Three Tools for Balancing Work, Life, and Side Projects

If you’re like me, you can get easily excited by new and novel projects. It can feel like there’s so much to do, and if you only had a few more hours a day you can fit a new project into it. If your day job is also full of projects you have to take on, then that’s just more head space that will get filled. On one hand, having so much to do can feel great, it means you have tons of ideas and energy, but on the other hand you risk a major trade off: you are at risk of burnout, a sensation of being overwhelmed and unable to prioritize properly, neglecting other important aspects of life such as loved ones, your health, and your sleep, and finally spreading yourself too thin can lead to mediocre performance on all tasks.

These are all problems that people with busy work lives, or side-project-a-holics like myself will encounter. There are no one sized fit all solutions, but I will be covering a few techniques that can be used to help you manage your time and projects better.

Tool #1: Cutting the Nonessential

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown argues that it is not what you say yes to that matters, but what you say no too that can make the biggest difference of all in work and life. The ability to say no and cutting out nonessential tasks and projects clears up your calendar, and head space to fit more room and energy towards things that matter.

Essentialism is all about your goals and priorities. If a project seems fun, like say starting a movie review podcast, but you’re working over forty hours a week on other projects that you have to do for work, and you have a relationship you want to maintain, then starting that podcast might not be the best option.

Tool #2: Prioritizing & Scheduling

Ranking and scheduling ahead of time is another great way to work on that project balance. On your list of projects, especially ones you can eliminate, rank them on their importance. How you weight that importance is up to you. Next setting premeditated time aside ahead of time for only the tasks associated with it a la time blocking will allow you to “bucket” up those tasks to dedicated hours. Time blocking is a powerful tool, especially for busy people with many projects to focus on.

Tool #3: Offloading

Some projects might be accomplished through offloading tasks to others, especially remedial tasks. Perhaps you can afford to have somebody come by and clean your place while you’re at work, sign up for grocery services like InstaCart or Blue Apron. For side projects hiring small freelancers will take the load off the most stressful parts of the project. As fun as it is to be the creator, it is just as important to know when to step back and become a manager.

Conclusion

There is no one size fit all solution to project management, however there are proven techniques when it comes to knowing what to do and what to cut (or hand off). Using tools like knowing when to say no, time and task management, and task delegation will help you manage yourself better and free up that head space to work on what matters.

What techniques do you use to manage your projects and your time?

Moving the Baseline

Everything has a ground floor, a baseline. The baseline drives everything, it functions as the core status quo in which everything is compared to. Without it comparisons would be harder to find. A baseline is nothing more than a defined set of standards that everybody can agree on is acceptable. For the sake of this essay I will define the baseline as the simply the average.

Think of a bell curve, it’s a simple bell shaped graph increasing from right to left until it hits a certain value, then it proceeds to decrease from that value downwards in perfect symmetry.

 A normal distribution, aka a bell curve

A normal distribution, aka a bell curve

Sitting the middle is the average, the baseline in which everything is measured relative to. If you fall on the right side of the baseline you are under performing, if you’re on the left you’re over performing. The x-axis shows the measured value, the y-axis is the frequency. If you’re a runner and you typically run at an average pace of 9 miles those 9 miles sit directly in the middle of the curve. When you have an off day and run 7 miles you’re performing on the right side of the graph, and on days when you have enough stamina to go for a half marathon you’re on the right.

The baseline isn’t static, in fact it moves all the time, a common way that you can move it is by setting goals. A goal is a new baseline you’re trying to reach.


Normal with Goal.png

When a goal is set you begin incrementally moving the bell curve towards this new desired baseline. In the case of running let’s say you plan on increasing you average distance to 15 miles. So you begin incrementally growing it, day by day. First you increase your stamina by running ten miles more often, then eleven, then twelve, all the way until you hit your desired average of fifteen. Once it becomes easy for you, you developed a new baseline, a new average in which to measure all things with.

 I apologize for the graphic, all I had to work with was MS Paint

I apologize for the graphic, all I had to work with was MS Paint

However a strange thing happens when you move this baseline. What is not illustrated in these graphics is that everybody has their own baseline, you have your own average, but there are also global averages and community averages. If you push yourself further away from the global average you know you’re doing pretty well, however in that case you will end up entering a new tier, a new community in which you are compared to.

When running you used to be compared to the 10k runners a lot, there you were a top dog running three more miles compared to them, but you were below average for the half marathon runners. Well now you’ve hit fifteen miles, you’re doing roughly two more miles than the half marathoners out there, you’re looking pretty good, but yet fifteen miles is now eleven miles shorter than a marathon. On average you’re better than the global average of all runners, you’re better than the community averages in the 10k and half marathon communities, but your still far behind the averages of the marathon runners.

It can be easy to get blinded by the fact that you’re not doing your best when compared to the marathon runners, pride is a powerful emotion, but that’s fine. What matters is that you moved the baseline and that you’re already outperforming your old baseline. It could be hard to accept that you’re not there yet, but don’t let that hold you back, you’ve already increased your baseline once before, you can do it again. After all, progress is progress.


