Deep Work

I recently finished Deep Work by Cal Newport.

To build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.

Deep Work feels like a continuation of Newport’s previous book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. That book argues that your mastery of your craft is a larger factor in your fulfillment than the choice of work. It then goes on to prescribe mastery through “deliberate practice” to improve. Once you have leveled up, Deep Work offers a next step: a path to productivity.

The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.

Newport spends a good amount of pages making the case that blocks of focus and solitude are vital for a knowledge worker to produce the best output. His strategies should not be surprising. “Don’t goof off on the internet” seems like “eat right and exercise” for productivity – advice that’s easy to say but hard to live. Hopefully, by arguing the value of deep work and the need to train your brain, readers will have success with his methods.
When I get the urge to check Twitter during a build/deploy, it’s helpful to have a reminder that small choices matter. Reducing my time on social media – the internet’s Skinner box – has helped me focus. It’s also been helpful to also consider the schedules he describes. Blocking off time to be unreachable has been a boon. So much so, that I’m revisiting RescueTime to try creating focus blocks.

The book offers working templates for different personalities. While I am productive in the solitude of my office, I feel that I am most productive when I am pairing with someone (this may be some selection bias – only certain work lends itself to pairing). In his section on work styles, I’m glad that he steps back from the isolation he describes elsewhere and offers support for working in partnership.

I enjoyed this book and am glad to have found it. The most valuable piece for me has been the reminder that my minute-by-minute decisions become powerful habits. I recommend this to any knowledge worker. I’d also be extremely interested to find out if it benefits other professions.

See also: There’s a good hacker news discussion

Brewing on a school night

One thing I tell friends about parenthood is that the important stuff sticks around. You may not be able to spend a weekend binge-watching shows anymore, but you’ll find ways to keep the hobbies that are important to you.

Jenny got me Adventures In Homebrewing’s Vanilla Porter recipe for my birthday. I’ve made this kit before and it’s tasty. So, last night after we got the girls in bed, I was able to brew a batch of beer.

I don’t have 6 hours to spare for an all-grain batch. It was satisfying to knock out an extract beer in 3 hours (including clean up). Sure it was a bit cold in the garage, but the nice thing about brewing in the winter is that the wort chills much faster.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5 gal 60 min 25.0 IBUs 22.8 SRM 1.056 1.015 5.4 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
American Porter 20 A 1.05 - 1.07 1.012 - 1.018 25 - 50 22 - 40 2.3 - 2.9 4.8 - 6.5 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L 8 oz 5.56
Black (Patent) Malt 4 oz 2.78
Chocolate Malt 4 oz 2.78
Pale Liquid Extract 8 lbs 88.89

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Cluster 1 oz 60 min Boil Pellet 7
Willamette 1 oz 5 min Boil Pellet 5.5

Miscs

Name Amount Time Use Type
Vanilla Bean 2.00 Items 0 min Secondary Spice

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
SafAle English Ale (S-04) DCL/Fermentis 73% 59°F - 75.2°F

If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to Be Happy at Work

If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to Be Happy at Work

Studies of leaders often focus on their style or charisma, but we wanted to look at how workers are affected by their boss’s technical competence. That is, is the boss is a real expert in the core business of the organization? How much expertise does he or she have? Boss competence is, admittedly, a multifaceted concept. Hence we measured it in three different ways:

  • Whether the supervisor could, if necessary, do the employee’s job.
  • Whether the supervisor worked his or her way up inside the company.
  • The supervisor’s level of technical competence as assessed by a worker.

Using these three measures of supervisor competence, we found that employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business. This suggests that received wisdom about what makes a good boss may need some rethinking. It’s not uncommon to hear people assert that it’s a bad idea to promote an engineer to lead other engineers, or an editor to lead other editors. A good manager doesn’t need technical expertise, this argument goes, but rather, a mix of qualities like charisma, organizational skills, and emotional intelligence. Those qualities do matter, but what our research suggests is that the oft-overlooked quality of having technical expertise also matters enormously.

I have mostly worked with technical leaders. I’ve found that the more aligned my job is with their experience and the core business, the happier I am.

The lesson seems to be to actively grow leaders in your core business area. And, if you want to change your core business area, to devote time towards growing leaders in that new area.

Mythical Man Month draws an interesting lesson from this idea:

I have earlier argued that the sheer number of minds to be coordinated affects the cost of the effort, for a major part of the cost is communication and correcting the ill effects of miscommunication (system debugging). This, too, suggests that one wants the system to be built by as few minds as possible.

