Author: Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin is a writer. He writes code, fiction, nonfiction, and has been writing on his blog for more than 15 years. His stories and articles have appeared in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, The Daily Beast as well as several anthologies. Jamie lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

200 Meditations

A little over a year ago I began to use the Calm app to start a meditation practice. I tend toward being anxious, wound up, and I’d been having trouble sleeping. I heard that meditation could help with all of this so I signed up for the app and a committed myself to giving it a try.

Yesterday, I had my 200th meditation, which I’m pretty happy about. Clearly, I haven’t meditated every day over the last year. Indeed, until about a month ago, there was a nearly 5-month gap when I didn’t meditate at all. This was when I was working on my big work project, and I was entirely focused on that. Probably I should have been meditating, but I got out of the habit.

In the last month or so, I’ve gotten back into the habit. I meditate every morning as soon as I am back from my morning walk. Usually, I head out onto the deck and do a 10-minute guided meditation using one of Calm app’s meditation programs. The one I like is “The Daily Trip” by Jeff Warren. Jeff also has a 30-day program on Calm for getting started with meditation, and I think I went through that program at least twice when I was getting started.

In my first run, prior to the 5-month gap, I did alright. At one point, I meditated for 72 consecutive days. But I was not seeing the results I’d expected. I thought I’d start sleeping better as soon as I started to meditate. I thought I’d feel less stressed out, less wound up, but that wasn’t the case. Kelly said she noticed a subtle different, but I didn’t.

This time around, it’s different. I can’t say why it’s different, but it is. This time, I can feel it helping me. I feel much more relaxed, much less anxious, and I’m deliberately taking the lessons I learn from meditation and applying them to real life situations. Take this past weekend, for example. We drove up to New York on Friday morning. Normally it’s about a four hour drive, but with the holiday traffic, it took us six hours. Normally, traffic like that would throw my anxiety through the roof. When I lived in L.A. I sat in traffic for eight years, to and from work. Today, sitting in traffic activates a kind of post-traumatic stress in me. This time, however, I tried to be open about it. I tried to simply notice the traffic, accept it, and continue listening to my podcast. Little things that annoy me on a long drive didn’t bother me. At times, I drove with a smile on my face.

This is one example, but over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a real change in my behavior, thanks to the notion of equanimity that I’ve learned through meditation. It is really beginning to help.

I’m currently on a 28-day streak, but the streaks don’t matter to me as much as they did. I enjoy the short guided morning sessions as much as I enjoy my morning walk. I’ve even started to add in an evening meditation session, 20 minutes, unguided, where I try to relax and clear my head before going to bed. That is a tricky session so far, because my mind really seems to wander without guidance and I am constantly have to refocus on my home base. But that is meditation, after all.

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The Weekly Playbook #2: Curating Photos

For an overview of this series, see the debut post on my morning routine.

Background

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got too many photos in my photo library and I don’t know what to do with them all. They are all digital, of course, so they don’t take up space. But there are three problems that plague me:

  1. Duplication: because there is no limit to how many pictures I can take, I tend toward taking a lot of the same thing.
  2. Ephemera: there are pictures I take so that I can use for a specific purpose: like the brand of detergent I need to pick up at the grocery story. These could be thrown away after I use them, but they never are.
  3. Lack of curation. Almost none of my photos are tagged, labeled, or otherwise curated in any way.

Recently, I decided to tackle this problem, and I developed a playbook for curating my photos. Here is what I do.

Playbook

  1. Open the Photos app on my Mac.
  2. Select the “Weekly Photo Curation” Smart Album
  3. For each photo in the album, so one of two things:
    • Delete the photo
    • Give the photo a title, and optionally, give it keywords
  4. Repeat step 3 until all the Smart Album is empty.

Commentary

I use Apple photos for managing my photos. As of this writing I’ve got over 25,000 photos there, many of which are duplicates or ephemera, and most lack curation.

I decided to tackle this problem by stopping the bleeding first. Thus, this playbook.

