Book notes: How To Win Friends And Influence People

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin With The End In Mind
  3. First Things First
  4. Seek first to understand, before being understood
  5. Win-Win
  6. Synergy
  7. Sharpen the Saw

1 – be proactive

Be Proactive – this is about setting aside time to do things before bad things are happening. This means giving up on some idle time. This means going above and beyond. It means thinking ahead.

2 – begin with the end in mind

if you don’t know where you want to go, you’re never going to get there.

3 – first things first

This is about prioritizing. Some things are always more important or critical than others. Just as there’s always one weakest link, there’s always one tightest bottleneck. Work on that thing first.

4 – seek first to understand, before being understood

Don’t try to impose your reality on others. You have to find out what people want. HTWFAIP is all about this.

5 –Win-Win


6 – Synergy

It’s turned into a buzzword, but it’s basically about trying for outcomes that are MORE than win-win.

7 – Sharpen the saw

Set aside time to review and get better at the whole process.

Also see: GTD, HTWF



  • 5 stages of mastering workflow:
    • collection
    • processing
    • organizing
    • reviewing
    • doing
  • inputs, processing/thinking, and outputs (actions and action lists)
  • To be your most productive self, you must be able to think clearly.
  • To think clearly, you must have completely downloaded from your short-term memory or RAM all the “open loops” — unfulfilled commitments you’ve made to yourself.
  • This frees your mind to do naturally what it does best — think about things rather than of things.
  • Once you has everything off your mind and written down, in paper or electronically, you have to decide, “What’s the next action?” This is THE critical question.
  • Once this is decided, the action must be completed or tracked in a trusted system, such as a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).
  • Two-minute rule: Any next action that can be completed in two minutes or less should be completed immediately. Touch most items once then clear them forever from “psychic RAM.”
  • Allen outlines a process for getting RAM cleared in the first place and then for keeping it clear on a daily basis, as new things come into one’s “in” box.
  • The “What’s the next action?” question must be asked on the front-end, when the item from the “in” box is first reviewed.
  • Getting Things Done is part tools and techniques, part psychology. Allen says that mastering your time enables you to live in the present moment. This may be the true gift of this book.

Part 1 – The Art of Getting Things Done

Chapter 1 – A New Practice for a New Reality

  • Objectives:
    • 1: Capture all one needs to accomplish somewhere outside the brain
    • 2: discipline oneself to make decisions about these items as they are added to one’s workload.
  • A person is the most productive when the mind is clear, free of “open loops” — the things people commit to do which remain undone and become a drag on the unconscious mind. The conscious mind is a focusing tool, not a storage place.
  • Write down the outcomes you wish to achieve.
    • For every outcome, determine the “next physical action” required to move the situation forward.
    • This next physical action must be organized in a system one reviews regularly.
    • Doing these things is the equivalent of what Allen calls “horizontal” focus.

Chapter 2 — Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow

  • Five stages of mastering workflow: to collect, process, organize, review and do.
  • In the Collection stage, the idea is to gather all the items that remain to be completed. Collection tools include the physical in-basket, paper-based and electronic note-taking devices, voice-recording devices and email.
  • There are three “collection success factors”:
    • Every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head.
    • You must have as few collection buckets as you can get by with.
    • You must empty them regularly.
  • In the Process stage, the bucket is emptied. Allen describes this as perhaps the most critical improvement for almost all the people he’s worked with. He outlines this process in great detail, complete with a flowchart.
    • It asks:
      • What is it? Is it actionable?
      • If not, trash it, put it in a tickler file or put it in a reference file.
      • If so, what’s the next action? The next action is defined as the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.
      • Will next action take less than 2 minutes?
        • If yes, do it.
        • If no, delegate it or defer it.
        • If it will take longer than 2 minutes, consider it a project (defined as requiring more than one action step) and put it in your project plans which will be reviewed for actions.
  • In the Organize stage, Allen describes eight categories of reminders and materials:
    • trash
    • incubation tools
    • reference storage
    • list of projects
    • storage or files for project plans and materials
    • a calendar
    • a list of reminders of next actions
    • a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for
  • A review of all one’s lists, preferably weekly, is critical for success.

Chapter 3 – Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning

  • “Vertical” focus: the thought process behind successful project planning.
  • The brain goes through five steps to accomplish most any task and that this Natural Planning Model is also the most effective for project planning. These steps are:
    • Defining purpose.
      • Asks “why?” Answering this question provides the following benefits:
        • it defines success,
        • creates decision-making criteria,
        • aligns resources,
        • motivates, clarifies focus and expands options.
    • Defining principles create the boundaries of the plan and define the criteria for excellence of behaviour.
    • Outcome visioning
      • A vision provides a picture of the final result. Allen discusses the Reticular Activating System within the brain and how it acts like a search engine. In defining the desired outcome, this filter in the brain brings to one’s attention those things that match the vision. In addition, Allen states that you won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it, and his advice is to view the project from beyond the completion date, envision “WILD SUCCESS”, and capture features, aspects, qualities you imagine in place.
    • Brainstorming — Brainstorming identifies how one gets from here to there through the generation of lots of ideas.
      • Write down these ideas to help generate many new ones that might not have occurred had the brain not been emptied by writing down the original ideas.
      • Writing ideas down also provides an anchor to keep one focused on the topic at hand. This idea of writing to spur thinking has been labeled as “distributed cognition”.
      • Keys to effective brainstorming are:
        • don’t judge, challenge, evaluate, or criticise;
        • go for quantity, not quality;
        • put analysis and organization in the background.
    • Organizing — Allen describes the key steps to include:
      • identify the significant pieces;
      • sort by components,
      • sequences and/or priorities;
      • detail to the required degree.
  • Identifying next actions — Allen states that a project is sufficiently planned when every Next Action has been decided on every front that can actually be moved on without some other components having to be completed first.

