I’ve sharedmy love for a good email newsletter in the past. Until recently, most of my favorites have been put out by single publishers. Bloggers and writers who use email as an extension of their own web site. But this past week I’ve seen what I’d consider the very best use of email I’ve ever experienced.
For a little context, the team at Quartz has been putting out one of these daily news-around-the-globe emails for a while now, titled the Daily Brief). It’s similar to other options like the Economist’s Espresso or Dave Pell’s Next Draft. I’ve subscribed to it on and off over the past couple of years and it’s well done. It provides bite sized summaries of recent events and the best part is the writing is clever and full of wit, but without alienating the reader. It’s hip.
But this past week, the Quartz team launched something new. It’s an afternoon newsletter that, rather than summarize a bunch of topics, goes deep into one topic. It’s the Daily Obsession … and it is so very well done!
Each email is broken into several sections, somewhat like The Weekly Review. Each one has a quiz near the beginning, a poll near the end, several stats that give insight into the topic, and of course, there is a lot of information and external links for those who want to read more about the topic.
It’s the perfect form for 2017. The email itself is about the length of the daily brief, but each section on its own is short and sweet. Brevity still rules the day here. You can quickly move from one section to the next, each slightly changing the focus of what you're learning about the subject at hand. In all, you can read through one of these in just under 5 minutes, but come away with a better awareness of the email’s subject than you had going in. Excellent writing, good stats, clever headlines, funny GIFs, links to related videos … Quartz has nailed the perfect combination of content that fits today’s readers.
Most important to me is the writing: if they nailed all the rest but the writing fell short, the entire idea would fizzle. But the writing is the glue that makes this newsletter so special. From the pre-header to the footer, the Obsession is filled with copy that makes me feel raging envy. It’s like the team has their finger on the pulse of what is hip and have perfected their delivery.
I’m not sure why, but I’m a sucker for articles about sleep. And while recent Nobel prize winners show why we’re basically a nation of sleep deprived zombies, it’s these articles about people experimenting with their sleep that I enjoy the most.
I tried an experiment myself back in 2010, just after our 4th child was born. I attempted to see how well I could do on 4 hours of sleep per night. Yep, that’s just bad science, folks. The results were not surprising. I followed up my week’s experiment with another week of getting more sleep.
7 years later, I still take those lessons to heart. While I love the idea of using the time I spend sleeping to get some other things done, I'm pretty good at listening to my body. The time I spend getting a solid night of rest (7+ hours) is actually an investment that bears fruit in the time I spend working the next day.
How much screen time?
For any of us with children, this is the question that will quite possibly define our generation as parents. Are we putting our children’s future in harm’s way? Or will the amount of time they spend in front of screens of any size play no significant part in how their lives turn out?
Looking forward, that’s a very hard question to answer. Obviously, there are many factors that play into whether or not someone’s life is successful. And there are many different definitions of success. But there are a few things I remind myself of whenever I ponder this area of our family’s life.
Look to my own behaviours. Whether or not we come to a definitive answer in our culture about “how much is too much”, I can help my children by honestly evaluating how I’m spending my own time. Remember, our children are often a reflection of ourselves. If you see something you don’t like, you're likely the one who needs to make a change.
Establish better defaults. I don’t simply mean that you train yourself to pick up a book instead of your phone every time you have a spare minute (although that’s a good thing to do). But when I preach this to myself, it’s my way of remembering that my motives are important. Am I picking up my phone in order to check something I care about? This gets me to asking what do I care about. Is my default motivation entertainment and pleasure? Or do I feel a broader purpose for my life? Hopefully, the answer to the last one is yes. Then I can start to ask what am I doing right now to achieve that broader purpose? What defaults can I build to get myself moving down that road?
The dose makes the poison. Old adages can be cliché … but often they make a lot of sense. I don’t believe that 30–60 minutes of screen time for my children is a problem provided that there is balance and useful pursuits through the rest of the day. But if I see them spending the rest of the day wandering around not accomplishing much of anything, spending all their time talking or thinking about the screen related activity — that’s when I start to worry.
