I’m starting an experiment in restructuring my life to reduce decision fatigue.
If you’re like me, and not very familiar with the concept of decision fatigue, it is well-outlined in a 2011 New York Times article. At its core, decision fatigue is the assumption that we possess a finite amount of willpower, and that we expend this willpower as we make decisions throughout a day. This can lead to unintended (and often undesirable) psychological effects, such as a selection bias towards leniency after lunch, suffered by judges and even greats like Paul Graham. Fortunately, there are factors that can abate this fatigue. As the lunchtime anecdote alludes to, one of these is glucose levels, which this study from the University of Kentucky shows even happens in animals. The factor on which I would like to focus, as part of my desire to design a simpler life, is reducing the number of decisions that I need to make each day.
After a very brief analysis of my daily routine, there are several obvious areas in which I expend my decision-making energy unnecessarily. These wastes include:
- meeting schedule
- exercise routine
- content consumption (reading books, watching movies)
With the goal of minimizing waste in decision-making energy throughout a day, one approach is to cluster all of these low-value, low-risk decisions into a particular time of my day, such the night before. I’ve experimented with this for a few days with my eating habits, by using MyFitnessPal not as a post-consumption recording device, but as a meal-planning tool. I have notice the following benefits:
- I feel less decision stress just before mealtimes because I’m just executing on an existing plan
- I’ve been able to better avoid temptations to stray from my intended diet, because I’m not making decisions in-the-moment (a low-glucose moment, at that)
While the are only preliminary observations, they’re sufficient to convince me to continue this experiment. A few ways to expand this include planning my wardrobe in weekly batches (perhaps, on Sunday evenings), or selecting in one session all the books I’m going to read throughout the year. I’d really like to experiment with ways to make this easier with retail shopping, but that topic is deserving of its own post.
What are some ways in which you can reduce decision fatigue in your life? I’m really curious to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
Hat tip to @MarkWittman for sharing this concept with me.
After spending a few days hanging out with Brad Feld, I’ve come to the conclusion that Startup Communities is not simply a book targeted at the minority of the population who currently identify themselves as entrepreneurs. What Brad is working on is actually much bigger. My conclusion stems from the idea that he left ringing in my head following his visit to Kentucky: “Every city was once a startup.”
I spent most of this morning researching the history of the founding of my city, Lexington, Kentucky. As Brad discussed his thoughts about startup communities, he kept referring to the “natural resources” present in a community. In the early days of the geographic area that would come to be known as Kentucky, a few people made the conscious choice to settle here. While their decision was not fully informed (they did not yet have TripAdvisor to review all the possible places to settle on the North American continent), they did the best they could with the available information in the late 1700s. They actively chose the Bluegrass region for its fertile soil, access to fresh water, and moderate climate. For a startup agrarian community, these are key ingredients. For a startup technology community, the key ingredients are much less geophysical. They’re human. As codified in Brad’s book, these ingredients include leadership by entrepreneurs, a long-term growth perspective, an inclusive culture, and events that engage and connect all members of the community.
I spent most of last evening discussing the fertile nature of Lexington with my friends over drinks. We’ve come to realize that our city has an abundance of untapped human potential: a core of stable employers, a continuous influx of smart people, and a sufficient mix of risk-taking individuals. It’s also a really enjoyable place to live, with good food, plenty of shopping, modern electricity/water/internet infrastructure, a swath of housing options, and a variety of entertainment choices. Yesterday, as we partook in some of the excellent nightlife offerings, it might have been apropos that we began our evening in Henry Clay’s Public House. Prior to becoming a statesman on the national scale, Henry Clay was not only a successful lawyer, but also an agricultural entrepreneur. Next, we moved to Lexington Beer Works, a recent addition to Lexington’s bar scene, with a host of specialty and craft brews. It’s no accident that this location has become one of the staple hangouts for the tech and entrepreneur crowd. Among its group of founders are veterans of Lexmark, the city’s largest technology company. To conclude our evening, we grabbed a snack from Dogs for Cats, a sidewalk vendor so-named for selling specialty hot dogs to the local populace of UK Wildcat fans. We paid for this food through Square, closing the loop on our tech-startup-community-time-warp of an evening.