Defining the Smart Album

The “Weekly Photo Curation” Smart Album is defined as follows:

I search for any photos in the last 7 days that do not yet have a title. Since a Smart Album is a “live” album of the photos that match the criteria, each time I either delete a photo, or add a title, the photo drops out of the album so that I know I am finished when the album is empty.

What goes into the decision to delete or save? Mostly experience. I usually ask myself a few questions that go beyond the usual keeping a photo out of sentimentality or personal documentation:

  • Is the photo a duplicate or close enough to be considered a duplicate?
  • Is the photo distorted (blurry, etc.)?
  • Is the photo unique enough to keep for use on the blog? (I prefer to use my own photos on the blog than ones that come from curated sources online.)
  • Do I need this photo to be available in my Photo library? (Is it available somewhere else?)
  • Have I needed to find similar photos to this one recently?

Selecting a title

If I choose to keep a photo, I try to give it a succinct title that is specific enough to be useful in future searches. For instance, this morning I took a picture of the sunrise coming up behind the 7-Eleven which marks the halfway point of my morning walk. In this case, I simply titled the photo “Sunrise over 7-Eleven.” I try to be conscious that Apple Photos, like Google Photos, uses AI to be able to identify things in photos. Sunrises are one example that Apple Photos is probably good at. But the 7-Eleven in the photo is from the back, so there is not much of a change for the AI to identify it as such so I throw it into the title.

sunrise over 7-Eleven
Sunrise over 7-Eleven

Tackling the entire album

At some point, I’d like to go back and clean up the entire album, but with more than 25,000 photos, that seems an almost impossible task. Maybe at some point, I’ll put together a playlist which would allow me to review a month of photos at a time, slowly working my way backward. But for now, I’ve got too much on my plate already so I am focusing on ensuring good meta-data quality on photos going forward.

Also, I am trying to be more present when doing things, and am less likely to take as many photos as I used to. Every little bit helps.

I try to do this on Sunday mornings, immediately after completing my morning routine. I guess you could say that this has become part of my Sunday morning routine. That allows me to get the past week’s photo’s curated just as the new week is beginning.

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Original Fiction?

One thing that I have never posted on the blog over the last 16 years is original fiction: that is, fiction I’ve written that has not appeared anywhere else. The main reason I’ve never done this is because publishing a story on the Internet is considered a first publication. Since the “first serial rights” are not available once a story appears on the Internet, it can make it harder to sell the story to professional markets.

This was more an issue when I was still finding my footing as a professional writer especially when I was submitting and selling stories to the science fiction magazines and anthologies. Over the years, however, my stories have changed and it is really hard to classify them. I have two, for instance, that don’t fall into any category that I can name.

I was thinking of posting these stories here on the blog, but since what I write here is entirely not fiction so far, I wanted to get feedback from my readers to see if original fiction is something you’d be interested in. If there is interest, my thought would be to start with these two stories that I have sitting around and see how things go. Since I try to keep most of my posts relatively short (they’ve averaged about 600 words in 2021), I’d probably post these stories as serial, running one part per week over a period of several week.

What do people think? Would you be interested in seeing some original fiction from me here on the blog? Free, of course. At this point, I’m just looking for an outlet for these stories. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment. Or, if you definitely want me to post original fiction, just “like” this post and I’ll take that as a Yes vote.

(If you are uncertain and would like to see some of my published fiction first, check out my bibliography. I think all of the stories I’ve published on InterGalactic Medicine Show are now freely available. Keep in mind, though, as I said, that my writing has evolved, and I’m not sure how I’d categorize it today.)

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Finished Reading: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

cover of haruki murakami's what i talk about when i talk about running

In the long list of things that I would like to be able to do well, running–in particular, long-distance running–is high among them. I’m envious of friends and family who managed to cultivate this particular exercise throughout their life, and for whom it is a pleasure that they look forward to each day. When I consider running, my tendency is to want to skip the hard part, and just be at the level where I could match my friends.

