Tomo, Developer

Tomo

“I think there would be some drugs involved to be honest… and some elements of hedonism and a lot of music. I think I would enjoy a mix of those 3 things.” (Tomo, 39, USA)

Tomo’s perfect day:

  • Psychedelic drugs – “it’s not about feeling good or euphoric or numbing pain, but actually about changing the way you experience things. It would be a day where your senses are enhanced or altered. Because of that it would be a very abnormal day. It would also warp your sense of time.”
  • Music
  • Unplanned – “[music / psychedelics] are just the start. the perfect day wouldn’t be planned much further than that… ideally, you would be able to do what you want for the rest of the day.”

Tomo’s music recommendation

  • Richie Hawtin – electronic DJ

Salah, Coffee Shop Owner

“People are greedy and always want more: lots of money, girls, fun nights out. When you’re young you want everything fast, you don’t know what’s important. As you get older, you realize that the things that matter are the small things, the things you take for granted. You never realize what you have until you lose it.” (Salah, 31, Yemen)

Salah’s perfect day:

  • Good health for him and his family
  • The people you love are okay
  • Being “home,” which means being with the people you love

In his early 20s, Salah made “perfect money” working for his family’s construction business in Yemen. He’d party weekends in Dubai. But then suddenly war forced his factory to close. He moved abroad, pursuing a childhood dream and opening coffee shops in Malaysia and Vietnam.

Chew, Retired IT Professional

Chew

“I love my [retired] life right now. Life is good. I can’t complain. It’s wonderful.” (Chew, 69, USA)

Chew’s perfect day:

  • Sleep in, get up late
  • Have a nice breakfast, read the newspaper
  • Check the stock market
  • Play pickle ball
  • Have a late lunch
  • Sample free food at Costco
  • Stretch at 24-Hour Fitness
  • Take hot shower
  • Take a nap
  • Dinner with wife
  • Watching mixed-martial arts on TV
  • Taichi and go to bed late

He would want to feel:

  • Like it was a long day, so he’s tired and can sleep quickly

Ramon, CEO

Ramon

“I got to think about what I wanted to be and I got to spend it with the people I love.” (Ramon, 42, USA)

Ramon talked about 3 perfect days from his past, present and future.

Past: At 23 he flew with his brother and best friend to a gaming convention in Dallas. They had dreams of starting a business together. “I remember taking notes and observing everybody. The sky was the limit. I felt like I was young and could do anything.” Then Ramon flew to Las Vegas. He won enough money to pay for the entire trip, plus tickets to the musical Stomp for his best friends and crush.

Present: this year Ramon got married – “There are only 2 times you can get everyone in a room that matter to you, your wedding and your funeral.”

Future: doing charity work with his wife.

Ramon’s perfect days share 3 common elements:

  • A day of possibility
  • With the girl you’re in love with
  • Surrounded by good friends and family

Grace, Retired Homemaker & Accountant

“A perfect day is totally relaxed and I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, spend whatever I want, and be with whoever I want.” (Grace, 67, USA)

Grace’s perfect day:

  • Spending day with family in relaxing way
  • Be on a cruise ship – “you don’t have to figure out where to eat, how you’re going to feed the whole family, what type of food everyone likes, and anyone can be anywhere they want but together.”
  • Thankful for what she has – “roof over head, food on the table, don’t have to worry about health and finances, being American”

She would want to feel:

  • Totally relaxed
  • Grateful for what you have

Cô Hoà, Vietnamese Language Teacher

Co Hoa

“My perfect day is simple. Beautiful weather, good food, lots of time, with family – that’s it.” (Cô Hoà, 20s, Vietnam)

Cô Hoà’s perfect day:

  • Beautiful weather (no rain)
  • Wake up early at 7am
  • Has lots of time to cook, watch TV and read 
  • Doesn’t have to work
  • See beautiful scenery
  • Be with family the whole day

She would want to feel:

  • Comfortable
  • Happy

Marc, Dancer & Videographer

Marc

“A perfect day has an element of surprise. I don’t want to know what happens between noon and 7pm. I want to leave that up to chance.” (Marc, 28, USA)

Marc’s perfect day:

  • Early morning walk going nowhere
  • See the city wake up to the sun
  • Break a sweat in the gym
  • Breakfast with a loved one
  • Making a movie from start-to-finish for 4-5 hours – “it’s pure magic”
  • Check social media and “live in virtual cave”
  • Not having a plan and getting lost somewhere  – “An element of getting lost while on the way to something. Because that makes time seem to slow down. You start to take in all the sights. You take it in slower perhaps? It makes that day seem like journey.”
  • Watching the sunset – “A day that you see the sunset is a day not wasted”
  • Playing board games with parents
  • Dancing from 10pm-5am at an Afro-Latin dance festival

He would want to feel:

  • High on caffeine, with a sense of clarity and awesomeness

Recs:

  • Monopoly Deal Pack
  • Beautiful Light by Uppermost

Sparky, Waiter

Sparky

“When I was a kid there was a river behind my place. I would go there and fish the whole morning. When I catch something I just bring it back to my Grandma and say, ‘Hey I have some fish. We have food today.’ At that time my family was very poor so I had to live far away from my parents and live with my grandma. We tried to grow rice, vegetables, chickens, everything we can to have food everyday. For me a perfect day when I catch some fish to bring back to my grandma. It would make me proud.” (Sparky, early 20s, Vietnam)

Sparky’s perfect day:

  • Fish all morning, bring fish home for grandma
  • Need people by his side
  • See girlfriend after work, chit chat, and think about future

He would want to feel:

  • Loved – “I want to give love and warmth to friends and family. I know how we miss the warmth and the love.” 
  • Not stressed – “not think too much”

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

Big Idea: 

Design choices that place people and purpose at center of gatherings make them transformative.

Context:

Trained in the field of conflict resolution, Priya Parker is a professional facilitator. She helps activists, politicians, businessmen, educators, and philanthropists create transformative gatherings. She has worked on race relations on American colleges and on peace processes in the Arab world. She studied organizational design at MIT and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

My Personal Story:

I have a theory: you can know more about someone from 5 minutes on a basketball court than 5 months in an office. Whether it’s basketball or board games, shared, non-work activities show people’s true colors. This book helped me understand the fundamentals of transformative gatherings. 

Exercise 1

Commit to a gathering about something. Don’t conflate category with purpose. For example, don’t celebrate turning 40. Instead ask yourself the purpose of your birthday party this specific year. 

“Gatherings that please everyone occur, but they rarely thrill. Gatherings that are willing to be alienating— which is different from being alienating— have a better chance to dazzle. How do you arrive at a something worth gathering about? What are the ingredients for a sharp, bold, meaningful gathering purpose? Specificity is a crucial ingredient. The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses.”

For your next gathering, make purpose your bouncer. Let it decide what goes into your gathering and what stays out. Specifically, pay special attention to who you invite and who you don’t. Yes, this means excluding people – even good friends or important people – if their presence distracts from the gathering’s purpose.

Exercise 2

Rules-based gatherings bring freedom and openness to gatherings. Use rules to create a temporary alternative world.

“There is a certain kind of fun in trying something for a bounded moment. The kind of restriction that might feel oppressive if permanent can seem compelling and intriguing when it applies sometimes, as part of a conscious effort to create that temporary alternative world.”

For example:

The Influencer Salon gathers 12 strangers every month to cook and eat together. The invitation contained these rules:

  • Conversation: we ask that guests do not discuss their careers or give their last names until after the presentation portion of the evening
  • Photography: photos are only allowed during the presentation portion
  • Attendance: People who confirm and do not attend are unlikely to be invited again

Some other rules I liked while reading this book:

  • You are not allowed to buy your own drink
  • One conversation at meals
  • Turn off technology
  • No talking about kids
  • Wear white, including socks, shoes and headpieces
  • If you’re going, be there from start to finish
  • If you don’t respond to the RSVP you won’t be invited again
  • Share challenging moments that seldom come up in ordinary conversations

Implement at least 1 rule that enforces the gathering’s purpose.

Exercise 3

Like all good stories, memorable gatherings start and end with a bang.

Start your gathering off by priming, ushering and launching.

Your gathering begins at the moment your guests first learn of it, not at the actual event. Take advantage of this pre-game window to sow any special behaviors you want to blossom at the event. 

