Setting up a system

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Like most people, I have struggled over the years to comes up with a organizational/productivity system that works for me.  Disclaimer: I do not yet have it down perfectly, and am not claiming guru status.  But I do have a few things that have worked pretty well, and I have noticed some things that others do that seem to work, so I will share those here.

I have a somewhat elaborate system which I will explain below, but at the end of the day it all boils down to a single strategy: getting things into my calendar.  The other main thing I try to solve for is simply not forgetting things.  I live in a constant stream of emails and meetings, and it’s easy to forget something important.  So a goal here is to help ensure that I don’t forget things and ultimately, that I’m focused on the most important thing most of the time.

I live by the calendar and generally obey it.  This is a trick I learned from Fred, who doesn’t use any productivity system except for brute force email and calendaring everything.  Getting something into my calendar is the most sure-fire way that it will get done — having a date and time attached to something gives it a lot more weight than a wishy-washy entry on a list of to-dos or “priorities”.

Working backwards from the calendar as ultimate do-place, I have a few tricks for capturing and prioritizing, loosely based on the “Getting Things Done” theory of capture/clarify/organize/etc.   As much as possible, I try to get big things out of my Inbox and into a place where I can see and organize.  For this I use Trello.  I have a board I use every day that looks like this:

From right to left:

The main show here is the “priorities” list, where I try to pluck out the important big things on my plate — this helps me make sure I am not forgetting something.  Roughly daily, I review this list, sort it, and make sure things are in my calendar to do.

Another list in my Trello is “meetings”.  I use this list to capture high-level takeaways from meetings.  I am a big believer in the concept of the “commonplace book” and the value of taking notes and reviewing them over time.  For me this step is more about just general processing rather than to-dos, though there is a to-do component.  I take meeting notes by hand in a small notebook (currently a moleskine but in the old days I used a spiral bound), and always mark follow-ups with a “F/U” with a circle around it — this is a trick I learned from Phil Myrick back when I worked at PPS.  As a way of processing the meeting notes, I make a card in trello for each meeting and add the follow-ups as checklist items (Dani has a system similar to this, using Notion, and I’m always impressed with how well it seems to help her process meetings).  For little things, I just do them right away, for bigger ones, I prioritize and calendar them.

On the left is the “Inbound” list.  I use this to capture fleeting thoughts, ideas and notes.  Things get on this list in two ways: 1) via Wunderlist, which I mainly use by phone — I have found this to be the easiest and quickest way for me to jot something down on the go.  I use Zapier to move things from my main list in Wunderlist into “inbound” on Trello.  2) I use Trello’s built-in email-to-board feature to get larger items out of my inbox and into Trello.   Again, the goal here is just to capture so I can process/prioritize later.

Another input into this system is my other notebook, the Ink+Volt Planner. I am on my third year of using this wonderful tool: it’s a structured goal and priorities setting notebook that helps you create and reach yearly, monthly and weekly goals.   I find that the Ink+Volt, like meditation, helps me cut through the noise and see what’s important more clearly.  I do a planner session every week (it’s in the calendar), and use that to inform all of the above.

Having now written all of this, it seems pretty clear that this is a lot of work, and may be excessively complex.  My wife would probably describe this as “planning to plan”, and just an elaborate mechanism for avoiding doing the actual stuff, or something like that.   That may indeed be so, and I often think about Fred’s simple strategy of blast relentlessly through email and calendar everything.  It is impressive and seems to work.  Mostly, I use this system so that I am not just at the whims of my inbox.

For sure, my biggest weakness is email, which I still struggle with.  Albert has a system here, which seems to work for him, which is: using a set of predefined gmail filters, clear the inbox daily.  Not the entire inbox, but a few filtered versions (family, USV team, his portfolio companies).  I’m not there yet.

So, there you have it.  That’s my system. It’s a work in progress.  What’s yours?

The power of community

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Community is a funny thing. It can sound like a fluffy word or concept, but it’s actually really powerful.  Maybe more powerful than many things. Community is about helping people feel connected and aligned.  When people are connected, they feel warm and good, and part of something bigger than themselves.  When people are aligned, each… Read more »

What decentralization is good for (part 3): growth

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Picking back up the series on what decentralization is good for (part 1, part 2), today I want to focus on one of the most exciting aspects of decentralization: growth.   In this case, when I say “decentralized”, what I really mean is “open and non-proprietary”.  The two often go hand-in-hand. Ok, so why are open,… Read more »

Changing your life

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Just about 10 years ago, I had a migraine that lasted two weeks.  I have never been in such pain; even an ER visit and a morphine drip didn’t touch it.  Then, 6 months later, I had a stomach pain that just wouldn’t go away.  Finally I went to the hospital, and it turned out… Read more »

