Category Archives: Lifestyle Design

The Easy way or the Hard way

“The Easy way or the Hard way?” is a parenting strategy. It works well.

It seems like a choice, but it’s not really.

This week one of Mia’s mom’s friends tried to use it on me. Funny. I think, she thinks it’s about a choice. It’s not.

It’s about a reputation for stubbornness. It’s about a dedication to act in a predictable way. Nice by default. Very stubborn and annoying otherwise. No real middle ground.

It only really works when a) you are usually nice b) you are willing to make things very uncomfortable and c) you always do it.

I guess I’m telling you this because.. it could come in handy, but mostly because it’s very annoying when people copy something and then stuff it up.

Morning Smoothie

If you are anything like me.. too lazy to make breakfast, but really need a good breakfast, try this:

Add to a blender:

  • Milk
  • One banana
  • Two Scoops of Whey protein powder
  • A teaspoon of Sirulina powder
  • A bit of ground organic vanilla bean powder
  • Peruvian Maca powder (not too much)
  • Soya lecithin powder
  • A bit of coconut oil
  • Some rolled oats

Blend at high speed. Now gobble this down with all your daily vitamins and miscellaneous supplements.

Yum.

When you get bored, just go ask you local health store owner for interesting stuff to put in a smoothie.

The Way I Work

Just for fun.. actually, this is a bit of an experiment. I’d like to write another one of these in about 6 months and see if I’ve improved (not sure on which metrics yet). You may recognise some of this from ma.tt‘s blog or an Inc magazine article. I kinda see Matt’s story as a benchmark for the new productive geek lifestyle.

My version:

On a good morning there’s no alarm clock. I wake up with the sun. I check email. Sometimes even on my phone while still in bed.

In winter, the second thing I do is have a cup of Rooibos tea with honey and vanilla milk. I don’t drink any coffee, ever. I’d like to say I read business books or even novels, but I probably only read about two books per year at the moment.

I go to the Frogfoot office probably 3 or 4 days per week. It’s in Obs, about a 20min drive from Bakoven.. but the views along the way are worth it, especially driving with the top down winding up past Lions Head.

I often work for about an hour at home before going to gym or the office.

At the gym (Wembley Square) I go for a morning cycle, power-plate, weights and swim. I find morning exercise suits me.. easier to plan and get it over with. I’m a bit bad with planning exercise at the moment, but I seem to make it to gym 3 times a week, I walk up Lions Head once a week and go for about 3 beach walks depending on the weather.

My preference used to be to work from home, when I had a low latency Amobia service.. but these days it’s just easier to sit in front of my desktop machine at the office, ADSL and 3G simply sucks. I also don’t have a land line at home and I have issues with long mobile phone calls, so I have to go to the office for any teleconferences.. which happens pretty often for WAPA or ISPA related meetings. Also I like sitting on my Herman Miller Aeron chair.

I pretty much just use email. No Skype, Twitter or IM. I very rarely use the SIP phone on my desk. I use Mutt.. it’s a text based mail client. I’ve been using it for more than 10 years. I love it.

In my home office is a pretty entry level HP Ubuntu laptop. I used to have a Mac, but I broke it when I attempted to swap the hard disk. I have a Nokia E71, which I guess is also part of my home office. Oh, and there is an Ubuntu PC in the lounge that plays the tunes or movies for Mia.

At the office I have a Debian Linux workstation and a G5 Mac. I say workstation because it’s a pretty high end machine with redundant disks in a fat server casing. I have two LCDs on my desk, not linked. I use the Mac to sync my phone, scan documents and tinker with graphics.. and sometimes I put some backups on it.

Most of what I do happens on the Linux machine. The keyboard is, of course, Dvorak, a more efficient keyboard layout that I switched to 7 years ago.

One of my favourite programs is Chandler. It’s a tool for small workgroups with calendar and GTD style todo lists. I use it to plan my time and we use it for the WAPA and OSA project.

My biggest time-suck is email. I have a pretty complex procmail setup to sort mail into different inboxes. I have 42 inboxes at the moment. I send about 1000 emails on a busy month. I sadly check emails as soon as they come in.

I often respond immediately.. if it’s a small bite-size thing. If it’s more complex I flag it as read and work on it later. I keep my primary inbox below 15 emails.