Haruki Murakami’s wonderful memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running changed my mind. The good part of running is the hard part. Murakami is more than just a runner, he is also a novelist, and although I don’t think he explicitly stated this, it came across that running a marathon and writing a novel are really two forms of the same thing. Hard work, day in and day out, leads to results. Even the hard work that is painful. After feeling as if I suffered through five years of writer’s block myself, Murakami’s book made me realize that the suffering is optional. Early in the book, he writes,

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running. (Emphasis is mine.)

Hard work is where one finds joy in things. Running is hard work and writing is hard work. Reading this book about running made me realize that if I really did want to start running, then I have to do the hard work, just as I did when I first began to write.

Murakami comes across as an honest writer. He doesn’t try to hide any of his faults or difficulties, but puts them on display in order to see them and learn from them. He writes about the regiment of self-training he did preparing for the New York City marathon, only to perform poorly (in his mind). And yet he tried to learn lessons from that and apply them to the (less rigorous) training for the Boston marathon. He was equally displeased with his showing. The lesson he took from this: he was at the age where he simply couldn’t compete with his younger self and this was simply something he’d have to accept.

He didn’t so much describe his training or running methods as much as approach them almost as an outside observer would, commenting on a difficultly, or an adjustment he had to make. In this way, his descriptions made for a delightfully straight-forward read. He describes himself as “more of a workhorse than a racehorse” and that is often how I have thought of myself.

Perhaps the part of the book that most resonated with me was toward the end when he was summing up his reason for lifelong exercise:

For me, the main goal of exercising is to maintain, and improve, my physical condition in order to keep on writing novels, so if races and training cut into the time I need to write, this would be putting the cart before the horse. Which is why I’ve tried to maintain a decent balance.

This is exactly what I am trying to do for myself over the next ten years as I work toward becoming a full-time writer. I need to maintain and improve my own physical condition in order to be able to continue to write, and when I retire, write more than I have ever been able to write before.

What I discovered in this short memoir was not what I’d expected: a memoir of running. Instead, I found a kind of simplicity in daily habit that allows a focus and accumulation of effort to payoff in a big way. The fun is not in being a great writer, or great musician, or nurse, or project manager. The joy is in the hard work that gets you there, the living in the moment, the journey, not the destination.

Every writer has to start with the first words on a blank page and then put in the effort, day in and day out to become as good as they possibly can. Every runner has to put on a pair of running shoes and take those first strides understanding that the pain (and frustration) is inevitable, but also knowing that the suffering is optional. That, I think, is the nugget of gold buried within Murakami’s book. It will be the mantra I repeat to myself when I finally work up the courage to start running.

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Coda: On Standing All Day with an Ear Ache

Today was my first full work day with the new sit/stand desk. I needed a benchmark to gauge how much I should stand and how much I should sit. I decided that, for today, I would stand while working and sit when I wasn’t working. Since I consider my writing work, and since I write as part of my morning routine, I had my standing desk in x-wing formation (this is how I think of my desk when it is in standing formation) beginning at about 7am until a few minutes ago, at 4:30 pm: that’s about 9 hours, with a 25 minute break for lunch, when I sat down.

So how was it? Let me put it this way: the last time I was in Hawaii (some 16 years ago), my friends and I went on a hike on the north shore of Kauai, on the Kalalau Trail. The trail goes to a waterfall, and the hike is 4 hours in each direction. Before we set out, we stopped at a grocery store in Princeville and picked up some sandwiches from the deli. The hike itself was amazing, but incredibly muddy. Two hours into our hike, we reached a beach, and we sat down and fell on our sandwiches. I content to this day that it was the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted. We decided on that beach that we’d had enough, and that the two hour hike back would be sufficient, waterfall or not. When we arrived back at the trail head, I remember walking across the parking lot to the beach, and with clothes and shoes still on, I walked into the ocean. My feet felt completely worn out.

