I had chosen a worthy goal for myself several weeks back in determining to become a lightning bruiser. It’s my next step professionally, and I am quite good at getting things done that seem impossibly large for a single person. Probably 360iTiger is my best latest example, but there was HitTail before that, and the Scala, Inc. integrated web publishing / total business system before that. I actually can do some pretty amazing things when I set my mind to it, but it requires incredible discipline, focus, and the true soul-felt desire to go there and be that. What I’m working on has to simply be more interesting and important to me than anything else I could possibly be doing that moment—including recreational and (now) family stuff. It’s a very tall order indeed. This blog post delves into it in a way to do exactly that—making my next professional steps as interesting as possible, and compel me forward on my journey to lightning bruiser.
Because maintaining focus and crushing distractions is job one, I have to think through the channels of distraction, and there are many, and sometimes unexpected and almost invisibly distracting us. A huge one is the pop-up Alert notifications on my phone. So on the iPhone, it means going into Settings / Notifications and turning off all notifications except for the things that really need it. And even the ones that need it get Badges and Banner App Icon counters instead of the intrusive Alert box—even Calendar and Reminders. Even turn off the Badge App Icon counters except for things that really need it. And as much as I like the New York Times headline alerts as almost my only source of world news these days, off those go too. So the only things I should see in iPhone notifications for an app is nothing, Badges, or Badges and Banners. I wish there were location profiles for alerts. Maybe iOS 7?
I remember back in my Scala, Inc. days before smartphones, there were no distracting notifications except for emails arriving, which were mostly spam in those days (~1999). I was both young and without the damn world of social media encroaching in on every edge. They were different times, and focus was much easier. How do I even have the privilege of turning off all these distractions today? Well, it was a total career re-alignment built upon 5 years of service at an enlightened New York advertising agency, and the subject for a completely separate article. I am in a fortunate, lucky and blessed position to disable notifications. Oh, I’m also in my forties now, and have paid a lot of my dues. You youngin’s should achieve this blissful focus-time by allowing your self to be distracted and always-on during the day, and then burn the midnight oil. I don’t do that anymore because of my beautiful wife and daughter that I carve every bit of free time out for.
Superior thoughts are the secret weapon of a lightning bruiser. Superior thoughts don’t just happen. They’re a result of continuously processing your thoughts. And that’s another way of saying keeping journals. So, the next thing is having the ability to use all of my different “journal” systems ready to use without them themselves being a source of distraction. My main journal is in my 360iTiger code repository in vim and Mercurial, which gets replicated across multiple servers to keep safe. Generally, I’m the only one with access to these servers so I can be pretty free in my writing, but not entirely. I have to treat it like eyeballs can/will review it someday, so the writing is not totally super-secret or private. My best idea processing really doesn’t have a proper home yet, and that’ll probably be one of my Levinux projects—running a proper encrypted and replicated journal system for idea processing. But for now, all my journal systems are semi-public—especially this one, WordPress, which I’m typing into right now, which comes equipped with the biggest distractions of all—the Internet and my Chrome bookmarks. And finally, there’s Apple Notes, which I always keep open because it replicates so seamlessly across Mac, iPhone and any computer with Internet and a browser. Apple really got a multi-platform seamless cloud writing environment better and earlier than anyone else. You might say what about Evernote? I challenge you to use it for free-form writing on say, the Android app. Apple Notes really just nailed it, so it serves as sort of a micro-journal or idea-capture journal where I can refine things over multiple days from many locations, online or off.
Okay, enough rambling about journals. Point being, I have multiple journaling systems to help me capture and process ideas in every situation, and sometimes publish. Doing so is important for becoming a lightning bruiser, because the quality of your thinking actually has to be BETTER than those around you, so that the way you act on those thoughts and direct your life is more effective than those of others who are just sort of blindly feeling their way through life, stumbling from day to day and situation to situation. Journaling makes you self-aware and really makes that whole Maslow’s self-actualization stuff fire on all cylinders. I guess I don’t describe what I mean by lightning bruiser too much. But it’s a type of player in game design that completely throws the game out of balance. Usually you pack an incredible punch, but are a slow as a mighty glacier, or fast as lightning, but a fragile speedster. Combining speed and punching power in the same character is sort of unfair, but is precisely what you should pursue in your own professional capabilities. Incredible confidence arises from having excess capabilities but not having to use them in all situations. And all this game stuff is really metaphors for achieving things faster and better professionally in this new knowledge worker information-age of ours—and in that world, the actions you take, and how fast you take them are the equivalent of game-play. Hence, being a lightning bruiser professionally is so tied to the quality of your thinking, and consequently your discretionary writing habits.
Preventing Peek-a-boo Distractions
Did I mention Chrome bookmarks? Ugh! A web browser would be much less dangerous from a distraction standpoint if it didn’t have those pesky bookmarks labeled Twitter, Facebook, and the like. And worst of all, Google+ is infiltrating every Google property you visit with that pesky notification which used to be an exact rip-off of the Apple Badge App icon counter, but which they finally turned into something of their own just today—a sort of bell. They updated it on Google.com and most insidiously on Google Drive, but not on YouTube yet. It’s interesting watching their UI changes creep out across properties, introducing inconsistency, then gradually catching up everywhere. But at any rate, even just innocently visiting a Google property like search can inadvertently suck you into those bottomless pit of social distractions. So, always perform search from the Address bar, and not the Google homepage (actually, also not totally distraction-safe). There used to be a way to turn it off, but I can’t find it anymore. Oh, Google. Oh, and back on the topic of bookmarks, I used to have them gathered up into a folder called “Distractions”, but that was too distracting, so I renamed the folder “Focus!” as a reminder to focus. Shutting down all the sources of peek-a-boo distractions is so important because one of a lightning bruiser’s greatest weaknesses—his/her kryptonite, so to speak—is banana peels. Peek-a-boo distractions are banana peels to a fast-moving, heavy-hitting lightning bruiser, and can land you on your ass for an entire day of non-productivity. Simply don’t throw banana peels on the ground!