The conclusion is simple: if a 200-man project has 25 managers who are the most competent and experienced programmers, fire the 175 troops and put the managers back to programming.

Brooks goes on to conclude that is not realistic, and the real solution is to break up systems to reduce communication overhead. But, when they read “put the managers back to programming,” I know some pretty great leaders who get excited at the prospect.

Hike

I’m trying on a new birthday tradition. Walk in nature, alone, for a couple hours. This is my first year in but so far I recommend it. Even if your birthday is in January.

Panoramas and [vr]

Automattic, the company I work for, has released Jetpack 4.5. It includes the [vr] shortcode that my team mates worked on. The extent of my effort was modeling for some 360º shots so here is my contribution: panoramas!

First we have my favorite panorama. It’s a little lower res – shot with Dermandar on an iPhone 4 – but it’s the subject matter I love. The Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum:

Jenny and I stopped at a rest stop on our drive home from North Carolina and found this magnificent display purely by chance.

Next is an abandoned-ish building on the Belle Isle disc golf course:

The Belle Isle Conservancy. Also on Belle Isle but less abandoned and less tolerant of flying discs:

Finally, a panoselfie with my brother on Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette:

Ultimately this post has been an excuse to brag to everyone. Yes, I’ve visited the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum. Keep sharp, be sharp, act sharp, stay sharp, look sharp.

Detroit Tourism Roundup

2017 seems to be the year to visit Detroit.

New York Times puts Detroit as #9 on its list of places to visit. The QLine streetcar seems to have been part of that decision, so maybe there’s hope yet for a regional transit authority. Maybe…

National Geographic made Detroit their North American pick for Unexpected Cities for the Food Lover. They pick up on a few of the standard restaurants (I’m post-post-Slows hype) but miss out on a gaggle of favorites. I don’t miss the commute downtown but I do miss the options at lunch time.

There’s so much good food downtown, I wish I had more opportunities to explore them. My personal list of Detroit dining this weekend consists of Buddy’s Pizza (no, Little Caesar’s doesn’t count as Detroit-style), Tubby’s Submarines and maybe Gold Cash Gold. I should figure out a way to sneak a coney dog in there.

One final word of warning. If you do come to visit Detroit, don’t come here during the winter…

Emergency Fun

…d. Sorry, that title is supposed to be “Emergency Fund”. Now that I reread that headline, it is a little misleading.

In addition to the advice in my last post, here’s something think about: 63% of Americans Can’t Afford $500 Car Repair or $1,000 Emergency Room Visit.

I used to think that paying off debt was more important than establishing savings. After seeing people using emergency funds to smooth out rough spots in life, I’m convinced that having a small emergency fund is a top priority.

One of the easiest ways to get savings started is to automate it. Set a recurring transfer at your bank to put 10% of every paycheck into savings. 10% is usually small enough to stomach, but you’ll have deposited 3 months of paychecks in 2 1/2 years. After that, you just need to make sure it stays topped off.

An emergency fund is a kind of self-care. You can rest a bit easier and you can have money set aside for when disaster strikes. It’s a lot easier to live life in the moment when you have that little bit of piece of mind.

If you still need some emergency fun, check out the best media corrections of 2016.

Photo Credit: (CC-BY) Kevin Dooley

What To Do With Money by /r/PersonalFinance

I love this guide on what to do with money from /r/PersonalFinance. Money is complicated so it’s nice that they lay out each step in order. Top priority is to have an emergency fund, then getting 401k match, and so on.

They have flowcharts too for the more visually inclined too. Here’s the simple version: (there’s a detailed one in the linked page)

simple

Entrepeneurs on Obamacare

If you aren’t aware of how the Affordable Care Act makes small business and startups possible, you might want to read these testimonials from Y Combinator startups. The ACA makes entrepeneurship easier. It is a job creator.

Our tax dollars should go to healthcare not just because it is the compassionate thing to do, but also because it is cheaper and more efficient than medical bankruptcies (which we wind up paying more for).

Even if you don’t have a marketplace insurance plan, the ACA has provided some important benefits.

If you oppose the repeal of the ACA, please call your representative and make your voice heard.

If you are indifferent, ask your friends and family whether any of them are at risk of dying or bankruptcy if the ACA is repealed. You may be surprised to learn how important it is to those with pre-existing conditions. I can name a handful off the top of my head that are at risk of never having health insurance again due to pre-existing conditions.

The ACA isn’t perfect (or even that great, compared to most first world countries), but it is better than the Make America Sick Again plan of repeal. Let’s improve it instead of turning back the clock. After all, isn’t iterating & improving what great entrepeneurs do?