Day 18

Word Count: 595

Cost per Post: $8.66

The Attention Ecosystem

Inside your phone is a lies an garden of apps, an ecosystem curated to you by you, but an ecosystem that has one singular source of nourishment: you. Your time, your engagement, your information are all valuable resources for each and every one of those apps, without you they wouldn’t exist.

Like the sun shining down and providing the energy needed to sustain life on Earth, your face is a beacon of light and primary energy source for each of these apps. However, unlike the sun, your time with them is limited and can mostly be used on a one by one basis, and sometimes neglected all together when you’re spending time away from the screen. In short, unlike the sun, you are a scarce resource, and whenever an ecosystem can only survive on a singular scarce resource competition is inevitable.

Through competition these apps are forced to evolve and develop new tactics to hold your attention as long as possible. Each and every single one of them must adapt or perish, creating an arms race. Maybe the app begins filling your phone with notifications to remind you of a new status update, or by consolidating all your communications to one messenger, or create reward systems via refreshing the page to show you new things that you’re guaranteed to like. Like biology each one has developed a means to survive in a an every growing ecosystem.

Think of the apps on your phone, which ones take most of your time? Are they necessary? And if so are they needed to the extent of which you use them? Do you enjoy using the ones that aren’t necessary? How often do you use them? Apps are like food, you can eat whatever you want but it’s great to keep your diet well balanced.

Think of your phone as a garden and you are the gardener, you have complete control over what you plant in it and what you decide to eat. It is your job to maintain a healthy information diet, and I don’t doubt that you do, however at times it can be easy to over indulge in less healthy meals. They taste good, that’s fine, but like sweets if you consume too much you might be happy in the moment, but not in the long run. So maintain your garden and your meals to support a more balance diet. Perhaps you set up apps like BlockSite or Cold Turkey to prevent yourself from accidentally indulging during pre-determined hours, or maybe you only access one service through the web browser only instead of providing a space in your garden for it to grow. Maybe you see your indulgence might be getting out of hand and it’s time for a fast or diet plan.

Your phone is a wonderful ecosystem of amazing apps developed by brilliant people to give you the experience you want. However, like all ecosystems competition is inevitable, especially when given a singular scarce resource like your own attention. Be the gardener of your own ecosystem, but beware that if you don’t attempt to take control of it, your garden will become overrun and taking you with it.

We only have so much time in the day, make sure you’re the one deciding how you want to spend it.

This essay was inspired by CGP Grey’s video essay “Thinking About Attention", Hello Internet Episode 108 “Project Cyclops.” If you are interested in ways to tend to your garden in a healthy manner, or are worried you’re over indulging on certain apps, I highly recommend you check out Time Well Spent. Time Well Spent is an ongoing project to promote human centered design and make your phone work for you in a symbiotic relationship, instead of competing for you.


Day 17

Word Count: 629

Cost per Post: $9.17

Meal Prepping: Saving Time in Bulk

I’ve written about the importance of weekly planning and why time tracking is important, now I want to write about something that combines the philosophy of those two: meal prepping. Meal prepping sits at the cross section of planning and time saving, the entire philosophy behind the action of meal prepping is that you plan out your meals for the upcoming week, and instead of cooking them individually each day, you cook it all at once, add it into some handy Tupperware containers then refrigerate and reheat when ready to eat.

As you can save by buying in bulk, you save time by cooking in bulk. No longer is it needed to cook every night after a long day of work, or give into the temptation of fast food when you’re too exhausted to cook a meal on the grill. All it takes is an hour or two in the kitchen every Sunday and you’re set until the upcoming weekend.

A common practice of meal prepping is to cook in bulk and eat the same meal over and over again throughout the week. This saves you in time (less clean up between meals) and money (you buy in bulk instead of five different sets of ingredients). If eating the same thing over and over again doesn’t appeal to you, it is possible to prepare each meal individually, at the cost of a more expensive bill and more time in the kitchen, but at the very least you will have your meals done and ready to do by the time you’re ready to eat.

If you’re interested in meal prepping I highly recommend you checking out the subreddit /r/MealPrepSunday. Meal Prep Sunday is a community of people who love the practice of meal prepping and is full of terrific recipes, and tips.

So if the idea of cooking in bulk to save time during the work week, or save you money form giving into fast food temptations, I highly cannot recommend meal prepping enough.


Day 16

Word Count: 333

Cost per Post: $9.74

The Role of Local Government

The role of local government is a simple one: to provide the foundations necessary for its citizens to live their lives, simple as that. The government lays the foundations of power, water, transportation, the economy, public safety, and many more aspects of life needed to sustain the city and its population. This is done through zoning, utility departments, police & fire departments, and economic policies. If the government does it right, you may never know it’s there, save election cycles.

