Monthly Archives: January 2016

Learning to Draw in 20 Hours

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I was inspired by Josh Kaufman’s book, The First 20 Hours, to learn a new skill. According to the book, if you follow the right approach, you can become decently good at any skill with 20 hours of deliberate practice.

Steps for Rapid Skill Acquisition
  1. Deconstructing – the smallest possible sub-skill
  2. Learning – Practice intelligently and able to self-correct
  3. Removing – Any physical, mental, emotional barriers
  4. Practicing – At least 20 hours of dedicated practice

I picked drawing because I wanted to do something creative and outside of my normal range of activities.

I searched around and decided to follow Monika Zagrobelna’s free online guide. This tutorial really stood out because it deconstructed the skills to a super basic level. The exercises were easy to follow, though hard to do really well.

I was also influenced by Josh Waitzkin’s book, The Art of Learning. He recommends focusing on depth over breadth and internalizing the most fundamental units of skill. The tutorial is broken into three sections: manual skills, precision, and visual database. I spend about 10 hours on part one, and five hours on each of the other sections. I didn’t make it very far on the third section though.

I felt pretty good about the first section, but really inadequate on the other two. If I wanted to really get serious, I could easily see myself spending much more time on the last two sections. For this particular project, I just wanted to see how far I could get with 20 hours.

I wanted to see my progress so on the first day, I drew a mini football helmet and redrew it as I hit 19 hours and 30 minutes. In the beginning, I felt really depressed. It seemed like it was shaping out to really suck. It was discouraging, but I decided I came this far so I might as well finish this last part.

As I started working, I started noticing little things. I could tell when a line didn’t quite match with what I was looking at. As I drew, I knew how to draw lightly before committing with a darker line. I started looking at everything as small shapes and focusing on where things were in relation to other things.

The end result was very emotionally rewarding. I’m not an artistic person and seeing the improvement was very gratifying. If I had to do it again, I’d allocate some time every 7-10 days to just drawing so I can see incremental improvements. It’s not particularly rewarding only seeing your lines and shapes get better.

I’ve uploaded all my practice in the album above. 

Link to Book Notes:

The First 20 Hours

The Art of Learning

Productivity Tactics

Here are some productivity tactics that I use or are experimenting with.

Shortcut keys – This is one I adopted a long time ago. I try to use only the keyboard when I’m doing any work on the computer. This isn’t always possible, but most things can be done. I also recently started using a plug-in called vim that lets you use your keyboard in a browser. It’s fun and easy to use.

Pomodoro – I break my day into 12 sections of 25 minutes. You’re only supposed to do 8, but the first four I do are usually reading. I take usually 3-5 minute breaks between them and a longer break around 11:30AM. I set a google timer, it’s always surprising how fast breaks go by if you don’t track them.

Airplane Mode – It’s so easy to get distracted by e-mails or texts Most things aren’t emergencies, but they still drain your limited mental resources. You can check-in on these on your own time.

ATracker app – ATracker lets you create categories and track how you’re spending your time. I’ve tested a few of these types of apps and I like this one the best. I found the biggest benefit is when I track my time, I become more aware of and cut out time I spend doing useless things.

Reading with an Audiobook – I learned this from the youtube channel, Fightingmediocrity. It’s where you read a book and follow along in the audiobook at 2x speed. The reading speed isn’t necessarily faster than my normal reading speed, but there are less distractions, because the audio drowns out thoughts and results in more concentrated reading time.

Daily TODO Card – This one has been surprisingly effective. I have a small notecard with daily things I’d like to do and I make a mark each time I do something. It roughly corresponds to my daily schedule. I think it really helps when I have my morning routine items on there, which I always do. As I mark those off, I see the remaining items, and I find myself compelled to complete them.

Finding Purpose and Getting Good

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says everyone has purpose in life. It tends to be specific and changes from day to day. A supermeaning also exists, but it’s possible you may not understand it until the very end. Viktor Frankl’s idea is uplifting, but a little lacking in terms of direction.

