Hand with 'Notes to self' written on the back

Notes to self

Short letters to myself. Things worth remembering.

These are not thoughts or advice for anyone else, but who knows, maybe something will resonate with you.

First thing's first: Wear sunscreen.

The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists. Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice now.

—Mary Schmich, via Baz Luhrmann.

Client: “Can you make it pop”

Freelancer: “FML”

Sometimes stakeholders aren’t sure what they think, they’re not sure what feedback to give you.

So they ask their friend’s opinion.

And their cousin’s opinion.

And their neighbour’s cat’ opinion.

“Unofficial stakeholders” as Paul Boag coins these beings.

This is when you get crappy feedback like, “can you make it pop” or “that’s not it, but I’ll know it when I see it”.

But if you send your work over, and ask “what do you think”, you are part of the problem, my friend.

It’s like eating the whole box of Milk Tray, feels right in the moment but your future self won’t thank you.

Guide their feedback by recording a video which gives context. Include:

  • The problems were initially identified
  • How they have been addressed
  • Why this approach should work

Rucking the dog

That’s R-ucking, with a very important R.

Rucking is walking with a heavy bag. It supposedly mimics our great400 grandfathers who carried Antelope back to the colony after a long persistence hunt.

It could be easier on the joints than running, works a load of core muscles.

Plus there’s something about a cool name that makes an activity more appealing.


People love a streak. Not the naked kind, well maybe they do but that’s not what I’m talking about.

My daughter has a 365 day streak on Duolingo (the ultimate gamified learning app).

I have a 300+ day streak of doing yoga.

My friend’s mum has a 100+ day Wordle streak she’s proud of.

Implement a streak tracker in your app/product/life, it might help build good habits.

Then run around naked in public to celebrate.

Create meaningful work with one person in mind

Do this a hundred times and eventually one hundred people who trust you.

—Cole Shafer

Cole uses the example of furniture maker George Nakashima. His pieces wouldn’t be selling for mega bucks if he made stuff that pleases everyone.

Pleasing everyone will destroy the personality of your work.

Committees will extinguish the sparkle from your work. Taking it from Will Smith to a tweed-wearing high school maths teacher. No-one is excited to meet a tweed-wearing high school maths teacher.

Yoda spoke good he did

At least when it comes to anadiplosis.

The world’s least memorable word.

It’s the speach-y thing when the presenter wants to sound fancy, she uses the last word from a sentence as the first word in the next sentence.

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator also delivers a banger of an anadiplosis:

“The general who became a slave; the slave who became a gladiator; the gladiator who defied an Emperor.”

Breakfast me my breakfast

That’s a polyptoton. But who care’s what it’s called.

It’s cool writing technique where the adjective preceding the noun sounds like, or is, the same word.

But me no but’s – a classic from Susanna Centlivre.

Please please me – John Lennon, the main man.

Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired – dayyym Robert Frost.


Associate your product with a feeling or cue

Whoever the marketing team was behind Champaign, hat’s off to you. You’ve rooted your fizzy grape juice into culture as the must-have tipple for celebrations.

Anchor your product to a feeling, or situation, and you’ve created an intrinsic habit.

Other notable mentions:

Take a break, fingernail slice that KitKat wrapper (until they rudely changed the packaging, pah).

Playing sports, get your energy from Lucozade.



Laziness sacrifices the future for the present

—Neitzsche. Not a direct quote, but that’s what he was getting at.

What he should have said:

Do the productive thing that you want to do. Don’t sit there scrolling through crap you don’t care about.

Headings on a website should convey the story

Without having to read the body copy.

People is lazy.

It don’t matter that this is grammatically incorrect.

Cos people is only gonna read the heading, and that says what you need to know.

An aside, if you have headings like “Our process” be ashamed. It is not informative and it’s boring.


When someone visits your landing page the “Netflix next episode” timer has already started

You’ve got 5 seconds to keep them interested before they leave.

Then 5 seconds more to confirm that what you have is of interest.

—Rid from Deep Dives YouTube channel said this.