The city council and mayor provide the necessary representation needed to address these needs, it is up to the city manager to execute upon the desires of the public. The manager then hands off the goals to the many different departments to carry out the solutions. Each department works within their own constraints to address these needs, maybe with a new power line or a community center.'

Priorities are made through the city’s budget, which is determined through a joint effort between the council, mayor and manager. A city is always in constant flux, and so a budget must be updated annually and adjusted to address the needs then and now of its people.

How the city is structured also influences how it accomplishes its goal. There are many forms of municipal government out there: council-manger, mayor-council, commission, and town meetings. In a council-manager government the council and city manager hold the highest power, the mayor mostly there to represent the city at large but holds no veto power. In a mayor-council government the mayor functions closer to that of a governor or president and carries out the day to day work needed to keep the people of the city happy and holds veto power. A commission government is a little different, the department heads are directly elected by the public to commission the operation of their specific fields. Finally in a town meeting everybody from the city gets together to discuss how the city will be ran and functions as a pure democracy.

Each city is unique in its own regard, but each government serves the same function, no matter how it's structured: to provide the foundation necessary to gives the people the lives they are entitled to live.


Day 14

Word Count: 370

Cost per Post: $11.13

A Brief History of Podcasting: Serial and the Birth of the Indie Podcast Renaissance

Back in December 2014 a show about an a potentially wrongly convicted man made its way across the air. This show wasn’t broadcasted the usual way, through the airwaves into your car stereo, no this little show was transmitted through the internet through a wifi router and straight into millions of people’s phones. This singlar show, produced by an A team staff, would introduce the world to a yet-to-be-legitimized medium of entertainment. Suddenly the term podcast would enter the zeitgeist, and the show that revealed it to the public was serial.

 Google searches for Serial (Red) and Podcast (Blue)

Google searches for Serial (Red) and Podcast (Blue)

Since December 2014 the world of podcasting has boomed. Suddenly the term “podcaster” was a legitimate profession people could put on their business cards. It was no longer defined as “it’s radio, on the internet.” People knew what podcast meant. And soon people began thinking “Hey, podcasts are just audio files right? How can I make one?” And thus the indie podcasting renaissance was born two years after the release of Serial.

starting a podcast.png

We are in a new era similar to that of the birth of blogging or the birth of YouTube, and yet it is a return to the earliest form of mass entertainment save written. Audio has always been a part of human culture with news shows, and audio dramas dating back to the birth of radio. From Stuff You Should Know and 99 Percent Invisible to your best friend Alex’s new show on local events, to audio dramas like The Black Tapes of Within the Wire. Unlike their predecessors limited by air times, station bureaucracy, and FCC regulations the realm of audio is entering the beginning of a new era of creativity, a podcasting renaissance unlike anything ever heard before.


Day 13

Word Count: 260

Cost per Post: $11.99

There Are No Solutions, Only Tools

If you’re a productivity junkie like myself it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the world of tips, tricks, and hacks to make it easier to get things done. From Tim Ferris to books from small time bloggers, each telling you that if you were to do this one simple thing your life would get so much better and you can reach your goals better.

The next thing you know your morning routine consists of reading for ten minutes before leaving bed, a three mile run, a twenty minute meditation, a five minute ice shower, three minutes of gratitude journaling, cooking your own meal, and then leaving for work. Every day at work you use five planners with different methods to keep your day and notes organize, you take long lunch breaks to exercise again, and only eat keto. At night before bed you meditate again, journal about your favorite parts of the day, fill in spreadsheets about your daily performance. By the time you realize it it’s midnight and you have to be up at 5am to begin your day again. Living a life with taking the advice from every productivity guru out there is overwhelming and unsustainable.

Now what I am not saying is that you should just abandon everything, or that all productivity gurus are wrong. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let these tips and tricks cloud your judgement and take away your time. You only have so many hours in the day, you should use them the best way you can. I once spiralled down into a hole of productivity systems that ate too much into my mornings and evenings that everything felt more like a chore that I had to get off my checklist, or else! The example above is pretty damn close to what I went through, until one day it hit me. I was doing this all wrong. These habits and routines weren’t the solutions to my problems, they were only tools to be used as a means to solve my problems and attain my goals. So I went back to the drawing board and reflected on what I wanted.

The mindset of there are no solutions, only tools freed up so much mental space. Things were now in my control. Sure I still experiment around with different task manager and habits, but I don’t incorporate them in my life full time unless it helps me fulfill a goal. After all, there are no solutions, only tools.


Day 12

Word Count: 415

Cost per Post: $12.99

Progress is Progress

Progress is progress, that’s all what matters. Incremental or substantial, up or down then back up again, it doesn’t matter how much progress you make as long as you keep on pushing forwards. Every day we all try to make our situations a little better, but we can’t win every day.

Sometimes you just have days that push back on you so hard that it is impossible to fight back. Maybe it’s a big bill you have to pay, maybe it’s a heartbreaking end of a long term relationship, we each have our own hurdles in life. But it’s not that setbacks that matter, it’s how you deal with them and how you work yourself out of the hole you’re in. You have to make progress, because in the end progress is the only thing that matters.

