Best of 2017: Insights & Curation

Top picks from a year of living, tracking, and consuming content.

This post recaps my greatest insights from the year broken down by realm of life, as I tend to think of them. I hope you enjoy and find some food for thought for the new year!

Work

Insight: Do less (strategically)

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less was probably my favorite book of 2017.

Let’s assume, as the author does, that your ultimate goal is to make your highest contribution to the things that matter most. To do that, the best thing you can do is create space in your mind and schedule.

Most of us fill our minds and schedules to the brim. This is sub-optimal for performance, because space is where the magic happens. Space provides processing capacity for you to think of breakthrough ideas, better understand the issues you face, etc.

As described in one person’s experience:

“It felt self-indulgent at first. But by being selective he bought himself space, and in that space he found creative freedom. He could concentrate his efforts on one project at a time. He could plan thoroughly. He could anticipate roadblocks and start to remove obstacles. Instead of spinning his wheels trying to get everything done, he could get the right things done.” (McKeown)

That feeling of self-indulgence or self-consciousness is no trivial thing to get over, but people will ultimately appreciate that you’re doing a better job.

Curation: Essentialism has a lot of good practical guidance for creating such space. And the audiobook is read by the author, who has a lovely British accent!

Health

Insight: Health is the most important factor in my outlook on the day.

This year, I started using an app called Reporter where you can create a custom form to collect whatever information you want. I’ve been using it to collect insights and notable experiences.

Quickly upon using the app, I started noticing that my scores in the category of “health” had a huge effect on my assessment of the day as a whole. If I was overwhelmed with work but went on a good run, I would shrug off the stress. If I was proud of myself for doing something nice for someone but ate poorly, the pride I felt would be dampened.

Curation: Of course, it’s one thing to recognize the importance of health and quite another to develop goals and execute. The challenge is to turn insight into action.

Last year I got a subscription to Nutrition Action as a gift (thanks Mom!) and found the following compendium of diet tips helpful. I especially like the idea of avoiding ‘wars.’

Social

Insight: Value other people’s health.

As you think about your own health, don’t forget about the health of those around you. In Eat Move Sleep, the author argues that when we bring junk food we don’t want to eat to a party or into the office, we are showing that we don’t value the health of our friends and coworkers.

Instead, we should do what we can to make it easier for others to eat better, move more, and get the sleep they need. Especially if you’re a manager!

Curation: Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter is a good book to check out for self-improvement in this category. One nice idea from the book: it is a gift to put a label to someone’s unique strength (“native genius,” as the authors put it). In fact, native-genius-labeling could be a good thing to do more of in 2018….

Extracurriculars

Insight: Play is essential.

Just as we should make space in our schedules, it is also critical that we schedule time for play. And it’s not just for our well-being.

In The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, Ron Friedman suggests that companies should be paying their employees to play because of how much it improves performance.

In particular, play improves our ability to deal with complex challenges and decisions because it unlocks unconscious mechanisms that aren’t available when we’re only focused on work.

“Unlike conscious attention, which is linear in fashion and limited in capacity, the unconscious is far better at creative problem solving and processing large chunks of information simultaneously.” (Friedman)

Curation: Skip the books and videos — isn’t there a hobby you’ve wanted to try? Do it in 2018!

Possessions

Insight: Personifying clothes is fun.

Last year I joined the Magic of Tidying fan club. (Will you indulge my quick survey?)

One concept I really liked from the book was to thank your clothes when you take them off to put them in the laundry basket. Your clothes do a lot to support you — keep you warm, make you feel confident, comfortable — so it’s only right that we show some gratitude. Plus, this has the effect of making you take better care of your clothing so that it lasts longer.

Curation: This video by artist Shantell Martin was delightful and thought-provoking. But since ain’t nobody got time, I’ll recap:

Martin’s talk is about finding yourself. Through her art, she discovered an answer to the question of ‘Who are you?’ in the form of a fun acronym — You are you! (YAY!). In other words, just observe and appreciate your individuality rather than trying to control or label it.

“I don’t know where the pen is going. The pen is going and I am just following.” (Martin)

Plan Ahead/Mitigate Risk

Insight: If you’re not emergency-prepared, you’re an asshole.

I suppose I used to think selfishly about emergency preparedness — I thought the point was to take care of myself and anyone in my vicinity when a disaster hits.

This year, an emergency training session woke me up to the more important point that individual emergency preparedness frees up resources and allows first responders to attend to the critical needs of the population. If I have my supplies in order, I won’t need to rush and take the last gallon of water from my local grocery store. I won’t need to call 911 if that last gallon has already been taken. I can stay off the roads.

This idea motivated me and we got mostly prepared in my household, but then when the wildfires hit earlier this month I realized we didn’t have breathing masks. Now we have two boxes so that we’ll have extras for our neighbors!

Curation: Ready.gov is a good place to start, but understand and prepare for the specific hazards in your area.

Finances

Insight: The financial outlook for millennials (especially those of color) is abysmal. We need to get involved in politics and fundamentally change things.

This article/visual narrative by the Huffington Post sums up the issues incredibly well.

The cost of education, housing, and healthcare, the rise of contracting, the barriers to skilled occupations — “these trends add up to an economy that has deliberately shifted the risk of economic recession and industry disruption away from companies and onto individuals….” Local initiatives are our best hope.

It’s worth reading in full.

Curation: When it comes to finance and economics more generally, I so enjoy anything by Ray Dalio. And would welcome your recommendations!

Good Human Stuff

Insight: Build on the knowledge, relationships, and influence you’ve been cultivating.

One of my biggest overall insights this year was that the compounding effect is POWERFUL. (Pop quiz: Would you rather have $10 million, or a penny you could double every day for a month?) And it goes beyond finance.

While it often feels harder to keep pushing than to start something new, especially when it comes to this category of trying to make the world a better place, doubling down on your path will get you farther.

For me, that means focusing on making change from within Mayor Garcetti’s office, where I work, more than through volunteering or consulting with a non-profit.

For you, maybe it means getting involved locally since you already have an intimate understanding of the issues facing your community. Or maybe it means continuing to network or go to hack nights (thank you for holding it down, Hack for LA!) even though sometimes it doesn’t feel worthwhile.

Keep at it. Be gritty. Trust the power of compounding.

Curation: I’m thinking of reading Evicted this year to build on my knowledge stock.

And finally, my favorite internet gem from the year — a video of how Google’s DeepMind AI taught itself to run. It’s a little different from the form humans decided on, but just as effective. ;)

I’d love to hear your insights, recommendations, and favorite things! Please share in the comments or direct message me. Happy New Year!

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One cannot fix one's eyes on the commonest natural production without finding food for a rambling fancy.

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