That is how I felt after standing for nearly 9 hours today. Couple that with an ear infection that I’ve been dealing with. I ignored it for a few days, thinking it might go away on its own. But today it decided to call my bluff. The upside was that I was distracted from my aching feet by my aching ear. I finally gave in and went to the doctor and they gave me some antibiotics, but I came home and stood at my desk for the last few hours of meetings of the day. When I finally sat down, it was a great relief. Almost as much as walking into the ocean after that hike back along the Kalalau Trail.

Now that I am sitting, my ear is aching and I think maybe I should stand so that my aching feet will distract me from my aching ear. How long does it take for amoxicillin to start working?

I haven’t yet decided if I will try to stand during my evening routine. I think I need to built up to standing for long duration. Doing so today was merely a test to see how hard it was. Maybe I’ll do something like stand during meetings and sit when I am not in meetings. Or vice versa. I’m still figuring this out.

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A Newer Healthier Desk for My Office

During Amazon’s Prime days, I finally bit the bullet and decided to order a new desk for my office. I had my old desk for more than seven years. It was a glass-topped desk that I thought was great at the time, but I grew to hate it, mainly because I could never seem to keep the glass clean. Also because I hated looking through the surface of my desk to see the mess of wires beneath.

Given my renewed focus on writing and getting into shape, I decided to get myself a sit-stand desk. My idea was that I would stand whenever I was working, and sit when I am not working. Given that the former tends to be more than the latter (especially since I consider writing work), I would be standing more than I would be sitting. I did the usual comparisons and found a desk that I liked. I did not have a glass top. It does have up to 3 pre-settings for the height of the desk, and controls for moving the desk up or down. It also has a good deal of surface area, which is important to me. Here are a couple of pictures, one of the desk in “standing” mode, one in “sitting” mode.

Standing desk
The new desk in standing mode
new desk in sitting mode
The new desk in sitting mode

I looked up the ergonomics for a desk for someone of my height, both sitting and standing. I set the pre-settings based on what the data told me, so now I have an ergonomically sound desk when both standing and sitting.

We had sit/stand desks in my office, back when I would go into the office on a regular basis, and I often used them in standing mode. I will say that after a day spent mostly on my feet, I feel like I have been on my feet all day.

I managed to put together the new desk in about an hour. There was some logistics involved in clearing off the old desk, dismantling it, and moving the new desk into place, but I managed. I am very happy with the result. Moreover, I think I now have space for one additional bookshelf in my office if I close that gap between the new desk and the filing cabinet to the right.

I hate seeing the web of wires and I took an old poster and stuck it against the wall behind the desk to hide the mess. Eventually, I get that cleaned up. For now, it is quick hack that does the trick for me.

For those wondering what desk I ordered, it was the FEZIBO L-Shaped Electric Standing Desk (55″ model in black). Amazon current lists it for $359.99, but when I ordered on Prime Day, it was $70 off, and I got an additional $20 off as part of a “lightning deal.”

It is interesting to see how my desks have changed over the years, from that big, wood desk I had for a long time, to the glass desk I had for seven years after that, to my office today.

Apparently, I am getting closer and closer to my ideal office. Maybe I’ll achieve that right at the point that I retire to begin writing full time.

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One Important Feature that Evernote Still Needs

Evernote has made some significant improvements lately. They have completely reengineered the backend. They have refreshed and improved the user interface. And they recently introduced integrated task management–something users have been requesting for a long time.

There is one feature that I would find incredibly useful that Evernote still needs: a Last Viewed date for a note.

Currently, Evernote provides two dates for each note: a Created date and an Updated date:

An example of Evernote note information showing the created and updated date fields.

The Created date is the date on which the note was originally created. (I often change this to match the date of a document to make searching by date range more effective). The Updated date is the last time the note was modified. What’s missing in the “Last Viewed” date.

