Looking for balance in life, work, and relationships. #1000 days because the first 365 were pretty easy.
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antoszek.me

Cutting Down on Stuff

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Hey! Just a quick note here: I'm travelling now, and just taking time off before the next academic year kicks off in September. I'm not going to be writing new posts every day during these two weeks. Some days I'm going to "fill" with an old post from a newsletter I used to run, also called In Search For Balance, but otherwise not related to this blog. I already did that yesterday, a week ago, and two weeks ago. Hope you'll understand! I'll go back to the regular schedule sometime later in August.


So, today's "headline" is Cutting Down on Stuff and I really mean it. I even dare to say that I've become a minimalist, whatever that means.

A sudden realization that most of the tools, techniques, mindsets & things I do really don't matter came to me two weeks ago. Just as I was finishing up my regular weekly review (which includes writing this newsletter) I finally decided: I'm cutting away all that's not necessary. 

I've been "practicing" Digital Minimalism as well as "regular" minimalism for some time. In January I went off social media for 60 days, to never fully come back. Later in May I got into Standard Notes, the simplest, but at the same time the most powerful app that I've ever used. I still use and love Standard every single day.

After trying out every, and I mean every productivity app that works on my Windows computer and doesn't cost billions, I was really damn lost. I thought I had built a good system with Todoist. But then came Notion. And later TickTick, and Nozbe. 

While the system I built was making me more productive - in the doing more stuff sense, the system itself required more and more time to update, clean, process and improve every single day. 

I couldn't plan ahead. Managing the system every day drained all my energy and mental sharpness, and so thinking about the future became impossible. But heck, I was really confident that I'm doing things the right way

My head felt heavy. 70% of the time I had to postpone tasks for tomorrow. There were days when I was grinding so much that I got all the stuff done, but then came a slump. A slump of burnout & mental clutter. In June, when work was coming to an end, I felt horrible. Incredibly exhausted. 

But during the summer things started to make sense. I realized that, truly, less is more. 

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Now, I use just a bullet journal for tasks, events & journaling, and Standard Notes for important info, long-form writing, storing ideas & project reference material. And I feel the best I've ever felt. I can look into the future. I'm not anxious. Even a little bit.

Maybe that was the road that I had to go through. Maybe only through deep experimentation I could've arrived at this conclusion, about what is right and what is not. 

Have you tried cutting stuff away? If not, try it. It's the antidote to feeling bad.

Go With The Flow

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There's one thing I can't stop thinking about: Going with the flow.

As life happens, we have to adapt. Change our opinions, assumptions etc. Those that cannot change intrinsically will be left behind. That’s just how it is. To change, one needs to have an open mind. They have to be flexible, as some say.

I cannot agree more with that idea. People that don’t change at all (in a conscious way) quite often harm themselves, and others. We’ll dive deeper into the concept of change next week.

But how flexible can one be?

Doesn’t too flexible equal too uncertain?

The word flow is used in a myriad of different ways. Books have been written about this particular concept. But, I have my own interpretation;

Flow - state of of open-mindedness, acceptance, but designed with solid principles in mind.

For me, Going with the flow basically means living a balanced life, living by a few concrete principles, but at the same time absorbing things as they happen.

It’s The Day-to-day Balance.

I think I’ve found it. Not in a infinite sense. There’ll be more hard things to face. But for now, in my current situation, going with the flow has become the default. I don’t know how long it’ll last. Maybe no more than a month. Maybe the next ten years.

The Search will continue. The Balance is a finite resource, to live like that, one must constantly change and adapt their mind.

Luck/Skill

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The dilemma of luck vs skill is something I've been thinking about since a long, long time. Determining whether someone's "success" can be attributed to luck, skill, or both, is a tricky question with a tricky answer.

As it often goes in life, I see people often adhering to one of the two polarized camps: either it's all luck, or all skill. A whole lot of people (including us, cynical Europeans) think that the richest got there just by pure chance. Another significant group, mostly Americans, believe that it's all about hard work and building up skill.

