Grounded & Steadfast

est. 2008

Thomas Byttebier makes a great case for using text labels over icons. I've been thinking on this of late, largely thanks to Rian van der Merwe. Once you start looking for this issue, you see it everywhere (like the footer of this site).

How often do designers add an icon because it makes perfect sense to them, unknowingly causing confusion? But if we can't agree on a universal icon to represent Save, perhaps sticking with text truly is the best option. Thomas sums it up:

users will avoid interface elements they cannot understand quote

Give the entire article a read. He includes some poignant examples from apps and sites we all use every day. Mail … a perfect culprit.


My old boss, Mathew Patterson, shares his process for preparing for a talk. He gives details on everything from choosing a topic, to writing the outline, to going through several drafts.

My own process is similar. I tend to start in a text editor (iA Writer on my iPad, Ulysses on my Mac) to capture the main points. The flow of my talk then comes into shape in Keynote. The slides are minimal, but details are included in my speaker’s notes.

The key through the whole process is that you become so familiar with your content that you do not need extensive notes. There is no need to read during your talk. I rarely need the speaker’s notes because each slide is itself a trigger for what I plan to say. When you know your content thoroughly, things can go wrong and you’ll still deliver a good talk.


I’ve been fascinated with the changes to Medium of late; they’re doing some great work that makes it an attractive platform (for reading and writing). But it’s not attractive enough to give up the control of my content.

Matthew Butterick sums up the points more excellently than I have to date. There are some fantastic pull quotes in his article!


Josh Ginter's The Newsprint has become one of my favourite reads in my RSS reader. And his Sunday Edition posts never fail to give me one solid read each week (this past week: the heart stopping free soloist).

This is exactly what drew me to the world of blogging. Personal sites where a writer takes extra care to craft a welcoming environment, then writes about things that matter to them.


Time, Spent Wisely

Why do we have such a fascination with systematizing the every day, the mundane? We seem to be in a societal shift where we all fall into a caffeinated haze and ponder how we can trick our brains into doing something it doesn’t want to (your’s truly included).

And although it sounds trite, there is validity to the idea. Welcome to the life well hacked.

Finding Time

Brian Lovin is experimenting with what’s possible in terms of sleep. He’s shooting for 4 hours a day. This is a perfect example of this shift in thinking in our comfortable western culture. In the abundance of more things to do than time to do them, people are looking for more time. In this case, we gain time by cutting out sleep.

Again, I’m also guilty of this. A few years back, after the birth of our 4th child, I experimented with my sleep as well. How much does someone actually need? For me, it turns out more than 5 hours a night … go figure!

I highly doubt my ability to get by on 4 hours of sleep as Mr. Lovin is attempting. But I could see myself adopting a biphasic pattern where my sleep occurs in two large chunks. Something like this would fit well with my current habits:

  • in bed at 9-9:30pm (we’re already early to bed, early to rise people)
  • up at 2:30am
  • get in some writing, reading, and meditation
  • back to bed for a long nap, 4-6am

As described in the myth of the eight hour sleep, this type of pattern can be common and fighting it in order to sleep normally may actually be causing problems for some:

The idea that we must sleep in a consolidated block could be damaging, he says, if it makes people who wake up at night anxious, as this anxiety can itself prohibit sleeps and is likely to seep into waking life too. quote

The article discusses the possibilities of how people passed the nights in centuries past. Although there is a lack of references in high volume, there is enough to suggest that a period of wakefulness in the night was the norm:

Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps. quote

Looking back even further, there may be more evidence. I’ve often thought of how the habits listed in many of the Psalms could be real. King David himself often wrote about the night watches

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches quote


I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; My heart also instructs me in the night seasons

I’m purely speculating here, but I’ve wondered what these phrases indicated about the culture of David’s time.

Overall, this type of pattern I listed above would still result in 7 hours of sleep and is not such a stretch from the habits of most people. Besides, I often find myself awaking in the hours of 2-4am and it takes a while to get back to sleep.

Might as well put some of that time to good use.

The Routines: Making the Most of the Time

A second aspect of our culture’s fascination with time is the systematizing of how we use it. We love to think about how to best structure our time, schedule our days, build habits, and essentially, hack our brains.

This is the reason why sites like My Morning Routine exist.

But once again, although it can be tempting to poke fun at our collective navel gazing, there is good reason for our fascination. Primarily because mindfulness can bring change. Shawn Blanc sums this up well as he describes how a couple of small changes resulted in a huge increase in his primary creative outlet.