Why is a “Last Viewed” date important? Evernote is not just static storage for me. It is a living memory–a repository of digital documents and other notes that I have been collecting for more than ten years now. I call it a living memory because I am always looking for ways to improve the value I get from what I have stored in there. Currently, I have over 13,000 notes stored in Evernote. Despite the methods I have come up with for making searching as easy as possible, it can sometimes be hard to narrow things down when there is a lot of noise.

A screen capture showing Evernote's count of my notes, currently at 13,263.

This is where a “Last Viewed” date plays a crucial role. If I had to guess, I’d say that three quarters of the notes I have in Evernote have never been looked at after their initial scanning or input. The question I ask myself is: if I never have to look at note that I am storing, then why am I storing it?

Certainly some notes are worth keeping, even if I haven’t looked at them in months or years. But there are also things like phone bills and Amazon receipts, and countless other documents that I probably will never have a need to look at. I don’t know this for sure at the outset, so I put them into Evernote just in case. But I would love to do a yearly review, looking at how many notes I haven’t viewed in the last, say, five years. If I could get such a list, I might simply move all of those notes to an Archive notebook, export that notebook to a file, and then delete the notebook from Evernote. This would remove a lot of noise that comes up in searches. And it really is noise, since they are notes that I have not looked at in the last five years.

The problem is, of course, that Evernote does not have a “Last Viewed” date to query on. I suppose this would be the equivalent of the “Date Last Opened” on MacOS. It seems like it would be a simple matter to add the functionality for this information, although I suspect there would be no way of implementing it retroactively.

Still, I think this would be a useful feature, and one that corresponds to real memory, where things that we have no need of recalling are “erased” so that we can more readily remember other things.

A Perfect Independence Day Hike

We had perfect weather for Independence Day, after a weekend filled mostly with rain. So we piled all of the kids into our cars yesterday and drove to a state park north of New York City in order to spend some time outdoors. There are certain landscape scenes that I find calming, and I managed to capture several yesterday while walking through the state park. Here are a few that I thought people might enjoy for the final day of this holiday weekend.

It’s funny, but each time I see a scene like these, I have the urge to settle down where I am with a book, and sit quietly reading with the sound of birds, and the buzz of insects making a kinds of white noise in the background. Hikes like these are very relaxing for me. It is also nice to get away from the crowds and be in open spaces, letting go of the usual worries of the day for a little while, and enjoying the company and scenery.

After the hike, we took the kids for ice cream. It wasn’t even lunch time yet, but it is nice to shake things up now and then.

The Game We Missed

The family and I spent this holiday weekend in New York. We had the true holiday weekend experience, which included barbecues, fireworks, and a hefty helping of holiday traffic. Driving up Friday morning, the normally 4 hour 10 minute drive took us just about 6 hours. It was not a wasted six hours. It gave me the opportunity to put to practice some of the techniques I’ve been learning through meditation–particularly that of equanimity. Bad traffic raises my blood pressure, but I think I dealt with it calmly nearly the whole way up. (The merge on the upper deck of the GW bridge always gets me.)

Friday evening, my brother-in-law and I had tickets to the Mets v. Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. We had good seats and it was going to be the first major league baseball game I’d been to in a few years. We hopped on Metro North, changed trains and got off at Yankee stadium with what seemed like a few thousand other Yankees fans (and a sprinkling of Mets fan) screaming at the top of their lungs. The pouring rain outside the train station did nothing to dampen their spirits. We lined up to get into the ball park, entering at Gate 2, about 20 minutes before first pitch. The tarp was still on the field, so rather than go to our seats–which were field level up the third baseline–we wandered around the stadium. We bought a couple of $17+ beers. The beers come in only one size: Giant. This is 25 ounces of beer in a can. We then found a dry place to stand, and chatted while we waited for the game to begin.

It never happened.

Just before 8:30 pm, got in line for some food, and while standing in line, the game was postponed. We had about 2 hours inside Yankee Stadium (only my second time at the new ballpark) and spent $35 on beer. We took Uber to a restaurant not far from where my sister and brother-in-law live, and we had a nice dinner. I was back at their house around 11:30pm.