As it is with most things, reality is a grey mix of these two. Skill is a very powerful force, especially when we invest heavily into it. Yet, luck may be the single factor that determines if we're able to achieve the skill in the first place.

A great example comes in the world of Poker. A game I do not know how to play, but often fascinated by its mechanics and psychology. See, while skill, both psychological and purely mathematical is very important in the game. Understanding the other players and the card they can possibly have is crucial. But, ultimately, chance has a significant say in who wins and who doesn't. So, you can do all the right things strategically and still loose. Now, that must be frustrating!

We cannot disregard luck and the privileges that come alongside it; even the privilege of being able to spend time on building up skill.

Ultimately, there's one thing (or two) we can do: work hard and don't let bad luck stop us.

Because, it will happen.

For Free

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There is this very common belief that nothing is free. Unfortunately, in the business sense, I have to agree with it. Products marketed as "free" are never truly free. Either somebody else is paying for it, or your paying with something other than money; data, time, attention.

Quite a few people unfortunately also translate that belief to personal relationships. They believe that whatever they do has to be later paid back in some way. You do me a favor, I do you a favor. Nothing we do is done for free.

In all honesty, I'm just sick of this approach. I find this expectation of a payback so poisoned, in a way. I mean, sure, if both sides totally agree on it, and feel perfectly fine conducting things this way, then who am I to tell them they're wrong?

But, what if somebody enjoys doing things just for the sake of doing them? Or for a higher value, like respect, or love? Not for the sake of virtue signalling, of course. It just annoys me terribly when people can't accept the fact that I'm doing something for them. Or, when I can't accept that somebody is doing something for me.

Not everything has to be a transaction; some things can be a simple act of virtue.

Inconsistency Hurts

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I never was the "sporty" guy. Sure, I did love cycling and I was pretty good at yoga, but, in the end, I just never "clicked" on exercise. My family wasn't sporty either.

During the past 1.5 years I started to slowly build, step by step, a habit of exercise. I go on daily walks, work standing up, and work out (almost) every day. It made me feel much better; more confident, more present, and more capable.

Let's jump to today's story.

Since early July, I had this unbroken streak of everyday exercise. While I have been exercising much more frequently during the past 1.5 years, an unbroken streak of thirty days was something I've not seen before.

But, as all streaks do (excluding this blog - so far), it did end eventually. Five days ago, I just didn't do any exercise, and just barely moved at all.

If this was just one day, I probably wouldn't notice it. I don't exercise super hard, and don't have any specific goals. Just exercising for the sake of the exercise.

Yesterday, I got back at it again. Took things lightly, knowing my muscles weren't in their best condition. Stretched diligently.

Oh man, it hurt so bad after the workout. I felt every muscle group I worked on so vividly. I went to bed praying it'd all get better today morning.

It did, thankfully, but I still felt the pain today, especially while exercising and doing work around the house.

Inconsistency hurts, literally. Putting stuff off and believing in the power of tomorrow doesn't really work. If you truly care about something, do it now. After that, repeat it as often as you can. As hard as you can.

If not, what else it there to do?

Horizontal Comparisons

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In today's day and age, vertical comparisons are the norm. Everything is more or less of something. Specifically, people are always greater or lesser, either generally or in a particular aspect. Think of this as a ladder. The higher you are on there, the better you are as a human being. Or so we think.

We say "she's smarter than me" or "he's prettier than me", or "I'm better than then". Or whatever combination of person + greater/lesser adjective + other person. It's the natural way to think these days and we all do it.

vertical comparison

Excuse my poor drawing, but that's how it is on ladder. Not practical to say the least. All people want to do is get higher. Most of them either give up at the first step, or fall down while trying to climb too quickly. Ouch.

Vertical comparisons come from a delusional objectivity's point of view. They assume everybody can be placed on a single scale, evaluated in an absolute manner.