Brad Feld has an assertion that “we can create startup communities anywhere”. There are two ways to read into this. One perspective is that we can create communities of startups (ie local groupings of early-stage technology companies). The other is to redefine how we view the general concept of “community”, through the innovation-centric lens of startups. Our communities, whether they’re local or virtual, official or informal, are forever imperfect and constantly changing. Yet, a core piece of human nature is an affinity for other human beings. We join together as sports teams, volunteer groups, and book clubs. We can’t help but form communities. But what if we more consciously formed our communities? The innovation frameworks used by startups are applicable far beyond the creation of technology companies. What if governments a/b tested as effectively as Google? What if schools iterated as quickly as Skype? Essentially, startup methods enable human organizations to take advantage of biologically-inspired innovation processes. And biology is pretty good at innovation.
Thus, my take-away from Brad’s visit is two-fold. On the surface, he provided excellent suggestions for building our community of technology company people (and reinforcement for some of the things we’re already doing well). Yet, perhaps more importantly, he reminded me that what we’re doing is much bigger. While companies focus on creating tangible products and delivering valuable services, the true end result is a more abstract thing known as a better life. The identities of some of the greatest innovators are often tied to their products, but the lasting impact that they have had is actually through the communities and lifestyles they created. Even in the case of Steve Jobs, it could be argued that, “Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.” John Gruber’s statement about Jobs includes a note about self-similar fractal design, a math reference that I’m sure Brad would enjoy. This distinction is important, so I’ll be explicit: the way we build our products, should be the way we build our companies, should be the way we build our cities, should be the way we build our world. Perhaps the Boulder startup community’s greatest creation isn’t Storage Technology Corporation ($4.1B acquisition), or TechStars (top accelerator program), but Boulder itself. By turning Boulder’s lessons into a book, Brad has articulated a new way for creating and re-creating our cities. That’s big.
If you’d like to experience the vision for Lexington that my co-founders and I share, I invite you to visit us at Awesome Inc. It’s our 6000-square-foot prototype of the future of this city.
I’ve always wanted to teach a class. A few weeks ago, following conversations with people in the Awesome Inc community, I decided to create a class called “Programming For Absolute Beginners”. This class offers an introduction to software development based on an excellent (and free) resource called Learn Python The Hard Way. We only announced the class internally (to our Tenants, Team Alpha, and the Experience teams at Awesome Inc) but still had 12 people sign up within 3 days. I was pretty surprised with the response; I thought it would be a struggle to find half that many people. And, following the first and second sessions of the 5.5 week course, both the students (and I) seem to be enjoying the process.
There are two reasons that I’m so excited that this course is able to take place:
I get joy in empowering other people. Education is one great way to empower people. “The more you know,” right? I’ve actually approached the class as more of a facilitator than a teacher. With the varying skill levels of the “students” in the class, and the ability for anyone to move through the material at their own pace, everyone in the group has the ability to serve as a teacher. So, at a meta level, I’m not only teaching a group of people how to be programmers, but also teaching them how to programming teachers. In fact, based on how quickly several of the students took on the role of peer-teacher, I didn’t really have to “teach” them how to do this. I just gave them the opportunity to use their skills. And while this might be bad for my job security as a teacher, it’s great for expanding our ability to help more people. And if that means that more people like Therese, who wrote her first program ever last night, will feel this empowerment, then our time invested is totally worth it.
The world needs more makers. For a generation or so, the title of “skilled workers” has gotten a bad rap. It has become viewed as a subpar status, denoting people who have chosen non-university educational paths, or pursued non-white collar careers. The thing about most white collar jobs, however, is that they operate at a level of abstraction beyond actual productive work. If white collar workers stopped working, we’d lose the ability to account, litigate, and manage. If blue collar workers stopped working, no new stuff would come into existence. There would be no food, no clothes, no cars, and no music on the radio. Herein lies the magic of programming: it’s a white collar job (read: prestigious, well-paid), yet it’s also a blue collar job (programmers actually make things). At this particular point in history, our ability to solve many of the world’s problems is only inhibited by our ability to understand those problems, and our ability to turn the solution into working software. Hunger, energy, peace, communication, drugs, poverty. In solving any of these problems, the lowest-hanging fruit can be addressed through appropriate computer software. So, by helping a few more people become developers, we’re doing a small part to make the world a better place.