Don’t not tell people what you offer. Don’t not tell people what to do next. Don’t be not clear.

Don’t use double negatives.

You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you tolerate

Tim Stoddard from Copyblogger said that. But, sorry Tim, The Manics said it better:

“When you tolerate this, then your children will be next”.

This applies in both bad and good sense.

Example of bad: Accepting when something is wrong, not sorting it and continuing anyway.

Example of good: tolerating the uncomfortable dip. The inevitable part of a project when your initial enthusiasm evaporated, and is now raining on your parade. Wear a bin bag with some arm holes like your dad on a camping trip in Scarborough, tolerate the dip, and get it done.


To be a good writer you have to be a good thinker

Practising writing = practising thinking.

Being more writier makes you more thinkier. Being more thinkier makes you more writier.

It’s a beautiful cycle.

When you’re a clear thinkier and an engaging writer you can make up your own words. Who cares what people think-ier.

Story writing is a process of asking questions

Glenn Gers, writer of many movie films, says ask these questions:

Who is it about?

What do they want?

Why can’t they get it?

What do they do about that?

Why doesn’t that work?

How does it end?

Shall I get a snack?

I may have added one one of the above.

Monet that scene

Whether you’re writing fiction or non, Monet that scene. Paint the picture.

As Matthew Dicks of Storyworthy says, help the audience construct a movie in their mind.

Where is it?

Why are we there?

What does it look like?

What does it smell like?

Who’s there?

Why are they there?

What are people doing?

Can I have some popcorn?

Story’s are like a gladiator gauntlet

It would be boring if contestants ran from one side of the gauntlet event to the other.

It’s much more exciting if you put giant gladiators with batons in their way.

This is what writing a story is like. Your character is on a journey to get somewhere, but meets giant man mountains obstacles on the way.

How your protagonist crushes those stinkin’ giants navigates the obstacles is the story.

Old rabits die hard

I mean habits.

The younger the habit the more likely it is to die soon.

The longer you keep a habit going, the longer it will live.

Which is probably the opposite of rabbits.

People are programmed to filter out useless information

I once had a dog called Ernie that pulled me along on a skateboard.

This is not helpful information for you.

Hopefully you’ve filtered it out already. We have to filter stuff out quickly, otherwise our brains would explode with information overload.

So therefor your content should be presented in such a way that a subconscious decision can be made almost instantly.

It’s fine for people who are not interested to filter you out. If your message is muddled, the people who might be interested will also filter you out.

You are here for dog-pulling-skateboard related content, right?

Website sales funnel

Thanks to StoryBrand for these sales flow dominoes.


Landing page

Lead generator

Nurture newsletter campaign

Sales email campaign

First prize is getting a sale. Second prize is getting the lead into your funnel. They may want to buy later once they know how knowledgeable, funny and sexy you are.

You gotta stay front of mind, be the first person/product/service they think of when the problem you solve arises.

Chess grandmasters are grandmasters of recognition

They’re not prodigies. Few are. They have learned a skill of recognising chess positions through repetition.

Most of the time talent is not innate. In fact, pretty much all the time.

Through dedicated practise on the edge of your ability, you can become a grandmaster of anything.

For the record, chess grandmasters are still bloody impressive.

Just because mastery is achieved not given or “natural”, doesn’t make it not awesome. Mastery is really hard work. Which makes it even awesomer.

The fresh start effect

People start things on a new beginning.

For example:

  • Turning 30 (or any age with two digits including a zero)
  • The new year
  • A new month
  • A new week

Should you market to 29 year olds?

Should you schedule your marketing on a certain day?

The strength of weak ties

A weak tie is someone you know but not very well.

Let’s say you have 50 people in your weak ties network. Each person in your network also has 50 weak ties, that means you have access to 2,500 people!

That’s 2,500 people with:

  • opportunities to offer.
  • skills to call upon.
  • diverse perspectives.
  • knowledge you don’t have.

Internal triggers are the gold standard for habit forming

If you’re building a digital platform that you want people to return to, aim for internal triggers.

External triggers are things like email or social network nudges.

Internal is when the use of your platform is triggered by a thought or feeling.