Leading vs. following

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Last night I went to see RAIN, a Beatles tribute band, with my friend and neighbor Jeff.  If you haven’t been to one, tribute bands/shows are kind of odd: on the one hand, typically technically/musically perfect (the tribute band can play the entire catalog of the original band flawlessly); and on the other hand, the… Read more »

What decentralization is good for (part 2): Platform Risk

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Continuing on the theme of what decentralization is good for, this week I would like to focus on one of the most powerful drivers in the near-term: Platform Risk. Platform Risk is is the risk that the tech platform that you build your product/app/business/life on will become a critical dependency, will become unreliable, and/or worse,… Read more »

Unlocking a new skill

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Over the long weekend, I spent a bunch of time with my kids doing outdoor cold weather activities. I love the winter, and I love winter sports — there is something about being outside on a cold, sunny day that gets my blood moving and makes me feel great. Those who have read this blog… Read more »

What decentralization is good for (part 1): Resilience

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Recently, Simon Morris, a long-time BitTorrent exec, wrote a provocative series of posts on the nature of decentralization, in the wake of BitTorrent Inc’s acquisition by TRON.  They are relatively short and a good read: Why BitTorrent Mattered — Bittorrent Lessons for CryptoIf you’re not Breaking Rules you’re Doing it WrongIntent, Complexity and the Governance Paradox Decentralized Disruption — Who… Read more »

The Octopus Card

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I am in Hong Kong this week for Blockstack‘s Decentralizing the World Tour (more on that in a forthcoming post).   I arrived yesterday and have been exploring the city a bit. The first observation is how awful the air quality is.  Holy cow.  This report from Plume Labs (snapshot from the time when I took this… Read more »

Managing digital addiction

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USV’s book club book for this month is Drug Dealer, MD, by Dr. Anna Lembke, Director of Addiction Medicine at Stanford Hospital – so we have spent a bunch of time recently talking about addiction. It is not a stretch to hypothesize that we, as a society, are at a moment of heightened addiction, generally… Read more »

Paying down debt (financial, technical, and otherwise)

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Debt is a complicated subject.  On the one hand, it is empowering — it lets you get a quick start on something, and lets you do things that would not be possible otherwise.  There are times when it is useful, necessary, and unavoidable. I think about “debt” in the broadest possible terms: times when you… Read more »

Google Pixel Slate: first impressions

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For the past week or so, I have been experimenting with the Pixel Slate, Google’s new hybrid tablet/laptop. Here is me typing this blog post right now, on the train to NYC.  For a longer,  more technical analysis, this review from The Verge is good. The Pixel Slate is an odd machine, and I am still… Read more »

A visual guide to the Howey Test

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Disclaimer: I am  not a lawyer, and I am not your lawyer.  I have been in an uncountable number of conversations over the past few years discussing the question of what defines a “security” in the context of cryptocurrencies, cryptonetworks, and token offerings.  Here is my current understanding, including a number of key questions I… Read more »

Crypto fundamentals

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Our good friend Chris Burniske was on Squawk Box this morning. I got up and watched it.  You can see the video here. Of course there is interest in the crypto market right now, as it is falling hard. I suspect there are many out there who are enjoying the drop, waiting for the bubble… Read more »

Getting hands-on

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One of my favorite things to do is get my hands into something and figure out how it works, whether that’s an app, or a gadget, or a house. For example, over the past few months I have been renovating our basement, turning an unfinished, dank storage area into a playroom for the kids.  Here… Read more »

The dangers of unstoppable code

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With real-time, interconnected, self-executing systems, sometimes when things wrong, they go really wrong.  I wrote about this general idea previously here. Yesterday, while I was writing my post on Trusted Brands, I was doing a little searching through my blog archives, so as to link back to all the posts categorized under “Trust”.  In the… Read more »

Trusted Brands

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Today is election day.  I’m on a plane today, so I voted early, a few days ago.  I cast my vote and it felt good. I marked my paper ballot with a marker (for optical scanning) glued it shut into a sealed envelope, and handed it to a volunteer who placed it in a secure… Read more »

Suffering, self, and service

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The massacre in Pittsburgh is heartbreaking and awful, and another example of the extent to which society seems to be fraying. The Pittsburgh attacker spent a lot of time on social media sites that stoked his fear, isolation and anger.  I think about the internet a lot, and while the internet has the ability to… Read more »

Building a meditation routine

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I wrote recently about the challenge of turning plans into routines.  One of the activities that is the most impactful for me is meditation.  I cannot say that I have a perfect meditation routine, but I can absolutely say that when I do do it, it makes me feel great, immediately. There are a bunch… Read more »

Trauma

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Just about two years ago, my wife’s parents were hit by a truck while crossing the street. The past two years have been both difficult and wonderful.  Wonderful in that two people who were on the brink of death following the accident are still with us (her mother in particular has had a miraculous if… Read more »