The game was rescheduled as part of Sunday day/night double-headers. We opted to exchange our tickets for a game later in the season. I think we made a good choice. While we sat out on my sister’s deck eating a great Independence Day barbecue, and while our kids played tag (or possible, “the floor is lava”) all around the yard, the Yankees got battered 10-5 by Mets, and Chappy blew another save.

It felt a little strange being back in Yankee stadium. I still think of it as the new stadium. It is not the stadium I remember from my youth, where you could look to the outfield and see the top of the Bronx court house. They players I know are all gone. Baseball, for all of its player longevity, is still a fleeting game, a game of youth, and those still clinging to their youth. I couldn’t even say that I felt the ghosts of former Yankees wandering the great causeways among the tens of thousands of fans. Those ghosts are anchored to a different piece of land.

No, the game we missed–the game I missed, always seems to be the one that is already long over, the one I can recreate in my mind just by looking at a messy, food-stained scorecard, with the sound of the imagined crowd like the sound of the ocean in seashell, ringing in my ears.

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Small Efficiencies in Workflow

With my recent plan to focus on my writing and improve my overall well-being (a.k.a. Project Sunrise), I have been hunting for small efficiencies in workflow that can have an outsized impact on my day. My morning routine takes about two and a half hours to complete. While developing the routine, I teased out actions or tasks that I could eliminate or improve upon to maximize the use of my time. Two examples come to mind.

Writing in my journal: content versus medium

Since 2017, I have been writing my journal longhand in large Moleskine notebooks. I’ve written about the advantages and disadvantages of having a paper journal versus a digital one in a piece called The Paradox of Journaling. I like the feeling of writing longhand, and I understand and believe in the durability of paper. But there are two tradeoffs to consider when time is limited and my goals depend on data:

  1. The speed and clarity with which I can write.
  2. The speed an accuracy with which I can find what I wrote about.

With limited time, I had to consider what is more valuable to me now, the content of my journaling or the medium in which it is stored. Today it is the content. Since I can type much faster than I can write longhand, since my typing is more clear than my handwriting, and since I express thoughts more clearly through a keyboard than a pen, it seemed prudent to switch my journaling to a digital form instead of a paper one. This is why for the last week, I have been composing it as a text file using Obsidian, despite what I wrote in February when I initially rejected the idea. The reasons I rejected it were valid then, but circumstances have changed, and I think this little efficiency will have long-term benefits.

One of those benefits is the speed with which I can find what I wrote about. It is much easier to search a text file than volumes of journals, even when they are roughly indexed. And time is the key. I want to spend as much of my time as possible on creative tasks. That said, to improve, I need to look back at the data I’ve collected so that I can apply it going forward. I can do this much more quickly searching a text file than books. Practical considerations–speed of input, clarity, and speed of retrieval–have overridden my desire to continue writing my journal longhand, at least for the duration.

Composing in WordPress

For a long time, I composed my blog posts in an external editor. That editor has changed over the years. I’ve written drafts in Scrivener, in Word, and most recently, in Obsidian, my current editor of choice. With my recent migration to WordPress hosting, and conversion to a modern WordPress theme, I have found WordPress’s native Gutenberg editor to be comfortable and easy to compose in directly. This saves a good deal of time. Prior to composing directly in WordPress my process looked like this:

  1. Write the post in Obsidian (or other editor)
  2. Copy the text out of Obsidian
  3. Paste it into a blank WordPress post
  4. Fix any formatting issues
  5. Publish.

For the last week I have been composing directly in WordPress which allows me to eliminate the administrative steps I was doing before. This shaves a little time spent on each post, which I get back for creative work, like writing the posts themselves.

These are small efficiencies. They don’t save huge chunks of time each, but the affect is cumulative. I journal in the morning and evening, so I am saving a little time each journaling session. I tend to write in the mornings, sometimes one post, sometimes more than one, and I save a little time with each draft. In a cumulative sense, over the long haul, I think small efficiencies like these have outsized results.