For example, you have a feeling of pride about a photo you’ve take: open Instagram.

Or you feel the need to complain: open Twitter.

Stories not to tell

How nice your holiday was.

Drinking stories. Unless you are drinking at the time.

—Matthew Dicks

When someone asks about your holiday, tell them about a story worthy 5 second moment.

Hook people into a story in 8 seconds

Something unusual
Something unexpected
Something that has conflict

Follow the hook with a promise. You’re going to create a transformation. This is a reason to read on.

People remember how you made them feel

Not what you said or did.

This is a lesson about story writing from Pixar, but it applies to life too.

Stakes are the reason people keep reading/watching/listening to a story

—Matthew Dicks

Raise the stakes in your story. Then raise them again. Then raise them again. To the point where they seems insurmountable.

Describe a location in every scene of your story

—Matthew Dicks

It helps with people’s “mental movie”. Paint the picture. Try and make it relatable.

The most successful people in the world don’t follow the path of least resistance

Achievements aren’t achievements unless the thing was difficult.

Do difficult things.

Try to get a laugh in the first 30 seconds of a story

It gets the audience on your side.

Contrast is key in storytelling

Bring people up, make them laugh, then take them down, then bring them up again.

When motivation hits, change your systems

Rather than just doing the thing you’re excited about.

Systems last longer than motivation.

Our brains our wired to notice change

Consider hinting at dramatic change as a hook for your story.

(Everything should be a story—your web site design, your presentation, your pitch…)

E.g. Harry Potter opening sentence is pregnant with potential change:

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”


When speaking to one or more people you have an obligation to entertain

Kevin Smith, via Matthew Dicks’ book Storyworth.

And/or inform, and/or educate. Depending on the context.

Preferably entertaining and…

It’s impossible to run a marathon without getting tired

It’s impossible to do creative work without imposter syndrome.

—Seth Godin

I’ll add another Seth Godin observation: It’s impossible to do creative work without “the dip”. The bit when enthusiasm wanes and momentum can stall.


“A certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”

Un-cool, but we’ve all done it.

The opposite of Show Your Work!

The 5 second moment is the climax of the story

—Matthew Dicks’ book, Storyworthy.

For example, if Jurassic Park was just a dinosaur film it would be boring. The 5 second moment, the climax, is when the guy is in the tree with the kids and realises he likes kids.

The story sets this up in the beginning scene when he says kids are horrible, expensive and they smell.

The rest of the film is setting up the 5 second moment, and embellishing the story. With dinosaurs.

Another example from the Storyworthy book—Indiana Jones. Indy is an atheist, until the climax when, in a moment of faith, he tells the main woman not to look at the grail. This saves her life. His transformation from atheist to believer is complete.

The bit in the middle is the story arc. How the protagonist gets to the moment of transformation, with all it’s stakes and pitfalls.

There’s almost no chance of getting a design right first time

Even if you think it’s perfect, it’s not.

So embrace feedback and make it better.

Drama is aniticipation mingled with uncertainty

Storytelling advise from William Archer, via Andrew Stanton’s ted talk.

Duchenne smile

Pronounced: Du-chen.

When you smile, make it “real”, use your eyes. Activate those crows feet.


  • Live longer
  • Live happier
  • Genuine joy is infectious
  • Makes others like you more
  • Makes you seem like a cheerful person

The narrative arc

People have been telling each other stories forever.

It pays to be good at it. Both verbally and in web or graphic design.

Try to follow a compelling story arc (from the pond5 blog):

Setup: The world in which the protagonist exists prior to the journey. The setup usually ends with the conflict being revealed.

Rising Tension: The series of obstacles the protagonist must overcome. Each obstacle is usually more difficult and with higher stakes than the previous one.

Climax: The point of highest tension, and the major decisive turning point for the protagonist.

Resolution: The conflict’s conclusion. This is where the protagonist finally overcomes the conflict, learns to accept it, or is ultimately defeated by it. Regardless, this is where the journey ends.


How to fall asleep

In theory.