Progress is progress doesn’t just apply to loses, it applies to victories as well. If you’re life is going well don’t settle for stagnation, find ways to grow yourself and goals to aspire towards. Read every morning, hit the gym during your lunch breaks, write every day for a month. Sometimes you’ll have days with small wins, others with substantial and sometimes life changing wins.

Progress is progress, that is all that matters. If you’re feeling defeated or stagnant you can always grow from there. Keep yourself growing every day. Make every day a building block to a better future and more fulfilling life, and build yourself into the human you can become. Progress is progress.


Day 11

Word Count: 253

Cost per Post: $14.17

All the Time Tracking in the World

Time is a valuable thing
Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings
Watch it count down to the end of the day
The clock ticks life away
— "In The End" Linkin Park

Time, we all have it but sometimes it feels like we never have enough. Sometimes time just flies by, and other times it feels as if it dilates turning seconds into minutes and minutes into hours. With our brain’s fluctuating perception of time it is impossible to really tell how much we spend it on different tasks or activities, and how much we really have. Enter time tracking.

Time tracking is exactly what it says it is, it’s a means to track your time and how you spend it. It sounds tedious, but in reality it’s a very passive way measure your life. With accurate data you can figure out exactly how you want to spend your time and what really eats up your daily life.

I’ve been an advocate for time tracking since I gave it a hardcore whirle roughly a year ago using the app Toggl. Toggl is made for freelance workers out there who charge by the hour to their clients, but can be easily altered to measure your day to day life. Originally I began using Toggl as a means to build my “score” at the end of the day, the score being how much time I put towards creative or productive tasks. I realized with the data that if I want to feel satisfied with my day at the very least I should put forth a minimum of four hours of productive or creative time.

Now as time as gone on I’ve decided to add more to my time tracking. Now I not only track productive time, but also break time. It occurred to me a few months ago that my breaks might be longer than I thought, so I gave it a week of time tracking and oh man were they worse than I thought. Sure I still had productive days, but with half hour long Twitch breaks.

Time tracking is like looking into a temporal mirror. It forces us to look at how we spend our time, sometimes the results aren’t pretty. But without a mirror we will never know exactly what we look like. Time is a valuable thing, and time tracking is a great way to see it.


Day 10

Word Count: 367

Cost per Post: $15.59

Weekly Planning Tools

Weekly planning is a past-time for me. I love sitting down at the beginning of my week and just evaluating what my future entails and how I can make the week fulfill my goals the best ways possible. My usual routine involves looking at three necessary apps: Google Calendar for specific time and dates, Notion for general task and goal planning, and Todoist for specific tasks and subtasks.

Google Calendar is the greatest free webapp every invented next to gmail. Google Calendar is terrific at scheduling and displaying events, along with their locations and people you’ve personally invited. I personally break my calendar down into four main sub calendars:

  • “Events” for things like concerts or birthday parties.

  • “Meetings” for personal meetings that fulfill my goals in some way or another, like a podcasters meetup or an interview for a project.

  • “Appointments” for things that I have to do but are more routine or maintenance like car repairs or the dentist.

  • “Flights & Travel” for everything regarding trip plans

I also have a few small calendars for bill due dates, and miscellaneous reoccurring events like my weekly goal of only listening to new bands I’ve never heard of every Friday, dubbed “New Music Friday 🎧.”

Next up we have Notion, Notion is my new favorite note taking app since Evernote. Notion is by far the most flexible note taking platform I’ve ever used. I plan on writing a full post in the future on its many benefits compared to other note apps like OneNote, Google Keep, and Evernote. As for today, I’ll stick with how I use it in my weekly planning. Notion is used for listing out all the goals and tasks I want to complete that week, depending on what’s happening on my Google Calendar determines which of those I choose to work on. I make a short list every Sunday of everything I want to see done, from financial planning to more aspirational goals like writing every day. I check in on my goal list every morning and see if I can fit any of them within my day, and check off completed ones.

Finally there’s Todoist. Oh Todoist, do I love you. Todoist is the most effective task manager I have gotten my hands on. It natural language input system, and Google Calendar integration makes it a very flexible and human centric task manger. In my weekly planning routine Todoist is used to layout all the specific parts of my week, from iterative tasks I need to do to tasks and subtasks within projects at home and work. Todoist has been amazing at keeping my life organized. I love the app so much I even wrote an entire blog post on it here, check it out if you want to learn more about its functionality.

Without these three tools it would be impossible to fulfill all the tasks I need to do in the week, and complete my goals. Between Google Calendar, Notion, and Todoist my life is so much easier to manage. What apps or methods do you use to plan out your week?


