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.

Write copy that…

… grabs attention.
…sounds human.
…makes people feel seen and understood.
…provides relief and/or whip up desire.
…makes it easy to take action.

Like Laura Belgray.

ChatGPT can get you to average. Your ideas and effort can get you to great.

Prove you’re right

Reckon you know best? You probably do, but it helps to have proof.

It’s a decent idea to test a design before presenting it to other stakeholders. It could save a world of iteration pain, and avoid making the concept worse.

Here’s three ways to test designs. (Cheers Paul Boag.)

  • A semantic differential survey where you ask users to assess a design against a list of brand keywords. If the user associates the design with the chosen keywords, you know the design has gone in the right direction.
  • A 5-second test where you show users your design for 5 seconds and ask what they recall and what the site is about. This is a great way of easily identifying whether users “get” what the website is about and what draws their attention.
  • Finally there is the first-click test. In this test we ask users were they would click to complete critical business tasks. If users confidently click in the right place then you know your design is easy to use.

 

The moon ain’t that far

If you want to get to the moon next week, it’s only a few phone calls away.
—14 year old Stephen Bartlet

Reminder to us all that everything is achievable.

Stackin’ ammo

Eminem makes crazy lyric-idea notes. At least they look crazy to you and me.

To him they are ammo. And I’d say he’s done pretty well for himself.

Save your ideas, your ammo. In whatever means works for you.

Groundhog year

There’s a difference between 20 years experience, and doing the same thing every year for 20 years.

—Greg McKeown

Evolve and grow, man.

The happy butterfly

Happiness is like a butterfly, you can’t chase it or reach for it.

You have to create the conditions for it to come to you.

—Cole Shafer

Plus if you squeeze it too hard you might squish it.

Underrated feelings

Pride.

Creating something you’re proud of is one of the best feelings in my opinion.

I know when I’m proud of something because I keep looking at it for no reason, other than to think:

“Yeah, I’m awesome”.

Pride is a long lasting, serotonin induced reward for creating, rather than consuming.

An invisible drip of liquid happiness

Serotonin is the long term feel good hormone.

Dopamine is the quick hit feel good hormone.

Whilst there’s nothing wrong with a quickie, it’s better to aim for serotonin.

For me, that comes down to creating or exercising above consuming.

Social networks and TV hit our dopamine hard.

Like a wind up toy, we buzz for a minute then need another go.

Whereas creating stuff and exercising hooks you up to an invisible drip of liquid happiness—AKA serotonin.

You’re outnumbered right now

Past you planned a healthy snack.

Currently you wants a Twix.

Future you wants you to have an apple.

It’s two against one.

Low level renaissance man

Renaissance persons are folks who are well rounded, knowledgable and good at lots of things.

Named after dudes like Leonardo Da Vinci.

Boy was he a dude.

You don’t have to be a next level painter, sculptor, scientist, philosopher, mathematician, engineer… etc. like Leo.

You can be a low level renaissance person, and that’s great thing to be.

Just get good at several things. I suggest skill chaining. Start with being ace in your main area then and adding adjacent skills over time.

The risk of mediocrity

What are you afraid of?

I’m afraid of mediocrity. If you’re subscribed to this blog, I wager you are too.

Next time something hard or scary comes up, like public speaking, or a big hard project, ask yourself:

Is it more or less scary than mediocrity?

If the only excuse is laziness…

… then there is no excuse.

Get off your ass.

Or get on your ass if the thing you’re procrastinating on involves sitting down.

Helpers help and voters vote

If you made me brownies, and I told my friends that you’re great brownie maker, you now have a label to live up to.

You’ll want to be the label and meet my expectations. You’ll stand up tall, puff out your chest, and with an accomplished nod repeat “Yeah, I am a great brownie maker”.

Try it—email me some brownies, geoffmuskett@googlemail.com, if I like ’em, I’ll tell ya.

