On 30 Days of Drawing

For the month of September I gave myself the challenge of drawing every day. I wanted to learn sketching and try using my iPad pro and Apple Pencil to see if that was something I could use for designs in the future.

How was it?

Educational on more than one level.

Honestly, it was a bit embarrassing. I felt like I was publicly learning violin and people could here me practice my screeching scales. I had never done this before. But with time I got used to it and the accountability definitely kept me at it. And I actually learnt something, even just in the last couple days.

Here's an overview of all my sketches:

The 30 Sketches of September 2016

The 30 Sketches of September 2016

It feels really good looking back at this, however uncomfortable it was at the time. I learnt something and can now do something with a degree of confidence completely foreign to me only 30 days ago.

If anyone is on the fence about starting to draw (or do any other creative pursuit) I can only encourage you. Go for it. Try something new. You don't have to publicise it right away, but do at least something every day. Small improvements add up.

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Start Small - Little Lessons Learnt

Start Small - Little Lessons Learnt

If I want to make exercising a habit I should start with doing one push up a day because no matter how late I am, I always have time for one push up.

This works. I mentioned it in passing in a conversation with a friend. A couple months later I find out he actually did it. He was at 40 push ups a day.

Too often I get bogged down in trying to find the perfect system for or getting the right tools to do some grand task. These can be organization workflows or productivity iPhone apps. I think big because I don't want to half-ass it. No one wants to be mediocre.

The ironic thing is, in aiming so high, I completely miss the target. I've learnt that I am a person who finds comfort in a system. This can be to my detriment though, as I come to rely on a system to get started.

Too often the energy in pursuit of systems is wasted, as the system is never completed or I change my mind and want to pursue a different goal. Just getting started would have shown me that much faster.

Having learnt this I now try to start with small actions immediately and do the "preparation" as I go. Starting small but immediately has several benefits:

  • provides a fast feedback loop
  • motivates as progress is made
  • makes it easier to pick up & stay disciplined
  • eases letting go of misplaced goals (no sunk cost fallacy)
  • small steps compound to substantial progress

Breadcrumbs 04 & 05

The next two episodes have now been added to the project page:

04: I Am a Clipboard Guy

Aug 26, 2016

Sean and EJ talk about productivity - from their physical workspaces to how they use their iPads Pro and Macs.

05: I Put It on the Table and It Automatically Gets Done

Sep 2, 2016

In this sequel to the productivity episode, Sean and EJ talk about task management, covering Getting Things Done and other systems they have used. Things get heated when the topic of snoozing email comes up.

These two episodes kind of go together. We talk about how we use technology to get work done. Perhaps surprisingly, both of us tech nerds have been using analogue systems recently.

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Start Now - Little Lesson Learnt

If you one day want to give 100,000 of your million dollars you better start giving one of your hundred today.

How easily we fall into the trap of putting off the most important things because we feel unready. Don't kid yourself. You'll never be ready.

It's in the nature of most important things that they need to be started now - even if imperfectly. The desire behind giving 100,000$ away someday is a desire to be a generous person. Again, don't kid yourself. Having a million dollars won't make you a generous person all of the sudden.

The generosity imperfectly practiced now is better than the generosity that remains a well meaning thought.

This principle goes far beyond giving money.

Do you want to be punctual and responsible in a managerial role in your job one day?

It won't happen overnight.
Start now.

Do you want to be attentive and patient with the kids you have one day?

That won't be born with them.
Start now.

Do you want to be travelling and taking a real break from work after your next big project?

You'll never not have something that needs to be done.
Start now.

These are habits. Growing them takes time and requires training. They won't fall from heaven as we dream up our futures. Get after it. Start now.

NOTE: This is the first installment in a new respectable listicle called Little Lessons Learnt. As with the Cool Tools list it can be found under "Lists" on the home page. For the direct link to the list click here.

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Breadcrumbs 03: Trained Like Jason Bourne but Verbally

Episode 3 of the Breadcrumbs podcast is up on its project page.