Ongoing Purging & Organization
Oh, so that Bookmarks discussion touches on just general organization. This is a truism throughout life. Getting organized is overhead, and often can become a satisfying end-in-itself, and a distraction. But a constant low-level task of keeping yourself organized, such as with your Chrome bookmarks, wallet, and all other vessels for important information and resources will pay you back in efficiency and increased capabilities. Being able to do stuff is directly tied to how quickly you can activate resources—especially if that resource is not a skill committed to muscle memory coming automatically to you. For all else, you have to figure out an appropriate system. Things like GMail, forget sorting and organizing. Just throw crap in there and rely on a robust search system to pull it up again. For things with finite “shelf space” like your wallet, trim it down to the least things that are the most useful or important in emergencies. But generally, purge. And for all that stuff with no search system but voluminous stuff you need to keep, you need some sort of index system for your own search. That’s like all the clutter crap in our lives. Constantly purge what you can. There’s actually a big cost of keeping stuff you’ll never use again because it dilutes everything else’s value by impeding your movement and slowing your search. Delete emails older than 2 years. Try to delete in real-time the stuff people are trying to weigh you down with, so you don’t have these enormous purging tasks to contend with. George Carlin had the shit stuff right. You can’t take it with you, and all that. Living in a studio apartment for a couple of years really helped me get down my priorities. The idea with organization is to achieve a sort of Batman utility belt Kung Fu Zen and all that. It’s very important having exactly the right stuff at your fingertips when you need it if you want to be a lightning bruiser.
Okay, onto the next thing. This very post violates it. It’s the perpetual re-checking of whether you’re on the right track, and re-calibrating your behavior against immediate goals and the overarching plan. This keeps you working towards some greater vision that couldn’t possibly be acheivable without alinging your behavior over 10 or 20 years towards it. For example, I live and die by my one-page-plan for life. And while John Scully generally made a mess of Apple while he was there, one of his principles in life—if you can’t make it clear in one page, you’re not thinking or communicating clearly—made it into Guy Kawasaki’s “Selling The Dream” book, which made it into my head permanently. And now, I always have a plan-for-life that actually integrates business and personal life. If I were ambitious like a Zuckerberg or Bezos, this one-page-plan is where it would show. But I didn’t get my act down early enough in life, so I’m not ambitious like that. And while yes, I do still believe it is important to psitively touch a lot of lives, I don’t want to be a slave to my obsessions, and therefore feel no need to build an empire. Instead, I’m consistently distilling my best learnings in life down into a programming platform, which itself is designed to be a self-sustaining viral meme that teaches people how to be capable technical implementers—just as a sort of part of their normal language in life. My employers and family should always be the main beneficiaries of this plan—such as the education of my child—but there should also be a sort of worldwide like-minded tribe to benefit-from and maybe even carry on the work. I laid this all out in a one-page-plan and always check my day-to-day actions against it. It’s too much work to be a lightning bruiser in all things at all times, so the idea is to pick and choose your path through life, keeping things on-plan as much as reasonably possible, so you can at least be a lightning bruiser on things that closely align to plan.
Building & Keeping Momentum
No accomplishment is really that big. They’re all really just the illusion of big accomplishments, because lots of little accomplishments are all lining-up just-so. There might have been massive setbacks and failures mixed in there too—and probably were. Nothing worth doing is easy to do. And nothing that really differentiates you will come easily either as a thought or in actual implementation, or someone else would have done it already. You have to see things others haven’t seen yet, then layer tiny accomplishment upon tiny accomplishment in unending daily chisel-strikes, always moving you closer to a finished sculpture, and always moving your life forward in exciting and meaningful ways. For me, that means mastering Linux, Python, vim, and git until it all comes naturally to me and is committed to muscle-memory, so all that excess “clock cycles” of the brain can be committed to the really difficult stuff. Don’t tackle too much. After checking your lofty goals and plans, deconstruct the work down into 1, 2, 3 immediate steps. And you don’t even really need to know step 2 & 3. It’s just an immediate way of organizing the daunting work immediately in front of you. Lightning bruisers are not actually lightning bruisers. They’re average speed and average hitting-force, but with Rocky the Italian Stallion stick-to-itive-ness (refer to Rocky IV). You don’t have to be bigger or stronger or faster. You just need to go all the rounds, never get knocked out yourself, and eventually land a killer knockout blow.
Forcing The 1, 2, 3 Step Procedure
Things stall out. Tasks feel too big. Not breaking and losing momentum is great advice if you had momentum in the first place. But what if you didn’t? What if you’re standing at the base of the mountain looking up, too intimidated to even take the first step? Well, for that, there’s listing out your 1, 2, 3 step procedure. And the brilliant part of this, is you don’t really need to know steps 2 & 3. Just go into your journal and say: Okay, and so we begin. Steps 1, 2 & 3… Step 1…