In less delicious, but equally effective verbal manipulation, adding an ‘er’ to help, or an ‘r’ to vote makes people more likely do it.

Asking “are you a voter?” is very different to “do you vote?”

Of course I’m a voter. I’m a good, responsible citizen who helps people, votes, and makes incredible brownies”.

Cool—you’re all the labels I gave you.

 

Pauses are better than ummms

Who would you rather be, Boris Johnson or Barrack Obama?

A Boris Johnson answer is full of posh sounding filler noises.

Obama pauses, and comes across 10x smarter.

(It helps that he probably is 10x smarter.)

But, umm using less, like, umms, arrrs, and likes, makes you, y’know, sound more confident and in control. Plus no-one wants to sound like Boris.

Read, write, speak

The triple crown.

If you’re good at all three you’re probably gonna win at life.

The good news is you can be good at all three, all you need to do is practise.

The start is the opposite of the end

More golden story telling wisdom from Matthew Dicks.

This is kinda obvious when you think about it, but you’re unlikely to have thought about it. I hadn’t anyway.

Here’s how every rom-com works:

  • Main two protagonists hate each other.
  • They are forced to do something together.
  • They fall in love.

The start is the opposite of the end.

It might help to reference your beginning when you’re concluding a story.

This doesn’t just work for fiction, or a personal story.

If the story is part of your marketing: Your customer is poor, then they employ/buy/do what you offer, then they become the opposite of poor—rich.

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.

Streaking

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 thinker 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.

In every scene.

Extra points for making it relatable.

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?

Storiess are like a gladiator gauntlet

It would be boring if contestants strolled from one side of the gauntlet run to the other.

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

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:

1. One-liner—about your company. Tell the problem you solve.

2. Landing page—so people who need your service can complete your primary or secondary call to action.

3. Lead generator—an incentive to sign up to a newsletter (your secondary call to action).

4. Nurture newsletter campaign—a set of emails showing how good you are at solving their problem.

5. Sales email campaign—a set of emails that encourage purchase.

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 noticing chess stuff

They have learned a skill of recognising chess positions and patterns, through repetition.

If they are a prodigy it just means they started learning chess patterns at a young age, instead of playing Minecraft.

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.

It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new life…

… fooooor me, and I’m feeling good.

Enough singing.

The point is, 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 acquaintance collector

The de-humanising, people-are-a-network, business term for humans you know a little is a “weak tie”.

I prefer the word acquaintance. An acquaintance is a potential friend.

Because you’re a nice person, you’ve left a positive impression on this person. Maybe more than once. When you’re not in the room, you want an acquaintance to say “Yeah I know Geoff, he seems like a good dude”. People work with people they like or think they will like.

🚨 Compound alert!

You may have 50 in your weak ties network acquaintances. Each acquaintances may also have 50 acquaintances.

This means you have direct or indirect 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.

A birthday is not a birthday without Vienetta

Or was that just the 90’s? Bring back those frilly family ice creams, I say.

In the 90’s a birthday Vienetta was a given. You think birthday, you think Vienetta. It was an “internal trigger”.

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

Internal triggers are when the use of your thing is triggered by a thought, feeling, or event.

External triggers are stuff marketers do, things like email or social network posts. Clever external triggers are usually necessary to build internal ones.

Some products that have nailed internal triggers:

You’ve taken a cool photo: open Instagram and share with your world.

You feel the need to complain: open Twitter/X.

And from now on, it’s your birthday, you need Vienetta. The 90’s can’t have it all to itself.

Stories not to tell

In Storyworthy Matthew Dicks says, and you have to agree, that no-one cares:

  1. How nice your holiday was.
  2. What you did when you were smashed.

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

For example, I took the kids to New York and it was great. We did all the cool stuff tourists do. But also, I got us detained. Think height chart photos, fingerprints taken. That is the interesting story.

Hook people into a story in 8 seconds

Hit them in the face immediately with:

Something unusual, or
Something unexpected, or
A conflict.