In this episode Sean and I talk about communicating as introverts. Among other things, I share some stories of what I've learnt about communication in business.

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Breadcrumbs 02 : The Added Feature of Very Sticky Keys

Episode 2 of the Breadcrumbs podcast is up on its project page.

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On the Past 30 Days

Today is day 30, the last day of my 30 day challenge to show up and post something here every day.

How was it? You may ask. Well, that's what this post is about.

I've been keeping track of a lot of numbers this past month that paint an interesting picture of my undertaking. Here I'll be sharing them in tables and graphs together with my subjective take on the experience.

30 Days in numbers

First for some total numbers:

  • Words written: 14,330
  • Hours Worked: 69,1
  • Hours Writing: 37
  • Total "Likes": 79 (only of 30 Day Posts)
  • Total Page views: 471 (only of 30 Day Posts)
  • Average words written/minute: 6.45
  • Average hours slept/day: 6,7

Time has to come from somewhere

So I spent an average of just over 2 hours a day on this project. It defintily felt like more. That's because I feel the extremes of a 4-5 hour day and forget the quick post that's up in 45 min. 2 hours isn't hard on one day, but try carving that time out every day for a month. The time has to come from somewhere.

I used to read a book about 20-40 minutes every evening. The past month I read for 10 minutes and that only a handful of times. On a normal weekday I'll get between 7-7.5 hours of sleep and 8-8.5 on a weekend. On average I slept 30 min less this past month. Again, it definitely felt like more. I feel the extremes. But even then, the sleep deficit did add up:

Besides the sleep and reading, the time came from work at my day job and cleaning up my apartment. I am glad to have a job where I can come and go as I wish, provided the work is done. The past month I worked half an hour less on most days, only making up the deficit on several business trips. I have no exact numbers for the time spent cleaning up, but know everything got messier as time went on.

It goes without saying that this isn't sustainable.

Productivity in Numbers

The following is a graph of the work that went into each post, divided into writing, creating, and publishing.

The three tasks can be summarised in this pie chart:

In total, I spent just over half the time at the keyboard and about 30% creating content (other than writing). Spending 15% of the time publishing is very high. That's equal to 10.5 hours, or about 20 minutes a day. This is where a good workflow and publishing system can go a long way. Optimising my publishing is definitely something I'm going to look into.

Another observation: there are four posts that took over 300 minutes to complete. However those minutes were spent quite differently in the latter two. The longest time spent writing was for the post On Discipline Equals Freedom. I remember that well. I had to postpone it a day as I wasn't done with it.

All my writing benefits from "sitting" a while, I've found. This means the quality is much better if I write 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening, than if I write 60 minutes in one sitting.


The feedback I've received has been great. The feedback buttons work well and are being used more than I would have thought. Thanks for that.

Here's a bar chart adding three different feedback sources for each post:

It looks like it was worth spending that extra day on the freedom post. It has received the most postivie feedback to date. Besides that it is also noticeable that every post with no positive feedback is a YouTube recommendation. I guess I'll be doing less of those in the future.

Looking at Groups

To get a better picture of what these numbers mean, it helps to group the posts. This helps me draw conclusions about what resonates.

I've split the posts into the following groups:

Here's the percentage for the number of each kind of post I did:

The total time spent per group is surprisingly even:

It shows here that recommendations are the easiest of posts. I only spent 8% of the total time on 20% of the total posts. However, they also got the lowest amount of positive feedback with 6%:

Thoughts posts and cool tools fare much better. I wouldn't judge the projects too harshly, as it was only the one post and quite recent. Besides that, the feedback I received for the podcast was the best of all. That is something this chart does not account for.

Quality over Quantity

An interesting yet unsurprising observation that came out of my analysis is that there is a greater appreciation for the posts I spend more time on. Both the like and page view count rise with the time spent on the post (I don't trust that blip down in view counts at >240 as the likes go the other way).


Was it worth it?