“Every gathering benefits or suffers from the expectations and spirit with which guests show up… priming can be as simple as a slightly interesting invitation, as straightforward as asking your guests to do something instead of bring something… it could be the way you name your gathering.”

Then help usher your guests across the threshold of your gathering. How can you great a physical or psychological passageway that tunes out the prior reality and captures people’s attention and imagination? This could be a door, passage, trip, or even greeting guests as they arrive.

Then launch the event by awe-ing guests and honoring them.

“The opening is, therefore, an important opportunity to establish the legitimacy of your gathering… your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy. It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honor them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.”

Endings should mirror your openings. When you feel energy waning or conversations dying, announce a last call to signal the outbound ushering process.

“So you’ve issued your last call, people have been primed to think about the end, and the event is winding down. How do you actually close? A strong closing has two phases, corresponding to two distinct needs among your guests: looking inward and turning outward. Looking inward is about taking a moment to understand, remember, acknowledge, and reflect on what just transpired— and to bond as a group one last time. Turning outward is about preparing to part from one another and retake your place in the world.”

For example, the organizers of TED ask a comedian to close a days-long conference with a 15 minute wrap.

You can also reaffirm not just what the group did but who they were during the gathering.

Then connect the world of the gathering to the world outside. That could be a verbal or written pledge, a physical symbol, a letter written to their future self, a gift to turn an impermanent moment into a permanent memory.

Think through how your gathering’s opening and ending. For the opening focus on 1 action you’ll take to prime, usher, and launch the gathering. For the ending, make sure to have a last call, and  closing session that looks inwards and turns outwards before re-entry into the real world. DO NOT start or end your gathering with logistics. 

Quote:

“Gatherings crackle and flourish when real thought goes into them, when (often invisible) structure is baked into them, and when a host has the curiosity, willingness, and generosity of spirit to try.”

“Before every gathering she creates, she asks herself two questions: What is the gift? And what is the risk? She thinks of each of her gatherings as fulfilling a specific need for a specific group of people. But for that gift to be given, she has learned, there needs to be some amount of risk. ‘No true gift is free of risk,’ Benedetto told me. She defines risk as ‘a threat to one’s current state that could destabilize the way things are.’ The risk is what allows for the possibility of the gift.”

Dope Footnotes

Priya believes in a certain magic of numbers and density in creating transformative gatherings. I will refer to these often! From her book:

Numbers of people

In my experience, there are certain magic numbers in groups. Every facilitator has his or her own list, and these are obviously approximations, but here are mine: 6, 12 to 15, 30, and 150.

Groups of 6: Groups of this rough size are wonderfully conducive to intimacy, high levels of sharing, and discussion through storytelling.

Groups of 12 to 15: The next interesting number is around 12. Twelve is small enough to build trust and intimacy, and small enough for a single moderator, if there is one, formal or informal, to handle. (When multiple facilitators are required at a large meeting, it is customary to divide the number of participants by 12 to figure out how many facilitators are needed.) At the same time, 12 is large enough to offer a diversity of opinion and large enough that it allows for a certain quotient of mystery and intrigue, of constructive unfamiliarity. 

Groups of 30: Thirty starts to feel like a party, whether or not your gathering is one. If smaller gatherings scale greater heights of intimacy, the group of 30 or so has its own distinctive quality: that buzz, that crackle of energy, that sense of possibility that attaches to parties.

Groups of 150: The next interesting number lies somewhere between 100 and 200. When I speak to conference organizers who think about group dynamics, the ideal range I hear again and again is somewhere between 100 and 150 people. While they disagree on the precise number, they all agree that it’s the tier at which, as one organizer told me, “intimacy and trust is still palpable at the level of the whole group, and before it becomes an audience.”

Tides of humanity: Well beyond these gathering sizes is the sea of humanity. Think Bonnaroo, the World Cup, Tahrir Square, the Million Man March, the hajj in Mecca, the Olympics. These are gatherings where the goal is not so much intimacy or connection as tapping into the convulsive energy of a massive crowd.

Density: 

Billy Mac, an event planner, swears by the following parameters for the number of square feet required per guest for different vibes: 

  • Square Feet Per Guest   |   Sophisticated   |   Lively   |   Hot 
  • Dinner party   |   20 sq. ft.   |   15 sq. ft.   |   N/ A 
  • Cocktail party   |   12 sq. ft.   |   10 sq. ft.   |   8 sq. ft. 
  • Into the night/ dance party   |   8 sq. ft.   |    6 sq. ft.   |   5 sq. ft. 