Creation trumps consumption. Cameron Moll shared recently how they're family had to go back to the "contract" when consumption started to take first place. That's the same for our home, but we also add an emphasis that being creative away from the screen should get as much attention as being creative with a screen.
I don’t have all the answers here. But I think about this a lot. And we talk about it with them. A lot. Even if we don’t get it right, they know our worries, our own struggles, and what we value.
I haven’t used this service, but I sure appreciate the thinking behind it. The team at Doist (the creators of Todoist) noticed how Slack was changing how they worked:
When our remote team started using Slack three years ago, we experienced the subtle but real impact that design has on behavior. From its free-flowing chat channels to its one-line-at-a-time message composers, everything about Slack was designed to keep you communicating with your team in real-time, all the time. (It’s not surprising that the team behind Slack originally designed game apps).
What I loved about this post was their process. They identified how they thought a team communication tool should support their team values. Reading the post, it reminded me a lot of the things the Basecamp team talked about when creating Basecamp 3.
As someone working on a remote team, I greatly appreciate companies that are focused on making this aspect of our work better. To enable us to do our best work, rather than take away from it.
I recommend following the Doist team on Medium. They have a lot of stuff related to their own products, yes. But they also post just plain good stuff (like this post on being a remote working parent). When you find a company that has a great approach to work and running a team, it's almost as good as finding a great personal site.----
I enjoyed this article quite a bit. The author liked the habits of thinkers of old and tries to do the same thing, but rather than a daily routine (in the morning), he does it once per week. He takes 2 hours to do nothing but think.
I like that idea. A lot.
In the evening, I remove all possible distractions, especially electronics like my phone and my laptop, and I basically lock myself in a room to question my work and my lifestyle with a pen and a notebook.
2 hours is a long time, and some of it will feel unproductive and not all of it will be structured, but I have a few general things that I almost always start off with to set me in motion.
Lately, I’ve tried to introduce a little boredom into my life by revamping my morning routine. Instead of turning off the alarm on my phone (which pulls me right into notifications and Instagram), I’ve now switched to an analog bedside alarm.
After turning off the alarm, I purposely avoid all electronics (TV, laptop, phone, etc.) for the first hour of the day. I shower, then take the dog to the local coffee shop, leaving my phone at home. Once I have my coffee (or tea, depending on the day) I just sit, letting myself daydream and wake up slowly for about 30 minutes.
After reading it, I thought it sounded great. But how could I achieve something like this in my own life? With kids, the town we live in, and our location (far from all coffee shops), this routine would not exactly work. But are there other ways to achieve the same net effect?
I spent one morning just giving myself this time to think on things. I spend a lot of mornings reading my Bible, praying, then moving on to studying, writing, or just getting ready for work. Oh, and reading online. So I took one morning and just sat and thought about stuff. It would end in reading my Bible, but I gave myself the entire 90 minutes to just slowly get ready for the day.
But I was still open to other ideas on how to have a time like this. As regularly as possible. It would be hard, obviously, as I do not have a great deal of margin when it comes to my time in this stage of my life.
However, taking a 2 hour block of time each week sounds a lot more doable.
Once he shared that he’d be building this course, I finally took the time to dig into the features in Ulysses that have been peripheral to my usage. The biggest gap was my lack of understanding of the different methods for adding to your primary content. There are four content types to consider:
The Ulysses team cover these in a coupleposts. But neither of those sit down and list out a direct comparison of these items, nor state the best scenario for using each. Different from the last 3, notes are not stored inline, but in the attachments pane. They’re document-centric and give you a place to store thoughts about a sheet as a whole.
The last 3 are inline and serve related-yet-different purposes. Comments (and comment blocks) allow you to add your thoughts about a line or section of text. They’re great in that they stand out and do not count towards you word/character totals. As well, should you export your content, the comments are not included.
Footnotes and annotations are last and are the most similar. Both allow you to add ancillary information to a piece of text. I'll likely start using notes more often, but footnotes and annotations are overkill and not applicable to the kinds of writing I do.
Short story long, it’s been nice to get a better feel for Ulysses and what’s possible with it. If you haven’t yet, check out Learn Ulysses from Shawn and crew.