Part 2 – Practicing Stress-Free Productivity

Chapter 4 – Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space and Tools

  • Sett aside two whole days, back to back, to get started.
  • To set up a space, one needs a minimum of a writing surface and room for an in-basket.
  • A work space is needed for work and home for everyone, including students, homemakers and retirees.
  • Don’t skimp on the home work space and don’t share work space with someone else.
  • Allen is not a proponent of the “hoteling” concept that many companies have employed in recent years.
  • The basic processing tools include:
    • paper-holding trays,
    • plain paper,
    • post-its,
    • clips,
    • stapler,
    • a labeler all to oneself,
    • letter size file folders (don’t bother with color-coding),
    • a calendar,
    • wastebasket/recycling bins, and possibly
    • an organizer to “manage your triggers externally” (such as papers, planners or a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)).
  • A good general-reference filing system is key to the success of a personal management system. If it takes one more than a minute to get something out of the in-basket, decide it needs no action but should be kept for future reference, and filed, one has a significant improvement opportunity.
  • Key filing success factors include:
    • keep files at hand’s reach,
    • use one A to Z alphabetical filing system,
    • have lots of fresh folders,
    • keep the drawers less than three-quarters full,
    • label folders with an Auto Labeler,
    • buy high-quality file cabinets,
    • get rid of hanging files if you can, and
    • purge your files at least once a year.

Chapter 5 – Collection: Corralling Your “Stuff”

  • It usually takes between one and six hours to gather everything that needs to be gathered into one’s “in” basket.
  • It’s important to complete all the gathering before the “processing” and “organizing” begins.
  • Although one will be tempted to start the processing while gathering, it’s important not to do so.
    • You get a sense of just how much stuff there is.
    • You identify the “end of the tunnel”.
    • You can’t process as effectively with the distraction of knowing there is still more stuff to gather.
  • The gathering process should cover one’s physical space, such as desk drawers, countertops, and cabinets. It also includes a “mind sweep” to uncover anything that may be residing in one’s mental space, what Allen calls “psychic RAM”.
  • You may feel anxious as all this stuff is made conscious. Focus on quantity.
  • Once the collection phase is complete, move on to the next step, since leaving items in the “in” box for too long will cause things to creep back into one’s psyche.

Chapter 6 – Processing: Getting “In” to Empty

  • Processing doesn’t mean getting all actions completed; it means deciding what to do with each of the items in the “in” box.
  • When this phase is complete, one will have:
    • trashed unneeded items,
    • completed any less-than-two-minute actions,
    • delegated,
    • put reminders in one’s organizer of actions one must complete, and
    • identified any projects.
  • Allen provides guidelines for effective processing:
    • Process the top item first. Resist the urge to pull out the most urgent, fun or interesting item first.
    • Process one item at a time. This focus forces the attention and decision-making needed to get through everything.
    • Never put anything back into “in.”
  • As each item is reviewed, the key question is, “what’s the next action?” If none, the item is trashed, incubated to a “Someday/Maybe” list or “tickler” file, or put in reference material. If there is an action, make it specific. Then do it (if it takes less than two minutes), delegate it (and add it to the “Waiting For” list) or defer it.

Chapter 7 — Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets

  • Once processing is complete, one needs a way to organize the output.
  • 7 primary places to keep output and tips and tricks on making these places work. These areas include:
    • A “Projects” list,
    • project support material,
    • calendared actions and information,
    • “Next Actions” lists,
    • a “Waiting For” list,
    • reference material, and a
    • “Someday/Maybe” list.
  • These categories should be kept distinct from each other. These lists are all that you need to stay organised. Don’t  try to prioritize among these lists. Prioritization is more of an intuitive process that occurs as you review your lists.
  • Actions that should go on the calendar are ones that must be done on a specific day or time. They may also include triggers for activating projects, events one might want to participate in and decision catalysts.
  • “Next Actions” should be organized by context, such as “Calls”, “Errands”, and “At Home.”
  • The “Waiting For” list should be reviewed often enough to determine if one needs to take any action. Items in one’s “Read and Review” pile and emails that require action are reminders themselves, and Allen recommends pulling emails requiring action to a separate folder in one’s email system.
  • The “Projects” list provides a single place to review all projects for needed actions. One may subdivide projects by categories such as Personal/Professional, and one also may identify sub projects.
  • There is no perfect way to track projects; one just needs to know what projects they have and how to find any associated reminders. Allen discusses Project Support Materials and warns against using them as a reminder. He also shares ideas for organizing ad hoc project thinking, where ideas are triggered and one needs to capture the ideas.
  • It is as important to organize nonactionable data — which includes reference material and “Someday/Maybes” — as it is to manage action and project reminders. Reference systems include general-reference filing, large-category filing, rolodexes and contact managers, and libraries and archives. Most people have 200 to 400 paper-based general-reference files and 30 to 100 email reference folders.
  • For ideas that are not ready for action, one can keep them on a Someday/Maybe list, trigger them on one’s calendar or put them in a “tickler” system. Allen states that it is important not to call the “Hold and Review” pile one’s Someday/Maybe list.

Chapter 8 – Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional

  • To keep the system working, it is key that one continues to trust the system. Trust is maintained by keeping the system up-to-date. One needs to decide what to look at and when.
  • The most frequent review will probably be of one’s daily calendar and daily tickler folder. After these, the next actions lists should be reviewed.
  • The key to sustaining the system is the Weekly Review. This process includes whatever is needed to empty one’s head and includes going through the five phases of workflow management. Allen recommends blocking out a couple of hours early every Friday afternoon.