Humans are wired to love that stuff. Give them what they crave and fast.

People remember how you made them feel

Not what you said or did.

So be nice goddammit.

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, author of Storyworthy.

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

There’s a bomb on a bus, oh no!

The bomb detonates if the bus goes under 50mph, oh no oh no!

The bus has to go through a city, oh no oh no oh no!

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

What did you achieve by sitting on the sofa last night, watching Big Brother re-runs in your pants, eating a bowl of Frosties?

You’re a disgrace.

Alright, it’s ok to chill and reset. Necessary, even.

But you gotta do the hard thing if you want to achieve.

Achievements aren’t achievements unless it was difficult.

So do difficult things. Then eat Frosties.

Get a laugh in the first 30 seconds of a story

It gets the audience on your side, relaxes them, get’s ’em listening. So says the master Moth Story Slams, Matthew Dicks.

However, if you’re as funny as your high school geography teacher then be interesting, or intriguing, or surprising.

(Or, if you must, polarising. But not in a Donald Trump way).

Contrast is key in storytelling

Like a teenager on heat, mess with people’s emotions.

Bring people up, break their hearts, make them laugh, make them wonder, take them down then bring them up again.

Try and hit all the emotions with a sledgehammer.

When motivation hits, change your systems

Because systems ensure consistency, and consistency is key.

Learn a language: Be consistent.
Get buff: be consistent.
Train your impossible Husky: be consistent.

I hear that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Those clever Italians must have had systems, because systems last longer than motivation.

Building half a colosseum is a waste of time.

Never finishing your project is a waste of time.

Systems last longer than motivation. Colosseums last even longer.

Hook readers by hinting at change

Ever walked in to a room and sensed-out-loud “something’s different”?

Noticing change is a primal human thing, something about spotting lions that are about to eat your babies.

Our non primal brains love 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…)

Like these, that I’ve just made up:

“Which car shall I use for the getaway, the Farrari or the Skoda?”

“My life was exactly normal in every way. Until the doorbell rang on the 4th January 1995.”

 

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

Kevin Smith, via Matthew Dicks’ book Storyworthy.

I’ll extend speaking to writing too.

It’s easy to be boring. But what’s the point? People are going to forget what you’re telling them.

Telling a simple and entertaining story will:

  • Make people think your smart (science backed fact)
  • Be more memorable (science backed fact)
  • Eventually end up in you becoming a millionaire (less scientific)

It’s impossible to run a marathon without getting tired

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

So carry on.

I’ll add another Seth Godin observation:

It’s impossible to do creative work without experiencing “the dip”. The bit when enthusiasm wanes and momentum can stall.

So carry on.

Sprezzatura

As far as I know this is not a delicious Italian pasta dish.

It’s when you’ve worked hard on a thing, only to present it as effortless. Because y’know,  you’re some kinda creative genius.

You’re not. Sorry not sorry.

You deserve as much credit for the effort as you do the output. In fact, in behavioural science, if people know the effort that went in, they value the output more.

Sprezzatura is the opposite of Show Your Work!, and it really should be a San Marzano tomato pasta dish topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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 after the first 10 minutes.

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 building up the 5 second moment, and embellishing the story. With big ass 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 its 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.

Doesn’t matter if you’ve done this 1000 times. It doesn’t matter if your empathy levels are so high that you’ve moved your body, soul, and all your possessions into your audience’s mind.

They’ll still throw your toothbrush out, and give you feedback you weren’t expecting.

So pick up your toothbrush, embrace the inevitable feedback and make your work better.

Drama is aniticipation mingled with uncertainty

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

Soaps are like real life but with the drama knob turned up to 11.

If the storyline was a depiction of my life, where avoiding drama is the number one goal, no one would watch.

Turn up the drama (anticipation + uncertainty) in your storytelling, or bore the pants off people.

Duchenne smile

Pronounced: Du-chen.

Even if you’re the most miserable person in the world, a Duchenne smile will make people like you.

