The benefits of changing your habitat, how I manage email, a quick life tip, and my obligatory GameStop take
How are you doing? I’m in a laser-focused, motivated state of mind right now. Something about this time of year always makes me feel like I shed a skin, and I approach life with a renewed vigor.
Spurred on by the need to baby-proof the house now my son is starting to crawl, I have been on a home improvement kick the last couple of weeks. I am looking how I can make better use of every nook and cranny, which has got me unexpectedly pumped. Tailoring the details of your living space can make such a big impact on your life, and I am here for it. My focus right now is in trying to optimize every aspect of my environment and daily routine.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says there are three components to a habit; the cue, the behaviour, and the reward. Changing our behaviour is hard, but there is a hack for that. By changing the cue instead, we make it easier to change our behaviour as a consequence. And our environment is one of our most influential cues.
For example, if you always leave your TV remote on the sofa, it is so easy to sit down, turn the TV on, and binge Netflix. But if you keep the remote in a drawer and leave a book on the sofa instead, you are more likely to read the book instead.
I don’t have a problem with watching too much TV. My main issue is finding time to work on projects, so I need my environment set up to make it as easy as possible to get into my flow. The lesson; don’t try to change your habits; change your habitat instead.
With that in mind, anything in my home that even slightly annoys me is currently in the firing line. And I’ve made great strides already. I have ordered new blinds for my south-facing windows to deal with the low winter sun and updated my aging hi-fi system to a fully Bluetooth setup. It’s been great to listen to my record collection again (in case you’re wondering, I christened the turntable with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On LP.) I’ve replaced a bunch of kitchen equipment (it’s sad how excited this made me) and upgraded almost everything upgradable on my computer with the help of some YouTube videos. I’m still tempted to buy one of the new M1 chip MacBooks but I think I have scratched my faster computer itch for now.
Partly inspired by this article, I went through every box and bag in our loft, photographed their contents, and created a Google doc with an inventory of everything stored up there so I can work out what to keep, sell, donate, or get rid of. I finally bit the bullet and sold a bunch of music production gear I had been hanging onto. Quality vintage gear still fetches good money on eBay, which was a pleasant surprise, so freeing up storage space has also netted me some decent money.
The feeling that comes from clearing things out and getting organised is addictive, so I expect to be on this kick for a while. At this rate, my spring cleaning will be done before spring arrives, and I can focus on other things.
While not strictly related to this newsletter’s core theme, the recent GameStop saga touches on a couple of things I recently mentioned in this newsletter, so here’s my take on it.
Last issue I wrote about the internet’s power to connect disparate people to form online communities (an argument I have been making for two decades). A couple of months before that, I wrote about the overlooked importance of memes as a way to influence people at scale. Those two ideas collided head-on with the finance world during the GameStop drama this month. (Shout out to my buddy Anil who told me to look into what was happening before it blew up.)
I won’t go into the technical details of what happened because they are not relevant here. Simply put, members of a Reddit subforum about investing (r/WallStreetBets) came together to drive up the price of a stock from $40 to over $450, causing institutional investment firms (aka hedge funds) betting against the company to lose billions of dollars. This was interesting for a few reasons.
First, it was a dramatic illustration of how the internet removes the gatekeepers of information and power due to its decentralised nature. That decentralisation enables groups of people who otherwise have little influence to band together and have the collective power to rival that of big institutions.
The fact that a Reddit subform can leverage the power of the internet to cause multi-billion dollar moves in the stock market is a big deal. Historic, even. Movie deals about the whole spectacle are apparently already being discussed.
Secondly, there were two opposing narratives about the event, each with a good vs. bad angle. First was the David and Goliath story of the internet kids sticking it to The Man. This was the main narrative found on the internet. The alternative view was that the hedge funds were the responsible adults at the table and the WallStreetBets crowd were unruly kids who were causing mayhem and must be tamed. This was the way the story was framed in the mainstream media
Neither narrative was true. There was no good vs. bad. It was just two groups of investors executing legitimate counter-strategies. Some hedge funds will have inevitably seen where things were going, got on the right side of the trade, and profited. And plenty of amateurs will have bought the stock when it was overpriced and lost money (the stock crashed from $450 back down to $40 this last week.)
Nobody can say that one side won or lost; it was messy on both sides. What was interesting was how these two opposing narratives exposed two things:
First was how the mainstream media is complicit in reinforcing the existing power structures in society. The first rule of journalism is to remain balanced and avoid becoming involved in the story. The biased angle the mainstream media almost universally took (belittling and demonising “internet kids” for playing with fire and upsetting the adults) shows how far journalistic standards have fallen.
Second, it exposed the generational culture shift that the internet has ushered in. It seemed that everyone who was part of the establishment or above a certain age (don’t want to put a figure on it) was on the side of the hedge funds, and everyone else was rooting for the Reddit crowd.