Chapter 9 – Doing: Making the Best Action Choices

  • Allen gives three models for deciding what to do at a point in time, beyond his simple answer to trust one’s intuition.
  • The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment uses the criteria of context, time available, energy available, and priority to make decisions.
  • The Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work presents Allen’s idea that during a workday, one engages in one of three activities:
    • doing predefined work,
    • doing work as it shows up, or
    • defining one’s work.
  • Allen asserts that the sacrifice of not doing the work you have defined on your lists, because something else came up, can be tolerated only if one knows what he’s not doing. People may blame their stress and lowered effectiveness on surprises when it’s really their lack of defining their work. He calls one’s ability to deal with surprise a competitive edge.
  • The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work is presented in terms of altitude:
    • 50,000 + feet: Life
    • 40,000 feet: Three- to five-year visions
    • 30,000 feet: One-to two-year goals
    • 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility
    • 10,000 feet: Current projects
    • Runway: Current actions
  • Each of these levels should enhance and align with the levels above it. Priorities are driven from the top. However, without a sense of control over current projects and actions, trying to manage oneself from the top down can create frustration. Start at the bottom level. First ensure all action lists are complete, then work up the model.

Chapter 10 – Getting Projects Under Control

  • Allen digs into the “vertical” project level again. He indicates that formal planning tools and techniques might be overrated and favors creative, proactive thinking.
  • He suggests projects that may need more planning are first, those that still have one’s attention even after defining next actions, and second, those for which ideas just show up. The first require a revisit to the Natural Planning Model. The second require tools and structures to capture those random ideas.
  • These may include a good writing instrument, paper, easels and whiteboards, and the computer. The very act of writing ideas down facilitates a constructive thinking process like nothing else.

Part 3 – The Power of the Key Principles

Chapter 11 – The Power of the Collection Habit

  • In this chapter, Allen gets into the psychological aspects of his methodology, which in essence explain why his process works so well.
  • He also discusses the benefits he has observed his clients realize over the years, including an increased level of trust with others and with oneself. He states that people feel badly about their unprocessed “in” boxes because the incomplete items in them represent broken agreements with themselves.
  • To remedy this, he advises three choices:
    • don’t make the agreement,
    • complete the agreement or
    • renegotiate the agreement.
  • He states that anything held only in “psychic RAM” (not conscious) will carry equal weight and many small things will create more mental stress than they deserve. He says that one should use the mind to think about things, rather than of things. He considers his methodology real knowledge work, at a more sophisticated level.

Chapter 12 – The Power of the Next-Action Decision

  • Allen proposes that twenty minutes before the end of a meeting, one should ask, “So what’s the next action here?” to increase clarity. This is radical common sense, yet it is easy to avoid this more relevant level of thinking.
  • He points out the dark side of a “collaborative culture” where people are too polite to hold others accountable, but says it is impolite to allow people to walk away from discussions unclear. Asking this question is key for knowledge workers to increase their productivity through “operational responsiveness.”
  • Finally, this question presupposes there is the possibility of change and that one can do something to make it happen, which is empowering.

Chapter 13 – The Power of Outcome Focusing

  • Allen says even the slightest increase in the use of natural planning can bring significant improvement
  • He lauds the ability to envision success when how to achieve it is still unclear.
  • Being able to generate lots of ideas, both good and bad, is a critical piece of creative intelligence.
  • Honing and organizing ideas is a necessary mental discipline.
  • Finally, choosing and taking next actions are the essence of productivity. Effectively applying these techniques is described as perhaps the major component of professional competence for the new millennium.


slideshare – 26 time management hacks I wish I had known at 20

complex change: vision/skills/incentives/resources/action plan

  • #GTD Scheduling. Cal Newport.
  • #procrastination #GTD
  • #GTD
  • #GTD
  • /


  • #GTD
  • #GTD
  • #GTD
  • (wait but why 2.0) #GTD
  • (wait but why 2.0) #GTD
  • #gtd
  • ADHD:
    • Modafinil




Preference is not Competence

Here’s a thing that trips up a lot of people about MBTI.

Preference is not competence.

The two are often correlated, yes. We tend to prefer things that we are good at. And we tend to get good at the things we prefer.

Consider this simple statement:

It is possible for an introvert to be better at socializing than an extrovert. It is possible for the introvert to be a better listener, a better host, a better conversationalist, and even more entertaining in terms of crazy antics.

It’s possible for a ‘feeler’ to be better at mathematics or science than a ‘thinker’.

It’s also possible for a ‘thinker’ to have more emotional intelligence than a ‘feeler’.

This sounds unintuitive, but it’s possible simply because there are lots of people in the world, and we all develop in incredibly different ways.

It’s possible for an “intuitive” to be more in touch with her body and the world around her than a “sensor”.

A person’s preference for something is not definitive proof of their competence at it.

A person can like singing but suck at it. Another person can be shy or uncomfortable about singing, but be signficantly better at it.

When we go to the extremes, this phenomenon begins to evaporate. The best of the best in the world get so good because they love what they do AND they’re good at it. A virtuous cycle. Similarly, the worst of the worst at something tend to hate what they do AND be bad at it.

But there are all sorts of people in between, and making assumptions about individuals is not nearly as helpful as you might think.

Extraverted Intuition

Extraverted Intuition is always seeing possibilities. They always want to know “what could be”. They are adept at understanding the external environment, but they always want to take it one step further. They wonder, “if I change this, what will happen?”

The Ne user is always striving for growth or improvement. Extraverted Intuition can give them a sense of idealism and the desire to want to impact the world.

Extraverted Intuition also has the ability to make obscure connections. The Ne user can take two seemingly unrelated topics and bring them together. This can also cause the user to have an off-beat sense of humor.

Extraverted Intuition is a right brained function. The Ne user tends to have a very creative mind. The world and workplaces tend to favor left brained activities, so it would be wise for the Ne user to develop a creative outlet for this function, whether it’s through writing, music, art, or any other activity that allows self expression.