I finished rereading Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and his advice on finding purpose provides some clarity, at least for my circumstances. Good missions are unique and tend to happen at the cutting edge of a field. He talks about how major scientific breakthroughs occur in tandem because at the time only a certain amount of knowledge is understood. Discoveries are more likely to happen in the adjacent possible.

He brings up examples of people who quit their jobs to pursue a lifestyle company about “a life well lived.” They ultimately end up failing, because they don’t have the requisite career capital to succeed. They don’t have any interesting insights or skills. The only thing they have is enthusiasm which is a commodity.

Looking back, one of the reasons I left my jobs was because I felt that I wasn’t learning and growing as fast anymore. It wasn’t the only reason. I also wanted to take some time to get my head straight. Think about what I want in life, focus on my systems, habits, psychology. Also, I wanted to learn some new skills and do some traveling.

If someone else can do what you’re doing, it seems less worthwhile. We have a desire to be unique. Maybe it is biological. Perhaps groups of people who were more likely to do unique things were more likely to make discoveries or have ideas that increased their survival rate. There likely wouldn’t have been much progress back then if everyone did the same thing.

I buy what Cal says. If you want to have some unique impact in this world, you will need some unique skills to make it happen.

Links to Book Notes:

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Man’s Search for Meaning


Daily Schedule and Priorities

My day starts at 6AM. My morning routine usually lasts until ~8:30AM. In that time, I write these posts (40-50 minutes), exercise and some other things. From 8:30AM-11:20AM, I read and make summaries of the books I’m reading.

After lunch, I usually work on different things. I might have an hour of break in total spread out in increments. What I work on has shifted, but I’ve settled on a routine at least for the past two weeks.

  • 60 minutes on a misc. project. The past few days, I’ve been working on a test landing page for an online course.
  • ~4 hours of learning Python

By this time it is usually 6PM. After preparing and eating dinner it’s usually ~7:30PM. I hang out with my girlfriend and roommate until bed which is around 9:40PM.

I don’t do more work because I prefer to spend quality time with the people that are special to me. I’m really close with my roommate. We’ve been friends for about twelve years now and have lived together for about seven years.

I think the work you do is important, but there is more to life than work. Negative visualization is a Stoic technique where you imagine what it’s like to lose the things or people you value. It’s a little morbid, but it really helps you appreciate what you have. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to live with my friend. I don’t know how long I’ll be around for. Life is fleeting and to not appreciate the people I love in life when I had the chance is so much worse than not getting getting to where I want to be as fast as humanely possible.



Connecting Ideas

It’s hard to recall multiple ideas and concepts in isolation, but if you can connect concepts and ingrain those relationships in your mind, you can recall that entire pattern as if it was one object. This is how expert-level intuition is supposedly built. Experts’ brains don’t necessarily work faster, but more efficiently.

I try to do this in my spare time usually when I’m out and about and waiting on something. I regularly go through my notes and try to find how certain concepts or ideas might be related. Some examples, below.

The Charisma Myth + How to Win Friends and Influence People – One component of charisma is presence. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the ways you can get people to like you is by cultivating a genuine interest in someone because people like people that are interested in them. Maybe presence is important because it makes someone feel like you are interested in them. It’s hard to show that you’re interested in someone if you’re distracted by other things.

The Art of Learning + The World is Flat – The Art of Learning talks about focusing on the base technical units until it becomes part of your natural intelligence and building up an integrated field of knowledge. In the World is Flat, Friedman talks about how people point to China’s lack of creativity, but that creativity can be taught and a solid base of understanding is required before you can invent beyond it.

The Compound Effect + Man’s Search for Meaning – The Compound Effect says creating new habits are more effective if you can identify your why-power or your purpose. Man’s Search for meaning says meaning exists in everyone’s life regardless of circumstances.

