Posts in Personal Development
How to Squash Your Inner Critic

If you create things, whether for a living or for yourself, you have an inner critic, and you need to squash it.

Your inner critic is that voice inside of you that reminds you of your flaws, tells you're not good enough, and pushes you to give up. Because it's part of you, your inner critic knows exactly how to hit a nerve.

At its core, your inner critic is trying to get you to give up, to stop, to leave that project unfinished, to hide that work away and never show it to anyone. And if we're honest with ourselves, our inner critics succeed way too often.

What can you and I do to squash our inner critics?

Last year I read Dannielle Krysa's Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk, and I still think about a lot. I don't have all the answers, but here are a few things I've learned and have been trying to put into a practice. I hope you find them helpful.

  • Admit you have an inner critic.
  • Talk with other people—even if they make completely different things—about your inner critic.

  • Set timeframes for when you're going to finish making something.

  • Publish, post, update, share, tweet, snap, message, mail, do whatever you can to force yourself to tell other people about what you've made on a regular basis.

 

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Why and How I Read 53 Books Every Year

For the past two years, I've set and met a personal goal to read 53 books. That comes out to one a week, if you round up. Full Reading List

People often ask me questions about this habit. The two most common questions are why I spend so much time on books and how I manage to finish so many. This is my attempt to answer those questions.

 

Why do I spend so much time on books?

Each day we're bombarded with endless feeds of information, phones exploding with notifications, inboxes overflowing with email and an unreadable amount of writing on every conceivable topic. Books, for me, are a chance to step away from the never-ending supply of short-form content. They're an opportunity to dive into more complicated topics or stories. Books help me focus for hours at a time on things that require more than 500 words to communicate.

 

How do I complete 53 books each year?

I'm able to finish 53 books each year, because I set a very specific goal; I'm consistent; and I allocate the hours. I spend time each week reading and listening to books, usually more than one at a time, and on average, I finish one every seven days. Full Reading List

Because I have a long driving commute, I listened to about 35 books this year, and I read the other 18 as physical books. (I really tried e-books, but I don't enjoy it as much.)

This ratio will look different for each person. Some of you won't be able to pay attention to audiobooks or don't retain the information well, but for me, audiobooks are a super important part of my learning.

If you've never listened to audiobooks, you should give them a try and take a look at my article from a while back, 'Why & How I Listen to Audiobooks'. Audiobooks can be a wonderful experience if you find the right books and the right readers (the voice actors who read the books).

 

We each have unique circumstances. I don't expect everyone to read 53 books a year, but I highly recommend making books a larger part of your life in 2018. They’re worth the commitment.

Full Reading List
 

Photo by Felipe P. Lima Rizo on Unsplash

How to Achieve Longterm Goals

When I'm reading a physical book, I place a finger at the end of the chapter I'm on, so I have a goal to shoot for. I set goals like this all day, every day. It's a big part of how I work.

Needless to say, I'm goal oriented, but I'm particularly interested in longterm goals—goals that span a month or more.

How can we set ourselves up for success with longterm goals? What can we do to increase the probability that we'll achieve our goals, especially the big ones?

 

Write Them Down

If we don't write down a goal, there's a very low chance we'll take steps to complete it. The act of putting goals in Things (or in a notebook), transforms them from something nice to do one day into a true goal. For me, it's extremely important to make my longterm goals SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound.

Example SMART Goal: Read 53 books between January 1 and December 31, 2017.

 

Break Them Down into Achievable Tasks

Longterm goals, whether set for a month, a year, five years or ten years, often seem daunting at the start. They are large and difficult almost by definition. Because of this, it's important to break them down into less daunting, achievable tasks.

Example Breakdown: I break down my 53-books goal into 53 tasks—Read Book 1, Read Book 2 and so on. As I select books to read, I add the specific book name—Read Book 1: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin.

 

Remind Yourself Regularly

My history of failing longterm goals is extensive. For me it typically looks something like this:

  1. Start off strong. Regularly complete tasks.
  2. Miss a few steps. Fall out of the habit.
  3. Forget about the goal for a few weeks.
  4. Remember. Feel overwhelmed.
  5. Give up.