Day 9

Word Count: 518

Cost per Post: $17.32

A Wall, A Canvas

The urban landscape is littered with walls. Walls of brick, concrete, wood, and glass. Each of these walls serving their own purpose. To protect the residents within from the element, to retain soil or water from escaping, to provide an aesthetic finish to the building, or to provide a view out into the city. Within the contents of each wall lies a story worthy of its own book, but one thing not all walls do themselves is tell a story. A wall is an open page for a story that reaches from end to end written in every crack or dent, each story as rich and unique as the wall down the street tells.

I am a fan of the visual arts, as expressed in other posts I am an avid fan of mural art in particular. Mural art or street art has unique flavor to it. Murals give life to lifeless walls, they share stories of the community in which it calls home, street art says the passersby "This is the story I must share, and you're going to look at it no matter what!"

The walls of Austin, Texas share their own stories. Stories of love, stories of loss, stories of the past, and stories of hope. From simple messages like "I love you so much" or "Hi, how are you?" to an illustration of Pac Man being chased by his eternal ghost nemeses with the caption "Never give up!" To trippy murals of the Eye Doctor, or the quirky parrots of Dribs. Austin is home to some of Texas most talented street artists, each with their own unique style and their own stories to tell.

From commissioned art, to illegal tags, the Austin street art scene is bustling with creative minds looking for a canvas to create on. And with a wall, there's a canvas of unlimited possibilities.

 Source:  Timothy McVain
 Source: Paul Lowry

Source: Paul Lowry

 Source: Myself

Source: Myself

 Source: Myself

Source: Myself

 Source: Myself

Source: Myself

 Source: Myself

Source: Myself

 Source: Myself

Source: Myself

 Source: Myself

Source: Myself


Day 7

Word Count: 311

Cost per Post: $22.27

The Art of Album Art

Let's talk about squares. We are all familiar with those simple one-by-one polygons, compared other polygons they are the most searched for shape on google. Why are squares so special? Well there are many reasons why, you can use them for tables, windows, business cards, and websites. What I want to talk about today is my favorite usage of the square shape: album covers.

A simple square framing an album can tell you so much about its contents, from its genre to who the artist is. Unlike books, which tend to be in this state of publisher flux of what's on the covers, albums seem to be in this eternal state of stagnation. This gives the artist and producers only one chance to capture the essence of the album in on their first go.

Today I want to talk not about albums that already exist, but albums that should exist because of some clever designer that decided to try their hand in album art. This post is an exploration in the stories told through a simple one-by-one square

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Each one tells a different story, and I bet you guessed the genre off of the album too. Yeah some are jokes like the "Jeb." parody of Kendrick Lamar's "Damn.," or the beaten horse of Loss edits, but that doesn't take away from the atmosphere each cover provokes. "Hank" has the essence of a solo country album. "Momma Said Knock You Out" by the concussions holds the spirit of hip-hop in it. "Starman" comes off as an electronic heavy album, probably with a lot of synths.

Don't judge a book by its cover, but a picture says a thousand words. Each of these squares, with a little clever editing can tell a whole story inviting you into its world.

More amazing fake album artwork can be found on /r/FakeAlbumCovers.


Day 6

Word Count: 308

Cost per Post: 25.98

The Laws of Nature and The Laws of The Land

My job is in utility engineering, primarily in transmission lines. Working on projects that are several miles long and expand all across a city has brings upon its own challenges. Our lines have to be designed not only with real tangible constraints such as the voltages and required clearances that go with them in mind or the tension applied to the conductor, but also constraints that have no true physical form, like property lines.

This back and forth between physical constraints and property lines makes an interesting dance of design. Your line could be perfectly suited to be built as cheap as possible for the given weather, but if a property owner says you can't build on their land your whole design could fall apart. Now you have to account for the laws of physics and the laws of the land.

A recent instance of this happened a few weeks ago at work. A property owner wanted us to steer clear of their land, but there literally was no other way to go about it. So a compromise was made: I would set the poles just out of their property boundary, and to make sure that our conductor had a zero percent chance of ever falling onto their property I would design the poles to have arms as long as possible. Normally this is fine, but this property was wrapped along a bend in a road.

Depending on how the conductor is wired the supporting structures will either undergo a pushing or pulling force into it, which causes the moment within your pole to increase, which then means you have to build a bigger pole with a bigger foundation, which mean that your foundation might end up encroaching on somebody's land anyways. It pushed me between a rock and a hard place. Fortunately with a lot of fine tuning I was able to get the foundations just out the property lines.

Every field of engineering has its own set of unique constraints, utility engineering's is a dance between the fundamental laws of nature and the legal laws of the land.


Day 5

Word Count: 350

Cost per Post: $31.18

Todoist: A Task Manager for Those Who Have to Get to Zero

I love checklists, there's something so rewarding about marking things off and seeing the number of tasks go down to zero. This love of checklists stemmed out of my discovery of the bullet journal method when I was on a quest to organize my life back in 2014. Bullet journalling was a lifesaver, and I used it for over three years straight. However it wasn't without its faults: the notebooks I used were small but still bulky, organization could be tricky, and I had a really bad habit of never looking at the previous week's pages which caused me to miss overdue tasks. But that all changed when I discovered Todoist.