Extraverted Intuitives also have a very entrepreneurial mindset. Ne users see possibilities of what could be all around them. They have a desire to make things happen and “put a dent in the world.” Extraverted Intuitives can get very excited about these possibilities, making them naturally charismatic. Ne users can be inspiring leaders that are catalysts for change.

People with Extraverted Intuition should seek to find a position or niche in the world where they can lead a team to promote change. This would be very fulfilling for them and help them to grow as a person.

Extraverted Intuition can also cause some problems. People with heavy use of Ne always have a desire for things to change. This can cause problems in relationships. They can have a tendency to become bored and want to move on once they have figured everything out.

The desire for change can also cause health and other problems. The Ne user’s desire for novel experiences may cause them to neglect daily needs. They may ignore resting when they are sick, or eating a proper diet. They also can be bad with money management, performing daily routines, and paying bills. If these issues are neglected for too long, they can become a point of stress.

One area that an Extraverted Intuition user should be careful to pay attention to is seeking too much external output. If the user is only focusing on new experiences without taking the time for personal reflection, they may just be spinning their wheels are not learning anything.

The ENFP and INFP should focus on developing their Introverted Feeling Function to compliment their Ne. They should take in experiences and compare them to their own personal value system. This will help them learn more about themselves and what they believe.

The ENTP and INTP should use Introverted Thinking to analyze the experiences they have. They can use this new information to form new theories and new understandings of how the world works.


ENTP Careers


Popular careers for ENTPs:

  • Executive
  • Entrepreneur
  • HR Recruiter
  • Management Consultant
  • Marketing Manager
  • Sales Manager
  • Corporate Trainer
  • Property Manager
  • Venture Capitalist
  • Ad Account Executive
  • Creative Director
  • Financial Planner
  • Stockbroker
  • Real Estate Agent
  • Cost Estimator
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Reporter
  • Copywriter
  • Art Director
  • Producer or Director
  • Journalist
  • Market Researcher
  • Internet Architect
  • Photographer
  • Actor
  • School Psychologist
  • Organizational Psychologist
  • Chiropractor
  • Political Scientist
  • Attorney
  • Architect
  • Industrial Designer
  • Urban Planner
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Drafter
  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Geologist
  • Detective
  • Criminalist
  • Public Administrator
  • Politician
  • Social Scientist
  • Health Care Administrator
  • Education Director

Least popular careers for ENTPs:

  • Medical Records Technician
  • Dentist
  • Nurse’s Aide
  • Optometrist
  • Family Physician
  • Medical Assistant
  • Dietitian
  • Preschool Teacher
  • Elementary Teacher
  • Clergy
  • Library Assistant
  • Recreation Worker
  • Receptionist
  • Factory Supervisor
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Bank Teller
  • Machinist
  • Airline Pilot


Manage your meatbag. Keep eating hearty breakfasts, drink lots of water, stay away from cigarettes, work in scheduled blocks, plan my fun in advance, take lots of deep breaths. Eliminate noise and clutter. Prioritize.

Wake up. Be here nowSleep early. Explore your curiosities. Face your fears. Let go of the past. Let go of your old self. Address recurring concerns. Get the basic 101s right. Dismantle your guilt. Work on your fitness. Do squats [1]. Figure out howto do things.

Clarify your wants. Identify your desired end-states. Travel. Relax.

Apply force violently – strike hard while the iron is hot. Utilize decisive bursts. Do the thing.

Eliminate obligation debt. Owing people stuff sucks psychologically and physiologically. We’re just not wired to be able to do that and be happy at the same time. Start by saying no more, making fewer promises. Only promise what you can deliver. Beyond that, identify what your existing obligation debt is. Again, eliminate whatever you can, and focus on whatever you can’t. Prioritize the most urgent/critical, get that out of the way. Move on to the next thing. Then when you have a chance to breathe, plan ahead and see how you can get the next bunch of stuff out of the way, ideally ahead of time. Teach yourself to act and move faster.

Improve your rate-of-learning. Are you still doing the same things you did 3 months ago? Then you’re not learning fast enough. Learn to focus. Read.

Work backwards from desired end-states. If you don’t know where you’re headed, then your energy is going to be wasted, misdirected.

Break things down into smaller sub-steps. You like to think you can just improvise your way through things, but that doesn’t work for anything that isn’t trivial. You can’t do long division in your head. Your work is more complex than long division. Stop trying to do it in your head. Appreciate the utility of articulating and externalizing your thinking.

Take the first actionable step. Don’t talk so much about all sorts of things and then not do anything. Do something.

Identify and eliminate limiting beliefs. Often these beliefs are legitimate, eg. I don’t think I can do something because I’ve never done it before. The trick to cracking that is to do something simpler that you’ve never done before. Boom, now you know that you are capable of doing new things. Now start doing progressively harder new things.

Climb up, don’t preach down. Help people up when you can, but not at the expense of climbing further up yourself. Pioneers are more valuable than bridge-builders.

Identify when you’re down. Recognize when your thought patterns are particularly pessimistic. Don’t deny them, allow them through, but send them on their way.

Refuse to give in to darkness. When you’re tired, frustrated, bored, overwhelmed, troubled, burdened – realize that this is nothing new. This is what beats down idealistic youth and yields cynical old bastards. You’re better than that. You’re too young to be world-weary or suicidal. Interesting things will still happen, be a part of it.

Do not pace the threshold. If something needs doing, jump in, face it head on, do it. Apply force violently.

Motivate yourself. Regularly. Constantly. Every day. You’re made of stars, your bones are stronger than steel, your brain is the most complex parallel processor in the known universe. In an instant you can change your mental model of everything. The last chapter to your life has not been written yet and it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. It doesn’t matter what happened to you; what matters is, what are you going to do about it?

Make a list of personal KPIsMeasure them closely.

Examine your revealed beliefs.

Give away everything you know. Stop hoarding shit, it’ll tire you out.

Beware dumb people. You can’t undumb the dumb. It’s a full time job trying to undumb yourself.