Reminding myself of their tasks regularly is the best way I've found to snap myself out of this cycle of failing longterm goals.

Example Reminders: For my reading tasks, I set a due date and an end date. Read Book 1 is due January 7 and starts January 1. I'm continually being reminded of that task. If I get behind a few weeks, that task is flagged as overdue, and again I'm reminded of what I need to do to achieve my longterm goal.

 

Two years ago was my first time following this approach, and it was also the first year that I achieved a majority of my yearlong goals. I'm convinced that's not a coincidence.

 

Header image from Unsplash.

What I Learned Reading 53 Books in a Year

Last year at this time, I set a goal to read or listen to one book a week in 2016. That’s 53 if you round up.

I’m surprised to say that I met that goal. 

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I’m not one of those people who always achieves his New Year’s resolutions—quite the opposite actually. 

Despite my dismal history with them, this year I did it, and I want to share three things I learned from my experience.

 

You won't Succeed without Persistence

At one point this summer I was 15 books behind. That meant I had to read two books a week for 15 weeks to catch up.

In past years, when I’ve fallen behind on a resolution, I’ve given up. But this year was different. I stopped and thought about the purpose of the goal.

There’s nothing special about reading 53 books. The point was to read more, learn more and enjoy books. So I set out to do just that, and as I did, I crept closer and closer to my goal.

I only succeeded because I was persistent in the face of failure.

 

You don't have to Finish Everything You Start

It's hard for me to stop reading a book I've started, even if I don't enjoy it. This was especially true this year because I wanted to reach my goal. I slogged through more than one book so I could check it off my list, but I shouldn't have. 

This may seem to contradict my last point, but it doesn't. The purpose of the reading goal wasn't just to read a lot of books. It was to learn from them and enjoy them along the way. Sometimes I just don't jive with a book, and that's OK.

I learned that putting down a book isn't failure. It might just be the wrong time for it.

A friend explained this very well the other day on Twitter.

The essential thing for me in giving up a book: don't blame the book. It might be my fault. The book might be great. I'm just not ready for it. When I return to it, I often find that future me loves it.—@chrisrshockley

 

You’ll Find Value in Variety

After reading the books I already owned, I began asking friends and family for advice about what to read next. They directed me to their favorite books, books that had helped them in the past and books they found fascinating. 

I didn't begin the year with a list of all 53 books segmented by type or subject matter, but I ended up reading 29 non-fiction books and 24 fiction books. I read biographies, histories, science books, full series of fiction, books of poetry, essays and more.

This variety kept me engaged. It made it possible for me to meet my goal, and I believe it added value to the process

If you're interested in my full reading list or my favorites from this year, you're in luck. You can find both here.

Header image from Unsplash.

Dealing with Drastic Life Change

My life has changed quite drastically in the past twelve months. My experiences don't make me an expert, but I hope sharing what I've learned will help you deal with big changes in your own life.

The Last 12 Months

Twelve months ago, I was engaged to a woman living across the country from me, working for HP as a Project Manager/Business Analyst and living alone in Houston, Texas. 

By mid-January I had been married in Guam, honeymooned in Thailand and moved my new wife across the country to Houston.

In February I was laid off at HP, and in March I moved to Greenville, SC and started a new job at Varigence as an Engineering Product Manager.

The next five months were spent settling into work, life, home and marriage in Greenville.

In September, I co-founded Nicer Studio with four good friends, watched our ApplePlugs.com parody go wild and released two iMessage Sticker packs—Greenville: Illustrated Stickers and Small Talk: Hand-lettered Stickers.

At the end of September, I was laid off along with almost everyone I worked with and began the job hunt, again.

In November, my wife and I drove from Greenville to San Francisco (photos above). We learned as much as we could about the city in a week and moved into an apartment in Russian Hill last week. 

Also last week, I started as a Software Project Manger at Ygrene Energy Fund, and I'm so excited to be working there.