I like to listen listen to music all day. There’s a lot of jazz, Madeleine Peyroux, also things like Fleetwood Mac, The Talking Heads, Morcheeba and R.E.M. I use a pair of Sennheiser headphones at the office.

I seem to have two modes of working. 1) In office hours I usually have an interrupt driven, shared attention, multi-tasking mode.. I sort out lots of little things.. the longest attention span task I can probably do in this mode is write a press release. After the flood of email for the day ends and I’m happy all the urgent things are done I can switch over to what I call “out of phase” mode. 2) Out of phase mode usually start at around 17:00, public holidays or some weekends. I do my best flow work between 17:00 and 21:00.. until I get hungry.

I don’t do much people management these days. I don’t think I’m that bad at it, it just got a bit much at some point, so I try not to demand much time and effort from people around me. Working with self-motivated people helps.

I go out for lunch whenever I can, which fits well with my preference for no meetings before 10:00.

In general, I’m pretty organized, not often late and good at keeping a schedule. I don’t have a PA at the moment, but it seems like a good idea. I don’t like to travel (for work). I try to limit things like Joburg trips to about 3 per year.. which is mostly ISPA related. I’m very happy in Cape Town.

My two primary jobs are working for Frogfoot and Amobia (as you can tell from the stickers on my laptop). Mostly in a communications, PR, sales and technical role. I spend a fair bit of time on research and development, interesting tangents and hunting for the next big idea.

I believe in the idea that we are drawn to exciting projects and happiness is a product of excitement.

I do lots of non-profit work at the moment, mostly for WAPA, the ISPA and the Open Spectrum Alliance.. which is the latest project I’m involved with. I seem to have this need to change the telecommunications environment is South Africa and I feel it’s a space I can make an impact.

I’ve been called a “social media slut”. I like to network, meet interesting people, connect people and ideas and generally have fun with social networking. I help organise GeekDinners and I often speak at geeky events.

My photos are autobiographical — though I have a good memory photos help trigger memories. I’m maybe a bit overly sentimental about photos. If the difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the amateur shows you everything they shoot.. I’m an amateur.

I have a Canon IXUS 700 compact at the moment and I sometimes take photos with my mobile phone. I like the idea of a camera small enough to take anywhere but I’ve been researching DSLR cameras and I figure I’ll get something like the Canon 50D soon.

I never really cared to build an audience for my blog. I blog for me and maybe about 5 friends.. and Mia, my daughter who is just over 3, if she cares to read the stuff I write one day. I try to at least write one post per week.. a brief bullet list style diary of sorts. The rest of my posts are a bit random.. I write when I feel like it. I figure I have about 50 regular readers (who subscribe to my feed).

I used to go out for every meal, but I’m getting better at simple and practical cooking. I’ve taken and published about 5000 photos so far this year.. probably about 60% of these are from time I spend with Mia. She’s fun to work with as a primary model.

My blog does not get lot of comments but I read and manually approve each one. I’ll happily approve a comment from someone who completely disagrees with everything I believe in.

I do my best work mid-morning and late at night. Some people don’t need sleep, but I actually need 8 hours a night.

On weekends I don’t do much work, mostly because I’m entertaining Mia, but I still check email or write the odd blog post after I put Mia to bed. In some ways it’s nice.. work life separation vs work life balance. I think many people have flexible work times (balance) but clear “no work” times (separation) are good.

Yes, my Mom reads my blog.

I would have loved to write about a really cool open source software project, rapid growth stats, building something which would last 15years+, BDFL role and 24-hour nature of a business… then again, we have to leave something to aspire to (-;

I’d like to read about how other people work, so if you find this useful, please write your story and link here.

How did you become successful?

Mia and I went to the Book Lounge on Roeland street today. They read children’s stories at 11:00ish and serve cupcakes.. which look alarmingly similar to the cupcakes at A is for Apple.. maybe alarming because I recognised the cupcakes in kids bookshops.

While Mia was.. doing what Mia does, I was reading a bit of Malcolm Gladwell‘s latest book: Outliers.