I’ve always been a rubbish sleeper, but this stuff helps.

  1. Get up early and be consistent.
  2. Get some sunlight early.
  3. Do gentle, or not gentle, exercise early. Maybe yoga or walking.
  4. No caffeine generally, especially in the afternoon.
  5. No bright screens before bed.
  6. If stuff is on your mind before bed, write it down.
  7. Maybe read a real book or kindle, fiction is probably best.
  8. Try not to get too hot.
  9. No food in the two hours before bed.
  10. Late evening yoga.

What you do is who you are

Wanna be able to say you’re an artist? Make art.

Eventually everyone loses the willpower battle

So create your own rules to live by.

Perceived easiness

People often decide whether or not to do something based on not only how hard it actually is, but also on how hard it seems to be.
Matej Sucha

Tell people the task you want them to do is quick and easy. Otherwise people may assume the task is a drag, and not do it.

Good social media post vs bad social media post

From 1% better newsletter:

Ingredients for a bad post:
Fake influencer speak, boring, no soul, no storytelling, no progression, sounds like it was made by chatGPT, 0 conviction, can be found on any account that’s clearly attempting to farm some followers.

Ingredients for a good post:
Soul, passion, storytelling, humour, personality, high conviction, gut punching opinions, argument starter.

Very useful checklist. The only thing I don’t like is “argument starter”. I get it, more engagement from supports and detractors. But the world doesn’t need to be more polarised. It’s kinda Trumpian.

I prefer this framing: Strong opinion loosely held.

Pumping flammable gas into our homes doesn’t seem a very good idea

Gas central heating. Gas cookers.

There’s no need anymore. Society might tell us they are better, but they are not.

I have gas central heating. Society told me it was better.

Its feels very last century, and needlessly risky, to be burning gas at home.

I’m literally burning a fossil fuel and I don’t like it.


“Mainstream” is the echo chamber you’re caught in

Seth Godin says mainstream used to be the masses, now it’s pockets.

It was the masses when there were only a few channels. When everyone was consuming similar stuff.

Now we’re individually fed content based on other content we’ve watched or interacted with.

You can be in a mini-mainstream community that believe one thing, but there will be a mini-mainstream community that believes the opposite.

Both think they’re right.

Acronym for stuff that makes ideas memorable

Include most or all of these to make ideas sticky.



Boil the idea down to it’s essence. The basic principals that make it work.


Spark people’s interest with something unusual. Something counter-intuitive. People will want to discover why.


Make sure people can grasp your idea, draw a vivid picture with real-life things. Metaphor this puppy.


Your idea must be believable, but not with too many facts and figures. It could be put to question.


Appeal to people’s wishes, desires, hopes. Ultimately, people are self interested on some level. Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs.


Human brains work in stories.
Maybe rags to riches via obstacles.
Maybe bridging a gap between opposing groups.
Maybe solving a long-standing problem in an interesting way.

Consuming too much productivity advice is not productive

Do stuff instead.

Creativity before laundry

Pretty sure I got this from Rick Ruben.

Applies both literally and metaphorically.

Literally—do creative work before chores.

Metaphorically—do creative work before checking email, or working on bugs (for example).

The best cross-disciplinary skill

Understanding people.

Maximising a moment

  1. Create anticipation. Book it early.
  2. Appreciate the moment when it arrives.
  3. Afterwards, write down the best bits. Include the best photos. Share it with the people you were with.

Two or three books

If you need to learn something, two or three books on the subject will get you a really long way.

For example marketing. Read Alchemy, Building a StoryBrand, and $100m Offers. Or others, there’s loads to choose from.

You’ll know more on that subject than 95% of people. Maybe more.

Then implement what you’ve learned and you’ll develop even further.

You already know how to use it

—Steve Jobs at an Apple event introducing the iPad.

Apple introduced a successful UI design pattern with the iPhone. They stuck to it with the iPad.

Apple this to web design. If there is an accepted, or expected UI pattern, you should generally adhere to it.

Put the logo in the top left, or centre. Put the navigation in the top right. Use icons that people understand. Name things in a familiar way.