3 Takeaways

1. Give Yourself Time to Process

After each of the dramatic changes of the past year, I saw more and more the importance of giving myself (and my wife) time to process those changes.

In practice, that meant being gracious to myself (and to Alyssa) and giving extra leeway for both of us to mess up.

I naturally tend to talk things through, but at times it helped to simply eat a good meal, drink lots of water, have a really big dessert, search for cute dog Vines (RIP Vine) and go to sleep. 

As the shock wore off, I found talking through things with the people who love me, journaling, praying, reading the Bible, reading other books that inspire me, meditating, watching a beautiful movie, searching for cute cat Vines and sleeping all quite helpful. This was all part of the time needed to process the change.

 2. Look for the Positive

Twice in the last year I've heard a manager say, "this had absolutely nothing to do with your performance", after informing me that I'd be part of broader layoffs. 

Being laid off twice in a year is frustrating to say the least. Being told I had done nothing to cause it was even more disheartening.

After taking time to process, it was important for me to look (more like scour) for something positive. Even in the worst of circumstances, positive things can be found. 

Looking back now, I can see so many positive results of both layoffs. One positive result of leaving HP was spending nearly a month at home with my new wife (while I looked for a job). We went on walks nearly every day, talked, prayed and had valuable time to spend together in our first months of marriage.

I'd suggest setting a daily or weekly time to write down anything positive and looking back at that list regularly. This is probably a good practice to follow whether you're experiencing dramatic change or not.

3. Take the Next Step

When big change happens, it can paralyze us. Remember you don't have to have a new direction for your life all figured out. Instead make a list of small achievable things to do today and do those things. It seems simple, but for me the process of adding and marking off tasks on my todo list gave me a sense of accomplishment. It helped me gain focus and direction again.

For me moving forward was rewriting my resume, updating LinkedIn, reaching out to business contacts and applying for 150 jobs in a week (both times). Directly followed by waiting and emails and interviews and negotiations and decisions and contracts and moving across the country (both times).

Your circumstances won't magically improve. Begin putting in the work. There is always a next step.

 

Header Photo from Unsplash.

How to Defeat Enemies of Creativity

For the past two weeks, one topic has been woven through my reading and conversations: the enemies of creativity. As I read and talked about these enemies, I noticed their footprints in my own life.

Fear of Failure

I write as a creative outlet. It has been fun to create content for this blog, but fear of failure has been a constant companion all along the way.

I can’t even define what failure would be for this writing project, but analytics bring this fear out in full force. I know Twitter followers, Facebook likes and page views shouldn't keep me from writing, but sometimes they do.

The Inner Critic

My wife and I just finished reading Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa. She puts into words what I’ve been feeling for years. At the beginning of chapter 6, she describes the inner critic with remarkable clarity.

“Oh that voice–it is the root of so much trouble. It shows up with cruel comments, snarky jabs, and is always armed with a long list of reasons and excuses for quitting. It prevents talented people from doing amazing things, often stopping the flow of creativity before it even starts. It sits on your shoulder whispering hurtful words that plant the poisonous seeds of self-doubt. What a jerk that inner critic is. But wait, I have good news. Your inner critic isn’t in charge; you are.”

If you aspire to create anything at all, go buy this book and read it. It’s worth your time.

Imposter Syndrome

It’s natural for me to see talented writers with huge followings, brilliant insights and well-loved work; and instead of being encouraged by their success, I’m discouraged. I feel small, like I’m not a real writer, like I’m an imposter.

I don’t aspire to be a full-time writer, but I do enjoy creating. I love writing things that help other people learn, and I love hearing when somebody is encouraged by my work. I can’t allow feeling like a fake to keep me from creating.

Is It Just Me?

I believe these enemies are common among creatives of all types and levels of success. They are present in my life and in the life of every creative person I’ve talked to about this. You and I are not alone.

How Can We Overcome Them?

There is one way I know to overcome these three enemies: create no matter what.

