Daily Rituals

Late in 2020 I read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. The book takes a look at how 161 various artists work, or worked, using a mix of diaries, first-hand accounts, interviews, articles, etc. The list includes notables like Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Anne Rice, and Igor Stravinsky. It’s a diverse group for sure. There was some tedium to just reading the different schedules people keep, but a couple of things stood out.

4 Hours

Many, many of the artists, maybe most, focused on their craft from 3-4 hours a day. That’s it. They wrote, painted, sculpted, whatever, for about 4 hours. The revelation here was that it’s less about spending an entire day doing something, and more about intense focus for a shorter period of time.

Consistency

That intense focus for a shorter period of time was also very consistent. It was at least every weekday, for some, every day. What it was not, was painting into the wee hours of the morning or writing when the mood struck. A workman-like approach is as important for creative endeavors as it is for any other important thing we’re trying to do.

Morning

Without doing the math, at least a plurality of artists worked better in the morning. Somewhere in the 7a to 1p timeframe, they found 4 hours that worked for them. Some artists were late risers and would get rolling around 9a, but they’d push for 3-4 hours and break for lunch.

Not everyone does their best work in the morning, but a lot of people do. The key here is to figure out when we do our best work and use that time for intense focus. Hint: it’s probably morning.

The Mundane

If all these artists only “worked” 4 hours a day, what were they doing the rest of the day? Was this a collection of lazy Bohemians? Not all. The list of global artists was extensive spanning hundreds of years. Everyone was different, I’m just pointing out patterns that struck me.

Many, many of the artists profiled took some downtime in the afternoon. They went for walk, took a nap, etc. Yes, many of them drank and would head somewhere for a drink earlier than we would today. Reading between the lines, they were also doing work at the bar or the pub in the afternoon and early evening. This is where word of mouth, the social media of the day, spread to others. Being in a consistent place at a consistent time was part of communication. If you needed to talk to an artist, you could find them every afternoon at their favorite watering hole.

The key, successful artists tackled the more mundane aspects of their art during a less productive time of the day.

Saying No

Finally, a key theme was saying ‘No’. A relentless focus on trying to do something great requires NOT doing a lot of other things. That means saying ‘No’, a lot.

When I think about a typical corporate job, taking control of your calendar by saying ‘No’ or delegating tasks to others allows us to consistently spend our most productive time of the day intensely focused on our most important items, but only for a few hours. After that, there is plenty of time to deal with the more routine items.

Yes, this is a bit of an ideal, but shooting for the ideal and falling short can still make us much more productive today than we were yesterday.

Weight Loss Success and Failure.

I’ve put off posting this because I wanted to wait until I’d either hit my goal or my reached my timeframe. It’s been a year since I really pushed on losing weight, so it’s time to talk about it.

Prior to 2020, I’d worked off about 15 pounds over a couple of years by watching carbs, but it was really slow. My new goal was to lose another 50 pounds in 2020. That would put me at a normal BMI.

In the end, I failed. I only lost 45 pounds.

I say I failed because I didn’t reach my goal within the time frame I set. Still, I succeeded because I am healthier than before by every measure. Too often we’re unable to see the good that can come from failure. Am I a few pounds short of my goal? Sure. Am I healthier? Yes, and that was really the point. Getting healthier is a pretty nebulous outcome. Fifty pounds is measurable, so that’s is where the goal came from.

Sometimes the challenge is not losing sight of the bigger picture while focusing on tasks. In this case, there wasn’t any negative content from failing. The deadline was arbitrary. It was there for focus. Does it irritate me that I came that close and didn’t finish? You bet.

I have plenty of excuses for why I came up short. There are some good ones in there too. A global pandemic is one. The stress of having my wife’s grandmother at home under hospice care for 3 months is another. In the end, I managed to lose 45 pounds while others put on a covid 15. I don’t have anything to complain about.

For 2021 I’d lose to lose another 15 pounds. Five more to get to a normal BMI and ten more after that to have some room for normal fluctuations. I’m working to focus that irritation of not quite hitting my goal into a final push. Frankly, I think that there are many good things that got started in 2020 that will finish in 2021. This is just one of them.