Todoist is a task manager for people who love getting to inbox zero. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing ten tasks to do in the morning, and by the end of the day having that number brought down to zero.

 I love seeing this...

I love seeing this...

 ... being brought to this.

... being brought to this.

On top of its inbox zero way of task management, todoist has a terrific natural language system that allows you to write down tasks like you would in your daily planners. Unlike other apps where you usually have to fill in multiple boxes for task title, task category, and due dates, Todoist lets you write it all out in plain old English, with using hashes to quickly assign a task to a project. It's literally as simple as sending a Tweet.

 Adding a task is as simple as sending a tweet.

Adding a task is as simple as sending a tweet.

Untitled.png

Todoist does lack in having a proper calendar tool, and they are aware of this. Instead the team at Todoist opted in for a clever way to integrate Google Calendar. By allowing Todoist permission to use your Google Calendar you can set tasks way in advanced and review them at will just be selecting the Todoist calendar. Even better this calendar has two-way integration, which means if you make a change to a task in Todoist the calendar will update, and if you change the due date for a task in Google Calendar Todoist will catch that and change it accordingly.

 The back and forth communication between Google Calendar and Todoist might be the most clever use of Google Calendar I have seen.

The back and forth communication between Google Calendar and Todoist might be the most clever use of Google Calendar I have seen.

Finally my favorite feature - that I am ashamed to admit I just recently discovered after months of use - is the filtering system. Todoist's default view displays all your tasks for the day, which can be overwhelming, especially when it's a mix of work, side projects, and personal tasks. But the filtering system changes everything! Todoist allows you to set custom filters, that will only display the tasks you want to see at the moment. With really simple setup and a quick tap of a button you can easily swap between what tasks you do and don't want to see.

 Todoist filters

Todoist a wonderfully intuitive and smooth task manager that simplifies and streamlines a lot of issues found I have faced with other apps. As much as I loved my bullet journal, Todoist has become my primary app for getting things over the past few months. If you are the kind of person who has to bring your inbox down to zero, Todoist the right app for you.

What's your favorite task manager and what do you love about it?


Day 4

Word Count: 541

Cost per Post: $38.97

Five Useful Subreddits for Productivity

Reddit is a wonderful place,  a place where anybody can build a community around whatever topic they're interested in. From Star Wars, to women's issues, to even Tim & Eric like content and funny short videos, reddit is a wonderful resource for finding people with similar interest of yours and building a community around it.

Reddit can be a powerful tool, sometimes too powerful for its own good and can easily become a time sink of distractions and procrastination. However its unique community building also allows communities of productivity junkies like myself to contribute and take tips from. Below is a list of my favorite self improvement and productivity based subreddits and what they focus on.

/r/Productivity - Exactly what it says on the tin. This subreddit is great for reading up on useful tips of keeping tasks in order and getting things done, along with asking the community for advice about troubles you're facing in your systems.

/r/GetDisciplined - Get Disciplined is all about how you can build healthy and strong habits to live the life you want to live. It is the sister subreddit to /r/GetMotivated, where Get Motivated focuses on inspiration and igniting the spark of action, Get Disciplined focuses on the habits required to sustain that motivation and turning it into habits you don't need to think twice about.

/r/Entrepreneur - You don't have to be building a business to browse here. Entrepreneurship requires so many things to launch a project, from self discipline to personal and team management, finances and more. The entrepreneur subreddit is a perfect place to learn from those bringing their projects to life and to learn from their lessons and experiences in getting things done.

/r/GiveMe40Days - A bulletin board for you to post your next big goal. Give me 40 days is a great subreddit for making your goals public and holding yourself accountable.

/r/PersonalFinance - Although not a productivity subreddit perse, knowing how to manage and grow your money can make or break how you spend your time. Having a strong focus on money management is key to keeping your life in order, and knowing how to focus your time. A strong knowledge of your expenses relieve stress, allowing your mind to focus on things that matter to you.

I have a long list of subreddits I find useful for learning new ways to improve myself, those are just a few that I think can help anyone looking to improve their life and get things done.

What are your favorite subreddits for fulling your goals?


Day 3

Word Count: 427

Cost per Post: $51.96

The Story of The Logo

This is the story about how this.

q: im Q leader of the last of the free people
9: and i am 009 the assitant to Q we are here to free you from the slavery Naxas put over you
we will start our 1st big move today i wont tell u what time or where but i will say it will strike out a warning to the world government
q: so good day and, to you naxas good nigh
night*
— The Story, Circa 2007

Became the logo and the namesake of the site.

Q9 TEST LOGO.png

Over ten years ago, back when I was a naive teenager before I even had a license to drive I embarked on my first writing project. Well "writing project" is a bit of a strong phrase, honestly it was just two teenage boys screwing around on Steam chat daydreaming and sorta role playing an epic scifi story about a totalitarian government, secret organizations, time travel, and a rag-tag group of rebels fighting against the system to restore order.