Accept the hand you’re dealt. Stop denying or refusing to reckon with reality.

Pay attention to internal rhythms.

Pay attention to others. It’s not all about you.

Get out of Boringville – hunting down what you find interesting is practically a moral imperative.

Contemplate the passage of time.

Beware the trappings of civilization, ie supernormal stimuli. 

Tame your mind.

Journal regularly. Every morning, ideally. Think about your goals, your values, your best opportunities. Start from the beginning. Be grateful. Gratitude is very powerful, it might sounds soft, but billionaires practice it. It’s not genetic, they work at it. While everyone is worried about turmoil and crisis, the best one say what am I grateful for, what are the opportunities here, what’s good? Celebrate their team, their own talents, stay focused.


know yourself, be aware of yourself


support yourself

regulate your emotions / psyche

manage yourself

motivate yourself



be proactive?

0374 – contemplate what’s changed and prepare for future change

be precise


design solutions to your problems

dealing with failure, mistakes, plateaus, setbacks

avoid failure / fix mental bugs



This is a long list of random things that I had accumulated in my Evernote. Will tidy up and process when I next feel like it.

I want to witness more sunrises and sunsets.  I find them to be appropriately awe-inspiring and humbling. They remind me that I’m just a little human in the grander scheme of things, and they remind me that great, beautiful things are possible. It’s like a mini-version of the Overview Effect, which I have often said I’d like to witness.

todo: sleep and wake earlier

I want to meet more people

“I met an acquaintance for dinner yesterday– we talked about our lives over McDonald’s. I enjoyed it. I should meet more of such people on a regular basis. I enjoy eating lunch with my colleagues every day– it can be a slightly different mix of people each time, and there’s usually some good conversation to be had. There’s no reason why I can’t do the same for dinner on a more regular basis.” (0385)

I currently don’t feel like I have time to meet people. This is because I’m not managing my time well. I need to manage my time better so I can fulfil my obligations AND have time for myself and the things I want.

I want to learn to draw.

I don’t need to draw photorealistic things, I just want to be able to communicate and express myself visually through doodles and sketches, comic style. I need to accept that the initial stuff is going to look terrible, and I need to be okay with that. It’s totally possible to learn to draw at 26 years of age. Skills can be trained.

I want to earn real friendship. (VAGUE)

Sometimes it feels like I’m spending my whole life in search of a true friend, in the most idealistic sense of friendship. As I get older it becomes clearer that it’s probably not possible. I’m already very lucky to have married someone who loves me, and to work with colleagues who accept and appreciate me, and in both cases I’m trying (perhaps not smartly enough, never smartly enough) to become more worthy of such kinship.

I’ve realized that adulthood is about parenting yourself, and I suppose in life you also have to be your own best friend. I’ve met a couple of good people in recent weeks and it’s been energizing, so from a meatbag management perspective I should keep doing that. But it becomes clearer and clearer that in the end that still won’t be sufficient. Friends can give you validation and support, and really good friends can give you valuable negative feedback. But do we even really need that? If I really sit down with myself and be honest with myself I know what my flaws are and I know what needs to be done to fix it.

todo: figure out who my “best” friends are (define this more clearly for myself– will do this personally) and invest more in those relationships, and in becoming a person that such people / more such people would want to befriend

to be debt free / financially independent

The debt that weighs on my mind right now is my house– the fact that I’ll take 27 more years to completely pay it off. I don’t know how I’m thinking about that or how I ought to think about that. Technically I need to know that I could sell my house if I had to. I can’t sell it for a couple of more years, but I should be able to withstand that long.

Living expenses– I could live more cheaply if I had to. I’m hesitant to do this I guess because it feels like it would take forever anyway. I should quantify this stuff and clarify.

Whatever the case, there is anxiety here that could be reduced. I should figure it out and chat about it with my wife.

I want to learn to cook.

This means learning to prepare specific meals with specific ingredients. I should learn to reliably make a particular dish. I can make eggs and a protein shake. I think I should learn to make tuna pasta next, since it’s relatively simple/predictable.

I want to spend less time and energy paying attention to stupid bullshit that will never bother me.

particularly the stupidity of others. it’s a trap.

I want to finish my 1000 word vomits project.

I want to say that I want to complete it ASAP, but it seems like I don’t actually want to push myself that hard on that one. I need to figure out what’s the

I want to remember that life is a grand adventure / live with joy

(Dictator quote)

It’s not always obvious, but life is a grand adventure. It is utterly epic, constantly surprising, constantly changing. I think it’s really important to hold on to this, although I do suppose that letting go of it from time to time allows it to be rediscovered with great joy.

living with joy, breathing deep and laughing big, deep belly laughs, having lots of fun, dancing and singing and exploring.

todo: remind self, obviously, but also plan, prioritize and do things that remind me of this thing. make a list of things that remind me of this thing, and do them regularly.

to get things done (VAGUE), and to get good at getting things done

Ultimately the intent is to be happy IN my life, not just WITH it. And to do that I need to have gotten stuff done. I need to cut ropes, break things open, and really feel like I’m breathing deeply into the good stuff. Once I do that, I don’t have to be annoyed or frustrated with other people’s nonsense.

The real question is, what’s the desired end state? And what’s my plan of action to get to that desired end state? And what problems will I encounter along the way, and how do I visualize myself dealing with those problems, to make sure they don’t happen again? And then what steps do I need to take to make sure that goes according to plan? And when I’m done with that, what’s the next desired end state? This is a new language for me, but I intend to be fluent in it.

I want to minimize unnecessary fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Obviously everyone wants this done for them, as humans we like to not have to deal with this stuff. But that means doing some hard and painful work, that’s the counter-intuitive part.

todo: identify things causing me FUD, figure out how to fix or alleviate them, and execute on those things

to be honest.