For me that's sitting down and beginning to write. For you it may look different. These enemies should not keep me from writing, and they shouldn't prevent you from developing or painting or creating whatever you create.

You can do it. Defeat the enemies of creativity by making something new today.

Header image from Unsplash.

What the World’s Most Successful Tech Companies Can Teach Us About Failure

Despite having nearly endless resources and brilliant employees, the world’s most successful tech companies all release products that fail. Google’s Nexus Q, Apple’s Newton, Microsoft Bob, Facebook Credit and Amazon’s Fire Phone were all failures. But in each case, the company cut its losses, moved on and learned from its mistakes.

Jeff Bezos said of the Fire Phone,

”If you think that's a big failure, we're working on much bigger failures right now.”

Bezos understands that being afraid to fail will paralyze a company. It will stifle innovation and eventually stagnate growth.

You and I can learn from this mindset. Not everything we do will succeed. We will all fail at times.

This is not a new concept. We've all been told to use our failures as springboards for success, but if I’m honest with you, I still fear failure. At times I allow that fear to paralyze me. I’ll make the safe choice. I won’t write or ask or do that risky thing.

Today I hope to remind you and myself that, much like the world’s most successful tech companies, we will not grow if we’re not willing to fail.

Header image from Unsplash

Overcoming Familiar Obstacles

Everyone talks about goals around the new year. A handful of people are enthusiastic about them. This is probably because they’ve achieved their goals in the past and have experienced the joy that comes with that accomplishment. But the majority of us don’t think New Year’s resolutions work (at least not for us). We know this because every year we give up by February. 

I get it. I’m already behind on my goals for this year. One in particular is to post on this blog 53 times (once per week). This obviously hasn’t happened. 

But as I think about why I’m behind, I realize the things hindering me are familiar. Fear and lack of focus have prevented me from achieving goals for years. 

This realization motivates me and should encourage you too. You know why? Because we have overcome these obstacles before. We’ve all conquered fears and focused our minds in the past. 

These roadblock are not impenetrable. We can subdue the fear that keeps us from writing blog posts, going to the gym or asking someone on a date. We have the ability to focus on what’s important, turn off the TV and put away our phones. Once we realize what is quashing our ambitions, we are in control.

How I Keep Track of My Life

The most successful people I know have a system to organize and prioritize their lives. Some swear by specific apps. Others keep track with pen and paper. This is something we're all trying to improve on over time. That being said, I’ve found a system that is working for me, and it might just work for you.

I follow a two-tier system. I keep track of tasks with Omnifocus and meetings/events with Fantastical.

My calendar is primarily filled with work meetings and recurring events. I try to keep it simple. A work calendar and a personal calendar both viewable in Fantastical.

My task management is where things get interesting. Omnifocus is my tool of choice for following the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology. If you're not familiar with GTD or Omnifocus, I've provided an overview below.

What is GTD?

Getting Things Done is a methodology of task management invented by David Allen. It looks something like this.

  1. Get it all out of your head. Write down everything you need to, want to and hope to do.
  2. Answer two questions about each of those things. What do you really want to accomplish? What specific actions will it take to accomplish that?
  3. Organize these actions by the context in which you can accomplish them—at work, with your phone, at home, with your kids, etc.
  4. Prioritize these actions based on life goals. This important step can’t be done well without steps 1-3. You need specific, achievable tasks organized by your current context to most effectively prioritize.
  5. Reassess and reorganize on a regular basis. Our priorities change over time. As they change, so should the organization and prioritization of your tasks.

If you’re interested in a more thorough explanation, read David Allen's best-selling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity or watch his Ted Talk below.

What is Omnifocus?

Omnifocus is the most powerful personal task manager for iOS and Mac. I stress the word personal because Omnifocus is meant to be used by an individual not a team. If you need to share lists and assign task, Omnifocus is not the tool for you, but if you want to keep track of your life, Omnifocus has every feature you can think of and more.

Omnifocus is flexible enough to work with variations of GTD and completely different methodologies. But because I follow the Getting Things Done methodology, I've explained Omnifocus with GTD in mind.