My friend and I wrote the story in what we thought was a clever way. I would write the POV of the protagonists, he would write the POV of the antagonists, and we'd attempt to surprise each other with throwing curve balls the other had to write their way out of. In hindsight this was more of a role playing session between two dorky fifteen year old boys who played too much Half Life 2 and were too "cool" to use the word role play. Now as a twenty-six year old dork who plays DnD every Monday I have no shame using the phrase role play. 

The characters names in the story were heavily inspired by The Matrix and the Metal Gear Solid series: they had real names, but the always went by their code names, the real names were just there to fill in their backstories.

On my side I wrote primarily for the characters of Team 7, a small group of rebels sworn to overthrow the global government of The Twilight Alliance, and dethrone Nexas, the Alliance's figurehead. Leading the team was Q, a smart but cautious man who initiated the entire rebellion. Q was the kind of person who would spend hours, days, and weeks thinking of a solution before acting, he saw injustice in the world of Nexas, but was too cautious to act upon it, at least until he met Nine. Nine was a headstrong and reactive woman who functioned as the team motivator and point man for Q. Q would think of the plans, and she would act upon them, she served as a catalyst for Team 7, always pushing for results. The duo were unstoppable together. Working alongside them were the rest of the members of Team 7. There was Spund, a spunky young man and the son of a rich oligarch who had rebelled against his family and the empire they served. Coming in as a weapons expert was Kiler, a retired general who lead the Alliance's army into victory. After he and the Alliance emerged victorious he realized what he had done and disappeared into self exile to repent for his sins against humanity. Up next we have Fifty-Six, the femme fatale of the group. Fifty-Six was a cybernetically enhanced rouge spy who used her charm to get what she wanted. Her implants allowed her to change her eye and hair color, and hair style at will, allowing her to take on many identities at a moment's notice. Finally there was SARA, the AI assistant to Q.

Personally the two characters I related to the most were Q and Nine. Q had many similar mannerisms to myself, he was more of a thinker than a doer, and he wanted to act more but his overly cautious brain got in the way too much. Which is why Nine was so important to him, she would take his ideas and put them into action. The two couldn't live without one another.

We covered a lot of ground writing the story, but life went on and it eventually faltered. My friend and I did give it a second shot as a conventionally written story with chapters, paragraphs and all, but we were in college at the time and we were too busy to sustain it after five chapters.

Now let's get to the logo.

Q9 TEST LOGO.png

One thing I have always been fascinated with is graffiti and street art. There just seemed something so pure about it. These artists are risking running into the cops to express something they just have to show the world. I will admit I'm a bit of a romantic when it comes to street art, and my impression could be dead wrong. That romanticism is what drove me to work alongside the City of Austin in their Make Art not Marks program. I want to give these graffiti artists legal permission to express themselves and make a more beautiful city, but I digress. There are two parts of that romanticism: the first comes from my inability to produce any sort of visual art, and the other part is because I am too much of a coward to challenge the law, but that never stopped me from being fascinated with it.

During my freshman year in college my roommate introduced me to Banksy. I thought that Banksy was the coolest with his prolific and lengthy career as a street artists and never unveiling his identity. I instantly purchased Banksy's Wall & Piece.

Although I never had any intent to deface public property I wanted to have a logo inspired by Banksy. His stencil work inspired me to think simply, it had to be something that could be cut into cardboard with an X-ACTO knife. I spent a while thinking of this, my mind was firing blanks. That was until I remembered my characters for the story, and then it hit me.

Q and Nine and the rest of Team 7 at that time had faded into the background of my life, the project abandoned for its first time months prior to college graduation. Despite them being regulated into the "has been" category of projects, they still held a strong significance in my life because they were a part of the first collaborative writing project I had worked on. I wanted to incorporate them into my logo. I quickly sketched out a capital Q and ran a line perpendicular and tangent to the little line protruding out from the Q and thus was born the Q9 logo, a hybrid of two characters who embodied my traits and my aspirations.

Fortunately for me, I never had a Nine in my life to push me to tag the logo on a wall. Instead the logo always just hung around the background of my life. It was there to remind me of who I am and where I wanted to be. Presently it is sitting as my desktop's wallpaper.

Screenshot (10).png

Q and Nine were also the inspiration for the namesake of this site. I wanted something that would be reminiscent of their story, but also was something fresh. So the name QuadrantNine was born.

Without my dorky fifteen year old me role playing a scifi epic heavily derived from Star Wars and Half Life 2 with my friend, and without my freshman year roommate introducing me to Banksy this logo would have never been born. I'm happy I was such a dork because without it I wouldn't have a personal logo I hold so dear to me.

Do you have a personal logo or symbol? What is it and how did it come to be?


