HACK / MAKE

Coffee Shop Contemplations (Buy My Book)

I decided to start 2013 with a bit of an experiment. I would do something I’ve never done but have wanted to do. I’d do something I didn’t think I was qualified for. I’d do something that was going to turn out crappier than I wanted. I’d do something that scared me.

I’d break the convention of how things are usually done. I’d not only break the rules but break them by not even learning what the rules of the game were in the first place.

I published a book that you can buy on Amazon and in the iBookstore.

Coffee Shop Contemplations is a collection of essays about simplicity and design, tools, writing, mindfulness, and meditations on being better. These essays are all posts from here, hackmake.org.

Who is this for? It’s for makers, explorers, planners, writers, designers, GTDers, and geeks alike.

Buy Coffee Shop Contemplations Now

I’ve posted the Introduction I wrote and some frequently asked questions that you should read here. I go into a little detail about why I put it together for you. (Note: The questions were neither asked, nor asked frequently. I mostly wrote the FAQ to prove a few points because I’m very opinionated.)

Supporting Hack/Make

A big reason why I put this together was so that you, dear attractive, witty, and adventurous reader, had a reason to chip some of your hard-earned dollars towards supporting what I write at Hack/Make. I hope that you’ve found my writings helpful. Some blogs have a membership option, some sell ads, and some ask for donations. I wanted to make something that you could buy. I think that’s a fair deal. Maybe you’ve followed this site for a while and have read most of the essays here, so why buy this book? Thank you so much. I’ve learned so much by exploring these ideas and sharing them with you. The conversations and people I’ve met have been amazing. I really appreciate you sticking around. I think you should buy this anyway to support me and Hack/Make. You can read more about why in the FAQ.

About The Experiment

I’m calling this whole thing an experiment because I’m not really sure how it’s going to go. I was scared to publish the book and I’m kind of sweating and nervous as I write this. But I knew I had to do both. I knew that the essays were at least half decent. I knew there would be a few people who would buy this and it wouldn’t be totally dead on arrival.

I had to put this out there as a way to fire first, then aim, and be ready. It would be pretty lame if I wrote a blog post to kick of the new year all about doing things even when you’re afraid, all the while I was just writing that post to procrastinate from doing this thing I was afraid of.

So I set myself a deadline. I worked hard to pull this all together. I learned what I needed to to get it published but decided not to worry about some things. I didn’t really learn the rules about publishing. That was just something extra in my way. This book doesn’t have a foreword or dedication, or table of contents, or copyright or references or most things normal books have. I didn’t have it edited or proofread. I could have spent more time organizing the order of the essays.

But if I did all of those things, I probably could have found a hundred reasons why I shouldn’t ship this too. Is my first book as good as I would have hoped? Not really. But ask anyone who has made anything if their first was great. I figured I would ease the long-term pain and just get this one over with.

All of that said about this being unconventional, I think reading through it is worth your time and I hope you buy it. I’ll write more about this in the future if you’re curious about how the experiment turns out.

Book Update

I want to give you an update on Coffee Shop Contemplations, my ebook of essays written and published to Hack/Make in 2012. First off, it’s now available for purchase in the iBookstore. I really like the reading experience of the scrolling feature on iBooks and I’ve made sure the book is well formatted so you can enjoy that. You can also buy it for Kindle.

So far, my experiment has been a successful one. As I outlined in the FAQ (which I’ve reposted below), I’ve both sold enough copies to make back the 20 bucks I spent to license the cover image and inspired someone to write something because of it.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the book and why I did it.


FAQ

Q: Why did you publish a book when all of this stuff is already online?

A: Three reasons: 1) A lot more people read books than blogs. I want to share these ideas with those people too. 2) I thought this would be a good way for the dear readers of Hack/Make to show their support with some of their hard-earned dollars. 3) I wanted to be able to call myself an author.

Q: Wait, you published a book just so you could call yourself an author?

A: Kinda. Let’s be honest here: how often do people call themselves something when they’re not? They introduce themselves at parties as a “writer” or have “producer” in their Twitter bio when they don’t really write or produce much of anything. I figured I’d try this the other way around. I’d package some stuff I wrote into a “book”. I’d put it on Amazon and then, if I wanted, I could put “Author” in my bio and link to Amazon to prove it. It’s not as hard as you think to pursue the things you want. (And no one’s claiming I’m a good author.)

Q: I’ve been reading Hack/Make for a while. Should I buy this book?

A: Short answer, yes. You have a few options: you can buy the book and reread the essays. Maybe you’ll find something you missed or maybe some more of the pieces will connect or maybe you won’t get anything out of it. You can buy the book to support me and to support the idea of sharing, connecting, and creating ideas no matter how under qualified you are, and then just not read it. Or you can not buy it and not read it. I prefer the first option and I think it’ll be worth your few dollars.

Q: $3.99? There are better and longer books out there for less money.

A: You’re right. And they’re probably undercharging. We take it upon ourselves to set the value of the things that matter to us. I think we need to make sure that ideas don’t become a commodity.

