The last year has been quite rough. I got myself in a butt load of debt because of bad habits from being stuck at home (2020 panorama yo!) and unforeseen expenses. I changed jobs three times, and was hospitalized twice due to my asthma and other chronic health conditions. I was exhausted. It’s been over a year since I took a proper vacation. Well, I took time off during the height of the pandemic but I couldn’t do anything or go anywhere other than sit in my home which, like most, was also my office at the time.
So when my lead link suggested I go on a two week vacation after only two months tenure at the company, I was surprised but honestly relieved and excited. I had just been vaccinated (#PfizerLife) and my two week waiting period had passed. I was so excited to do…what exactly? I had looked forward to this moment of being vaccinated since it was in the news that vaccines were happening but now that I was, I didn’t really know what to do with my newfound freedom. First, I grabbed a nice cup of iced coffee from my local Starbucks like the basic white girl I am. Then, I sat down and decided what I wanted to do with my two weeks.
“Hey, I’ve wanted to draw more”, I said, so I picked up an iPad Air and borrowed my partner’s Apple Pencil ($200 for a stylus??) to do some drawings. I’ve enjoyed doing pixel art on my computer but couldn’t get the hang of Affinity Designer on the iPad (yet ;) )so I started doing isometric drawings in Procreate. I made a few pieces but after a few days, I got frustrated and eventually bored. I later learned that this was because Valley of Latent Potential, a principle from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. Regardless, here’s a screenshot of what I drew over the course of a few days:
After I got bored, and realized I still had 11 days left in my vacation. Oh shit!
I’ve been watching a lot of Ali Abdaal’s YouTube videos recently (his videos are amazing and I highly recommend watching them) and he’s always making book recommendations. I love the idea of reading a book but I’m dyslexic and until this vacation, as embarrassing as it is to say, I had never finished a book cover-to-cover. With that obstacle in mind, I took him up on his recommendation of Audible but added a twist. I bought both the Kindle version to read on my iPad and the Audible version to listen while I’m reading. The tactility and sensory of both reading and listening helped me internalize the book more than just reading it or listening to it. I’ve tried both separately and it has always been a frustrating experience. Just read a chapter but what the heck was it about?
I compiled a list of books that I wanted to read and just started. I first read Atomic Habits by James Clear and I was kinda put off at first, 5 hours and 35 minutes? That’s a lot of time. But I started at 1.0x speed, then 1.3x speed and around half way I was listening at 1.8x speed slowly bumping up the speed as much as I could tolerate while still being able to understand and retain what I was reading/listening to. My main takeaway from Atomic Habits is that I just have to start. Forget perfection. My habits are - for the most part - pretty good. I bite my nails every once in a while and maybe order in takeout a little too much but honestly who doesn’t have some flaws? However, I’m wanting to change two things: spend less money and internalize that I am pretty.
I wrote “towards” and “away” lists for my “directions” - a concept in the book. Things like hiring a financial advisor and accountant and buying a coffee machine to save on Starbucks (which has been working by the way, at least for the most part, though those peach iced teas with lemonade are intoxicating). The second one, slightly more personal and something I am vulnerable about is that I have a lot of body confidence issues. But as it says in the book, I’m not trying to be pretty, I am pretty. I learned through internal searching that I would go to slimmer sized stores to purchase clothes and have nothing fit as a punishment. Saying things like “I won’t ever be thin so don’t even bother buying pretty clothes” but when I worked with my weight rather than against it, I was able to go to plus size inclusive stores, get a cute outfit that made me really happy and have a positive shopping experience for the first time. You don’t have to be thin to be pretty.
A lot of the teachings from the book, I had already heard of from Ali’s videos or from friends over the years but the way he wrote it made me understand that a change, even a seemingly small one, needed to be made. James did an awesome job on the book and it helped me immensely. Other than the attention on food habits (I have an eating disorder so I overlooked that advice in this book and others to happily continue listening to my therapist).
Next, I turned my attention to Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky - a book that I was very excited for. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book but never made the time to read it. Ironic right? Listening to what was said in the foreword, I skipped around but read through most of the chapters. The tactics that were most intriguing to me were the following:
I’ve always had a problem with todo lists. They’re fun to write and it feels nice to complete tasks but everything in between sucks. The obligation to complete everything right away otherwise it disappears (some apps) sucks donkey or it sticks around and you feel super guilty for not completing it. This is why the Might-Do List was super intriguing to me. Write your daily highlight and make sure that is completed but have a series of might-do tasks to complete after.