The internet is the primary cultural driving force in society, and anyone who hasn’t realised it is behind the curve. It will completely change the power structure and marginalise established institutions over the next few decades.
As I said on Twitter, the GameStop thing is a great example of the power of the internet, online communities, and the democratisation of information. The ripple effects will be felt far and wide and way beyond just the stock market. The internet is a paradigm shift for the human race that has fundamentally and permanently changed everything. And it is just getting started.
Use Your BRAINS for Better Decisions
I’m still on my deep dive into decision-making techniques. I learned a cool, simple framework called BRAINS when I was preparing for my wife to give birth to our son last year. It is a handy tool that you can use in many everyday situations (not just childbirth). I wrote a short post about it here, so take a look if you want to have it in your back pocket.
How I manage email
I recently tweeted that I know people who spend 25-40% of their working hours in their inbox. Even though I get more emails than most of them, I spend less than 1hr/day on it. Someone replied asking how I manage my email, so I thought I would share my process with you:
- 1. Use other systems (e.g. Slack or MS Teams) to take pressure off the inbox
- 2. Turn off notifications to avoid the real-time distraction of incoming messages
- 3. Set up forwarding and reply rules for auto-inbox management
- 4. Batch process the inbox in 2x 30min blocks each day
- 5. Write out a set of common replies and use a text expander app like Phrase Express to create keyboard shortcuts for them. These standard replies can then be pasted with just a couple of keystrokes and tailored as required.
- 6. Cut out the formality, get to the point, and keep your emails as short as possible (AKA emailing like a CEO)
- 7. Be ruthless about what you do and don’t reply to. Studies have shown that you get 1.7 emails back for every email you send. Not every email requires a response, so aim to send as few replies as possible.
Podcast recommendation: The Upgrade
Back in the noughties, I used to spend a lot of time on Lifehacker. Looking back, it was a fairly formative stepping stone in my self-improvement journey (I remember carrying a “Hipster PDA” made out of index cards around with me before smartphones were a thing.)
Somewhere along the way, I forgot about it and haven’t visited the site in years. But recently, I discovered their podcast, The Upgrade. Each episode explores how to improve a different area of your life, which puts it firmly in Lifecamp territory. I can highly recommend it if you are not already a listener. If you’re wondering where to start, try the How to Start 2021 Off Right episode with Charles Duhigg, which has some great tips on following through on your intentions for the year.
Book of the Month: Managing Oneself
Peter Drucker was a legendary business consultant and author who wrote forty books in his lifetime. And this little volume of his is an absolute gem. Though only the size of a postcard and less than sixty pages, it is a treasure trove of insights. He covers how people should think about themselves, their careers, working relationships, and the second half of their lives. I first read it a few years ago and was blown away by Drucker’s sagacity and clarity of thought when I re-read it last week.
Despite its small size, Managing Oneself contains more wisdom than most full-length books, thanks mainly to Drucker’s shrewdness and ability to get straight to the heart of the matter with his direct writing style. There is no fluff at all. You can read it from cover to cover in about an hour and come away with an absolute feast of food for thought.
I wish more publishers were willing to put out books in this format instead of the typical 300-page, 50,000-word paperback. If authors and editors could distill the key contents of full-length books down to sub-20,000-words without sacrificing quality, I think there would be a huge market for it. I certainly would not feel short-changed if I were to pay full-price for a 15,000-word book of a comparable standard to this one. Indeed, time is such a precious resource that I may willingly pay a higher cover price for the shorter format.
Everyone should own a copy of this book and re-read it every few years. The hour spent reading it is a great investment that will help you think about your true purpose and how best to spend the next few years of your life. It may not give you all the answers but it will definitely help you ask the right questions.
Quick Life Tip
This is a new recurring section I am experimenting with. Here’s this month’s tip:
To stop avocados from turning brown in the fridge once you have cut into them, rub a bit of olive oil onto the exposed flesh. It seals the avocado from the air, so it will stay green for a few days.
I used to walk home from school with the same friend, who lived around the corner from me, each day. I would always ask him how his day was, but he never had much to say in response. In contrast, I would always have an interesting (to me, at least) anecdote to share with him. I never thought anything of it until one day he said to me, “You always have a story from the day to tell me.”
His comment led me to reflect and conclude that how you choose to engage with things and the amount of attention you pay to detail hugely impact the enjoyment you get from life. So I have always tried to follow my curiosity and explore what I find interesting, no matter how small it may be. I believe this is essential for getting more out of life and finding happiness. I had forgotten entirely about the conversation with my school friend until I came across this quote, which resonated with me the other day:
“Good stories happen to people who can tell them”Nora Ephron
If anyone is qualified to make that statement, it’s Nora Ephron.
Until next month,