Q: Erm, you said in the Introduction that this is an experiment. Experiments have a hypothesis and collect quantitative and qualitative metrics to analyze whether the experiment proved the hypothesis, and therefore whether it was a success or not. So.

A: First, that wasn’t a question, nerd. Second, a qualitative metric for you: I need to sell 8.5 copies of this (after the 30% cut) to break even on the $20 I payed to license the cover image. After that, it’s a success. My hypothesis has already been proven, by the way. You can break the rules and do something different without anyone’s permission. You should try your own experiments too.

Q: What’s with the title?

A: Most of these essays were written in coffee shops on my iPad. Coffee shops seem to be a good atmosphere where people come to share, talk, make, learn, relax, and that’s a place where I like to write. The caffeine helps too.

Q: How do you take your coffee?

A: Black.

A Relative Process

In the past week, I’ve been reflecting about this book thing. The whole process—from deciding to do it to posting that it was live on Amazon—was quick. I had to make decisions with no right or wrong answer and it made me think fast, both of which get a bit easier with a mindfulness practice.

I realized about half way through that not a single task for the project had been put into OmniFocus. Over the course of the whole thing I only put about ten lines in a scratch note. My entire focus was spent thinking and doing and very little spent organizing tasks, sub-projects, and contexts. Now, this was an extraordinary circumstance. I was able to dedicate two full uninterrupted 12 hour days to getting the essays I had already selected into the right format, make it look good, write a bit more, and put it live online. That’s very different than the constant interruptions I generally have to deal with on a work day. As my environment and the work I had in front of me changed so did my workflow and process.

Healthy process is awesome but process is relative to the work you have to do. For me it would have been inefficient to track a whole bunch of things in a mind map or convert this OPML dingus to that Markdown thingy. There was a clear, linear path in my head and my focus gave me confidence that I wouldn’t lose it. (Again, this is an exception. Most work I do gets tracked.)

To work effectively, we need to have enough insight into our process to know when parts of it aren’t necessary. We should make our systems and our thinking modular so we don’t get distracted by a workflow that’s meant to solve a problem that we aren’t currently having. The pieces of our workflow are just tools and by learning how to use them only when the work demands it we focus our attention on the output of the process and not the process itself.

Workflow is Practice

Speaking of knowing process, an excerpt from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, which I’ve found some intriguing ideas in:

There is no particular way in true practice. You should find your own way, and you should know what kind of practice you have right now. Knowing both the advantages and disadvantages of some special practice, you can practice that special way without danger. But if you have a one-sided attitude, you will ignore the disadvantage of the practice, emphasizing only its good part. Eventually you will discover the worst side of the practice, and become discouraged when it is too late.

“Workflow” is a vague term because it has to be. Like “practice”, it’s more about doing what works for the work at hand rather than what some blog suggests. The hard part about workflow (and why we all go to these blogs to find tips) is because there aren’t right answers. There are good parts and things with advantages and disadvantages. An advantage, like OmniFocus’ Perspectives can be a disadvantage in some places because of the learning curve.

Workflow takes practice and workflow is practice.

The practice starts with being mindful that there are better ways to do your work and improve your life and then choosing a place to begin making progress.

Three Words

These three words will help direct the things I do in this next year:

Curiosity

Being insatiably curious. Be determined to understand why things are that way and don’t settle for things remaining that way if, through curiosity, I can find a better way. Appreciate and respect the mystery around us but don’t be OK with thinking the mystery is magic. Ask questions, seek, listen, and continue to be curious about more interesting things.

Voice

Develop not only the ideas I seek with curiosity but continue taking an interesting approach on those ideas. Use the things I’ve learned from smart people and my own experiences to connect and shape ideas in a different way. Take a wide perspective when people are zoomed in; get closer to the idea when people are observing from afar. Be opinionated. Write in a safe place where I can break away the conventions of my conscious and let the voice inside of me bleed out in ink. Become comfortable with that true voice and then strengthen it and use it for important things.

Flow

Appreciate flow. Don’t desire for moments that aren’t now but continue to aim forward towards values. Learn to realize when I’m accepting flow and when I’m settling for something less than what could be. Recognize my desire to want for what’s far ahead is with good intentions but I can have those intentions and still plan and direct myself to that same place without the want-full desire. Through that flow and through that path will become a better appreciation for what I’ve done, what I have, and what I can be.

In 2013, I want to define my voice by letting curiosity lead me through the flow of learning and living.


Defining these three words was inspired by Michael Schechter based on Chris Brogan’s method.

Methodical

You could sense in the air that summer had settled in and the light breeze felt at home for at least the time being. In the valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we relax after a day’s hike. The smoke and smell of charcoal grills invites itself into our back yard which raises the anticipation of when we will light our own. The sun also relaxed and sat lower in the sky turning the river into a stream of gold. To seek this gold, I stray away from the group to get some quiet. I find myself needing to do this more often these days—to find something greater than myself in nature and in my nature; to seek a silence in the world around me so that the sounds of what’s true have more room to echo.

