Designing Your Work Life

I was introduced to Bill Burnett at work, where he gave a great talk on creativity. His book is on approaching work life as a design problem and follows on the footsteps of his first book “Designing Your Life”. The chapter that resonated with me the most was on defining the problem and the art of reframing. He talks about two types of problems where people get stuck:

    • Anchor Problems: These are when we pose one of the possible solutions as the problem itself. Example: “I want to go sailing every weekend, but I can’t afford a boat.” So the problem I need to solve is: “How do I buy a boat when I have no money?” Here, we’ve anchored to one of the possible solutions for sailing, which is to buy a boat, and we’ve flipped it into the problem we need to solve. However, a broader framing of the problem, “How can I go sailing regularly on a limited budget?” has many possible solutions: join a sailing club, share a boat with friends, volunteer to crew someone else’s boat etc.
    • Gravity Problems: These are inactionable problems that don’t have a solution. “I want to be a poet, but poets don’t make enough money to live on in our culture. How can I make a good living as a poet?” Bill argues that it’s a situation, a circumstance, a fact of life, and if it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem that can be solved. A reframing could be “How might I write poetry while making a living doing other things?” or “How can I learn to live on what I’d make working only ten hours a week so I can be an almost full-time poet?”

The chapter on money or meaning was also a good reminder on finding a good balance of different attributes for yourself. Overall, most of the book was low signal for me, but the handful of chapters that I mentioned were amazing and invaluable.

February 7, 2021

Lessons Learned From Building A Lego Car

As a kid, Porsche was my dream car. I also liked building legos. One of the themes during COVID was reconnecting with my inner child, so I embarked on a journey to build a 1500 piece lego car. Here are my reflections from this experience:

  • You like what you can do well: When I first started, I was moving very slowly, having a hard time finding the pieces and understanding the instructions. After completing 20% of the instructions, I became more familiar with the process, started to move faster, and got more engaged. The same phenomenon happened when I got a new job and started working on a new codebase. Initially, things looked unfamiliar, simple things took me a long time. I got frustrated, my enjoyment was low. As my familiarity and competence increased, so did my enjoyment and engagement with the new job. This simple idea is explained by Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow Model as well: there’s a sweet spot of challenge vs skill level that gets you into the flow. I experienced this first hand.
  • Breaking down the big problem: Reading 50 books a year sounds challenging. Reading 30 pages a day does not. If you read 30 pages for 365 days, that’s more than 10,000 pages. Say 200 pages for each book, that’s equal to 50 books a year. Same idea with building legos. There were 500 instructions to complete to put together 1,500 pieces. These numbers sounded scary at first. I noticed that it took me 1 hour to build ~50 instructions. If I spent 1 hour per day building lego, I could complete it in 10 days. That’s a less scary and more achievable goal.
  • Reflecting along the way: After finishing 100 instructions, I reflected on what was not going well. I noticed that I spend most of my time searching for pieces in 10 different bags. I decided to put them all out on the table, group the same pieces together and sort them by color. Having this preprocessing step made it easier to build. I made it a habit to reflect along the way and make improvements to my process to increase my speed and reduce defects. Similarly, I added a recurring Slack reminder for Friday 5 pm to reflect on the past week at my job.
  • Enjoying the process: We often get into things with the result in mind, but overlook the process. People start companies because they want the result: change the world, get rich, become famous. Or kids think they want to be a doctor because they like the idea of curing others. But will you enjoy the daily life of being a doctor? Being in the hospital all day, seeing patient after patient, having late night shifts and all the other challenges that are a part of a doctor’s day to day. A part time job I do is helping engineers prepare for coding interviews by conducting mock interviews. The result is fulfilling, I enjoy helping people grow, but the process for me as an interviewer is repetitive and not as fulfilling. That’s why I don’t do it full-time. I decided to buy this lego car because I liked the end result, but didn’t really think about whether I’d enjoy the 10 hours it would take me to build it. For things we do long term, it’s essential that we enjoy not just the outcome, but the process as well.

Overall, it was interesting to see the building blocks of the car and how they interact with each other – how the engine turns the wheels, how the wheel turns the tires, how everything comes together etc. It was also fun to revisit a childhood activity as an adult. Did I enjoy putting together pieces for 10 hours by following an instruction manual? Not that much. But the learnings were worth it…

January 31, 2021

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant contains Naval’s philosophy on wealth and happiness. It’s a collection of his views distilled from interviews and tweets available as a free PDF.

Here are some parts that resonated with me:

On happiness:

  • Happiness is there when you remove the sense of something missing in your life.
  • The most important trick to being happy is to realize happiness is a skill you develop and a choice you make.
  • Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.
  • Every time you catch yourself desiring something, say “Is it so important to me I’ll be unhappy unless this goes my way?”
  • Happiness is being satisfied with what you have.
  • Happiness, love, and passion aren’t things you find, they’re choices you make.
  • Jealousy is such a poisonous emotion because, at the end of the day, you’re no better off with jealousy. You’re unhappier, and the person you’re jealous of is still successful or good-looking.
  • One day, I realized with all these people I was jealous of, I couldn’t just choose little aspects of their life. I couldn’t say I want his body, I want her money, I want his personality. You have to be that person. If you’re not willing to do a wholesale, 24/7/ 100 percent swap with who that person is, then there is no point in being jealous.
  • Working out every day made me happier.
  • Don’t spend your time making other people happy. Other people being happy is their problem. It’s not your problem.
  • If you don’t love yourself, who will?

On wealth:

  • All the returns in life, whether in wealth, relationships, or knowledge, come from compound interest.
  • There are basically three really big decisions you make in your early life: where you live, who you’re with, and what you do.
  • The best way to stay away from this constant love of money is to not upgrade your lifestyle as you make money.
  • If you can’t decide, the answer is no.
November 26, 2020

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Sarp is a software developer. He writes about technology, books and software.
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