I am always looking for small efficiencies like these because of their magnified results over time. Do you have small efficiencies that you have discovered? If you feel like it, share them in the comments.

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5 Blogs I’ve Been Reading Lately — And Looking for More

With all of the reading I do, my blog reading has dwindled a bit. In part this is because I have had a difficult time finding the kinds of blogs I enjoy reading. But there are five that I have been following lately that I enjoy and I thought I’d share them here in case anyone else wanted to check them out.

1. Melanie Novak’s blog

Melanie is a romance writer who also writes great posts about the golden age of Hollywood. As a Bing Crosby fan, I really enjoy those posts on old picture, and some of the backstories she provides.

You can find her at: https://melanienovak.com.

2. Paul Jacobson’s blog

Paul’s blog is pretty eclectic but includes some great posts on tools and technology. Dungeons & Dragons fans might enjoy his post on How I Use Obsidian for Dungeons & Dragons Games–a nice intersection of gaming and technology.

You can find his blog at: https://pauljacobson.me

3. John Scalzi’s Whatever

I’ve been reading John’s blog for as long as I can remember. Although he and I have different styles, his blog was an early inspiration for my own blogging, and I find his way of breaking down his thoughts into digestible points very helpful on many of his posts. His post on Being Poor is classic, even 16 years later.

You can find his blog at: https://whatever.scalzi.com.

4. Seth Godin’s Blog

I recently discovered Seth’s blog after listening to him on an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast. This is another eclectic blog, with daily posts, many of them short and to the point, but occasionally longer ones. I like that Seth posts every day because that is what I try to do, too. I really enjoyed his post on Quality and Effort.

You can find his blog at: https://seths.blog

5. Brain Pickings

I’ve been reading Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog for years now. I even get the newsletters. If there is a hardest-working-blogger award, it would have to go to her hands down. I’ve been called prolific here on my own blog, but the writing she does on Brain Pickings make me look plain lazy. Plus, it is an incredibly eclectic site, where she writes on virtually everything. She tries to learn from everything she does (something I aspire to). Check out her post on 13 Life-Learnings from 13 Years of Brain Pickings.

You can find Brain Pickings at: https://www.brainpickings.org


And I’m looking for more

Reading through the above, I used the work “eclectic” an unseemly number of times, but that is what most look for in a blog. It’s what I try to do in my own, writing about anything that interests me. Given what you know of what I write about, interests I’ve expressed, and the list above, I’d love for any recommendations you have for other blogs I should be reading (feel free to include your own). Drop them in the comments, and if possible, include a reason why you like it or why you think I’d like it.

The Weekly Playbook #1: My Morning Routine

Introduction: Playbooks are Practices

Welcome to the inaugural post of my new column, “The Weekly Playbook.” Each week I plan to feature a playbook that I use to help make my life a little easier. What is a playbook? A playbook is like an enhanced checklist that provides steps or outlines for a specific task that make it (a) repeatable, and (b) flexible. Playbooks help to save me time, build habits, and avoid making mistakes. Repeatability is key because it means I am not reinventing the wheel each time I am trying to perform some task. Flexibility means that playbook has built-in alternatives for when things go sideways. Over time, I kind of mentally absorb the playbook. In this sense, the playbook becomes the practice.

I first learned the value of a checklist when I was taking flying lessons in 1999-2000. Checklists are there to reinforce memory so that you avoid missing things. Back when I was flying, I learned to touch each item referred to on the checklist as a way of reinforcing that I was doing it. Playbooks came a bit later. I started to develop my own playbooks for work initially. After rolling out some big piece of software, I found that a standard manual or user guide wasn’t as effective as lots of short, focused lists on how to handle different situations. Over time, I began to create playbooks for myself in order to reduce the number of decision I had to make or the time I spent looking up information. They are also great at helping to form habits. In some ways, the Going Paperless series of posts that I wrote about Evernote where a set of playbooks in narrative form.