A final note on this is how easy it was to go from discussing the idea for a class, to deciding to do it, to starting it. This all happened within 2 weeks. The two major factors that made this so easy:
- Availability of course material. Thanks, Zed! (also, thanks in advance to iTunes U, Udacity, Coursera, and even Wikipedia)
- The power of the Awesome Inc community. I didn’t have to search for a physical space to host the class, or struggle to market to a critical mass of potential attendees.
Based on our initial results, we’ll be offering more of these courses in the future. If there’s anything you’d like to learn (or teach), leave me a note in the comments!
As of today, I have donated 3 gallons of blood. If every pint of blood saves 1 life, then I have saved 24 lives. As a 26-year-old, I hope I can keep up this pace.
As a technology guy, I’m anxiously awaiting the day when we develop a suitable synthetic blood substitute…but we haven’t yet. Blood donation is our only option. Demand for blood always exceeds supply, so we always need your help. Giving blood is safe, fast, easy, and you get free Little Debbie snacks.
If you already give blood, keep up the good work. If you’ve never donated before, consider it. If you’re in Central Kentucky, check out http://kybloodcenter.org
Last week, I had the privilege to participate in Commerce Lexington’s annual Leadership Visit to San Antonio, TX. Since 1974, our local chamber of commerce has been organizing these trips that bring together business, government, academic, and community leaders to travel to another city. The “visit” aspect (versus just a group meeting somewhere in Lexington) serves two purposes:
- Find inspiration from other cities that are doing cool things
- Bring Lexington’s leaders together in a new environment, free from the distractions of home
The Leadership Visits have been the nexus for some of Lexington’s great assets, including Thursday Night Live which was inspired by a visit to Greenville, SC. On this visit, one of the highlights of San Antonio was the River Walk, now a major tourist attraction and downtown focal point, but once just a trickling stream. What not many people know is that there is a similar stream that flows under Lexington. On this trip, we learned that the Town Branch Creek is perhaps more voluminous than the creek that feeds the San Antonio River. The difference is, San Antonio chose to design a beautiful, open waterway. In Lexington, we conveniently diverted our creek through a buried pipe. For a city often described as “conservative”, the notion of unearthing a buried stream and manufacturing a downtown river is nothing short of audacious. But, looking at Lexington’s history, you may be surprised to learn that we have a penchant for progressive public-private partnerships. I hope we take a gamble on this.
With all the focus on the river, another key aspect of our host city was underemphasized: young leaders are critical in shaping the city of San Antonio. In our trip program, all participants under the age of 40 were denoted as “Emerging Leaders”. I commented to my friends before the trip In San Antonio, “If Mark Zuckerberg, age 28, lived in Lexington, would he be considered emerged yet?” I did notice a difference in San Antonio. People in that age range are just called LEADERS. However, that designation was objectively earned. They didn’t wait for a 40th birthday party to receive permission to lead at the forefront of their city. They just went out and made it happen. The two examples with whom I’m most familiar are:
- Julian Castro
- Mayor of San Antonio (7th largest city in the USA)
- Age 37 (Mayor since 2009, age 34)
- Lanham Napier
- CEO of Rackspace (>$1B annual revenue)
- Age 41 (CEO since 2006, age 35)
There are a few notable similarities about these two leaders. First, both are from Texas. They didn’t have to be sold on why they should live there. Both have graduate degrees from Harvard (Castro in Law, Napier in Business). This doesn’t make them inherently better leaders (heck, they even let me into HBS), but it does guarantee that they know what world-class means, and demonstrate that they aren’t scared to chase after it. Also, they are in terminal positions. They can’t move any higher up within their organizations, so the only way to achieve greater things is to drag the whole organization up with you. This differs from some of Lexington’s young leaders who are not in terminal, but transient leadership positions. The best basketball player in Lexington will leave for the NBA. Even within the world of sports, San Antonio’s professional basketball team, the Spurs, provide a terminal post, and one that is noted for its world-class leadership transitions.