Time-blocking your calendar. I used to do this while I was working at Bitrise but I stopped because my next job didn’t really have a calendar culture but when I started at my new and current job, I was overwhelmed with calendar events and just kinda followed the flow of the busy bandwagon. My goal for when I get back is to setup a proper system for time blocking and bulldoze my calendar to simplify meetings, combine events where possible and maybe nudge a few to be emails.
Become a morning person. My partner Milo laughed when I wrote this one down after reading the book. He said “You’re already a morning person!” and yes I get up usually around 6:45am or 7am but I didn’t usually do much with my mornings and often felt rushed even while getting up earlier. So I’ve thought up some night and morning routines to help me get prepared for the next day as well as kickstart the day. For example, if I’m going to my dedicated out-of-home home office (it’s also a creative space for me), I pack my bag, lay out a clean set of clothes, and ensure my morning cookie is ready to be destroyed.
I really liked the “put your toys” away tactic which for me tied really nicely with blocking distraction kryptonite and watching out for time craters. I often would come to my laptop or iPad and be overwhelmed by whatever I left on screen the last time I used the device. I cleaned them up, deleting infinity pools where necessary and optimizing them for a nicer, more calm environment. My iPad is ready for the next time I want to draw, make music, read or write. My computers (both work and personal) are tabs closed, ready for the next session.
The next one is really something for future me as right now I don’t have many people contacting me being on vacation but I want to be slower to respond. Not impossibly slow but before I would jump at the ping of a notification to be instantly there for whoever needed me. Putting their priorities over mine and ultimately tanking productivity because of the time it would take me to get back into the groove. Even when it could’ve waited until later.
Get a time timer. Often the passage of time completely disappears. I won’t get much done but time will have passed significantly. I purchased a $45 time timer from Amazon but unfortunately I misread the listing and purchased one that’s 1ft when I wanted one like 3-4 inches large. Uh oh. Imagine my surprise when I opened the Amazon box! So…I’m returning it and buying a smaller one and being more careful with which one I buy.
Lastly, exercise everyday but don’t be a hero about it. My brother-in-law is a personal trainer and he’s training Milo. I’ve tried to get involved but ultimately drop off after a few weeks because I lose energy, motivation or both. There’s a passage in the either Atomic Habits or Make Time (sorry don’t remember!) that exercise is often viewed as exercise only if it fits certain criteria and that it’s bullshit! Doing 5 minutes is better than nothing so I am going to work with them to develop a plan that I can do as much or as little as I want to at least get my blood pumping once a day. And hey, it’s okay if I don’t do it every day. Even taking the stairs over the elevator and walking to and from my office is something!
I finished Make Time, a 4 hour book, in 2 hours ish by listening at 2.1x speed. I am honestly amazed at how fast I can listen to things and still take in everything!
The next book I read was Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. This one I purchased a physical copy of because I hadn’t thought of the Kindle+Audible combo when I bought it. But I still thought I could read the physical copy and listen to the audiobook. Unfortunately, I could only find it on Apple Books which I’ve not setup for my business credit cards so decided to read it out loud instead. This was much, much harder and I often stumbled over my words and had to repeat paragraphs to understand what I had just read but it was a refreshing experience (although I think I’m still going to purchase Kindle and Audiobooks). Dyslexia sucks and reading is hard when I don’t have my fancy Dyslexia font. Instead of using Kindle’s highlight feature, I used some of my partner’s sticky paper flags to tag parts of the book that I enjoyed. This book inspired me to buy noisypigeon.blog and get started on this post. I read it in about three and a half hours and there are a lot of great insights while maybe being a bit blunt about human spam. We’ve all met people like that and yet I still felt secondhand embarrassment when Austin wrote the truth.
So I guess that comes down to why I created this blog. I want to write about the systems I design, the books I read and the art I create. These days I’m a systems architect for continuous integration and delivery - a topic I will go into much more detail in the coming weeks, months and years. I also want to share, like in this post, what I learned from books that I’ve read and lastly share art that I’m going to create. I draw, I take photos, and I occasionally make music. I’m not going to set a schedule for when I post or even set exactly what I cover - it’s why I chose something related to me but vague for my domain. I’m noisy and I love pigeons: noisypigeon.blog.
I still have 8 days in my vacation and 4 more books in the to-read pipeline. This has been the most restful vacation I’ve had in years. I hope to see you in future posts and hope you enjoyed.