I wouldn't want to spend my entire life on a ladder. It's unsafe, there's no space to live, and I couldn't even lay down, rest. All I could do is constantly engage in the race to get higher. Phew, how tiring!

Now, let me introduce you to the concept of a horizontal comparison. Which, some people say is not even a comparison. I believe it is.

horizontal comparison

In this example, we use comparison as a tool to differentiate, not evaluate people. We still can see that everybody has a different spot, that everybody is different, but they're not better or worse. They're all on the same level, on the same ground. And hey, there's space for something! A house, even.

Viewing the world around us in a vertical way is a poisoned way to see things. It's unhealthy, it's painful, it's not practical. It makes life lesser by taking away the space to live, to express ourselves.

Horizontally, on the other hand, things look much less stressful, true. With space, with equality, but also with difference, all at the same time.

It's time to buy a pair of normal glasses. The vertical ones have not worked.

Marketing

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I feel ambivalent about quite a few things; that's life, I suppose. But there's one thing that I can't make up my mind on: marketing.

On the one hand, I hate ads. I use powerful adblocking software on every device I use, I prefer to pay for services/apps/content to be delivered ad-free. I consider ads unnecessary noise that distracts me from what's important in this world. If an app has ads, but you can pay extra to remove them (as it happens often on Android), I will happily pay that fee. If a service has a no-ads version, I'll most probably upgrade to it. Ads are not worth my time, and if I can't afford it, I probably shouldn't be using it.

On the other hand, I know, as a maker of various internet things, how much good marketing can support a thing's growth. For example, one time I bought a Facebook/Instagram ad for two weeks. It wasn't expensive, five dollars at most. To my surprise, the Instagram post managed to score 757 likes (while previous not-sponsored posts reached 10, 20), which then resulted in hundreds of unique visits to my website. During those two weeks, 70% of total visitors came from either of the two ads. I call that impressive. Just for five bucks.

Is it possible to grow and build a sustainable business without marketing? Yes. Does the absolute majority of businesses and creators in every industry use marketing to grow? Yes.

How can you win a marathon when everybody else uses doping? I don't know.

I have yet to find out.

Principles & Particulars

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Malcolm Gladwell, a great author and thinker has a podcast named Revisionist History, where he explores things misunderstood and overlooked. Recently, he published a three-part series about the Jesuits and their process of deliberating tough moral questions called casuistry. 

Casuistry, more or less, is based on descending and deliberating the particulars of a case, not necessarily guiding through with principles in mind, but, of course not completely abandoning them.

Rules matter

As I've established in the past, rules do matter. Rules are something we can fall back on, "cite" when making tough decisions, especially when there's no time to descend into the particular. 

Rules are easily understandable. Rules can be shared with others without much explaining. Rules are like a life net that can catch you when you fall. 

But, sometimes, situations vary by so much, that the life net may not be positioned correctly to catch you.

Descend into the Particular

When we have time and resources, we deliberate. We ask ourselves plenty of questions that may or may not bring us on the right path. Either way, the chance of inaccurate behavior is much, much lower. 

Considering the exact particulars of a case is not hard, nor easy. It all depends on the approach we take, on how much we're personally invested in a case. And that, is hard no to do, considering the examples I've gone through in the last issue.

Particular principles

Is it possible to create rules that at least in some way consider the particulars?

Is it possible to create a formula?

For example:

accident x + consequence y = my response z

Or maybe, it is a staple of the human condition to have to deliberate?

Impact = Footprint ?

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When we think of companies, institutions, even individuals who have/had a great impact on the world, we usually think about them using the following formula: impact = footprint.

The more money a company makes, the more people it must employ.
The more people an NGO can reach, the more donations it must receive.
The more awards an artist has received, the more beautiful art the can make.

While this formula certainly is true in quite a few cases, I do think that we take it for granted too often. In fact, I think that this belief often makes certain innovations die even before they had a chance to perform.

In the world of startups and independent creators, we're starting to see the opening up of the "entry point" in various industries. It's easier to start a business, it's easier to sell music. Many organizational issues are also made simpler by the rise of automatic software.