To be fair, Grumpy, it’s hard to fake a Duchenne smile. That’s probably why it’s believable and effective.

You smile with your eyes. Activate those crows feet and you’re Duchenne-ing.

Smile with benefits:

  • You’ll live longer—like, actually.
  • You’ll live happier.
  • Genuine joy is infectious.
  • Other people will like you more.
  • You’ll definately get a date with Kate Moss.

The narrative arc

People have been telling each other stories forever and ever and a day, that’s never. Uh huh yea.

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

Try to follow a compelling story arc. This is stolen directly 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

If you’re thinking the answer is “read this blog”, how dare you. Though, actually I might try it next time I’m laying there with three hours until my alarm goes off.

In theory, this stuff will also help:

  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.
  11. Read geoffmuskett.com.

Night night.

What you do is who you are

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

Wanna say you’re a writer? Write and publish it.

You can be whatever you want, but you gotta do the thing regularly, else you ain’t it.

Got it?

Eventually everyone loses the willpower battle

Early in the day you can will yourself to do the work that matters, work out, and eat broccoli.

Later on, with willpower reserves depleted, you procrastinate, slob around and stuff crisps into your face.

Help yourself out by creating rules. So when willpower trickles, rules kick in. Like these:

“I don’t eat after 8pm”

“I do 10 minutes yoga before bed”

“I do one hour focussed writing from 9-10pm”

“I only eat crisps on the 29th February, because nothing counts on that day”.

You don’t need as much willpower to follow rules.

(But if today is the 29th Feb, there’s no rules, go nuts.)

Perceived easiness

Here’s one for people who are designing something others are gonna do. A process. Online or in person.

Two things.

1) Behavioural Scientologists scientists tell us that if we set people’s expectations their experience follows. So tell people what they’re about to do is easy.

Otherwise people are likely to assume the task is a drag, and not do it.

2) How hard that thing is to do is less important that how hard it seems to be.

How you design the thing directly affects how easy it seems.

I was looking for car insurance online. The websites that give you a quote all have similar length forms, but one site served up the questions one by one. And dayyym it felt easy.

Bit size chunks make long processes feel much simpler.

Feel is more important than actual.

Good social media post vs bad social media post

Inspired by the 1% better newsletter, there are ingredients for a good post.

1% better focusses on social network growth. Personally, I hate coughing my content into Zuck or Elon’s ether, so I apply some of these ingredients to posting on my website.

1% better’s list (as of ~July ’23):

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 Trumpian.

I prefer this framing: Strong opinion loosely held.

Acronym for how to make ideas memorable

Dunno where I got this slightly wonky acronym from. But it’s good stuff if you want your idea to be sticker than toddler’s fingers at snack time.

SUCCES:

Simple

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

Unexpected

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

Concrete

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

Credible

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

Emotional

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

Stories

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.

The #1 piece of productivity advice

Consuming too much productivity advice is not productive.

Doing stuff is far more productive. So do stuff.

Creativity before chores

Pretty sure I got this from Rick Ruben.

Applies both literally and metaphorically.

Literally—do creative work before the laundry and the washing up.

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

No one will remember how efficient you were with the laundry. But people might remember that you self published a novel.

Obviously get your kids to school on time. Apart from that, the hoovering can wait.

The best cross-disciplinary skill

Understanding the fleshy bundles of emotions that are our fellow humans.

  • What are the real reasons people click the buy button.
  • How to deal with angry customers.
  • How to inspire others.
  • How to pick people up when they’re down.
  • How to tell when someone is lying.
  • How to persuade people of things.
  • How to get along with people you don’t like.
  • How to teach people

Plus 10 million other things that make this the most valuable, but hardest skill of them all.

Maximising a moment

Have you got something exciting planned? A holiday, an concert, a hot bath with bubbles and toast. I’m surely not the only person who likes eating toast in the bath?