Being dishonest is tiresome, painful, embarrassing, hurtful, and really just untenable. Strive to be as honest as possible (except in those weird freak situations, like “should you tell a murderer where their target is”).

todo: identify situations in which I’ve been dishonest, troubleshoot them, replay them in my mind, work out how to do things better, introspect, review.

to be more valuable at work. (VAGUE)

I don’t want to owe anybody any backlog. I want to be an asset to any team I work with, to challenge people to be better, to NOT be the limiting factor. This requires me to be industrious, to motivate myself and to train myself.

to leave work everyday feeling satisfied

This requires me to know that I spent my days well, and that requires me to measure carefully how I’m spending my time, what I’m devoting my energy towards.

to never feel sorry for myself

It’s just tedious and wasteful to do that. You can feel sorry for maybe 5 minutes, then you gotta be a gangsta.

to be kind to myself.

I don’t want to hate on myself for not fulfilling my obligations, because that doesn’t help me fulfil my obligations. feeling bad is not a useful feeling. I don’t want to be cruel or unkind to myself for that. It’s unnecessary, and it’s also distracting. There’s a better way– an ideal path of simultaneously being kind and being firm, not giving in too much but not pushing too hard.

to be physically bigger.

“I want to be bigger. Literally, I would like to occupy more space, contain more mass. How much more mass exactly? I’m not completely sure. I’m 85kg right now. I think I’d like to be 100kg. A tenth of a ton. That sounds good.

When I was skinny, I fantasized about being big and buff and having 6 pack abs all at once. Now that I’m halfway there, I realize that eating is a huge part of gaining weight. It sounds silly when framed like that- OBVIOUSLY you need to eat to gain weight. At the time though I was still a very picky, sparse eater, and while I could intellectually conceive of the idea of eating more, I couldn’t accurately imagine what it would feel like to actually do it.

As I’ve started eating more though I’ve discovered that there are all sorts of nuances to foods and moods. There is something unappetizing and off-putting about incredibly dry cuts of lean meat. Eggs are great, to some extent. Milk is great, to some extent. Sometimes after a workout I want a really greasy burger or pizza.

I’m getting the sense that this isn’t purely psychological. There probably is some psychological component, for sure, but it also feels like there’s something more primal or physical about what the body wants.

I guess another interesting lesson there is that I can’t project too much, too far, because I don’t have an accurate map of what things are going to be like. There are some things I can get a rough idea of by talking to older people who have walked the same path, but beyond that I have to allow quite a bit of leeway for variation and variability. More than what I’d expect if I just went with the flow.”

to work with words. (VAGUE)

I know that I like words, and that I can spend an indefinite amount of time just learning about their history and studying how they’re put together and so on. So it makes a lot of sense for me to want to be a writer. I love the smell of a beautiful sentence. So that’s easy for me. But what do I know beyond that? Should that be the central thing in my life around which everything else is organized? What would that even mean, what would that even look like? How can you purely pursue a craft for the sake of craftsmanship if you don’t know what you’re doing it for? What is the point of writing?

to publish regularly.

The longer I go without publishing something, the more miserable and anxious I get. Publishing regularly is a salve. I need to remember this.

to follow my curiosity (VAGUE)

I want to learn more about history. I want to have a better sense of how the world works, so that I can feel more comfortable and relaxed about where I am and what I’m doing.

earn the freedom to be spontaneous

Being completely spontaneous requires being able to first take care of business, and that requires practice, scheduling, management and all sorts of things. Improvisation requires rehearsal.

to write stories.

What would be the coolest thing for me to publish next, as a word vomit, as a short story, or as dialogue? No, I don’t want to just do a little dialogue. I want to do stories. Well, how am I going to define what a story is? Am I just going to describe a fictional environment? Am I going to describe a single fictional person? Am I going to describe some sort of conflict? I suppose I could run through each of those things. I’m not obliged to write self-contained stories right at the start. I can do snippets, little notes. I can do criticisms and analyses of existing books and of characters. These wouldn’t be pointless, they’ll help me figure out what I want to write later on. As long as I’m doing it for that purpose, and not utterly mindless self-indulgence, that that’s okay. Mindless self indulgence is ALSO okay, but I’d like to do better than that. I don’t want to take random walks in purely random directions when I can take a semi-random walk in a semi-deliberate direction that I know is likely to be better for me.

to help people. (TOO VAGUE)

I like helping people, I like connecting with people, and now that this is over I can start focusing on my daily exercise and I can and should reach out to people and sync up with them about drinks and food and so on. And I want to remind myself that the most important thing is for me to ask questions, and to listen, because I don’t really learn anything by confirming what I already think I know. I only learn by asking questions and teasing out what OTHERS know, and then using that to challenge what I thought I knew.

Ponder: “I’ve written nice long emails to students who ask me for help, and yet I procrastinate on doing work for my boss and colleagues, who I admire and respect very much. This is something I need to resolve.”

I want people to feel safe around me

that with me they can be themselves.

to be fair to me-now and future-me

I think what I’d like is to try and strike a balance between what would make me happy right now and what would make me happy tomorrow, and a week from now. I think it’s important to have nuance in those timelines– I wrote in an earlier post about how I tend to view time through “right now” and “the inevitable heat death of the universe”. If I’m lucky, if I’m productive, I think about tonight, and maybe tomorrow.
But I should also be thinking about next week, and next month. And I don’t do those things. I can’t plan for goals that are months down the line, and in that regard I’m almost disabled. Illiterate might be a better word. I don’t speak the language. I don’t receive the signals, I don’t interpret them. I’m like the fat guy in a room of fit guys, the non-musician in music school, so on and so forth.

“If I could turn back time I’d have invested more points in “draw”, “code”,  “dance” and “work out”. Anything would’ve been better than “laze around listlessly”.”  – with the benefit of hindsight, workout was the most powerful. Keep working out. Work out more.

