Category Archives: Life Hacks

A note to all of those struggling to figure out their next thing.

Hey, you!

Yes you.

The one who’s been looking around, seeing people living their dreams, starting their own businesses, startups, consultancies, KickStarters, and on and on, and getting more and more frustrated.

The one who’s scary smart and talented but just can’t crack the “what should I be doing” nut.

The one who’s always envied others abilities to be single-minded in their pursuits. Or who are really really into one thing (food, community service, bats, whatever) whose lives center around applying that single interest in different aspects.

The one who’s been stuck.

I have a helpful reality check for you.

This is not going to be one of those posts where the poster tells you to quiet your mind and let your true intention and reason for being on the planet rise naturally.

We both know that’s not going to happen for you. That there is no one answer. That the answer is “I’m interested in a bunch of things a lot, but no one thing a ton more than anything else”

Those posts are fucking frustrating.

Here’s the secret.

You don’t have to look for the answer.

In fact, stop looking.

Your job is to go do stuff.

Find a way to spend your time that’s fun and natural for you.

Don’t worry if it is going to map you toward some larger life destiny. Don’t worry that you will be wasting time if you’re not sure that its “taking you in the right direction”

This is not a waste of time.

Measuring everything against some imagined “thing you should be doing” is a waste of time and keeps you from doing interesting stuff.

Stop thinking that it’s not going to give you a moment of clarity. Moments of clarity are not the point.

There doesn’t have to be a theme.

Let me say that again.

There doesn’t have to be a theme.

Just do some stuff that feels natural for you and lets you stretch a bit.

When you’re pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, the direction you’re facing is the least important part.



Someone who has no experience with this particular challenge whatsoever.

Value Exchange Dissonance, or, don’t hand me a flyer.

Whenever I walk somewhere, and someone hands me a flyer, it’s like they’re telling me, “Here, you go throw this away.”
-Mitch Hedberg

29 Indian Food!
Image by wilyumzzz via Flickr

If you’ve ever walked down a street in midtown Manhattan, you’ve most likely been in the uncomfortable position of being handed a flyer for a restaurant, club, event, whathaveyou.  It never struck me before, but this is a great example of Value Exchange Dissonance.

Value Exchange Dissonance is something I just made up.  It describes a situation in which one party takes an action that they believe provides enough value to prompt an action by another party, when the other party feels it is an imposition on them (negative value).

When a person hired by a restaurant hands you a flyer, here’s what their perception of the exchange is:

“Greetings, random person in the neighborhood! Here is a free menu with information on all the wonderful things you can eat at my establishment.  Now, come and have a meal at my restaurant. It’s the least you can do, after I provided you with this information!”

Taking our knee-jerk social marketer hats off for a moment, let’s now look at the experience from the point of view of the person receiving the flyer.

“Here I am just going about my day, on my way somewhere, and some random person thrusts a piece of paper at me, disrupting my personal space, my rhythm, distracting me from whatever I’ve been thinking about and pushing their message at me without regard for my interest or where my attention was.  If I was hungry, I’d go to a restaurant that didn’t need to disrupt my day.  I don’t even like Indian food!  Screw this place.”

Value Exchange Dissonance.  To the extreme.  And the end result is the opposite of what was intended.

There is a crucial point there.  A marketing engagement is valuable or not valuable based on the POV of the ‘receiver’ of the engagement.

In this case, if 0 is the baseline, handing someone a flyer may have a +3 perceived value for the restaurant, but if its a -6 to the recipient, it still nets out at -3.

This is why User Experience is so important.  There are lots of examples of otherwise well-meaning people and organizations who may genuinely not be paying attention to how the experience plays out for the other side.

Are you paying attention to how you may create or destroy value in an experience? Or are you another victim of Value Exchange Dissonance?

Scale it down until you can do it: Applying the GTD rules to everyday life

Alice in Wonderland

I have a confession to make:  There are a lot of tasks in my life that I just can’t will myself to get done.  Do you have a list like this?  I’ve lived in my apartment for almost 5 years now and only managed to put permanent blinds in my windows this past weekend.  I just bought a coffee table.  I still don’t have a passport.  I’m not sure what keeps me from getting these (seemingly small) tasks accomplished, but somehow they feel ‘big’ in my brain, so I put them off.

As a digital strategist, I think sometimes that our clients and companies in general that are not yet engaging with their customers online feel like the prospect of “getting social media done” is a daunting prospect, and it ‘feels too big in their heads’ (whether they’re able to articulate it that way or not), and so come up with all kinds of rationales to not move forward (‘no resources’, ‘no time’, ‘legal wont let us’, ‘can’t justify the ROI’).

I think we all do ourselves a disservice when we try to respond to these individual points (though we have the best intentions) to quell the fears that exist rather than trying to address the underlying issue.  The same way that having someone say things like “well, you want to be able to travel, don’t you?” in order to encourage me to get a passport, saying things like “customers expect you to engage” won’t alleviate the underlying ‘this is too big to handle’ illusion.