He pretty much ponders why some people are successful.. very successful. I read the part about Bill Joy and Ice Hockey players.. where he explains the Matthew Effect: “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

The way I see it, he suggests society creates incremental advantages for some people.. this builds over time, they are motivated and work hard because of this series of advantages and they become very successful. He pretty much says there is no such thing as the “self made man”.

Not a bad theory. I can relate to the Bill Joy example about having access to computers and spending hours tinkering with computers. I could also see how I’ve built up many hours of entrepreneurial thinking and business experience.. but that’s not so easy to pin access to MBA books.

This series of incremental advantages reminded me of the preferential attachment theory.. those who are popular become more popular. To be honest, the first thing that came to mind was.. now that we know about these life exploits we should try and apply them (-:

It seems Gladwell does not see it this way. He seems to suggest we should level the playing field.

Maybe I’ll buy the book.

Ok, that was a long intro… the points I wanted to make were:

1) I think the story of your success is more important than the level of your success.

2) The story of your success is something you can’t change.

I see lots of big houses and expensive cars around Cape Town. Many rich people around. I have to wonder how many of them made money from things like diamond smuggling, corruption, selling dodgy pet food, keeping criminals out of jail or selling Microsoft software.

It must be a real annoyance driving around in your black BMW M6 thinking, man.. if only I could tell people how I made all this money.

Lateral Leap Work Ethic

I had a chat with Andrew Rens after the first OSA meeting last week.

I’m not sure how we got on this topic. I think he was comparing the California work ethic to a 9-5 clock-watching work ethic.

Andrew spent some time at Stanford University (Palo Alto, California).

In his experience, people at Stanford have a very laid-back approach to work.. they walk around in relaxed student clothes and always have time for an interesting chat.

But..

Most of them seem to have a pet project. I big idea. Something they are continually researching, shaping and nurturing. An brilliant new idea that will allow them to make a lateral leap and put them far ahead of their competition. They define a new categories, new killer apps and new fields.

I like this idea.

You can get away with murder if you can produce magic.. but that’s probably how people produce magic. (-:

“Speak softly and carry a Big Idea”.

PA Pet Hate

Really annoys me sometimes how people buffer themselves from the world using a PA (personal assistant). If you are busy.. delegate. Don’t keep yourself in the loop though a proxy. The worst is when PA’s get things wrong.. often you can’t really blame them and you can’t blame their boss.. it’s just a disconnect, frustrating.

Muppets.

Pilot Lifestyle

A friend introduced me to the idea of the pilot lifestyle. His dad is a pilot. He figures the reason his mom and dad’s marriage survived all these years is because his dad is often flying off to some exotic location for 3/4 days at a time. I liked this idea.

“She packed my bags last night pre-flight,
Zero hour nine a.m.”

At some point in 2007 I figured I had it all waxed. A very cute daughter and a loving partner, but only over weekends. In the week I had work I loved, all my friends around, Cape Town, my exercise routine.. total freedom really.

The best of both worlds. The dad and the bachelor. Security and excitement.

Too good to be true?

I figured my idea might be a bit flawed when my cousin pointed out the obvious over a beer. He asked me something like.. how the hell do you pull this off.. you are a new dad and you are living it up in the Spanish summer?

So in 2008 the partner had some a sig-11 moment. She did not want to tell me why, but she walked away[1].

“And I think it’s gonna be a long long time,
till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home.
I’m a rocket man”

Be careful what you wish for.

So now, I’m kinda back on the “hot cars, hot clubs and hot chicks” lifestyle. Actually not that much has changed. Food, fun and friends.. chasing exciting ideas. I still think I have it pretty sorted.. even though I realise I cheated[2].

In fact, I probably spend more time with Mia this way. I recently told the ex-partner.. I’m a 30% dad.. but 100% of that 30% and I have a strong suspicion that’s above average.

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you did”

I guess this is not the ideal environment to grow up in. Then again maybe it’s easier to have your parents separate before you are two. At least I realised that I’m a better father than a husband. Honesty helps.

So, what’s my point?

Well, it’s not always easy being happy. Make room for the exciting things that keep you happy. Sometimes we just have to accept our nature. Life is too short.

* [1] She (much) later told me she was jealous of my lifestyle.

* [2] Yes I realise(d) I’m a selfish brat and that’s my nature.

* Lyrics from Rocket Man, Bernie Taupin.