Losing the weight wasn’t easy, but if I can do something hard like this, you can do something hard too.

IOS Weather Shortcuts are Broken, Here’s How I Fixed Mine

Disclaimer, I don’t consider myself a programmer. At best I am a citizen developer, a term programmers hate. My degree is in accounting and my programming skill level can best be described as “knows enough to be dangerous’.

I’ve been playing with shortcuts in IOS. Mostly I’m building a morning an evening routine to start and wrap up my day. These include things like upcoming calendar events, tasks, today’s weather, etc. That’s how I found out that the weather tools in Shortcuts, and most of the weather shortcut examples suck.

In Shortcuts, users can select Get Current Weather for a location. Then use text or scripting to pull out individual elements like today’s high. This is where things go wrong. The “high” temperature is the high over the LAST 24 hours. If the current temp is higher it doesn’t matter, you get yesterday’s high. I’m not sure how this makes any sense, but it’s what Current Weather does. And many, many weather shortcut examples do exactly this and give wrong information.

There’s a different option in Shortcuts called Get Weather Forecast. That seems promising, until you realize that it gives you the forecast for each of the next 7 days. Most of the time, I’m trying to figure out today. Seven days is forever.

Ultimately, I solved this using scripting in Shortcuts to pull out just one day. For my day start, I look at today. For my day end, I look at tomorrow.

The nuts and bolts of this are:

  1. [Get Weather Forecast] Get Daily forecast at CurrentLocation
  2. [Get Item from List] Get FirstItem from High (High is one choice from the Weather Conditions magic variable. This is a list of high temps over the next 7 days and we are picking the first one, today.)
    or
    [Get Item from List] Get Item at Index 2 from High (Item at Index 2 is the second choice in the list. Today is 1, tomorrow is 2, etc.)
  3. [Round] Round Item from List to Ones Place (This is optional and rounds the temp to the nearest whole value. It’s a prediction not a precise measurement.)
  4. [Set Variable] Set Variable nHigh to Rounded Number (I chose to put the result into a variable because I want the high and low and other pieces to all be displayed together.
  5. [Text] Today’s high will be nHigh (nHigh here is the variable from above. You should be able to just select it. This sets the text to speak or display.
  6. [Show Result] Show Text (Show will show or speak depending on if the shortcut is run from Siri)
    or
    [Speak Text] Speak Text (Speak will always speak the text

I hope this helps somebody out who’s struggling with this. I found it frustrating and I tend to blog about things I don’t want to forget.

The Power of Precedent

I recently finished Diane Vaughn’s The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. Today I started Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. Both books reminded me of the power of precedent. Once a precedent is set, it’s remarkably hard to overcome.

At NASA, one issue with O-Rings was that they had seen damage before. NASA had a precedent of O-Ring damage starting with the first shuttle flight. As the incidents and level of non-fatal O-Ring damage increased, NASA was concerned but kept launching because they had a precedent of O-Ring damage.

My simple consulting example comes from experience. We had a rule. When you travel to visit a client the first time, never stay in a crappy hotel. If you do, you’ll be stuck in a down market hotel for the rest of the project. That first trip is the precedent and overcoming it later takes a lot of effort.

My point is simply don’t forget how powerful precedent can be when making decisions. In the case of NASA, it took a tragedy to overcome it.

I’m continuously tired of people constantly doing things

My pet peeve word right now is constantly. It’s followed closely by continuously. Short of breathing, there are few things people do constantly. I know it’s hyperbole. It’s also common enough to be annoying.

I find this most annoying when organizations do it because it seems disingenuous. Companies aren’t constantly making changes to their software. Professional firms aren’t continually scanning the landscape for the newest big idea. They may be regularly updating or frequently scanning, but constantly? continuously?

This continuous march of constantly is now having the opposite effect. If someone says they constantly do something, I assume they did it once. Maybe they thought really hard about doing it one time, but now they want to do is talk about it.