Instead, what Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done system recommends is that we “Break tasks down into actionable steps.”

What this means to me in both cases is:  Scale it down until you can do it.

Too scared to start, monitor and maintain a multi-channel social network presence? Try a monthly blog.  Or a personal Twitter account.  Keep scaling it down until you feel like you can act on something.  Don’t worry about how much you took off the table.  Don’t worry about how much the competition is doing, or how many other things are on your list.  Tiny progress is exponentially better than no progress at all.

The dirty little secret is that even when you feel like you are pushing yourself outside your safezone, you really aren’t.  What you’ve done is realize that your safezone is bigger than you thought it was.

So, maybe I can’t put a “done” mark next to “Get Passport” just yet.  But maybe I can fill out the form so that when I’m ready to take that next step, there are fewer things getting in the way.

That I can do.

There’s nothing inherently useful about being an early adopter.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been ahead of the curve.  This is not ego, it just a simple statement of fact.  I tend to be into things several years before they catch on with the general population.  This is applicable personally as well as professionally.  I’ve been using the internet to connect with people since I started posting on my Prodigy account and joining Delphi chatrooms in the early 90s (and via BBSs prior to that).  If you’re reading this, chance are that you have either had this experience as well, or have a particular person in your life that has.

I bring this up because I think that there’s a sense in the community at large that being an early adopter, a trend setter, someone who is on the cutting edge somehow makes you cool or rich or important.  What I’ve found is kind of the opposite.  I think that waiting for the world to catch up to what we know inherently to be true or important is one of the loneliest feelings that someone can have.

It’s hard having to go into conversations knowing you’re going to have to ‘dumb it down’ or explain why you’re so into some silly website or raw fish or some band they’ve never heard of.  Even the most well-intentioned and interested of people can be a source of frustration and deep sighing.  We want to explain and share our passion and get other people excited, we really do.  It’s just that when it’s variations of the same conversation with many new people, it tends to set up a sense of self that’s isolating.

That’s why, for all the bitching people do about the ‘social media echo chamber’ or the ‘indie rock scene’ or whatever label happens to be associated with your own personal area of ‘ahead-of-the-curve’ness, it’s still so important to spend some time with members of your tribe.

I implore you to put yourself in a situation where you can have conversations about your passions that are more exhilarating than exhausting.  Spend time in a place where you can be as close to the full capacity of ‘you’ as possible.

Those places are all around. Online chatting is not enough. Dedicate yourself to recharging your creative batteries before spending time with those who are not yet part of the tribe. Your passion needs refreshing in order to truly bring the world up to speed.  That is where the usefulness, opportunity and obligation of being an early adopter comes in, and the only way to ensure the passion continues to be a calling rather than a burden.

Patience, Attention and Letting Go: What I’ve Learned, 2009 Edition

2009, for me at least, was a time of change.  Between finally deciding to be more active in getting myself out there on social networks (and the resulting increase in Twitter usage), to personal tragedy, to a shift in how I choose to treat my thoughts, to professional advancement, to finding love, I feel quite reinvented.  Well, maybe reinvented isn’t the right word, as much as decluttered.  There have been a lot of habits and patterns that have stuck around for whatever reason, consciously and subconsciously. Learning to look at them and let go of the ones that keep distance from the happiness that exists inside has been transformational.
It’s so important to be patient with yourself, especially during challenging times.  No growth comes quickly, no matter how much one may want to.  From getting your business online to stopping toxic behavior in your own life, things happen at their own pace, all the time.
So, here’s some of the things I’ve learned, in SEO-friendly bullet-point fashion!

  • The world is on your side, and waits patiently for you to make room in your life for awesomeness.
  • Just because you’ve always done something, doesn’t mean you should keep doing it one moment further.
  • Not everything need be treated heavy-handedly or with Importance. In fact, the most important things in life thrive best when treated lightly.  In other words, Hold On Loosely.
  • Breathe.
  • It’s not the situation that makes our lives a certain way, it’s our relationship to a situation, which we can always control.
  • Love is always better.  And it’s freakin awesome.


English: New Year's Resolutions postcard

On occasion on this blog, I’ve posted lifehack-style things that I’ve learned, or resolutions I’m looking at, in the hopes that you may find something valuable from them to look at in your own life (see: Jeremy’s Rules For A Better Life, My Resolutions for 2009).  I know that many of the people who read this blog are also people who interact with me outside of it, be you friends, twitter buddies, fellow bloggers.  My resolution for you is: connect.

Connect wherever you can, with whoever you can.  Don’t be afraid of rejection.  Everyone is afraid of rejection, but nobody things other people are similarly afraid.  Say hi, send a twitter message, go up to a girl (or a boy) at a party, email that friend from high school, accept rather than ignore that facebook request.  Connection is the key to feeling love.  I hope that 2010 brings a fuller sense of connection to everyone reading this.
If you’d like to connect with me outside of here, you will find links to me on the various networks on the top-right-hand-corner.