A good design get’s out of people’s way.

The best design is often un-noticed

When you use a website and it’s effortless.

You din’t notice that you that you instantly found what you were looking for.

Or you did what you needed to do, then you moved on.

It’s likely that website was well designed.

Zero point in road-rage

Road rage is absolutely pointless and benefits no-one.

We’ve all accidentally, or mis-judgingly, cut in-front of another driver.

When someone does it to you—and they will, because humans make mistakes—give them a break. Shouting and gesturing will not help.

Anxiety is worrying about the past or future

So try to stay in the moment.

The ultimate spaced repetition cards

Rules for creating the cards:

  1. One thing per card.
  2. Write the thing you want to remember on the front.
  3. On the back write how it relates to you personally. Even if it’s loose.
    For example if you’re learning the word ‘abrir’ in Spanish, (‘to open’), write something about a time you opened something. Anything.
  4. Draw a stupid picture of it. The stupider the better.

Spaced repetition rules:

  1. Test yourself with the card.
  2. If it was hard put it in the next day slot.
  3. If it was easy put it in the slot to review in 7 days.
  4. If it was hard on the 7th day, put it in the next day slot.
  5. If it was easy on the 7th day put it in the slot to review in 14 days.
  6. If it was hard on the 14th day, put it in the next day slot.
  7. If it was easy on the 14th day put it in the slot to review in 28 days.
  8. If it was hard on the 28th day, put it in the next day slot.
  9. If it was easy on the 28th day put it in ‘I know this’ pile.

Proximity is not the same as skill

—Seth Godin

Because you are close to something doesn’t mean you’re the best person to do the adjacent thing.

There’s a balance between increasing your skillset and diluting it.

It might be energy. If an adjacent task saps energy it may be better for someone else to do it.

Dieter Rams’ 10 principals of good design

  1. Good design is innovative
  2. Good design makes a product useful
  3. Good design is aesthetic
  4. Good design makes a product understandable
  5. Good design is unobtrusive
  6. Good design is honest
  7. Good design is long-lasting
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
  10. Good design is as little design as possible

Pour out the bad ideas to get to the good ones

—David Epstien

Bad ideas are necessary, don’t be afraid to have them.

Because each bad idea is a step closer to a good one.

Perceived content owners

It’s better to post articles on your own site.

When was the last time you read something on Medium and remember who wrote it?

“I was reading a article on Facebook…” who wrote it? “Dunno”.

Same with video reels. The perceived content owner often becomes the platform rather than the creator.


Do something hard

Lifting heavy weights makes you stronger. Solving hard problems makes you smarter.

I’m just guessing…

And so is everyone else.

No-one actually knows what they’re doing, it’s all guess work based on experience, knowledge, and past failures.

An expert is someone who has failed lots.

840 minutes in a day

From 8am to 10pm theres 840 minutes. How are you going to use them?

Build stuff that helps people get where they’re going

It’s very difficult to prove a prospect or customer wrong. Hard to get them to want something they don’t want. The opportunity lies in helping them get what they wanted all along.

—Seth Godin

Opportunity comes dressed in overalls.

And looks like work.


Be aware of opportunities when they arise, and be ready to do the work. Most people aren’t.


A Japanese word that means attractive in it’s restraint.

For me this applies broadly—in life and in design.

Be simple. Be minimal. Be necessarily functional only.

Make things that are inherently beautiful, not superficially beautiful.


The Japanese concept of beauty lies in appreciating the imperfections.

It seems they are mostly talking about nature. Which is great, and I agree, but it can apply to creative work too.

The thing I love most about Polaroid Diaries project is it’s perfect imperfections. Some are under or over exposed, or degraded. And it gives them a quality you would never achieve on purpose.

Perfect is not believable.

It is human to be imperfect. Let that show in your work, and in life.

People resonate with really good, but imperfect.

In the end, the race is against yourself

Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.

It’s ok to be behind because it’ll change. The race is long.

—Mary Schmichm used in Quindon Tarver’s club classic, Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).

The inconvenient path

May be the best route because other people won’t do it. Seth Godin said this.