“I want to be happier. I want to make more people happy. I want my wife to be happy. I want to enjoy more good moments out of time. To afford those things I need to be more focused and razorsharp in the work that I do. I need to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and do first things first. Life is short and it ought to be well-spent. Sitting on my ass is not pleasant unless I’ve first done some good work. So I need to do good work to enjoy sitting on my ass, and I need to enjoy sitting on my ass so I can do good work.

I want to have a good time, damnit, and I know now that it’s impossible to have a sustainably good time in the dark playground. So I need to come into the light, painful and scary as that might initially be.” –

“…there is a lot of richness in our behaviors and our motivations that we aren’t always privvy to. Most things are subconscious. So we can spend a lot of time simply evaluating our subconscious. And that seems to me to be a more compelling frontier. You have inside your body, inside your brain, this system of thinking, this system of processing reality. This system of beliefs that you might not even realize you hold until you test them rigorously. Don’t you want to know they are?”

“Living with [my issues] is a worst case option of sorts- the reason I write and think about these things so much is because I don’t like the idea of dying without having at LEAST made some progress on these fronts. i’d like to witness myself getting better at these things. I’d like to witness myself discovering that I was right about how I felt about some things, and that others were wrong about me. That’s somehow important to me right now. I sense that it won’t always be, that someday this goal will feel silly. But I’m not sure if I can skip this one. We’ll see.” –

“Do what YOU want, motherfuckers. Look at yourself in the eye and ask yourself what makes you happy. What makes your heart sing. Ask yourself who you’re trying to impress, and why. What are the assumptions you’re making about the social reality that you live in? What is the water that you don’t realize that you’re swimming in? What are the things that you could change, without you even realizing it? Without you ever having considered? What are the things you do every day, every morning, etc that you don’t realize that you could be doing differently?

I can’t answer that question for you, but you need to jump onto the landmine called you and blow yourself the fuck up, motherfucker. And by you I mean me. See ya on the other end.” –

“Explore curiosity and be useful to people.”

“I’m burdened needlessly by big plans and big ambitions that are too large to chew on. I just keep them around as psychological clutter to make me feel better about myself. I need to discard all of them and focus on what I can do each day.”

“No grand ideas. No big ambitions. The only task at hand is self mastery. To fulfill my obligations. Today I committed to being early for work, which I was. I kept repeating to myself that I had to jump out of bed when my alarm went off, and I did. Whoopee! I need to grease that groove and set it in stone.” –

From sensationalist to genuinely useful: “As I look back on my output now, I struggle to identify the real value. I’m a little overwhelmed by how staggeringly few and far between my insights are. Almost everything that I’ve gotten credit for has been rehashed, reapplied ideas and perspectives of others. A lot of it is populist, sensationalist crap. I wrote stuff optimising for distribution, not depth. I think that was rational and fair at the time. I didn’t know what I wanted, so I did what was fun, whatever yielded returns. But it’s clear to me that doing that is merely a local optima. There are higher peaks to scale in the pursuit of thinking/writing excellence, and to get there I have to forgo what has worked for me for the bulk of my blogging/writing “career”. I want to transition from being sensationalist to being genuinely useful.” –

Becoming Useful: “If I met Seth Godin or Paul Graham or Jimmy Wales or Elon Musk any of those cool people, I wouldn’t have anything useful to tell them. That sucks. I don’t just want to be some passive fan in the crowd, I want to get onstage and play some awesome music. I just remembered watching the Tesla shareholder meeting where this guy essentially begged Musk for a job. Musk was pretty gracious about it (I think because of his own past experience doing cold approaches like at Netscape), but I couldn’t help but cringe for the guy. Begging is a very bad strategy. (The only worse strategy is to do nothing at all.) Seduction is a good metaphor here. You want to be headhunted. Tesla and SpaceX ARE hiring. The goal should be to be so good that they can’t ignore you.”

“Why write? George Orwell: “Political purpose… push the world in a direction, alter peoples’ idea of the society they should strive after.”

I’d like my life to be radically different, if only because life is short and it shouldn’t be the same thing over and over again. –

“I want to be like Shepard. I want to grow, I want to be useful, powerful, attractive, reliable. I want to be able to smile and laugh heartily, and I want to be able to solve other people’s problems. To get to that state, first I need to solve my own problems. To do that, I need to identify my own problems. The main thing I need to solve seems to be an energy / blood sugar type problem.”

  • I’d like to be a better public speaker. I think I have value to contribute. I think I can be funny, entertaining, engaging, thought-provoking. I felt very chirpy, engaged and electrified after speaking. There’s really nothing quite like it. Being in the presence of people. Communicating with your whole body, with your voice, with volume and tone- all of these nuances I haven’t learnt to exploit and manipulate yet. I recall how energised I was after I did standup comedy once upon a time.
  • I need to work out and get big and strong. I used to read up about it.

Meaningless work

I’ve problems focusing or even wanting to focus when I’ve lost interest and see no meaning!

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to pursue our interests and do whatever we think is meaningful and fun and joyous. I still yearn for such a life, if it’s ever possible. And I’d like to believe that I’m working towards it.

