Digital Minimalism

I’ve been reading a fantastic book lately called Deep Work by Cal Newport. While I was already familiar with a lot of the concepts- such as blocking out long uninterrupted time frames to devoted to a single tasks (to create flow), and minimizing distraction- the book formalizes a lot of these processes into concrete methodologies which are scientifically proven to be effective in creating better output and happiness.

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in increasing their output and doing what he terms “knowledge work” (like writing or research).

Now comes time to implement this in my life.

I’ve downloaded an app called “Focus” for my computer, and have made a habit of now turning off my phone while timing and logging these deep work sessions, which can last anywhere from 1-4 hours.

So far it’s going pretty well. I’ve gotten quite a lot done in the last two days since formalizing this practice. I don’t think I was particularly bad at focusing before, but it does take some concentration to be able to resist the urge not to break off into more “fun” respites, like facebook, while the timer is on. I’m looking forward to seeing the results as I continue on.

Next, I’m quietly disengaging from a lot of my social media life.

This is a tricky one- as sharing my work online has become extremely valuable to me in terms of personal fulfillment and branding.

I plan to continue doing this by pre-scheduling posts in this blog the night before, then limiting my email/social media checks to twice a day- one morning and one night. I’m hoping by reducing these interruptions throughout the day I can accomplish more writing and also invest more in my real-world relationships and passion projects instead.

Check out this very interesting article on the concept of digital minimalism by the author on his blog (Take the concept of minimalism one step further into the digital realm and there you have it. It sounds like what it means.). It’s a very interesting conversation- it may be something you are interested in implementing in your own life.

unplug replug- then do it again

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Our job as artists has two phases:
-unplugging for creation
-then plugging back in for sharing

We must constantly oscillate between the two actions to keep our ship afloat.

For some, the process of unplugging is painful; extroverts hate to be pulled away from their stimuli- their friends, their adventures. Sitting down and writing a script can be very painful and lonely for an extroverted artist.

For introverts, plugging into the network and sharing their work is painful. It’s tough to put yourself out there. Introverts fear people may not want to see their work, or may not appreciate it.

But, of course, without sharing, our work is created in a void for us and only us. We never get real world input on our ideas. We never get to see how our work impacts others. And worst of all, we don’t stand a chance of making money from our work, as people can’t pay for something you never get to see.

Likewise, without the deep concentration and intense focus that comes from unplugging, artists are unlikely to ever achieve the quality or volume of work that is necessary to stand out in the marketplace.

Both steps of this process can be as difficult or as easy as we want to make it. But the fact of the matter remains: both “plugging in” and “unplugging” are necessary evils.

It’s important for us artists to stop begrudging either step of this two-fold process- it has always been this way and will always be this way. Even very famous artists, who have publicists and agents representing them, must engage with the public at some point- they must put a face to the work and speak to the press.

Likewise, even the most media-savvy, digitally-connected artists need time away from the noise to think about their next book/film/work.

Plug-in, unplug, plug-in again.

We need start embracing these as two sides of the same coin. And we need to be nimble enough to move back and forth between the two, remaining lucid enough to know when we have spent too much time in one phase and we need to move to the next.

I’m unplugging right now if you haven’t guessed it. But I look forward to connecting with you…later.

Play the Hand Smart

play-pig-card-game-step-17-version-2We don’t get to pick the circumstances we were born into
the hardships that befall us
or the luck we are handed
life is riddled with happenstance fortune and accidental tragedy
the degree, volume, and timing of these circumstances are among the biggest variables of human experience
no two people’s circumstances are alike
we can no more begrudge someone born into great privilege playing every advantage handed them
then we can a poor person playing every card they can to get by
we all need to play our hand
to the best of our ability

like a game of cards, we don’t get to control what’s in the deck
we only get to play the cards we’re dealt
some of us are better strategists than others
some of us will have that strategy rewarded when we are met with the fortune of a good hand
some of us have no strategy, just a damn good hand
and some of us have loads of strategy, but our cards just never come up.

The first example is the one we need to focus on, and put our attention to.
Suppose we are dealt a good hand, but we are too foolhardy to recognize it’s potential and then don’t play it right?
That is a scary concept.

It’s a fact of life, there is a huge degree of chance involved.
Taking full acknowledgment of this fact,
we can relinquish our focus on these unpredictable variables and turn our focus to the things we can control
there really is no productive alternative but to do this.

we must stop pouring energy into terrible circumstances have befallen us
or the idea that we were never given a chance
or that so many others had so more advantages from the start
these are wasteful thoughts that only impede our focus on the new cards hitting the table
let’s focus instead on having the best control of the variables within our power
so that when our luck comes up, we can play the hand smart.

The Later List for Manic Minds

I’m a hyperactive learner. I want to know everything I need to know, and I want to know it now, all at once.