Here’s three steps to make the most of it:

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

* You can probably skip this step for a toast bath.
** If you took photos, who am I to judge, I’d just recommend keeping them to yourself, unless…
*** If you shared a toast bath with someone, and shared pictures, you should probably ask that person to marry you.

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.

Especially if you follow my magnificent process (that may need a catchier name) ReCorDeR:

Read. Learn about the thing.
Capture. Write the thing down.
Do. Do the thing.
Repeat. Repeat the process for a new thing.

You already know how to use it

Steve Jobs said that at an Apple event introducing the iPad.

There’s something to be be said for the familiar.

For example, why on earth do people still use feet and inches? One foot is based on the length of King Henry I’s actual foot.

King Henry I died in 1135. Nearly 900 years ago. I think it’s time to move on.

But people are used to feet and inches, they are familiar with it. Even though it’s a rubbish means of measuring, it’s not going away.

Back to Apple.

Steve was telling us that using an iPad will be a familiar experience. He knew people like familiar.

Is there anything ‘people’ related that Steve Jobs didn’t know intuitively?

For the rest of us normo’s, here’s the rule:

If you’re product is innovative, add some familiarity, if your product is familiar, add some innovation.

It’s a balance. The iPad was new tech, rooted in familiarity.

Also, it was about the size of a King Henry I foot.

The best design you’ve never noticed

When you used a website and it’s effortless.

When you instantly found what you were looking for.

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

Let’s spare a moment to appreciate the UI/UX designer or team that made your life a bit easier.

Good designers deserve more love, in my biased opinion.

Anxiety is worrying about the past or future

If that’s true then, with zero credentials in psychiatry, I can solve your problem:

Stay in the moment.

Easier said than done, but worth trying.

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

For example, just because you’re a great programmer, doesn’t mean you should make UX decisions.

Seth’s right. Of course he’s right, he’s Seth Godin.

But maybe he’s also wrong. Just a little.

I’m an advocate of skill chaining, learning adjacent skills so that you’re better at the core thing.

It’s me vs Seth.

I know what you’re thinking, “Geoff you’re screwed”. Yeah probly, but hear me out.

I’m very confident that being able to write make me a better designer. I’m very confident that knowing about conversions and sales funnels makes me a better designer.

But that is because I’ve taken the time to learn those skills.

Here’s where Seth’s argument comes in:

I know programming a bit, enough to be a better designer, but anything hardcore drains me so I’m best off giving that work to someone else.

If someone hasn’t spent the time learning an adjacent skill, or it drains their energy, someone else is better to do it.

But if the same someone has chained that skill I’d argue they may well be the best person to do it.

Seth, I’ll accept a draw.

Dieter Rams’ 10 principals of good design

From ’55 to ’97, Dieter Rams was head of design at Braün, which at the time was the Apple of the home gadget world.

Their stuff was so easy to use it “just worked”.

Their stuff lasted.

Their stuff was timeless in it’s aesthetic. How nice is this watch, it’s a re-release of a Rams ’70s design.

The saviour of product design Himself gave us some sacred commandments to design by. Commandments that apply whether you’re a product, web, graphic, or any other type of designer:

  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

Amen Dieter.

Pour out the bad ideas to get to the good ones

—David Epstien

My dog Hetty buries things. Socks, gloves, my wallet, my ex-wife’s bra.

Occasionally she will dig up one of the treasures and bring it in. What a joy that is, especially when she presented a bra to my new girlfriend.

Good ideas are metaphorically buried. You have to dig like Hetty, flinging out bad ideas like dirt to get the good stuff.

Bad ideas are better out than in. Sometimes I’ll start a brainstorm, with “Right, lets get the bad ideas out”, and offer some of my own.

We’re digging our way closer to the prize: a good idea. Or if you’re a mis-wired dog: a dirty old bra.

Perceived content owners

There’s many reasons me and social networks don’t get along.

One big one: I don’t like giving the ownership of my content away to Mark or Elon.

