To get more done, do less

There is no hard and fast rule, but I would suggest incorporating a rest day once every seven to 10 days. The key is to listen to your body and its signals, irrespective of your planned training schedule. Spending the afternoon trawling the Gap for a bargain, pulling up every weed in your overgrown garden or trying in vain to assemble a wardrobe do not count as rest.

Buttocks-on-sofa is the position to assume.

To reiterate, it is not wasted time. Push aside any (unnecessary and self-destructive) feelings of guilt or laziness and trust that resting makes you better, faster, stronger and more resilient (and also gives you the chance to watch “Top Gun” for the 100th time).

Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman champ. The importance of R&R

OK. I’ll believe her.

It’s backed up by research on memory — doing nothing really seems to actually get things done. I can definitely attest that working too much is bad for your brain (and body, although I think the physical effects are more obvious). It’s almost like being depressed — it really takes everything out of you. The first time you feel this, you won’t even know what’s happening. It’s only when you look back after a while of relaxing that you can realize it.

The best warning sign: if you find yourself disliking something that you used to love, you should take a break from it. Time off can be a miracle cure, because too much of anything is a bad thing. Even water can kill you.

The dose makes the poison

Paracelsus aka Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim

Consistency of opinion

There’s a blog post I’ve liked for a long time now. It’s from a guy who sent a postcard to Warren Buffett, asking for a piece of wisdom to someone who Warren had never met.

The reply on the postcard was “read, read, read”.

I’ve always liked this answer. And now I like it more.

Bob Rodriguez is CEO of First Pacific Advisors, and is a ridiculously successful investor. In 1974 he asked Charlie Munger (Buffet’s business partner) what would make him a better investor.

“In the fall of 1974 I was in graduate school at USC taking a portfolio-management investment course. The financial markets were in difficulty, and I didn’t understand how securities were being sold at such depressed levels. I had only recently discovered Security Analysis by Graham and Dodd when we had a guest lecturer come in named Charlie Munger, who went on about this idea of value investing. After the class was over, I walked up to Charlie and asked him if there was one thing that I could do that would make me a better investment professional. His answer was, ‘Read history, read history, read history.’ And so I became a good historian, reading both economic and financial history as well as general history.

“What I learned is that people relate to the crises they have experienced. So when the crisis of 2008 came, it felt like an old friend to me because it had so many similarities to the banking crisis of 1907. Asking Charlie’s advice and then reading history allowed me to put those things in context.”

And 34 years later, in 2008, Buffet tells some random guy to “read, read, read”. He didn’t use the words “read everything you can” or “be sure to read lots of books” or “get off my damn lawn”. It was “read, read, read”.

Makes me happy.

Bonus image from reddit the other day, titled “The Issue In A Nutshell”


This video is titled “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”. At about 3:38, Feynman discusses his father and how Feynman was raised.

This is video of someone who is arguably one of the smartest people to ever live, who is widely known for being able to explain things well, and who is at an advanced enough age that he’s had a lot of time to think about his own life, as well as watch other humans grow from children into adults (which means he’s been able to observe the process many times).

To me, that makes the next 90 seconds very interesting. I think he explains the secrets of raising genuinely smart kids (or rather, what to do with kids in order to raise a genuinely smart adult).

  1. Spend time with them
  2. reading facts to them
  3. and discussing what you’ve read with an emphasis on relationships between things, cause and effect, etc.

You’re teaching the kid how to process thoughts — literally a “thought process”. You’re teaching them how to process the written word (and spoken word), as well as what to do when they have the thought in their head: do I understand this thing? Is it true given all the other things I know are true? If this is true, what else must be true?

And the rest of the video is good too.

Batman drank ginger ale

Bruce Wayne drinks ginger ale at parties to help keep his body and mind in top shape. I don’t have a good source for this, in that there’s no single authoritative reference that I can link to.

Since I don’t have a single authoritative reference, let’s go with this: a comic about two dinosaurs, one of whom is going to give up drinking. I’m talking about a comic character anyways, right? Another comic is basically a primary source.

There’s also Wikipedia. Just go to the Batman page, and then search in the page for “ginger ale”.

This makes me happy, because I like Batman/Bruce Wayne, and I also like ginger ale. Generally when I’m at a bar, there’s whiskey and a slice of lime involved, but this isn’t a bad idea for ending the night if I have to drive.

Also, Batman used ginger ale as a replacement for champagne. Something worth remembering for NYE. Happy 2012, everyone!

On Tools & Results

Some people love to focus on their tools — photography comes to mind.

I don’t own any photography equipment that’s nicer than my iPhone. For me, always having a camera on me is much more worthwhile than having a very nice camera and lens set that gets left at home because it’s harder to carry.

I don’t own any film cameras, and I don’t own a DSLR (although I might rent something if I’m going someplace that I expect to be particularly photogenic). I have nothing against nice cameras, and one day I will get one with a good lens so that I can take pictures with a foreground and a background, but until then, I’m content to take pictures like these:

Artsy photo

I’m not the only person who thinks this way. Here’s a walkthrough of the difference between pictures from cameras that cost $150 and $5,000.

I like when Ice Cube talks about how Mr & Mrs Eames took advantage of what they had. It’s easy to impress people by working with the best tools and supplies. If they had one-of-a-kind, oversize glass panes custom-produced for the house, it would naturally be impressive to many people. Instead, by using ordinary ingredients, and treating them skillfully, they create something impressive to untrained eyes, and they get respect from pros, because the only thing really used was skill.

