purpose, I tell myself, is worthy: I want to use tools that will help me be most effective. But, I made a discovery this morning, or maybe more like something I knew all along but pretended to not know. I determined that my effectiveness is much more affected by my endless, meandering indecision than by the tools I have or could have. So, in the interest of actual effectiveness, I’ve made a resolution: no more tech questions for one full year. I’ll allow myself the space to re-evaluate next year, conveniently right around my birthday, and decide if I want to change anything. Until then, I’m using what I’ve got, which honestly is pretty great anyways. I am a technophile after all.