Workin' it...
"...“no one could be a good observer unless he was an active theoriser.”

 - Charles Darwin
The 5 + a trend alert! 🚨
Trend alert: Remember when I was writing about blockchain before Bitcoin cleared $19k? (You're welcome.) Well, there’s a trend emerging where journalists are heading out and, in the purest spirit of the profession, bringing you the news with insight and industry context. There’s Felix Salmon’s Nota Bene, for (very good) example.

The challenge when it comes to capitalizing on this trend is that you kinda' need to know a journalist. These lists are somewhat quiet, spread by word-of-mouth and are not tied to big publishers. That’s what makes them soooooo valuable. Be among the first to get the two streams of journalist awesome in your inbox that I’m sharing below. Also, the next time you meet a journalist (or former journalist) ask them if they have a personal newsletter — no, not their publication’s stream — their own. You won’t regret it.  (Also, remember the first time podcasts were cool...and then became cool again? Yeah, this feels kinda' like that. I'm looking at you, Andrew Sullivan.)

  1. News with Friends: Where the wonderful Jessica Goldstein (and friends) curate the news and deliver it to your inbox. 
  2. News from a Friend: Where another one of my former journalist colleagues and friends, Jane Elizabeth, curates the news for you and lets you know why you should be reading what she’s sending you (and why you should ignore the other things she’s not sending you but that you’re probably being pushed to read because …clickbait). 
  3. How your psychology affects your finances: Dan Ariely has a book out with co-author Jeff Kreisler called "Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter”. (It’s Dan Ariely, so I don’t have to read it to know I should recommend it.) I had the opportunity to take a class with Dan while at the He’s brilliant, and his brass-tacks, take-no-prisoners approach to breaking down human behavior is my kind of jam. 
  4. Not everything is a side hustle: "At a time when Etsy shops and craft fairs and food trucks are decidedly mainstream, every domestic hobby is at risk of becoming a side hustle. … Personal pleasure is what makes a hobby a hobby.” Oh, Ann Friedman. Yes, thank you. 
  5. Improving ourselves to death: Here’s a secret: I’ve never read “The Secret”. That’s all well and good, I guess, since we’re now in an age where, “it’s no longer enough to imagine our way to a better state of body or mind. We must now chart our progress, count our steps, log our sleep rhythms, tweak our diets, record our negative thoughts—then analyze the data, recalibrate, and repeat.” Sigh. 
Before I get to the main show: Oprah, not getting an MBA and Porg rice balls are making my life this week. Bitcoin bros on the other hand...are doing the opposite. Ew.
Do you grant yourself permission to work? 👩‍💻
I know, I know, productivity is so 2017, but we still have to get work done, right? Well, to that end, I have a question: How do you work? No, not how do you blood-and-sinew function, but how do you work? Do you turn on music? Do you sit in front of the television. Do you hide in a sound-proof room and sit alone with your computer in monastic silence?

How do you work?

I tend to work in fits and starts, diving deep on something in a moment of intense focus for about an hour or two and then coming up for air like a deep-sea diver. I’ve seen pictures others have taken of me while doing intense work. Why take a picture, you ask? Well, I look like someone clinging to the outside of a top-speed bullet train trying not to scream.  

I look like this because my mind is fighting against a lot of things at once. There are the Facebook posts I’m not checking, the tweets I’m not reading and the videos I’m not watching. There are the phone calls I’m not making (or taking), the paperwork I’m not dealing with, and the apartment I’m not cleaning. There are so many things I am not doing, even as I am clearly trying to focus on doing the thing right in front me (usually writing this newsletter).  

The most important thing I’m not doing is giving myself permission to work. That’s what I’m going to dive into this week: how to grant yourself permission to work.  

Every productivity blog will tell you that the opportunities for distraction are going up, the hours in the day are fixed, and the amount of work we need to do continues to pile up. This makes it really difficult for many of us to focus on what really matters, so we put up a fight every time we sit down to work. This fight is constant, and it’s one that many of us can’t afford to lose.  

As I mentioned last week, I started reading Cal Newport’s “Deep Work”. The book is a fascinating collection of arguments in favor of, you guessed it, "deep work”, which Newport defines as:  

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” 

The book also has stories about others’ deep work habits (you know, nobodies like Carl Jung and Adam Grant) and how they led to major breakthroughs in the sciences and humanities. It also offers tactics for reducing distractions.  

