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.
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.
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.
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?
As I expressed in my previous essay titled A Wall, A Canvas, I am a huge fan of street art of all sorts, and I am an even bigger fan and supporter of the street art scene in Austin, Texas. But I am also a civil servant employed by the city held responsible for providing a safe, healthy, and happy environment for the city’s residents. As listed in my projects page, one ongoing project of mine is Make Art not Marks, a city wide effort to use murals as a means to battle graffiti on the a two front approach: by occupying the wall with another piece permitted to be there, and by beautifying the city through showcasing local artists. My role as a member of the Make Art Not Marks team is to research and develop programs that can fulfill those two goals.
Murals have been a tried and true proven method of curbing graffiti in highly trafficked parts of the city, especially when they are installed by locally respected artists. Interviews with city officials, nonprofits, artists collectives, and artists have supported this claim. Cities like Philadelphia have pioneered the city wide mural art program through the part city department / part nonprofit Philadelphia Mural Arts program. Philadelphia Mural Arts has been so influential that cities across the country have consulted with them to develop their own mural programs.
I have found through numerous interviews that in order to have an effective mural arts program with the goal of stopping graffiti you must employee local artists who have credibility within the scene. Philadelphia Mural Arts employees around 30% of its staff and art contracts with former graffiti artists. Building a healthy relationship with the local graffiti art scene is important for keeping the community happy. This is especially true in neighborhoods that are undergoing gentrification. Employing local artists who have been a part of the community for a long while to work in areas being gentrified shows that despite the economic changes of the neighborhood that the culture and memories of the past are still there.
Finally, murals just make the streets look better. They give the walls, streets, and neighborhoods a distinct personality. With no two murals ever the same passersby will always be able to know where they are and the stories of the neighborhood. It is my goal in Make Art Not Marks to contribute to this neighborhood beautification and identity programs.
When I tell people that I’m working on this project I always say that I am not anti-graffiti but pro-art. Ever since I moved to Austin I fell in love with the street art scene. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, an enormous series of walls built on the side of a hill that anybody can spray on, is a personal favorite spot of mine in Austin. I make an effort to visit the gallery as much as possible to discover new artists and check in on the works of my favorite Austin artists. I firmly believe that having a City of Austin backed program that works directly with the Austin street art scene is necessary for a city that is full of so many talented artists. It is my mission to bring this program to life, and I have the research to back this mission up.
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… … 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.
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.
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 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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.