I think about this a lot in the personal aspect, too. Whenever I look at the tasks I have to do, I often prioritize them on the basis of impact vs footprint/cost. So, if I have the two following tasks on my list:

  1. Write a new blog post on my "commercial" site (1 hr)
  2. Rewrite some backend related to publishing and analytics on the site (4 hrs)

I am going to estimate the impact and the time & energy required to complete them. In this example, clearly the first task might have a stronger impact. At least in the foreseeable future. Both of them are important, but the second one might produce more impact with a smaller footprint.

All in all, this comes down to the idea of minimizng the unnecessary. If you can do something well, why don't do it with less?

Love, Misunderstood

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Love is misunderstood.

It's often mistaken for affection, mutuality, respect.

Love often speaks, but hardly says.

We want it to say something. We push, apply force.

And we break it.

It's a liquid solid that evaporates.

Not a word, not a feeling, not an emotion.

A reality, of sorts.

Listen, don't speak.

Thanks, Corona

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I've been thinking a long time whether I should write this post. Overall, the pandemic has been awful. A lot of people have died, a lot more are going to die. Millions are unemployed. It's bad, and overall, I wish it didn't happen. I am still somewhat worried by the fact that I might contract the disease. This is not fun, by all means.

But, in every tragedy there is a shed of light. For me, personally, a lot of pretty good this have happened. I am grateful for them just as I'm grateful for the fact that I haven't faced much direct negative consequences of the pandemic.

My health has improved. Mentally, I was finally able to deal with some issues that were dragging on. Having a break, a certain reset from society was helpful to say the least. Physically, I finally had time to purposefully exercise every day. And, thankfully, I used that time pretty well.

I had time to build, rebuild, care about certain relationships. My friends became more like friends, not just people around me.

I've talked a lot about taking a break. About zooming out, changing perspective. It's the best thing one can do.

Especially when it lasts so long.

Tune In

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Life is a dance. We don't go only back and forth. We go in all directions, combining little movements into bigger steps.

But you can't dance without music. It guides you, gives you a rhythm to follow. The moves are still yours.

The music exists in the form of values, culture, religion, ethics. It's the thing that guides us, gives us a tempo.

Lately, I feel like we're all listening to completely different music. Everybody is dancing with noise-cancelling headphones on. Sometimes crashing into other people. Because they couldn't hear each other.

Here's a crazy idea: spend time tuning your music. Set it at the same tempo, same BPM. Or maybe go with the same genre as your close ones.

You choose how you dance. But when everybody dances with their own beat, chaos prevails.

Singletasking

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Someone recently asked me about a term I use in my Twitter bio.

What do you mean by singletasker?

Let me tell you a story; a long time ago, when I was very fresh to the concept of productivity, multitasking was the hot word. There were books on how to "effectively" multitask, there were countless videos, posts, and podcasts talking about the magic of getting multiple things done at the same time. Everybody wanted to learn these magical tricks, so the productivity gurus were happily providing content, no matter if these methods were truly working or not.

Unfortunately, a book claiming to present "10 steps to effective multitasking" is in its own nature, untrue. Why? Multitasking is simply ineffective.

Meaningful work requires meaningful time to be put into it. You can't be magically jumping from one task to another and expecting real results. Focusing on everything means focusing on nothing, remember?

Singletasking is the antidote to that. It's the idea of purposefully working on one thing at a time. Heck, not only working, but just doing all things one at a time. Vacuuming and listening to a podcast? Give me a break.

No matter how hard you try, all multitasking leads to context switching, which leads to nothing actually getting done.

Get shit done. Become a singletasker.

Perils Of Non-activity

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One of the most important values in life is the difference between action and motion. One of my favorite books, Atomic Habits by James Clear talks about that a lot.

