Habits and new routines

Habits and new routines don’t work well together. An analogy for this relationship is driving through a new route.

When we’re driving through a route we know well, we go on autopilot. We don’t need the map and are more than comfortable listening to a book or taking a phone call.

But, if we’re figuring out directions, that tends to be a bad time to attempt to focus on a call or some new content.

Habits work much the same way.

So many of us have experienced various levels of disruption in our routines over the past weeks. This is a note to remind ourselves that it is totally expected if our habits went for a toss in the process.

Being tough on ourselves isn’t the solution (it rarely is). Some kindness and self-compassion will help us find those old habits and routines or, maybe, find new routines and new habits.

Email thread length rule

A reminder that somehow never gets old – if the email/slack thread is getting too long, get on the phone/on a video call.

Asynchronous communication is great for many things – resolving communication gaps or working through challenging problems efficiently aren’t among them.

The post vacuum slippery slope

We vacuum our home every weekend and see a predictable trend unfold post vacuum day.

Day 1: Every speck of dust or dirt spotted is immediately vacuumed away with a hand vacuum.

Day 2: Same as above.

Day 3: Most of what is spotted is vacuumed away.

Day 4: Some of what is spotted is pushed to the corner.

Day 5: More of what is spotted is pushed to the corner.

Day 6: Never mind, just let it be. We’ll vacuum it tomorrow anyway.

Day 7: It is a mess. We need to vacuum our home immediately.

It is fascinating to see our attitudes change so predictably toward the end of the week.

Seeing it unfold this week made me think about the power of an idea I first encountered in Clay Christensen’s book – you either commit to a value 100% of the time or don’t commit to it at all.

He made the point that making excuses for extenuating circumstances leads us to a slippery slope – one marginal decision after another.

In this case, the culprit is the first marginal decision we make on day 3 when we decide it is okay to push a bit of dirt to the corner. Once that happens, the slope becomes very slippery indeed.

Closing rings

I bought an Apple watch a week or so before the lock down started. My approach to new gadgets tend to be to wait for a consistent need/use cases before I commit to a test

In this case, there were a few use cases I was interested in. The first and most important was physical health. The amount of time I spend playing sport has been significantly lower in the last year versus the last decade with two young kids. And, while I think of myself as someone who does a lot of the baseline things to encourage movement (walks, standing desk, etc.), I was sure I wasn’t doing anywhere as much as I could.

Second, I love getting out of the home without a phone. However, this resulted in some frustration for my wife as it was hard to know where I was if I went for a walk with the kids for example. Or, for example, if we were coordinating errands.

And, finally, also in the spirit of freedom from the phone, I wanted to be able to do some things – tell the time, see the weather forecast – without reaching out for my phone. The irony of one device replacing the other isn’t lost on me. :-) But, I’m a techno-optimist and I was interested to see how this small device replacement would change my behavior.

And, from my experience from the past month, the Watch has been a big winner. It has definitely enabled a lot more freedom from the phone (this would have been significantly more if it wasn’t for the lock down) and it has also brought a few other nifty use cases – e.g. seamless Apple Pay.

But, the biggest winner has been the rings. The first is a calorie goal that you hit by moving, the second is hitting 30′ of exercise (it is a loose term – a brisk walk will do), and the final is standing at least a minute every hour for twelve hours.

While the stand goal is easy, the other two take a bit of work. And, your calorie goal can be adjusted every week depending on how well you’re doing.

In my case, the biggest change has been a daily brisk walk routine with a stroller, a soccer ball, and a couple of stops around our local park. On days when the weather hasn’t been friendly, this has meant a lot of jumping and running around the house.

In times like this when a lot is out of our control, it is nice to have activities that are good for our health and are completely in our control. Closing the rings has been one of those activities for me.

I’m grateful for that.

An ode to Source Sans Pro and typefaces

I realized recently that I have grown irrationally attached to the “Source Sans Pro” font/typeface over the past 2 years – so much so that I have a minor reaction in my head when I see a document that is written in some other font. :-)

It somehow has a mix of the warmth/approachability of Calibri while adding a formal touch from the likes of the Gothic family/Verdana.

Typefaces add so much to the user experience of writing and reading documents. And since I spend a lot of time doing both, I’m grateful to Paul Hunt (creator) and the Adobe team for creating and open sourcing such a beautiful typeface.

I’m not sure if anyone has ever measured the impact typefaces have on our moods and experiences. I suspect their impact on our daily psyche is non-trivial.

The economics of building a coal plant

Carbon Tracker, a UK based website I’ve been following of late, shared a useful graphic about the costs of coal versus renewable energy.

Coal has always been considered the cheapest source of power generation. And, as a result, the debate about whether to regulate coal plants has involved a lot of political back and forth in the past decade.

But, as the Carbon Tracker team points out, over half of the coal power plants today cost more to run than building a new renewable power plant. At the rate at which this progress is being made, low-cost renewable energy generation is expected to be cheaper than coal everywhere in a decade.

There are no incentives more powerful than monetary ones in shifting behavior.

Two seemingly contradictory truths

I think there are 2 seemingly contradictory truths to internalize –

1. Everyone around us is hurting from this epidemic. They may be hurting in different ways and to different degrees – but, they’re hurting nevertheless. While it is tempting to compare our pain versus theirs – cut by age of kids, marital status, introversion/extraversion, etc., – the truth is that these are all just marginal differences in the big scheme of things.

2. The real chasm this epidemic exacerbates is that between the haves and the have nots. If we have a) savings in the bank to see us through the next 6 months and/or b) a steady paycheck (likely from a job that can be done remotely), we are firmly in the have category.

This isn’t to trivialize any pain we’re going through. First world problems are still problems and it is impossible to serve others if we don’t take care of ourselves. And, we’ll undoubtedly be better served if we learn to be kind to ourselves and others while also continuing to maintain that combination of physical distance and social connection.

Once we do that, however, it is on us to ask the question – what can we do to help those whose needs are far greater than ours?

Reflecting on reflections and the three crises

Over the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on my reflections here (very meta :-)). And, it’s been quite an experience to look at the impact the Covid pandemic has had on what I’m thinking about. I’ve been writing every day for nearly twelve years now and I’ve never experienced anything like this.

Venture capitalist Brad Feld had a thoughtful post on an idea I found helpful in attempting to make sense of this experience. He makes the case that we are going through three crises all at once – 1) a pandemic, 2) a financial crisis, and 3) a looming mental health crisis from the isolation/disruptive shift.

In addition, these are happening at various levels – local/community, state, nation-wide, and global.

Of course, this may not be the case for everyone – e.g. for folks in communities where the effects may be minimal. But, even if so, there’s more complexity than the plain vanilla (in relative terms) financial crisis or public health scare. And, as the complexity of such events is never linear, the compound effect of so many things happening at once means that there really is a lot to think about.

So, if you’re working through a similar realization of how all-consuming these past weeks have been, I hope Brad’s articulation is helpful.

PS: There’s like a fourth crisis around a lack of time for parents with young kids who’ve also been attempting to be pre-school teachers during the day that also squeezes out available bandwidth to process everything.