He suggests dividing the “square feet of your party space by the number to get your target number of guests.” If your entertaining space is 400 square feet and you want a sophisticated dinner party, invite 20 people. If, instead, you want a “hot” dance party, invite 80 for that same space. Mac says one of the reasons party guests often end up gravitating to the kitchen is that people instinctively seek out smaller spaces as the group dwindles in order to sustain the level of the density.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Big Idea: 

Deep Work – activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit – is economically valuable, rare in today’s knowledge economy and leads to a meaningful life.

Context:

Cal Newport is a young computer science professor at Georgetown University who has published more than 60 peer reviewed papers and 5 best selling books, all while raising a family and not working past 5:30pm and weekends. He doesn’t use social media.

My Personal Story:

Last year my MacBook was stolen so I had to work at a nearby internet cafe. I hated going there because it was full of obnoxious teens playing video games. So I would do all my thinking on pen and paper and only go there if I had to. I discovered that I only needed 1 hour online/day to complete my job. Without a computer I was more productive.

When feeling overwhelmed with distraction I usually ditch my phone and work at a riverside cafe. This matches a study Cal cites about attention restoration theory – that sending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.

Deep Work gives me a persuasive argument (backed by academic studies) to disconnect from the internet and routinize deep work.

Exercise 1:

Feel the power of deep work. 

Schedule two 60 minute sessions to complete an activity that supports your most important professional goal. This activity should be challenging but achievable so you lose track of time. No internet or phones allowed! A countdown timer helps, whether its a stop watch or Focus Timer app. How much progress did you make? How do you feel once you’re done?

Exercise 2

Integrate deep work into your schedule and support it with routines and rituals. 

Cal writes: “The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

The most useful tactic I took from this book was the idea of fixed schedule productivity: fixing a firm goal of not working past a certain time OR certain number of hours, and then working backwards to schedule deep work.

Employ fixed schedule productivity to your working week. Pick a daily shutdown time and stick to it. For Cal, that’s 5:30pm on weekdays, and no work on weekends. Then schedule your deep work within your time constraints. This habit also gives your conscious brain time to rest and your unconscious mind time to sort through your most professional challenges. Most athletes, authors and scientists cannot do more than 4 hours of deep work/day. As Nietzsche said: “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”

Exercise 3

Now further train your attention muscle by working out 1) your ability to concentrate and 2) your desire for distraction. 

Cal suggests a 1-month social media fast and scheduling every minute of your day but this is probably too much for most people. 

Instead I recommend scheduling your daily “connected time” for one week. This connected time includes texting apps, social media and internet. I went with 11:30am-12pm so I could respond to text messages and 5-7pm so I could respond to work emails. I also allowed myself 8pm+ to be connected online. 

Online research related to your deep work is allowable – but you should open and close your browser after finishing the task.

This is more about adhering to your connected times rather than the amount of time itself. So if your work requires you to be online every few hours than schedule those blocks in but stick to them.

Cal also recommends committing to a shallow work budget of 25% or less of total work time.

Shallow work is “non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted, that tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” 

To identify shallow work ask “how long would it take (in months) to train a part recent college graduate with no specialized training in my field to complete this task?”  You should focus on the tasks that would take longer.

For 5 working days schedule your daily connected time. Take note of how much time you’re spending doing deep work vs. shallow work. What routines would help you tilt the balance more towards deep work?

Quote:

“To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I’m arguing, is a transformative experience. The deep life, of course, is not for everybody. It requires hard work and drastic changes to your habits.

For many, there’s a comfort in the artificial busyness of rapid e-mail messaging and social media posturing, while the deep life demands that you leave much of that behind. There’s also an uneasiness that surrounds any effort to produce the best things you’re capable of producing, as this forces you to confront the possibility that your best is not (yet) that good. It’s safer to comment on our culture than to step into the Rooseveltian ring and attempt to wrestle it into something better.

But if you’re willing to sidestep these comforts and fears, and instead struggle to deploy your mind to its fullest capacity to create things that matter, then you’ll discover, as others have before you, that depth generates a life rich with productivity and meaning.”