Objects of concern

Straight from childhood, I was a frequent mental inventory taker, scanning my consciousness for objects of concern, kind of like pressing a bruise to see if it still hurts.

— Dan Harris, 10% Happier

How managers look at their schedules

Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

While cooking, an unrelated thought:

Lately I’ve been planning my time more as an employee and not like a manager. An employee plans their schedule considering only the start time and length of meetings and tasks ahead of them. A manager, on the other hand, plans time intentionally for preparation and with other people in mind and .

A small example: tomorrow, returning from winter break, my employee schedule is, for the most part, wide open. I can become overconfident in the amount of free time I have and lack urgency because it appears all of my tasks could get done within the day.

However, a lately dormant manager mindset kicked in and said my overconfidence is wrong. Returning from break, you and your colleagues will want to talk about one another’s breaks. Tasks that weren’t done before break could suddenly become urgent and spring up, needing to be done immediately. It wasn’t hard to recall what those tasks might be. Suddenly my calendar isn’t as free as I thought.

A small example but not unlike cooking. Cooking can’t be a sequential activity where you do only one thing at a time in the order you want to do it. Making dinner without anything getting cold requires preparation, coordination, and consideration for what time is needed based on the ingredients you have. Our challenge is, then, how to plan accordingly.

City Park

My winter break is coming to an end but I’ve been completely satisfied with how I’ve spent my vacation. Every day I’ve read and exercised, and most days I wrote as well. I’ve had more quality time with family this break than I’ve had in months and more time to be in the moment. The last couple days I’ve strolled in different Denver parks, listening to podcasts while I walk around and snap photos.

A couple that stand out from yesterday’s walk around City Park:

“My alma mater was books”

My alma mater was books, a good library – I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.

— Malcolm X

“Just a trillion little bits”

‘It’s like the internet, or cable TV – there’s never any center, there’s no communal agreement, there’s just a trillion little bits of distracting noise. We can never sit down and have any kind of sustained conversation, it’s all just cheap trash and shitty development. All the real things, the authentic things, the honest things are dying off. Intellectually and culturally, we just bounce around like random billiard balls, reacting to the latest random stumuli.’

— Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

Using a paper planner in 2018

An old planner, in those innocent days before smartphones have nearly wiped them out.

A strange thing is happening for a lot of us productivity geeks: we are nostalgic and pining for a paper-based planner while quickly adapting to having our phone and smart watches ping us to tell us where to be and when.

All the while we know that extra steps are counter-productive to efficient organization. Yet the allure is still there.

Typically you’ll find you already have to-do systems around you. Your inbox, calendar, and more than likely an app. Siri or Google Assistant are useful for adding miscellaneous tasks and setting location-based reminders.

Given this, a paper planner should be added to your routine once you realize you are likely adding extra steps and you are comfortable with the time this will take.

 The wrong way to pair paper & digital planners

For a while I tried using a basic dot grid Baron Confidant notebook as my paper planner. I wrote in all my tasks and priority events/appointments that day. I previewed my e-mail inbox to gather tasks from there and get a sense of what were my priorities.

It was a total waste of time.

There is no point in copying down events from your Outlook calendar when they’re already there and one-third are likely to change. E-mail should never set your priorities for the day, and when they do, it’s easy to click the priority button than write it down. Finally, seeing tasks from e-mail and then writing it down duplicates work and causes mental fatigue. Like the Getting Things Done rule says, if it’s two minutes or less, just do it right away and get it over with. No use adding it to a planner.

In first attempting to use a paper planner, I wasted valuable minutes trying to outline my entire day in a planner when I could have been acting on those quick hits or getting started on the important work that was due that day. Luckily I found a compromise that worked and my Confidant planner because much more useful.

 My “right” way of using a paper planner

I use Baron Fig’s 2018 planner to write my work priorities, not collect every task.

I quickly became tired of fighting the digital systems that were already there and working just fine. E-mail, unfortunately, is my top to-do list. OneNote is familiar because I use it for work and grad school and since most meetings (also unfortunately) are run from a laptop, the app is there and I type faster than I write.

So I shifted and found success in using my planner more for mindset than checklist. Now I write down my top 3 goals for the following day at the end of every work day. These are the 3 tasks that, no matter what, I am determined and need to complete. I find this helps me schedule my day accordingly and push myself to not let my e-mail take over those gaps between interviews, meetings and events. (Side benefit: I look at e-mail less, which is objectively a great thing.) Doing this at the end of the day works great for me because my focus and concentration tends to be best in the mornings and so I do actual work rather than writing about the work I should be doing. I also find therapeutic value to it: by writing down my goals, it’s not floating in my brain as an unresolved to-do. The act of writing it down lets me know I’m committed to it and so I spend less idle time in the evenings coming back to work.