Give and Take + The Charisma Myth – The Charisma Myth says charisma is presence, power, and warmth. In Give and Take, presenters were seen as more endearing if they expressed certain vulnerabilities (e.g. having a stutter), but only if they showed they were an expert in what they were talking about. The expertise is a form of power. When someone exposes his or her vulnerabilities, the presenter is trusting the audience. This display of goodwill leads to warmth.

Influence + Thinking, Fast and Slow – Influence says one of our automatic reactions is to scarcity. People are more motivated by losing something and feeling is particularly strong when something was previously abundant than when it was constantly constrained. In Thinking, Fast, and Slow, Prospect theory explains that people have greater negative reactions to losses. This tendency is likely a remnant from days where being risk-averse aided survival. All decisions are made from a reference point, so if you never had something, you never experienced a loss. If something was abundant and then goes to scarce, that represents a large loss.

These comparisons can go on forever and I think it’s a good exercise for trying to understand and ingrain the topics I’m trying to understand.





Tony Robbin’s Practice of Priming

I heard of priming through Tim Ferris’ Podcast with Tony Robbins (section starts at 26:15). Tony says if you want a prime life, you need to be in a prime state. Fitness does not happen by accident. This is a practice he does everyday no matter what (lasts 10-30 minutes).

The exercise is accompanied by a breathing exercise (starting ~1:10:20). The practice is called breath walking. I didn’t find too many studies on the topic when I searched for it though.

During priming he focuses on three main things.

  1. Getting back inside of the body and outside of head. Feeling earth and body.
  2. Thinking about three things to be grateful for. Letting gratitude fill the soul. You can’t be fearful when grateful.
    • 1) something simple
    • 2) total focus on feeling presence of God (or however you want to language) but inner presence. Feelings that heals everything and solves anything that needs to be solved
    • 3) focus and celebration on service
  3. Three to Thrive – Three things you’re going to make happen. See them, feel them, experience them.

I like priming because it lumps head clearing, gratitude, and visualization all into one practice.

Link to notes on Podcast:

Connecting with Others

I’m not naturally very social and I prefer to spend time at home, but I think improving my ability to connect with people is important. I believe trying to understand and helping others will lead to a more fulfilling life.

I’ve tried to start small and stay consistent. I found that an easy way to get started was by reaching out to old contacts and reconnecting. I usually have an initial aversion to doing it, but I’ve always feel good after the conversation. My goal is to reach out to at least one person a week.

I also prime myself with a few thoughts before anything social.

  • What can I learn about someone’s unique experiences?
  • What is the person’s unique story?
  • What are the person’s values, motivations, and interests?
  • Is there any way I can help?

Sometimes, I suck and conversations fall flat, but I think the key is to keep trying to move forward and improve.

Link to Book Notes:

The Charisma Myth

Give and Take

How to Win Friends and Influence People


Positive Influences

Consuming information is like consuming food. Our minds are influenced by environmental inputs so it’s important to feed it things that are beneficial, motivational and creative.

I’ve tried to cut out most of my news intake. The news tends to focus on sensational or negative events. It’s not their fault though because that’s the type of stories people like. Reading news generally doesn’t impact my life so I want to spend less time doing that.

Instead, I’ve started listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and motivational speeches. I use podcasts as a way to vicariously spend time with some of the most interesting and successful people.  Tim Ferris and James Altucher have had some really awesome guests. I’ve also purchased a 24-credit pack for Audible, Amazon’s audiobook service.

Finally, I listen to a playlist of motivational music/speeches everyday during my workout. Chris Winfield wrote a very in-depth post on daily routines and one of the sections is “Find a well of inspiration” (excerpt from his post below). I asked Chris about some of his sources of inspiration and made a playlist based on some of his recommendations.

What kind of things do you feed your mind?

Find a well of inspiration

Inspiration and motivation can come from many places—books, music, podcasts, videos, emails, other people. All you have to do is find the one or ones that resonate most with you and commit to engaging with them. Daily.

Research has shown that inspiration can be activated, captured, and manipulated…and it has a major effect on important life outcomes.