The Shenandoah River winds for miles and miles, meandering through the valley in seek of something. The river is neither deep nor wide but flows with a constant current. So I can become friends with the Shenandoah, I pull the canoe out of the shed. The boat is heavy and sturdy. It bears the scuffs and gouges, scars and scrapes of adventure yet holds stoic to the miles it has counted. The yoke firmly hugs my shoulders with anticipation during the short walk to the river bank. That boat isn’t happy when waiting in the shed. Only when the lick of the river splashes against its bow and when it dutifully keeps someone afloat of the rocky depths of a river’s mystery is it satisfied. When it becomes the vehicle of adventure for someone’s body or mind it is truly content.

I wander with and against the river for some time which I lose track of. The current is enough that traveling upstream slows my pace. This way, the gold flowed toward me but the source stayed ever distant only lowering itself to the horizon to make me aware of its impermanence. The shadow of this steed and its rider galloped slowly down the waves of the river as the sun’s retreat made long the light it cast. An eddy became a haven for my boat and my soul to sit in quietude away from the downstream progression.

This solitude and this respite, in a place where currents oppose and cancel each other to create a calm pool, gives me a place to sit and get to know the river. I gaze beyond the gunnel and fixate on the shapes and motion of what lies in the waters below. The evening sun lights the shallow waters and my stare begins to go beyond what I can see.

The force of flowing water is great. A river’s strength is sometimes gauged by the volume of water passing through it each day but a small river can be strong. A strong river flows with persistence. With persistence and direction a river’s carving is relentless. The life blood seeks a vein to travel and it is determined to arrive there. It wears through stone because of a continual drive directed by a gravity.

It is methodical.

I believe that there are truths in the places around us; that the way the earth behaves in the forests and rivers when no one is watching holds lessons. It takes adventure to discover these lessons and they can only be realized with some effort. Truths are in front of us but they are content to wait for the people who chose to seek them out. I found truth waiting in that flow of gold.

It’s a truth that in a persistent, relentless, methodical way we can carve our place in life. Through a method we can become driven to be someone greater. In the way that our mind becomes like water—shaping itself in the form of the container, the situation it is in, and reacting adequately by splashing no larger than the rock which is thrown—we should live with a force like water.

This method is a slow wearing away at the greater problem. It’s continuous. In finding a gravity we become consumed by that direction and seek it out in all we do. We can’t be discontented by how the problem rock stands strong. We must approach with a hardiness to take pieces at a time; to smooth it over with a focused, enduring flow. With time and a solid gravity the rock will begin to shape to our design. As our constant force moves and shapes the rocks we must address and adjust our force in a new way because our journey deeper downstream will have bigger and tougher rocks. With our water-like flow and method we will carve those too.

Persistence without method is misdirected. Method without persisting towards a right gravity is wasteful. And with a greater perspective on the change force we hold, we become steadfast by method.

My “Stream of Tasks” OmniFocus Perspective

OmniFocus Perspectives can help float relevant tasks out of a deep and complex pool of things you need to do. Unfortunately, Perspectives can also be deep and complex. There is one main perspective I use for tracking ongoing personal tasks. It’s basically a rolling timeline of tasks based on their start date that keeps me on pace with what I should be doing and what I’m behind on. Most of these tasks are routine and repeating, things like reviewing bank statements, swapping out contact lenses, writing rent and utilities checks, and doing laundry. It’s stuff that doesn’t have to be done on the day it starts but stays in view until it is marked as done or deleted. This perspective also lets me forward-date something and be confident that I won’t miss it when it starts up. As long as the task has a context that is a child of my main @Personal context (which is my default selected context) then it will show up in my stream of tasks.

A trusted system is one that holds you accountable to the things you promise yourself you’ll do. I have a “Write something” task that starts again every day. When I notice that it’s still in my stream but from a few days ago I know I need to just sit down and write—the perspective doesn’t let me forget. When there’s a task that’s sitting in a project that keeps getting marked as reviewed but never marked as complete, sometimes it just needs to be “kicked down the field” as David Sparks likes to call it. That’s where you forward date something to take it off your mind for now but don’t just outright delete it. When it starts again, the task will be in my stream—the perspective helps me remember.

This perspective is core to my trusted system as it keeps me accountable by showing me what (and how far) I’m behind on tasks, shows me tasks when they start so I can start-date things and know that they won’t get overlooked, and most importantly, it does both of those things in a simple and seamless way.

Here’s the ““Functional Component”” so you can set up this task stream. It’s is a context-based perspective that restores expansion and selection. The context sidebar filters active tasks, it groups actions by start, and sorts them by project. If you’ve got the setting right, here’s what the Perspectives panel will look like. By the way, those pretty icons are by Icons and Coffee and you can buy them here.

Perspectives are about simplifying and supporting your system and an ongoing stream of time relevant actions helps keep me on top of the things I need to get done.