Without a doubt. I'm sure I worked a good hour more a day than I otherwise would have and it's exciting to get so much done. I accomplished more in 30 days than in the past 6 months.

What now

First, I'm taking the next week off. I just need this break.

But then I'm interested in keeping this up - not daily though. I can imagine doing two posts a week. This will still be challenging, but by committing to it I will be a lot more motivated. I've noticed how that helps.

I've also realised the power of doing something daily and gathering momentum in getting stuff done. After my break I will try to find something I can do daily that takes about 10-15 minutes. This will most probably be something to help me practice design.

The current thought is to find a different 10 minute exercise every month, which I do daily till the next month. This will be something I post everyday, but probably only on social media . It'll be an experiment at first and I haven't figured out the details yet.

I'll keep you posted though. Thanks for reading.

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Ortlieb Panniers - Cool Tool

Ortlieb have made what may be the perfect bags for cycling.

An Ortlieb classic pannier attached to a bike

An Ortlieb classic pannier attached to a bike

A pannier is a bag that hooks onto the rack of your bicycle so you can ride backpack-free (or just take more stuff).

What's special about Ortlieb panniers is that they are nigh indestructible and have a clever latch mechanism. The latches hook around the top bar on the rack of your bike but release on lifting the pannier. Check out this YouTube review for more details.

The latch mechanism on an Ortlieb pannier

The latch mechanism on an Ortlieb pannier

The panniers are made from tough canvas and are completely waterproof (if closed right).

I took two on my trip to the UK last year, when I cycled form Edinburgh to London. Now I use them everyday going to work. Besides that I take them shopping, as they are a great way to transport heavy items for someone who doesn't have a car.

You know how you can usually tell how serious a hiker or cyclist is by their gear. Well in Germany all serious cyclists use Ortlieb panniers. You can just count them going by or in the bicycle coach on trains.

Where to buy

Depending on where you are, you can get the panniers at the local sports or big outdoors store. It may be easiest to get them online, but only if you know what you want. Ortlieb has tonnes of options and your choice will vary depending on your use case. This is the one I have.

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Smash Bros Documentary - YouTube Recommendation

I know the Olympics are going on at the moment but I have a nerd confession to make: I thoroughly enjoy watching Dota 2's The International competition. It's going on right now and you can watch it here.

Dota 2 is a computer game. It is highly complex and very strategic, especially in the pro league. I'm definitely no expert and can't really play myself (I'm like level 15 or so), but appreciate the skill required and epic suspense in many of the games.

In Dota 2, two teams of five players face off against each other. Each player plays one of 100+ unique heroes that are surprisingly well balanced in skills. Complimentary skills and team work are key to success.

The International is the biggest annual Dota 2 competition. The winners walk away with an excess of 8 million dollars.

This too is a different world and has only come to be quite recently.

What originally gave me an appreciation for pro gaming was the brilliant documentary on the evolution of pro Super Smash Bros gaming.

No kidding, I love documentaries and this is one of the best I've seen. I'd never even played Smash Bros before.
It portrays the people in a relatable way and most importantly is simply great at storytelling. Ok, it's long. But give it a shot:

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Revisionist History - Podcast Recommendation

Recently the New York Times bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell has entered the podcasting scene. His podcast Revisionist History has quickly climbed the ranks to be one of the most popular out there.

It is part of the Panoply podcast network and very well produced. Gladwell is a great storyteller.

In the podcast he goes back and reinterprets something from the past. Shedding new light on a misunderstood topic.

Today I listened to Episode 8: Blame Game (follow the link to listen on Overcast). In it he takes a look at the Toyota sudden acceleration scandal and explains how the most likely explanation is that there was nothing wrong with the cars at all - people just had their foot on the wrong pedal.

I remember hearing about the scandal at the time and it being used in a class as a warning to us young engineers. But it was always the car's fault.

Human error is something very hard to rule out and design for. It is also very hard to explain, especially in such tragic cases.

We don't want to be at fault, even if we do nothing wrong. That's why people went in search for a scapegoat and found the floor mats to blame.