Before I made this habit change, I was usually writing 500 to 1,000 words every day. But I didn’t have an exact time for when I’d do my writing, nor did I have a clear idea for what I’d be writing about. It was hit or miss, honestly. Some days I didn’t write at all. And I certainly wasn’t making daily, iterative progress on my long-term writing goals.

However, since I made this change a month ago I’ve written over 40,000 words. quote

His change? Write for 30 minutes at the beginning of every day. Every day.

Sounds simple, right? But he — and you and I — have built up other habits that have to be replaced with the new one. For Shawn, that meant not checking stats, Twitter, and the like until the writing was completed.

Weeks later, the effects of the change are evident. So while it’s certainly true that we can waste the time away constantly reviewing our workflow, this does not mean reflection is not helpful. A healthy, balanced amount of reflection, when paired with intention and discipline, can be a good thing.

GTD: The Beginning?

As someone who once focused his energies on productivity and the systemization of how we work (enter in the dreaded three letter acronym from hell aka GTD), I can’t help but wonder if this all started because Merlin Mann shared all his hacks about his hipster PDA on 43 Folders. Those of us in the apple, design, blogging world have been thinking about this type of topic for quite some time.

Was our desire to tinker with notebooks and applications the gateway drug to bigger things? Now instead of folders, pens, and egg timers, we’re prone to tinker with the essentials (sleep now, food next, then what? Oxygen intake?).

And although I spend far less time writing and thinking about productivity, and relatedly, tinkering, I'm still prone to snap my head around whenever someone mutters the word, "System". Is this focus a problem of how we view our self worth? Is our identity so tied to what we accomplish that it leads to a focus on how to do more? Some think so, especially after spending time in other cultures.

So the question to ask is not whether this is all useful. Rather, the question to ask yourself is this: how much of all this is useful for me? Like most things, it’s a matter of moderation. The dose is the poison. If you find yourself spending more time reading about life hacks than making change, you’ve gone too far.

As alluded to at the top, a part of this fascination is simple luxury. We have so much extra time and resources that we’ve constructed a society that teaches you to fill each waking hour. So much so that we all feel the strain of more to do than time to do it. In other cultures, survival can be where humans put all their energy … and people in these situations often strike me as more content and satisfied with life than us life hackers.

Nevertheless, I find myself pondering the question: can I put my time to better use? We all have the same amount of time each day, but whether we spend it creating, sleeping, or meditating on deep things is up to each of us. Whatever hacks or tricks we employ, if they result in a wiser use of the great equalizer, time, we’re better off for it.

As long as action is a result.


The Iterative Life

In design circles, iteration is our mantra. Start small, start now, learn as you go. Rinse and repeat. Tis better to start with imperfection than to never start at all. And this thinking often leads to success, so it’s popular for good reason.

But this approach should not be resticted only to the products and experiences we build for others. Indeed, it’s a good approach to life in general.

Failure Repeats Itself, Often

I fail daily. I’d even venture to say hourly. I fail my children by being short tempered at the end of the day. I fail my spouse when I care more about getting time to read that book on my shelf than checking in with her at the end of the week.

And relationships are just one aspect of life. We can fail in our work, with the project that is unsuccessful (or, in many cases, never completed), or the job that didn’t go as planned. We fail when we choose to try something new; no one crafts a masterpiece with a new habit.

But it doesn’t matter. We’re humans … we will hurt others and ourselves. We’ll fall short of our goals. Failure. It’s like death; inevitable. The important question to ask is this:

What are you going to do about it?

Again, we talk about this aplenty in the design industry. Startups pivot, corporations kill planned features, and plenty of designs never see the light of day. With the right mindset, we understand this is a vital part of the process. As Sean Sperte recently stated:

Designing is deciding quote

Learning requires failure. And I love to learn.

I spent the past week on a workation, spending my days in a cowork space filled with small startups and agencies. The following list is on the wall in the front room:

  • Make
  • Measure
  • Fail
  • Learn
  • Make
  • Fail harder
  • Learn even more
  • Make again
  • Succeed
  • Change everything
  • Repeat

This is my life as a parent, as a spouse. This is your life as a friend, a neighbour, and a coworker. The question is not whether you’ll fall — you will. The question is your attitude after the fall.

Learn, everyday.