It’s like giving Gordon Ramsay a new recipe—he’s got plenty of his own.

I’d much rather post my stuff on my website. Just for me and the funny, sexy, intelligent people on my email list.

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

It’s: “I read this thing on Twitter”… or “some random posted this thing on Facebook”.

The perceived content owner often becomes the platform rather than the creator.

I’d like people to know that the content they consumed was mine. Same goes for my best Turkey meatball recipe.

Do something hard

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

The path to success doesn’t go via Netflix and the snack cupboard. Sadly.

An successful person is also the biggest failure

Your latest launch didn’t go great?

Sorry to hear that. But before you beat yourself up like you’re Ed Norton in Flight Club, remember everyone fails at stuff.

Amazon have launched tonnes of duffers. Fire phone, anyone? Anyone?

They couldn’t even sell it for 99 cents. Seriously.

But Jeff Bezos ain’t no failure, most folk agree he’s unbelievably successful.

I’m just guessing what will land, and so is everyone else, including JB.

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

To be successful you gotta fail a lot.

840 minutes in a day

From 8am to 10pm theres 840 minutes.

You can do a tonne of good stuff in 840 minutes.

How are you going to use them?

Build stuff that helps people get where they’re going

Seth Godin says the best things. Here’s another thing he said:

It’s very difficult to prove a prospect or customer wrong.

It’s hard to get them to want something they don’t want.

The opportunity lies in helping them get what they wanted all along.

 

Opportunity comes dressed in overalls

And looks like work.

—Edison

I reckon there’s three skills here:

  1. Noticing the opportunity.
  2. Deciding whether it’s worth going after.
  3. “Putting your overalls on” and doing the work.

Tommy Edison, saw a potential opportunity to turn electricity into light.

Oh boy did he go after it. He and his team tried everything.

After 10,000 failures he’d cracked it, and gave us the gift of light.

Nice one Tom.

Shibui

Shib-you-e

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

The polar opposite of the Kardashian’s.

To me, shibui applies to life and in design.

Simple, minimal, and necessarily functional only. Like Braün.

Design and make things that are inherently beautiful, not superficially beautiful. Like a Staedler pencil. Or a Swiss Army Knife. Or pretty much anything Massimo Vignelli touched.

Wabi-Sabi

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 quote, 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 that.

The obstacle is the way.

Ryan Holiday said that.

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

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

You’ll be a millionaire in no time.

Always be interested

Everyone has something they can teach you.

Your job is to be inquisitive and interested when you speak to people.

At the last wedding I went to, I met a guy who was into electric cars. Can’t remember his name, or what he did for a living. But I remember how infectiously enthusiastic he was about Tesla and co.

I enjoyed talking to him, and learned a lot. I think he enjoyed telling me.

Some stuff you have to learn by experience

You might love a good self development book.

I do.

But nothing beats learning lessons through experience.

Here’s my strategy:

Read.
Capture.
Do.
Repeat.

Read/watch/hear/observe stuff, write it down (in my case on this website), implement it into life, start the cycle again.

Skill chain.

After a while you’ll have a the mighty fine chain.

Talent is a label

People don’t like being labelled, generally, but being labelled at talented is pretty great.

Talent is a label that people give to you if you’re really good at something.

It’s not easy, but you can get really good at almost anything.

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 their transistors and things.

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

Mind blowing.

Smart people build upon the smart ideas of others. Who’s ideas are you going to build 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 yours.

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

Good enough is good enough

All the productivity folk say: “perfect is the enemy of good”.

They’re right.

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

The more good stuff you do and publish, the more gooder your stuff will be.

(“gooder” is a good enough word).

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 are fighters, not flight-ers, or freez-ers.

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, haven’t done, or you feel it is unjust.

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

Things will calm shortly. Then talk about it.

Thinking in frameworks

Thinking and talking in frameworks makes you sound smart.

They 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 (and making people think you know what you’re talking about).

Ikigai

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.