First of all, we have to debunk one of the most common myths about productivity. It’s not about doing more in a lesser amount of time, but about doing the right things. To be honest, this asks more questions than it answers. Yes, maximizing your efficiency is not a simple task, but doing the right things can be even harder.

What is right?

This is the most obvious question. For people without a sturdy moral life compass this question looks almost unanswerable. Building a true moral compass is something we should teach at school by the way. Okay, back to the right things.

What is right? How can I be 100% that what I’m doing is right? How can I predict the future? Plan and project every single possibility? Truly know that I’m not making a mistake?

These questions arose during my first confrontation with the thesis. It’s obviously almost impossible to answer all of them, yet it seems necessary to reach the goal of doing the right things. I think that the answer is much simpler than that.

Non-activity vs activity

What are you doing right now? Why? What are the benefits of it? Are you enjoying it? Is it helping others?

Doing the right things is as simple as defining activity. Because every activity is right.

Activity

1. Engages your brain fully (or almost fully)
2. Makes you enjoy it and life overall (doesn’t have to be immediate)
3. Gives you an opportunity to fail
4. Gives you an opportunity to succeed
5. Includes challenges that will expand your abilities
6. Directly or indirectly helps someone (might be you)
7. Moves you (no matter in which direction)

Activity is always good. Even if you fail, it’ll give you an opportunity to learn. Thus, if you’re able to define what is an activity, you know what is right.

Non-activity

Is the exact opposite of activity.
1. Doesn’t engage your brain
2. Doesn’t spark any true joy
3. Doesn’t give you an opportunity to fail
4. Doesn’t give you an opportunity to succeed
5. Doesn’t challenge you
6. Isn’t helping anyone
7. Leaves you in the same place you were in before

Non-activities are not right. Always. But we like them. We crave them. And that’s the hardest thing about productivity.

How they interchange

I’ll go over a few examples: (from my point of view)

– Checking email twice a day is an activity. I usually learn about something new or interesting through the various newsletters I’m a subscriber of, or I receive the opportunity to do another activity (requests, questions etc).
– Checking email more than twice a day is a non-activity, because I spend too much time mindlessly reading through non-important emails instead of dumping them. I work with Inbox Zero for that matter.
– Reading a scientific book/paper for an hour a day is an activity. By breaking it up into two 25min sessions, I can easily focus and take notes while reading.
– Reading a scientific book/paper for more than an hour a day is a non-activity. It’s just harder to focus and I loose context much more easily. Reading starts becoming a chore instead of a challenge.
– Exercising for less than 15 minutes a day is a non-activity. I don’t get to the point where I’m pushing my body to it’s limits. I don’t get as active as I should be to really benefit from the workout.
– Exercising for more than 15 minutes a day is an activity.

And so on, and so forth.

Dump your non-activities

The point I’m trying to make is:

To truly reach ultimate productivity, you have to do two things: define what is activity and non-activity, and then dump all your non-activities. It’s that simple.

But please, don’t be mad when some non-activities sneak into your life, it’s included in the human condition.

Creational Velocity

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I aspire to be an artist in everything I do; creating, synthesizing, instead of replicating what's already there. Being creative, that is. Through thorough observation and analysis of existing things, creating something new. What is original, btw?.

Writing this blog forces me do that in some way. While the number of truly "breakthrough" posts is not very high, each and every one is an original, personal take on a particular issue.

Creativity is a powerful force. Yet, it seems to be a force most of us don't control. We don't control its intensity, speed, sometimes even direction.

I find this incredibly interesting in the context of writing this blog: I have to write it every single day, all the while my creativity is, well... Somewhere. I have to continue going with the same, constant speed, practically with little control over the engine that drives it all.

I have actually one pretty interesting observation from this experience. Forcing yourself to write publicly about something every single day, even when your creativity is not there, and ideas can't seem to stick together, teaches you how to make even the dumbest thought presentable. And maybe, making it better in the process. Clarifying parts you didn't think about before.

Taming a wild animal is a tricky process; tame it too little, it will run away. Tame it too much, it won't fight.