My personal favorite deep work style is the “journalist philosophy”. It’s a form of deep work where one can drop into it on command … because deadlines are real, people. Apparently, according to Newport, this is how Walter Isaacson managed to write his tomes while still writing deeply-reported pieces for The New York Times and leading the Aspen Institute and doing a bevy of other things on his plate. Years of newsroom writing and delivering to a show deadline have basically made this style of deep work my default. That being said, I have a ways to go before I start turning in 800-page biographies on paradigm-incinerating icons to giddy publishers like term papers to a college professor. 

Newport also covers a couple of interesting nuggets about workspaces, including MIT’s Building 20 — a “plywood palace" that was home to some of the greatest innovations of the post-World War II period. The building’s rundown nature meant no one cared if someone popped out a floorboard here or a wall there to make room for some new technological breakthrough. It was also home to people from a variety of disciplines, leading to the cross-pollination of ideas that led to unexpected insights and outcomes.  

You can see the legacy of Building 20 today in the design of places like the Stanford and various tech companies throughout the Valley eager to feed oxygen to sparks of new ideas. Basically, if you want to make really cool stuff, don’t put people all from one discipline in a really pretty building full of precious stuff. Seriously. Don’t do it. 

While the anecdotes, insights and tactics are great, the real takeaway from Newport’s book is this: for the love of whatever it is you really want to do in your life, give yourself permission to work.  

Years of schooling taught me that homework time was time I wasn’t spending doing things I wanted to do. I was a talkative, social kid, so sitting at my desk to do homework was a time-out-style punishment for the crime of living -- because I couldn’t think of anything I had done to deserve such lonely drudgery. Then, after graduation, came the big reward: more desk work. In all of my time in school and at work, I never reached a point where I was at peace with the act of working. I just got to a point where I was too scared not to do it, so I’d endure it. It's a fact of life that work and pain co-exist. That doesn’t mean we need to suffer. Work and suffering do not need to co-exist, but sometimes they do. Suffering is the marriage of pain and resistance, and I have been suffering in my work for years. 

In reading Newport’s book, I realized I had never given myself permission to work. I’d never told myself, Hey, it’s okay for you to sit here and focus on this thing you’re doing, and the discomfort you’re feeling is totally normal — hell, it’s even healthy! It’s okay; you’re okay. Everyone and everything else can and will wait. Just be here right now and embrace this thing you get to do. You’re doing a good thing for you, and, if you do it well enough, it may be really good for other people too.

That. I had never told myself that.  

While Newport’s book touches on a number of interesting points, the most valuable insight is the one he doesn’t directly touch on (perhaps it’s assumed): You can and should give yourself permission to work — as well as permission to stop working.  

Going deep isn’t just about setting aside Twitter, finding a soundproof box in which to sequester yourself or emulating great writers, technologists and philosophers. Deep work, as I see it, is about giving yourself permission to enjoy doing your work in a world where we’re taught work should be done away with quickly if it can’t be avoided entirely.  

David Kadavy touches on this in his book, “The Heart to Start” where he explores the role the ego plays in protecting us from getting started on the projects near and dear to our heart.  

But more about that next week… 

In the meantime, if you’re having trouble starting the project, paper or presentation you know you need to do, take a moment to give yourself permission to work. Tell yourself that it’s okay to dive in and enjoy the brain-stretchy feeling. Resistance may not be futile, but, when it comes to getting work done, it's often something you can choose to let go.
Supporters are awesome... 🙏
Thank you, as always to my two largest supporters: Natalya Pemberton & Tim Karu!

Natalya is a culture and design enthusiast learning Sustainable Systems at the innovative Presidio Graduate School.

Tim runs the Mercury Inn in Portland, Maine.

These folks have generously supported E is for Everything on Patreon. Please jump on through to learn more about both them and their projects.
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Do you wish I'd shared something else? Please send me recommendations via Facebook, Twitter at @emikolawole, on Medium or reply directly to this e-mail. I will always and whenever possible give credit where it's due for great recommendations and inspiration. Have a great weekend! Walter.
Emi Kolawole · E is for Everything HQ · Palo Alto California 94306 · USA
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