My paper planner also becomes my place to record my long-term habits and see streaks in my habits so I (hopefully) continue hitting my goals. In the monthly view, I draw simple icons to represent going to the gym, closing all the activity rings on my Apple Watch, and reading for 20 minutes. At the end of every month I then tally up and divide by number of days in the month.

So what planner do i use?

As I mentioned before, I used the Baron Fig Confidant notebook as my to-do list. I love the dot grid layout and having less of a formatted layout made it versatile. However, this year I decided to get a formal planner so I could record my habits without having to write out a calendar space. I love Baron Fig’s 2018 planner because it’s well-designed, minimalist, and the format gets out of the way. I’m interested by the recent trends in planners to prompt people to reflect as well as plan — such as the Best Self Co.’s planner — but ultimately I don’t foresee myself wanting that daily prompt and a planner should not add any stress or fatigue.



“Less obvious than it once was”

How could he talk about Great-Grandpa H’s story without also talking about his grandma Willie and the millions of other black people who had migrated north, fleeing Jim Crow? And if he mentioned the Great Migration, he’d have to talk about the cities that took that flock in. He’d have to talk about Harlem. And how could he talk about Harlem without mentioning his father’s heroin addiction—the stints in prison, the criminal record? And if he was going to talk about heroin in Harlem in the ’60s, wouldn’t he also have to talk about crack everywhere in the ’80s? And if he wrote about crack, he’d inevitably be writing, too, about the “war on drugs.” And if he started talking about the war on drugs, he’d be talking about how nearly half of the black men he grew up with were on their way either into or out of what had become the harshest prison system in the world. And if he talked about why friends from his hood were doing five-year bids for possession of marijuana when nearly all the white people he’d gone to college with smoked it openly every day, he’d get so angry that he’d slam the research book on the table of the beautiful but deadly silent Lane Reading Room of Green Library of Stanford University. And if he slammed the book down, then everyone in the room would stare and all they would see would be his skin and his anger, and they’d think they knew something about him, and it would be the same something that had justified putting his great-grandpa H in prison, only it would be different too, less obvious than it once was.

— Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing: A Novel



2017 Fiction & Nonfiction Recommendations

This year was more about reading textbooks and peer-reviewed journal articles but somehow I found time to squeeze in a few books as well. Two books stand out and conveniently one is fiction and the other’s non-.

Fiction: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

I’m not sure I would read this if I just looked at the book jacket or an Amazon review. It came as a recommendation from my sister Larraine and I’m glad I followed her advice. My Absolute Darling is an extremely challenging read; it centers on an 8th-grade girl who calls herself Turtle and lives off the grid in NorCal with only her father, as he “prepares” her for a post-society world. Turtle’s dad sexually abuses her and there are many scenes, whether sexual, psychological, or physically violent, where I cringed as I read. Through that, though, is a book where you learn about a unique, brave character whose voice is so clear it becomes ingrained in your mind and you think about her long after you’ve read the last page.

Non-fiction: The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple

Part of our post-election delusions is that someone might be able to control Trump. It wasn’t Priebus, Jared, Ivanka or now Chief of Staff Kelly. The Gatekeepers is about the history of the Chief of Staff position and covers Chiefs of Staff from the Nixon White House to Obama’s. The book covers failed approaches like the “spokes of the wheel” model used and abandoned by Gerald Ford or having no Chief at all, which hurt Carter. It also gives insights into how Chiefs mold their office and approach depending on the Presidency as well as how Hillary and Obama made Chiefs of Staff course-correct early Presidencies. I’d recommend this book if you’re into politics, organizational design, management/leadership, and team dynamics. I shared more details about The Gatekeepers in an earlier post as well.

My other 2017 reads:


  • Homegoing
  • The Last Novel (re-read)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


  • Work Rules!
  • The Everything Store
  • The Happiness Industry
  • A More Beautiful Question
  • Chaos Monkeys
  • The Coaching Habit

“Turned over to life maintenance”

My notion is that once progress made it easy to acquire the necessities of bodily life, other forces set about making those needs complicated and hard. Much of daily life is turned over to life maintenance at the very moment you’d think we’d be free to pursue higher goals.

Spectacles, sights and sounds, measures and sums, are made from former areas of privacy. This exposure to sight generates all sorts of new pleasures and new fears. But the ceaseless grooming and optimizing of ordinary life stands in the way of finding out how else we could spend our attention and our energy.

— Mark Greif, Against Everything: Essays.

“Rude to the waiter”

I don’t trust anyone who’s nice to me but rude to the waiter. Because they would treat me the same way if I were in that position.

— Muhammad Ali