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On Exhaustion and Focusing on "Musts"

I'm tired. I may be getting sick. It's fair to say I'm only just short of exhausted.

Thank God it's the weekend.

Yes, keeping this up has been taking a lot of time and energy, but I also had a 12+ hour day at work yesterday.

I can feel my mind and body demanding a rest.

But what is there to do if there's still a lot on the to do list?

Focus on the musts.

Musts are the things I have to do. These are things I can't put off (at least not indefinitely) and that other people depend on me for.

Ok, that's not the most concrete definition, but you should know your musts without me explaining them to you.

Filing my taxes is a must. Replying to that email or catching up on Twitter is not. Neither is returning that Amazon purchase within the 30 days (ok depends on the value of the purchase).

Question if something is a must and ask yourselves what the consequences would be for not doing it. Will it cost you money or maybe disappoint some people? More often than not I find I can live with that.

Or reschedule an engagement, call something off, tell that friend you promised something it'll be a week later.

In times like this I've got to reduce the overwhelm and allow myself to take a break. Permit me to sleep in and let personal projects go for a while.

The alternative is grinding through. The work takes longer and is of lower quality. And sooner or later your humanness will catch up with you.

Often on Friday I remind myself that I have one responsibility over the weekend: be fit for Monday. That may mean, like this week, that I have to take a break and reevaluate my weekend to do list, but it's always worth it.

Reducing it to that one must helps me focus on relaxing and do the thing that is most important for getting any work done at all: staying healthy.

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Radiolab - Podcast Recommendation

Yesterday I was once again blown away by a Radiolab episode. Everyone, go listless to this, you won't regret it.

Radiolab: From Tree to Shining Tree

Radiolab is arguably the podcast with the highest production value out there. It has pioneered and perfected the art of using sound effects and music a to enhance audio story telling.

It is hosted by the insatiably curious Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, who play so well off each other while guiding the listener through the episode.

They tackle topics on the scientific spectrum. Sometimes with a historic perspective, and other times a breaking discovery.

What I love most about it, is how it opens my brain in a beautiful way and expands my capacity to wonder. The world around us is so incredible and fascinating and we don't understand the half of it yet.

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What is Design? - Listening

Recently a friend asked me if I'd rather lose my sight or hearing.

This isn't an easy question - as absurdly hypothetical as it is.

If speech were an option, that would be the first to go, which is telling in its own right.

In the end I favored losing my sight because I need my hearing for 360° awareness and communicating with people.

Sight makes life easier to live. Hearing makes life worth living.

The Blind Designer

Yes, I would go so far as to say that a designer is better off with his ears than eyes if he had to chose between them.

This may seem crazy to those who think a designer's job is primarily in aesthetics. How could a blind person do that job?

But how can someone who is deaf design something that speaks to more than just their own needs?

No designer is an island. They don't design alone or only for themselves. What good is a market of one?

A good designer is a good listener. There is far more that goes into a product than a polished exterior. Great design is the product of all the steps taken before "designing".

A leaf is beautiful not because it is stylish but because it is natural, created in its exact from by its exact function. A designer tries to put forth an object as naturally as a tree puts forth a leaf. He does not smother his object with his own personal taste but tries to be objective. He helps the object, if I may so put it, to make itself by its own proper means.

-Bruno Munari, Design as Art

Listening, Thinking, Making

Designing is 80% listening, 15% thinking, and 5% making. And like every good statistic, I made that up on the spot.

Listening here stands for research: understanding the market, understanding the people, and understanding the purpose.

Most projects that fail do so because of being incorrectly defined. Understanding the market, its people, and their problems to be solved is the often-forgotten prerequisite to making something great.

As a side note: this is also why design costs. Research takes time and time is always the most valuable (and hence expensive) good in a project. It also cannot be bought with more money.

The 15% thinking is ideation, being creative, and problem solving. It builds on what comes before.