I have a few apps on my phone that I read daily to inspire and motivate me. They keep me centered and grounded, giving me a more stable mental foundation.

Another way to get inspired involves repeating positive affirmations, which is why I do this both in the morning and at night. In fact, researchers at Stanford University have found that affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and even relationships.

So find a word or phrase that is empowering and motivating to you and repeat it over and over again to yourself.


Science Behind Affirmations?

There’s a section in Tim Ferris’ Podcast with Scott Adams on Affirmations (11:17 – 30:49. It’s an interesting discussion and has some fun stories.

How it works is you write your goal down in the form of “I, [Your Name Here], will [You fill in the blank about some goal]” everyday. Now, Scott doesn’t believe in magic, but goes over some of the reasons why it might work.

  • Reticular Activation – Certain things tend to catch our attention (e.g. our names). Maybe, you just become more aware of things that may help you achieve your goals.
  • Selection Bias – Maybe the type of person who’s willing write down his goals is the type of person who is likely to fulfill those goals.
  • Selective Memory – Maybe you only remember the ones that worked out (though Scott says every single one eventually worked out).

In my readings, I’ve come across another concept that might serve as an additional explanation. In Influence, Dr. Cialdini goes over some of our automatic mechanisms one of which is a strong desire for consistency. This consistency bias drives us to act in ways consistent with previous actions even when they go against our best interests. Additionally, it has often been found that attitudes tend to follow behavior, not the other way around. We tend to evaluate our attitudes, based on how we behaved. If we say something, we tend to think we believe it. Once we believe something, if we don’t act in a way that is consistent with what we believe, we experience cognitive dissonance.

I started using affirmations, because it’s a low risk/cost practice. Also, I certainty don’t think it’s a bad thing to be regularly reminded of my goals.

Link to Book Notes:


Energy and My Morning Routine

We often think about how much time we spend doing things, but not the quality of those hours. One of the keys for high performance is managing your energy levels. The Power of Full-Engagement breaks these down into four categories: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Energy is like a muscle and while it can get stronger with exertion, it needs time to recover or else you will burn out.

Below are some steps on managing your energy levels for each category.

  • Physical Energy – Get enough sleep. Eat healthy. Spread out your meals. Stay hydrated. Exercise.
  • Emotional Energy – Do something you enjoy, spend time with friends, give to a cause
  • Mental Energy – Challenge your brain, take breaks
  • Spiritual Energy – Reflect on your values, work towards your purpose

James Altucher is a big fan of this framework and managing these four energies is the key part of his daily practice.

I’ve tried to keep these ideas in mind as I crafted my daily routine. Below is roughly how my morning routine goes. I tweak my schedule around from time to time.

  • 6:10AM – Get out of Bed
  • 6:10AM – 6:25AM – Priming. Tony Robbin’s technique. (phys/emo/spr.)
  • 6:25AM – 7:30AM – Affirmations and Morning Pages (mental)
  • 7:30AM – 8:50AM – Exercise/Shower/Breakfast (phys.)
  • 8:50AM – 10:30AM – Read and take notes (men.)
  • 10:30AM – 11:50AM – 10 ideas / text my girlfriend something sweet (men./emo.)

Afterwards, the day can really vary. If I feel drowsy, I’ll take a nap around 1-2PM for 20 minutes. This week I started learning Python so I’ve been working on that from about 12PM – 6PM in 30-35 minute intervals with ~5 minute break in between. In previous weeks, I’ve read or worked on other projects.

I’ve made an effort to try to eat healthier as well. In the past, I felt like the only reason to eat healthy was to get a better body, but that didn’t do a good job of motivating me (I swear I was in the best shape of my life before I met my girlfriend). Thinking about the link between eating healthy and my productivity has made me want to eat better though. While I still eat the occasional burger and pizza, I’ve generally tried to cut down on sugar and processed foods and up my vegetable and healthy fat intake.

Link to book notes:

The Power of Full Engagement