Day 2

Word Count: 1,280

Cost per Post: $77.94

$5.02 a Post: The Month of Writing

Today I spent $155.88 at a second attempt at starting a blog. Why would I spend $155.88 on a blog that in its last run only had two post over the course of a year instead of going somewhere free like Blogger? Because sometimes I believe in second shots, and I also believe that spending a money can be a good motivator to commit to something.

My dad always raised me with the mentality of paying for something once then milking the crap out of it to knock the per-use cost as low as possible. For example whenever we skiing we have to ski enough times to get the cost per lift down to $10 ($5 is ideal). So today begins the first day of my 31 day challenge of writing, with a hefty cost on a blog to knock that $155.88 cost down to $5.02 a post within my first month. But it won't be as simple as writing 500 rambling words a day, I have some ground rules:

  1. I must write everyday, if I miss a day I must fill in that void proactively by writing in advanced or doubling up the next day if I miss a post.
  2. Each post must be about something of interest to me, not something about me. It's easy to write about what you did that day, but that can be a copout (and let's be honest, most of the time nobody cares about your day).
  3. Posts can be no shorter than 250 words, with an ideal minimum of 500. Writing everyday is a new thing for me, and I am a slow writer so I want to keep it simple. The point of this exercise is to stretch my writing muscles and explore ideas and interests of mine to find my writing voice.

Those are the rules. Now let's knock the cost of this blog down to $5.02 a post.

Here goes take two.


Day 1

Word Count: 326

Cost per Post: $155.88

Art & Utilities

Working in public utilities has really made my appreciate what cities are: they are a massive habitat for thousands of people to come together and live their lives. Cities bring out the best aspects of humanity: collaboration, innovation, industries revolutionizing the world, creativity and so on. Any aspect of human nature can be amplified by the city in which they live.

Working for the city has made me appreciate the concrete jungle even more than I used to. My job is to deliver the resources you need to make a living right to your door, and if I do it right nobody notices. It's only if the power fails or a water main busts before you bring attention to my job. As they taught us from day one: we're public servants, it is our duty to serve you, but that doesn't mean we have to make an eyesore to get it to you.

My main job is in transmission line engineering, you know those big giant steel poles or lattice towers that are as tall as a five to fifteen story tall building. And maybe it's just my professions version of the frequency illusion, but I notice transmission lines and even distribution line (the smaller, usually wooden pools) everywhere I go. They're ugly to look at and utilitarian looking at best, but it doesn't have to be this way.

One of the best aspects of living within the city are the creative people cities attract. If you live in a significantly large enough city you will find a nice community of artists, especially street artists and muralists. Few cities are beginning to realize that they can unite their artists with their engineers making the city streets into an drive through art exhibit instead of being littered with utility poles and boxes. If the city were the human body, the city departments would be the organs and the artists would be the soul.

The Moon City Creative District in Springfield, MO was the first district I discovered that made an effort to make something more out of their distribution poles. I personally spoke with the lead artist, Linda Passeri, and the lead organizer, Phyllis Ferguson, of their now famous Paint-a-Poll Stroll. And I got some great notes.

Moon City is known to be the creative district within the city of Springfield. It houses dozens of art studios which give the city its unique personality. According to Linda and Phyllis, the two were tired of looking at the wooden poles right outside of their houses, so they decided to do something about it. Without permission from the local utility company, the two took matter into their own hands and decorated two poles. When they were finished, what used to be a wooden splinter became a canvas. They took photos and prepared for their next step: a presentation to the local utility company.

The artful duo scheduled a meeting with the top execs of the City Utilities of Springfield, not afraid to show off their vandalized poles. According to Linda, the execs cut them off halfway through their presentation. The execs were blown away by the idea of making utilities into art and gladly allowed the two to carry out their project.

Linda told me that another motive for the project was to distinguish the neighborhood from the rest of the city, her and Phyllis wanted to leave a message for all passersby saying "Welcome to the most creative part of Springfield." Apparently everybody else in the district loved the message so much that within two years the neighborhood had over 130 painted poles.

There were benefits other than distinguishing the neighborhood. Traffic passing through is now slower, and safer, as people are checking out the works. The poles were no longer vandalized with graffiti or flyers. The utility company looked great for promoting local artists. Residents began taking pride in their neighborhood (Phyllis even was voted on to city council after she lead the project). And, when Pokémon Go was all the rage the poles became Poke Stops or gyms.

Moon City is just one of many cities that are working to unite engineers and artists. Through my research I found out that the inspiration for Moon City began in Canada at the Fernwood art district in Victoria, BC. Houston, TX has their own project of decorating traffic light control boxes called Mini Murals. Orlando, FL has an multi-neighborhood project encouraging neighborhoods to enlist the help of local artists to decorate everything from walls to dumpsters.

We should take pride in our cities, and there's no better way to do that than giving the streets a bit of personality with the help of the local artists. Municipal governments, especially their utility branches, should embrace these creatives and provide them with the funding and tools to make a pole more than a pole, or turn a substation wall into a mural. We need art on the streets.