But no matter what, it seems like we’re going to have to deal with situations where we have to focus on things where we’ve lost interest. And I can write some practical tips here, so let me just get those out of the way real quick…

  1. Remind yourself about what’s at stake. Sometimes you just gotta roll up your sleeves and do something tedious or disgusting or pointless that you don’t agree with. I’m reminded of this blogpost by a guy whose wife divorced him because he left the dishes by the sink. The point he made was – it wasn’t important to him to put away the dishes, he thought it was fine. But it mattered to his wife. And on retrospect, if he had focused on the fact that it wasn’t about the dishes, but about making his wife feel loved, he might’ve saved his marriage. I try to do this at work sometimes, when I have some shitty tasks that aren’t interesting or cool. I remind myself that I’m doing it for my colleagues (I happen to really like my colleagues; more so than I like my work). There must be something at stake. If there’s nothing at stake, why are you doing it?
  2. Challenge yourself to find something interesting about the situation. Have you ever seen those videos on YouTube of service workers doing all sorts of cool things when serving drinks and so on? Their jobs aren’t all that meaningful, but they’ve found a way to entertain themselves. And sometimes that entertains other people, too. Look at #SaltBae. Of course, in SaltBae’s case, he’s doing what he obviously loves. But sometimes this can work backwards, too. Do something with love, and you kind of learn to semi-enjoy the experience.
  3. Break it down into littler chunks. This is just a sort of practical project management tip that works for effectively everything. It’s the “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” idea, and the cliché only exists because it’s true. Once you’ve reminded yourself of your Why, of why you’re putting up with some stupid bullshit, you should probably then break down the tasks in front of you into little sub-steps. And then derive a sense of flow from moving through them. There is a real satisfaction to crossing off things in a to-do list. (But you don’t want to have a massive, endless to-do list of things that you’re not going to be able to do… that’s another story.)

Alright? Done with the practical advice? Now some real talk. It’s very clear that different people have different degrees of tolerance for this sort of thing. Some people can grind away for years – I’m reminded of this story of this lovely old lady who worked at McDonalds for 44 years. She legitimately seems to love her job and find pleasure in it. I would be driven mad. But props to her – she’s found something that many of us will never find. Fulfillment. Contentment.

I don’t think the problem of “I can’t focus on this meaningless task” is something to be solved with a bunch of clever tips and workarounds. I think it’s a symptom of a much deeper thing. It’s a sign that you need to think much larger about your life. Maybe you’re trapped right now working some dead-end job trying to support a spouse and kid(s).

But the fact that you’re saying that you find it meaningless suggests to me that you have some notion of what meaningful looks like. I’d invite you to articulate that precisely, for yourself, in private. Describe to yourself what a glorious, meaningful life looks like. And then plot a course for yourself from where you are to where you’re going to be.

Your friends may call you fussy, but all the beautiful things in the world were made by fussy people. I hope you’ll find a way to do the same yourself.

Navigating Bullshit

Finding substance in lectures at university that I don’t think are important 😖

I never went to University. My story is somewhat predictable. I did really well in school early on, coasted in the middle, and ended up as an underachiever whose grades weren’t quite good enough to get into any of the good courses in University. I couldn’t afford to go to the private schools, and I didn’t want to either out of principle – I knew too many people who had spent good money to get their paper qualifications and then didn’t do very much with it afterwards.

My story changes slightly each time I tell it. Technically, at some point, I was trying pretty hard to get into University – a little too little, too late. I was hoping to do Political Science, or Media Studies, or Journalism. In a way, I got really lucky that I didn’t get into any of those things. I have friends who ended up doing them, and practically all of them have complained to me at some point or another just how vapid their classes are, how tedious their assignments, how boring it all is.

So I’m pretty glad I never went. It seems to me that some of them are carrying around some trauma from their University experiences – they endured something that they now have to unlearn.


I remember when I was a kid, I once talked to an older guy I kinda admired. (There have been very few people in my life that I have admired. I have very high standards for admiration.) He was a lawyer, who seemed to be pretty successful, and had a positive attitude, was fun, thoughtful, intelligent. I wanted to be like him. I met him for coffee once, and I told him about how stressed I was at school, and how none of it seemed to matter or make sense, and how I couldn’t wait to be out of it.

I still remember the gist of what he said. He said… “In life, you’re always going to find yourself in situations that you didn’t quite ask for, where you have to do something that you don’t quite want to do. How you handle yourself in those situations speaks volumes of your character, and in a way defines who you are as a person.”

I thought it sounded very virtuous and wise. I was completely unable to follow his advice. I practically flunked out of school.

On retrospect, I wish I hadn’t even bothered to try and compromise. I would be happier and better off today if I had spent my time making things, reading, writing, playing music, meeting people. All of those things add value to my life. School really did not.

(This is very irresponsible advice that I’m giving. If you’re reading this, and nodding your head and taking it seriously, please consult a mature adult for a contrasting opinion.)

But my life is not yet 100% bullshit-free, and it probably never will be. To live in civilization is to be swimming in voluminous sludge-slides of bullshit. To bathe in it, to breathe it, to choke in it. How do we deal?

Different people will have different strategies and coping mechanisms. The mature, smart thing to do is to try to frame things positively. How is this painful, disgusting thing that you’re facing going to help you get what you want in life? I never really did that very much, and sometimes I still regret it a little bit. If I had studied harder in school, I might have gotten a shot at getting some scholarships and gone overseas on exchange and had some interesting experiences. But that never happened, and if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I could’ve done it any other way. Reality seems pretty deterministic on hindsight.

Another thing you could do is… laugh. Laugh at how ridiculous it is that you’re sitting in some bullshit lecture in some bullshit university, and realize that this too will pass. You’re just kind of stuck in a shitty zone until you can get out. And there are lots of shitty zones in life. Lots of waiting on the phone with shitty dial tone.

This blog is called “Productive ENTP”, so I should try and end with some productive advice. Erm. I’d say… take yourself out on a walk when you can, and ask yourself why you are where you are. It could be that you’re in University because your parents insisted that you go, or it could be because you want a degree so you can apply for some sort of job that you want. There’s always something you can learn even from the shittiest parts of life – sometimes these things aren’t obvious until later on. So I guess I would say… pay attention. You might not be paying attention to the lecture itself, but pay attention to whatever it is that’s going on that you think is interesting. Maybe pay attention to your classmates, pay attention to the body language of the professor, or write notes to yourself about how ridiculous the whole approach is. Get SOMETHING out of it. Even if it’s just some laughs. It adds up to something eventually. I really believe this.