I have a friend who works with Steve Westly, an advocate of rotating involvement in the 3 major sectors of society: business, government, and academia (I’d argue that religion fits in there as well). Looking at those three sectors, who are some of our young, already-emerged leaders within terminal organizations here in Lexington? I’ll offer a few (list is far from exhaustive, and is based totally on my familiarity):
Last year, I wrote about the departure of many of Lexington’s leaders. With the World Equestrian Games and other recent successes, I was worried that Lexington would go downhill following their departure. Now, I look at this in a different light. Perhaps these departing leaders had one last bit of insight: the most effective action they could take was to hand off the torch to a new generation. And while earlier I perceived the under-40 designation as a form of ageism, it’s in fact a testament to the associated wisdom of Lexington’s leaders. Those who recognize this gap are doing something about it. The reason that I, and many of the other young professionals, were able to attend this trip was through the generous private donations that provided Emerging Leader scholarships. Far from excluding, Lexington’s current crop of leaders is actively including their younger peers. But, as the saying (rather apropos in equine land) goes, “You can lead a horse to water…”
Dear leaders of my generation: the torch is now in our hands. It’s our calling to make Lexington a world-class awesome city. Let’s roll.
The FayetteMall (abbreviated FM) is a unit of measure roughly equivalent to 2000 feet. It is based on the distance from one end (Dick’s Sporting Goods) to the other (Macy’s) of the Fayette Mall in Lexington, KY.
A common usage for this unit of measure is when relating otherwise difficult to fathom distances in terms of the more familiar unit of FayetteMalls. For instance, the distance from Triangle Park to Thoroughbred Park in downtown Lexington is approximately 2 FayetteMalls. The distance from the Davis Marksbury Building on UK’s campus to Awesome Inc is just over 1 FayetteMall. Strongly associated with the unit is the average walking time to traverse 1 FayetteMall, which is 7 minutes, 20 seconds.
The creation of the FayetteMall as a unit of measure is intended to inspire more people (particularly those in Lexington, KY) to enjoy walking throughout their city as much as they do inside the mall. Most of the geographic area of Lexington currently suffers from a low WalkScore, however the downtown core has a score of 85, which is on-par with New York City and San Francisco. With increased awareness of the ease of walking in Lexington, as well as the association with a familiar, often-walked unit of measure, perhaps we can make Lexington an even better place to live.
I have a love-hate relationship with sleep. I acknowledge that there are likely benefits of an 8-hour night of sleep, but there are so many exciting things to do while I’m awake! I spent most of my K-12/college years sleeping just enough to stay awake during (most of) class, which turned out to be roughly 6 hours per night. A few years ago, I tried an experiment with polyphasic sleeping, but it proved to be a tough adjustment to fit into my unpredictable schedule. I might revisit polyphasic at some point (I like the everyman 3-nap), but for now what should I do? If sleep affects my overall health, as well as athletic performance and creative productivity, how can I optimize my sleep habits to maximize those outputs, while maintaining the smallest possible input?
About a year ago, I decided to start collecting some real data on my sleep habits. I found an app that provided some basic sleep data (for the curious, Zeo is a much better option). Once I started collecting data, I found out that my average night of sleep lasted about 6.5 hours. With this baseline, I set a new goal: 7 hours. As of yesterday, 373 days into the experiment, I achieved my goal of averaging 7 hours of sleep per night! You can see some of this presented on my personal dashboard, or check out the full source data.
So, how did this data collection help me increase my sleep average? For starters, “what gets measured gets done“. Simply keeping track, actively paying attention, helped me increase my amount of sleep. An even more effective tool (and you’ll see this if you look at my source data) was providing myself with timely feedback on fluctuations in my sleep time. I chose a basic analysis: a running weekly average for my sleep. I decided to alert myself whenever this weekly average fell below 7 hours. Typically, I have greater control over when I go to sleep than when I wake up, so my countermeasure was to “go to sleep before midnight”. Since I implemented this countermeasure, I’ve found it easier to maintain a consistent sleep pattern.
A missing piece of data in this process is a performance-related dependent variable. While I’m excited that I was able to increase my amount of sleep, I haven’t found a good means of measuring long-term health or professional performance improvements. Anecdotally, I do feel more alert throughout the day, I don’t fall asleep during meetings/lectures/etc, and I have been reasonably healthy over the past year. For the next phase of this process, I would like to find a means of correlating changes in my sleep to quantifiable life-performance data.
By the way, if you like this kind of stuff, you should check out the Quantified Self event happening during this Fall’s IdeaFestival in Louisville. I’ve been working with Chris Hall to bring together some of the leaders in quantified self from this region, as well as a few special guests, to share stories of personal experiments and insight on the latest tools.