This series is different. First, the playlists that I’ll write about here are much wider in scope than the Going Paperless posts, which focused on the possibility of using digital tools like Evernote to replace the paper in my life. Second, the Going Paperless posts were more narrative in form. As you’ll see the playbooks I discuss have three parts:

  1. Background: Why I use the playbook or how it came to be.
  2. Playbook: The playbook itself which is often just a list and a set of alternatives.
  3. Commentary: Some words explaining the playbook in more detail.

I decided to post this series every Friday so that people had a chance to explore them over the weekend, when there tends to be more time. We’ll see how that works out. Given that I just began my creative new year with the goal of becoming a full-time writing in ten years, I thought I’d begin with the playbook that I worked up to help support his goal in the most generally way: my morning routine. Enjoy!

Background

Project Sunrise is a codename I’ve given to my effort to improve my writing and writing opportunities over the next ten years so that when I retire from my day job (ten years hence) I can begin working as a full-time writer. The project involves more than just improving my writing, but also my overall health and well-being. Given that I still work full time and am raising three kids, I needed a way of ensuring I am getting time to write, analyzing and improve what I write, as well as improve my health and well-being into an already full day. This playbook outlines my newly revised morning routine. I’ve been beta-testing and tweaking this routine for a few weeks now, but began using it “in production” on July 1, 2021.

Playbook

From start to finish, this playbook takes 2 hours and 35 minutes to complete each morning. Bold items are the ones I try to do every day regardless of circumstances.

  • Walk (45 min)
  • Meditate, guided (10 min)
  • Shower (10 min)
  • Write (1 hr)
  • Journal, email, blog comments, etc. (30 min)

Alternatives

  • Bad weather? Replace walk with elliptical (45 min)
  • Short of time in the morning? Move writing to evening routine (1hr)

Context

I have my morning routine list posted in a few places so that I can reference it at a glance. It is posted in my office above my screens so that I can see it when I am sitting at my desk. A copy of it is also taped into the back of the current Field Notes notebook that I carry around.

Commentary

Note that there are no clock times associated with the playbook? To be as flexible as possible, my playbooks focus on duration, but not start or end times. As I’ve worked out this new routine, I try to get started at 5:50 am. But this list works just as well if I start at 7 am or 9 am. Everything just shifts relative to the time it takes. I’ve tested out each of the times listed to make sure they are reasonable. That way I know how long it will take to get through the routine.

It is important to me to have alternatives readily available. Nothing throws off a habit as much as an unexpected situation? What do I do if I am traveling? What do I do if the weather is bad? What if I have an early work meeting? Have a pre-defined set of alternatives means I don’t have to think about the answer in most situations.

Order matters to me on these playbooks. I walk first thing because it wake me up. I gave up caffeine 74 days ago (as I write this) so I no longer have that as an aid to alertness. The walk gets me fresh air and some immediate exercise and I come back to the house alert and ready for the day.

I use the Calm app for meditation. My preferred guided meditation is Jeff Warren’s “The Daily Trip” series. These last anywhere from 9-12 minutes and allow me to clear my head before getting started.

A shower after meditating helps wash away any residual sleepiness. Even though my showers are quick, it is also where my mind wanders and I try to guide it toward what I plan to write that day.

After the shower, I write. For instance, I am writing this post after my shower on July 1. On my walk and in the shower I was able to frame how I wanted to present these playbook posts (context, playbook, and commentary). I give myself an hour to write. Maybe I can write only one post, maybe more than one. Maybe I’m not in the mood to write. That’s okay, but I don’t allow myself to do anything else in that hour.

Finally, I give myself 30 minutes for journaling, handling any personal email, and reviewing any blog comments that I need to reply to.

Playbooks are designed to be living documents. I adjust them as needed as I learn better ways of doing things.

I also have a playbook for an evening routine, but I’ll save that one for another time.

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