This is an impossible desire. And it causes me stress.

It’s crushing to me when I consider how few books I will be able to read and how few skills I will have time to master within the limited capacity of my time on earth.

Especially considering the ever-growing research which posits the importance of focusing on a single task at a time. I now realize how important it is to invest my mind into the kind of deep work called for in my profession.

In my mind, there are so many urgent things which need to be addressed and learned, it makes it difficult to calm my mind into focusing on the task at hand.

Lately, the strategy of THE LATER LIST is helping me control this impulse.

When something pops into my mind- something that urgently needs to be addressed, a skill that I want to learn or a course or book I need to devote time to- I add it to the “later list.” Then I pencil in an approximate time-frame in the future where I may be free to address this concern with more focus.

This way, I can release the fear that these desires won’t be attended to. And I can feel confident that it is accounted for with adequate time allotted to its focus. That time just isn’t now, because now the task must be the ONE THING I’ve already decided on.

The Later List is helping to control my hyperactive mind and helping me focus.

Right NOW it’s all about the writing.

But here’s what’s coming up later:
-focus on a networking strategy and creating better systems for cataloging my industry contacts
-learn how to operate new Steadicam device my sister got for Christmas + employ this in a paid project
-focus on improving my knowledge of current technologies and trends as they relate to film and directing
-focus on improving my knowledge of investing
-focus on getting more commercials
-focus on landing tv directing gigs
-get involved in non-profit work
-adding options to automatically purchase prints of my photos on my website
-review Evernote notes from past few years
-review screenwriting/filmmaking saved materials on my computer- scripts, docs etc.. that are worth referencing back to.
-taking a freelancer course by Seth Godin

Beyond the Status Quo

If you plan on doing anything beyond the status quo, expect to be met with resistance. Expect people to find you difficult. Expect your team to complain. Expect everyone in your path to be reluctant to go that extra mile. Expect to be pressing up against the limits of your budget, time, ability and sanity.

And then, expect to be rewarded for that effort.

Going beyond the status quo means going beyond the point where most people stop. That’s where new discoveries are made. That’s where innovation happens. That’s the place where people will be surprised by the results- because you have gone further than what people previously thought was possible. No one expects you to walk the extra mile when you didn’t have to.

The reason it’s rewarding is because it’s hard. Because you’re going further than those around you dared, beyond where most people felt comfortable.

In order to be remarked upon, you must first do something remarkable. That involves a great deal of risk- and the greater the risk, the greater the reward, as they say.

You’ll know when you’re there because it will seem like the task at hand is too challenging, like the world is against you. The status quo will encourage you to stop in your efforts because you are pushing beyond what they think is capacity. But that is entirely the point.

The Internal Spin Room

Most of us are familiar with the idea of “spin”- the process by which the media biases stories to favor their candidate or political leanings. We needn’t look much further than the recent American election to see the enormous impact that “spin” can have on people’s actions.

The idea that spin can affect real-world behavior is an incredibly potent, and even dangerous idea. Spin is a powerful weapon in influencing our minds.

What, then, about the stories we are telling ourselves? Are we spinning stories in a way that helps us or hurts us?

The stories we tell ourselves are incredibly powerful. They affect how we live our lives and what actions we do (and do not) take.

Are we spinning stories that inspire us to take positive action in our lives? Or are the stories we are telling impacting us negatively, eliciting​ apathy and self-doubt?

Regardless of what happens or how we feel, we need to focus on spinning our stories in a way that inspires confidence, not fear and shame. Like a good campaign manager, we must make sure our “candidate” is always being positioned in the best light possible. To do otherwise would be self-sabotage​.

It’s war time, and we need to behave like any other political pundit on CNN: Spin our candidates in a way that makes them look good. Spin them hard and never give in.

The Front Load of the Learning Curve

Many of us are familiar with the natural learning curve that applies to learning new skills.

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But that’s not just relevant for learning- it applies to really any new activity.

New friendships. New routines.

Even moving to a new city has a kind of ‘learning curve’. It’s more difficult at the start.

You spend a lot of time navigating new transit systems, finding new stores, doctors, friends. You realize pretty quickly how many processes you took for granted just “knowing” in your old town. It’s hard. It’s a huge investment of time and energy.

But, after a few years, it all becomes standard. You are an expert on your new city, just like everyone else.

The learning curve is always front-loaded with the hard, hard work. It is fraught with self-doubt, mistakes, overwhelm.

Arming ourselves with the understanding of when we are IN a “curve” can help us feel a little better about what’s happening. We can mentally prepare ourselves for the initial shock of the strenuous work coming toward us. We can brace our minds for the initial insecurity, the exhausting effort, because we know that it will get easier soon.

Before we know it, we will be an expert at this once overwhelming task. That’s the nature of the curve. First, it gets harder. Then it becomes easy.