1. Inbox: The inbox is where I brain dump. When I can’t fall asleep at night because my mind is full of ideas or when someone recommends a book, I’ll add it to my inbox.

2. Projects: The next time I have a free moment I’ll triage my inbox, turning my brain dumps into projects or specific tasks within projects.

I love the projects in Omnifocus because they work like folders on your laptop. You can create project folders and fill them with subfolders. I found this really handy during college. I would have a folder for college courses; and within that I would put a folder for each individual course; and within each course I’d put folders for different types of tasks.

3. Contexts: We all work in contexts. Errands are done when we’re out. Phone-based tasks are done on our phones. And work tasks are done at work (or at least should be). I organize my tasks by context, so I can filter out distractions.

Location-based contexts is a helpful feature of Omnifocus for iOS. When I show up at work, I’m notified with any tasks that I need to do in that context. If I happen to be traveling for work or working from home, I can still get to that info by just selecting the “work” context within the app.

4. Forecast/Flagged: Forecast and Flagged are separate section, but they both align with “prioritization of actions based on life goals” (number 4 above).

Forecast allows me to organized based on due dates and defer dates. A due date is the day a certain task needs to be completed. A defer date is the day a certain task should be started.

Flagged items are what they sound like. They’re things that are high priority. For me, they are typically things I keep forgetting. Maybe even things that I’ve put off for a week. But the flagged section reminds me that I have something high priority to do.

5. Review: The review sections reminds me to go through my projects and tasks on a regular basis. I can set review recurrence for each project, and each time a project pops into the review section, I have a chance to go through the tasks and clean them up.

What are some specific ways that I use Omnifocus?

Life Stuff: I keep track of simple life stuff in Omnifocus. I have a recurring task for things like getting a haircut, shining my shoes and washing my sheets. Yes, I’d do these either way, but since Omnifocus holds all my life tasks, I can use it to more effectively prioritize even the life stuff.

People: I am horrible at remembering to keep in touch with people, especially those I never see. To help with this, I have a project called “People”, and I explained it in a post last year, Keeping Up with Everyone.

Since I’ve been in Houston, I’ve thought a lot about how to keep in touch with my college friends, professors, coworkers, mentors and even family. Looking back, I’m realizing that I’ve never been very good at it. I can see how I’ve let wonderful relationships from my high school years fade away, and I don’t want to do that again.

With this in mind, I came up with a plan. I made a list of 30 people and immediately realized how small this number is compared to the number of people I want to and should be keeping in touch with. But you have to start somewhere, right? So I began by adding these people to my task manager, Omnifocus. If you don’t use Omnifocus, I’m sure you could do this with another task manager or even a calendar. I scheduled each person to a day of the month, and put him or her on repeat (some weekly, some biweekly, some monthly & still others every three months). I am now reminded on a daily basis to reach out to someone that I care about. I’ve already found this practice encouraging to me and to others. I’m continuing to add friends, family and coworkers to my list, and I’m having fun with it. It’s exciting to check Omnifocus to see who I’ll get to chat with today.

My list has grown to 53 people. I struggle to keep up with all of them, but I've definitely found this practice beneficial.

Personal Projects and Work: I also have projects for things like work, personal reading and wedding planning. For example I used an Omnifocus project for building my website.

Dreams: My newest project is called "Dreams". It's really just a bucket list. I put these long-term goals in Omnifocus because if I didn't, they'd never be prioritized.


I’ve been using Omnifocus and some variation of GTD since college. Omnifocus is still one of my most-used and overall favorite apps for iOS and Mac. In my experience, it has been reliable, hugely powerful, rarely buggy and consistently updated. The Mac and iOS apps are meant to be used together. I wouldn’t recommend using only one. They have slightly different but complementing features.

It’s been fun to share how I keep track of my life, but I realize not everyone works the same way. I’d love to hear your process.

  • How do you keep track of your life?
  • Do you follow a specific methodology? GTD?
  • What's your most valuable tool for organizing and prioritizing?

Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @TimothyBuckSF.