The obstacle is the way. Ryan Holiday said this.

When smart people are saying the same thing it’s worth listening to.

Business success trifecta framework

  1. Have a good strategy
  2. Execute well
  3. Be consistent

Mitigate/improve limiting factors:

  1. Skill
  2. Time
  3. Energy

Why NFTs are great

What to say when people ask “you do why you like NFTs?”:

Digital ownership. Artists from anywhere in the world can put work on to a global 24/7 database. No gallery gatekeepers. If the work is good they can find an audience and collector base.

There’s good chance the Etherium blockchain will be the canonical ledger of human activity. It could be around for as long as Humans are. The art we mint on the Etherium blockchain will live loooong.

NFTs are new canvas. People threw their toys out when artists starting painting on canvas as opposed to huge frescos on walls. Then people said art should be on canvas, not digital. NFTs are the next progression of art, they unlock another creative vector: code. Generative art is at home with NFTs.

Creatives no longer have to live off social media ‘likes’, fans can support by owning their NFT. This has a load of benefits for both the creator and the collector. For one, owners have a traceable connection via the blockchain. This unlocks so much potential for community building, and project enrichment.

There’s also a tonne of great stuff in the detail. Find out what the person you are talking to is in to—there’s probably an NFT use-case that would benefit their world.

Digital ownership and verification is only going to get more important. NFTs are here to stay, never bet against the inevitable.


Always be interested

Everyone has something they can teach you. Your job is to be inquisitive and interested when you speak to people.

Plus, it’s nice to ask people about their interests.

Some stuff you have to learn by experience

You love a good self development book. But nothing beats learning lessons through experience.

You earn talent

Talent comes from repetition and persistence.

99.9% of people are not born with talent, but it can be cultivated.

How are you going to cultivate talent today?

Build upon on the ideas of others

It seems to me that humans have become the dominant species on Earth by building upon the ideas of others.

For example computing:

First we had Abacuses, then mechanical computers.

Electricity came along.

We made electronic computers.

Electric computers then got transistors and things.

We then we thought of the Internet and connected up all these electronic computers with transistors.

Now we’ve got a global network of connected electronic computers with transistors and things, that have access to Artificial Intelligence.

Mind blowing.

But my point is, who’s ideas are you going to pay attention to, and building upon?

You don’t have to invent the next revolution in tech. But try to add something creative on top of someone else’s work. Then someone else can build on top of that.

That’s how culture advances, a tiny bit at a time. Be a part of it.

Good enough is good enough

Perfect is the enemy of good and all that.

Getting something good done, and published, is way better than perfect and never done.

And if good enough leads to high quantity. Higher quality will follow.

Let people react

When someone is disappointed, or angry, or upset with you (whether it’s your fault or not), they may lash out.

They may make derogatory comments about something you do or have, or like.

I don’t know whether it’s them trying to make themselves feel better, but just let them. Even if it’s related to something you can’t control, or you feel it is unjust.

Don’t react. It’ll only lead to more bad feeling.

Things will be back to normal shortly.

Thinking in frameworks

Frameworks give you a way to approach and discuss problems, or make decisions.

If you’re ever stuck with what to say, refer to a framework.

A basic framework for increasing profit is fundamentally: how can we either increase prices, decrease costs, or increase sales.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a framework. It helps us understand people’s motivations.

Pareto’s Principal is a framework. the 80/20 rule helps us focus on the 20% that’s most important.

In marketing, thinking of the customer as the hero in your story is a framework you can build a narrative from.

Frameworks are springboards for a step in the right direction.


Japanese word for purpose. “A motivating force”.

Pronounced E-key-guy.

Just an awesome word.

Behavioural science suggests ikigai is a motivator more powerful than money.

Why would people join the police in Columbia during Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror, when their lives are at risk? A shared ikigai: to get Escobar.

Why would you buy a pair of TOMS Shoes, when another pair may be just as good and maybe cheaper? Ikigai. For every pair of TOMS told a pair is donated to a person in need.

Why would you work for a charity when there may be more lucrative jobs out there? Ikigai.