The last five percent, defining the form, should then come by itself. As naturally as the leaf on a tree.

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Some Alpine Views

This past weekend I stayed in lodges that didn't even have a shower and the price for a bottle of water was over 10$.

"Why do that to yourself?" you ask.

Well, a room with a view comes at a price. I was hiking in the Swiss Alps and the huts I stayed at had no road access. All their supplies are flown in by helicopter.

The route I took was from Kandersteg to Mürren, stopping at the Blüemlisalphütte and the Gspalterhornhütte. It was a demanding hike, but very enjoyable.

Here are some of the views I could enjoy.

And it wouldn't be the Swiss Alps without the cows and cow-bells.

My first YouTube video

I'm so glad I was able to capture this amazing sunset from the Blüemlisalphütte.

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The Most Important Checklist in My Life

I here share with you the most important checklist in my life. It is triggered whenever life gets out of hand and I feel overwhelmed. Especially when caught in a downward spiral, usually due to some form of information overload and indecision.

At that time I ask myself these three things. Otherwise I refuse to trust myself to make big decisions. Here they are:

  • Have you been sleeping well?
  • Have you been eating well?
  • Have you been exercising?

That's it. I become a different person when I'm unrested, hungry, and unfit. My mind starts playing tricks, and I lose perspective.

I'm not kidding.

6 Months ago my world was falling apart. Subjectively yet seriously.

I was overly anxious and toying with huge decisions like quitting my job and leaving Germany. Then I remembered this list.

I hadn't exercised in four weeks. This hit me at 6:30 in the morning. I knew something had to be done right away. I got out my bike and rode the 50 minutes to work that day. It was 0°C outside.

Never have I experienced such a vast change in my mood and outlook on life.
I knew that day, things would work out. Over the coming weeks they did and all my worries proved baseless.

Sometimes it's the simple things that make the difference.

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Multipurpose Headband - Cool Tool

The Buff made headbands cool again. It is a closed loop of stretch-fabric that can be worn in many ways. After the success of the original Buff, many other companies made similar products to get in on some of the action.

Originally I got a real Buff for wearing under my bike helmet while cycling. It makes wearing a helmet a lot more comfortable. As the winter months approached last year, I got a generic multipurpose headbandM, because it was thicker and bigger.

I still prefer the Buff, as it is lighter and a lot more comfortable. However, when the temperatures outside are nearing 0 °C, that becomes a lot less important. At that point I just want to ward off the stinging cold.

There are some fancy scarves for cycling that cover your nose and mouth without causing your glasses to fog up. At least that's what they claim to do. They don't work.

You're better off just using a buff. It's more versatile and far less finicky. You can easily switch between it covering up to your nose or just to your chin. This means I cycle with two buffs in the winter, one to cover my head and ears and another to cover my nose, mouth, and neck.

Cycling is the main time I use the Buff or it's equivalent. However, it's also proven useful just taking on walks in case it gets windy. They're small and won't take much room but will still shield your neck and/or ears from the wind.

Where to buy: You should be able to pick them up at a sports or outdoors store near you. It may just be easier on Amazon though. Be sure to check the sizes, as it's not always clear which one is which (bought the wrong on first). My Buff is 25cm long and the other two headbands are twice that size.

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Veritasium - YouTube Recommendation

The Veritasium YouTube channel by Derek Muller has more to offer than just a great name (element of truth - get it?). Derek actually studied how to be a better educator through social online video - and it shows. It's not just the animations and editing, but also the way he guides you through the learning process that makes the difference.

He's got a great way of incorporating other people's misconceptions in teaching you something new. Usually I find myself agreeing with the misconceptions at first. This is a great way to learn because he's not just feeding you the answer but actually making you think.

Recently he's been traveling around the world and making great videos in interesting places. As with most channels, his production value has increased a lot over the years.

However, his most memorable video for me is one from 2012. It's about how trees do the impossible to get water up their trunks. It's well done and I actually learnt something, which isn't always true for edutainment videos.

Enjoy the video:

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