You see the same pattern in other areas, food, for example. There’s an episode of Kitchen Nightmares (UK) where Gordon Ramsay trains a chef on how to make oxtail delicious — and he explicitly says that it’s always a sign of a talented chef who can take a plain and ordinary ingredient, and turn it into a delicious meal. In addition, it’s an easy way to make a nice profit: cheap ingredients, impressive results. (There’s a corollary here: it’s not what you’re drinking, it’s who you’re drinking it with)

Or in life…what’s more impressive? The child of an upper class family, educated in private schools, who goes onto become a Senator; or the child who grows up in urban projects, fought and struggled to succeed, and becomes a Senator. There’s a reason we love rags-to-riches stories in America — it ties into our belief that with the right skill and attitude, you can take ordinary inputs and produce extraordinary results.

I’m sure there are many other areas that I’m not thinking of where this pattern repeats.

I don’t mean to knock an investment in tools. Even Gordon Ramsay would have a difficult time trimming a steak if all he had was a butter knife. Or a spork. Ansel Adams would probably notice if you gave him a cheap camera. A good tool has a multiplier effect — it takes the level of skill and makes the result better. But that still means that if you want to see an improvement in results, as long as the tool is “good enough”, you’re better off focusing on improving your skills — the improvement in skills will continue to be multiplied by the good tool, and you’ll have gained something that can’t be taken away.

Or to be lighthearted about it: it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it that counts. 😉


I like this. It’s a classic Zen story, and the video is good.

It reminds me of that speech Will Smith gave. Running & reading. It’s the modern day version of the body-and-mind connection that the Greeks talked about.

He’s got a phrase that he’s used in other interviews: “die on a treadmill”. I’m not sure if I should be proud that I’ve nearly done this.

There’s a story that I heard about Timbaland. Apparently if he’s got work to do but gets invited to a release party, he’ll show up for 15 minutes, shake hands, offer congratulations, and then go back to the studio. That’s how to hustle.

Of course, there’s another side to this, just to keep the universe in check: be careful what you wish for. You can get anything you want, make sure it’s what you really want.

Mostly unrelated:

Charlie Munger’s Thoughts on the World

Economists have long been divided by a simple problem. When you go to the movie theater, soda and popcorn costs a totally unfair price compared with other locations. This just tortures economists. At least 1 million man-hours have gone into trying to solve this problem. Economists understand that a first-class ticket on an airplane costs more than coach. They get that one. Its marginal utility. But they cant figure out the movie theater to save their lives.

Here’s the Munger approach to the problem. In the auto world, a car manufacturer will sell a car for $40,000, and charge $200 for the extra gizmo. No one cares about the extra $200 when you’re already spending $40,000. Its insignificant. The movie theater is basically the same thing. People are OK paying that much for a soda after they’ve paid so much for an admission ticket.

Now, psychologists can explain this clearly. Economists can’t for the life of them. Its so simple what happens when you think beyond your trained field. Its amusing to see someone spend 1 million man-hours on something I can solve with my left hand.

– Charlie Munger

I dig the guy. He’s a little angry-cynical, but often right. I wonder about his million man-hour claim on the above problem.

You can read both parts of his last annual meeting by going through Google (to get around the registration process Motley Fool has):

Treat your waiter politely

The Waiter Rule also applies to the way people treat hotel maids, mailroom clerks, bellmen and security guards. Au Bon Pain co-founder Ron Shaich, now CEO of Panera Bread, says he was interviewing a candidate for general counsel in St. Louis. She was “sweet” to Shaich but turned “amazingly rude” to someone cleaning the tables, Shaich says. She didn’t get the job.

Shaich says any time candidates are being considered for executive positions at Panera Bread, he asks his assistant, Laura Parisi, how they treated her, because some applicants are “pushy, self-absorbed and rude” to her before she transfers the call to him.

Just about every CEO has a waiter story to tell. Dave Gould, CEO of Witness Systems, experienced the rule firsthand when a waitress dumped a full glass of red wine on the expensive suit of another CEO during a contract negotiation. The victim CEO put her at ease with a joke about not having had time to shower that morning. A few days later, when there was an apparent impasse during negotiations, Gould trusted that CEO to have the character to work out any differences.

via – CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character.

Old people, Sweeden, and Dollars.

As I mentioned, I was at this investment meeting last week. They gave us a bunch of papers, and being a giant nerd, I actually read the stuff. (Hey, I do want to retire, and sooner rather than later)

There were a few things I read that I think are interesting for the long term.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute and the US Bureau of the Census, we’re gonna have a lot of old people soon. Yeah, big surprise. Well, let’s put some numbers to it. Here’s the number of people over 65.

  • 1990 – 31.2 million
  • 2000 – 35.0 million
  • 2010 – 40.2 million
  • 2020 – 54.6 million
  • 2030 – 71.5 million

We’re going to nearly double the number of old people in the next 20 years. Buy stock in Ensure. No, really. Buy stock in companies that make stuff for old people. That’s one of the big reasons people are freaking out about health-care. We’re going to need lots more doctors & medical technology, and the price is going up. Apparently, health-care costs are currently increasing 3x faster than the Consumer Price Index.

Oh also, old people? Thanks for taking care of Social Security. And by “taking care”, I mean “can we get some health-care to replace Social Security’s kneecaps after that cool thing you did with the crowbar?” You people just can’t handle credit, can you?

In the early 90s, Sweden had a financial crisis. In the 80s, they had a credit boom which produced high consumer spending and real estate prices. They had a currency crisis, in the 90s, and the boom was reversed. Sounds a bit like now. I think this is what the US is looking to as a model for our current crisis, because Sweden was able to solve their problem in only a few years. They nationalized 22% of banking assets, and then created some private companies to help come  up with values for, and sell off the bad assets. I hope it works in our case.