Moving the Baseline

Everything has a ground floor, a baseline. The baseline drives everything, it functions as the core status quo in which everything is compared to. Without it comparisons would be harder to find. A baseline is nothing more than a defined set of standards that everybody can agree on is acceptable. For the sake of this essay I will define the baseline as the simply the average.

Think of a bell curve, it’s a simple bell shaped graph increasing from right to left until it hits a certain value, then it proceeds to decrease from that value downwards in perfect symmetry.

 A normal distribution, aka a bell curve
A normal distribution, aka a bell curve

Sitting the middle is the average, the baseline in which everything is measured relative to. If you fall on the right side of the baseline you are under performing, if you’re on the left you’re over performing. The x-axis shows the measured value, the y-axis is the frequency. If you’re a runner and you typically run at an average pace of 9 miles those 9 miles sit directly in the middle of the curve. When you have an off day and run 7 miles you’re performing on the right side of the graph, and on days when you have enough stamina to go for a half marathon you’re on the right.

The baseline isn’t static, in fact it moves all the time, a common way that you can move it is by setting goals. A goal is a new baseline you’re trying to reach.


When a goal is set you begin incrementally moving the bell curve towards this new desired baseline. In the case of running let’s say you plan on increasing you average distance to 15 miles. So you begin incrementally growing it, day by day. First you increase your stamina by running ten miles more often, then eleven, then twelve, all the way until you hit your desired average of fifteen. Once it becomes easy for you, you developed a new baseline, a new average in which to measure all things with.

 I apologize for the graphic, all I had to work with was MS Paint
I apologize for the graphic, all I had to work with was MS Paint

However a strange thing happens when you move this baseline. What is not illustrated in these graphics is that everybody has their own baseline, you have your own average, but there are also global averages and community averages. If you push yourself further away from the global average you know you’re doing pretty well, however in that case you will end up entering a new tier, a new community in which you are compared to.

When running you used to be compared to the 10k runners a lot, there you were a top dog running three more miles compared to them, but you were below average for the half marathon runners. Well now you’ve hit fifteen miles, you’re doing roughly two more miles than the half marathoners out there, you’re looking pretty good, but yet fifteen miles is now eleven miles shorter than a marathon. On average you’re better than the global average of all runners, you’re better than the community averages in the 10k and half marathon communities, but your still far behind the averages of the marathon runners.

It can be easy to get blinded by the fact that you’re not doing your best when compared to the marathon runners, pride is a powerful emotion, but that’s fine. What matters is that you moved the baseline and that you’re already outperforming your old baseline. It could be hard to accept that you’re not there yet, but don’t let that hold you back, you’ve already increased your baseline once before, you can do it again. After all, progress is progress.


Day 18

Word Count: 595

Cost per Post: $8.66

The Attention Ecosystem

Inside your phone is a lies an garden of apps, an ecosystem curated to you by you, but an ecosystem that has one singular source of nourishment: you. Your time, your engagement, your information are all valuable resources for each and every one of those apps, without you they wouldn’t exist.

Like the sun shining down and providing the energy needed to sustain life on Earth, your face is a beacon of light and primary energy source for each of these apps. However, unlike the sun, your time with them is limited and can mostly be used on a one by one basis, and sometimes neglected all together when you’re spending time away from the screen. In short, unlike the sun, you are a scarce resource, and whenever an ecosystem can only survive on a singular scarce resource competition is inevitable.

Through competition these apps are forced to evolve and develop new tactics to hold your attention as long as possible. Each and every single one of them must adapt or perish, creating an arms race. Maybe the app begins filling your phone with notifications to remind you of a new status update, or by consolidating all your communications to one messenger, or create reward systems via refreshing the page to show you new things that you’re guaranteed to like. Like biology each one has developed a means to survive in a an every growing ecosystem.

Think of the apps on your phone, which ones take most of your time? Are they necessary? And if so are they needed to the extent of which you use them? Do you enjoy using the ones that aren’t necessary? How often do you use them? Apps are like food, you can eat whatever you want but it’s great to keep your diet well balanced.

Think of your phone as a garden and you are the gardener, you have complete control over what you plant in it and what you decide to eat. It is your job to maintain a healthy information diet, and I don’t doubt that you do, however at times it can be easy to over indulge in less healthy meals. They taste good, that’s fine, but like sweets if you consume too much you might be happy in the moment, but not in the long run. So maintain your garden and your meals to support a more balance diet. Perhaps you set up apps like BlockSite or Cold Turkey to prevent yourself from accidentally indulging during pre-determined hours, or maybe you only access one service through the web browser only instead of providing a space in your garden for it to grow. Maybe you see your indulgence might be getting out of hand and it’s time for a fast or diet plan.

Your phone is a wonderful ecosystem of amazing apps developed by brilliant people to give you the experience you want. However, like all ecosystems competition is inevitable, especially when given a singular scarce resource like your own attention. Be the gardener of your own ecosystem, but beware that if you don’t attempt to take control of it, your garden will become overrun and taking you with it.

We only have so much time in the day, make sure you’re the one deciding how you want to spend it.

This essay was inspired by CGP Grey’s video essay “Thinking About Attention”, Hello Internet Episode 108 “Project Cyclops.” If you are interested in ways to tend to your garden in a healthy manner, or are worried you’re over indulging on certain apps, I highly recommend you check out Time Well Spent. Time Well Spent is an ongoing project to promote human centered design and make your phone work for you in a symbiotic relationship, instead of competing for you.


Day 17

Word Count: 629

Cost per Post: $9.17

Meal Prepping: Saving Time in Bulk

I’ve written about the importance of weekly planning and why time tracking is important, now I want to write about something that combines the philosophy of those two: meal prepping. Meal prepping sits at the cross section of planning and time saving, the entire philosophy behind the action of meal prepping is that you plan out your meals for the upcoming week, and instead of cooking them individually each day, you cook it all at once, add it into some handy Tupperware containers then refrigerate and reheat when ready to eat.

As you can save by buying in bulk, you save time by cooking in bulk. No longer is it needed to cook every night after a long day of work, or give into the temptation of fast food when you’re too exhausted to cook a meal on the grill. All it takes is an hour or two in the kitchen every Sunday and you’re set until the upcoming weekend.

A common practice of meal prepping is to cook in bulk and eat the same meal over and over again throughout the week. This saves you in time (less clean up between meals) and money (you buy in bulk instead of five different sets of ingredients). If eating the same thing over and over again doesn’t appeal to you, it is possible to prepare each meal individually, at the cost of a more expensive bill and more time in the kitchen, but at the very least you will have your meals done and ready to do by the time you’re ready to eat.

If you’re interested in meal prepping I highly recommend you checking out the subreddit /r/MealPrepSunday. Meal Prep Sunday is a community of people who love the practice of meal prepping and is full of terrific recipes, and tips.

So if the idea of cooking in bulk to save time during the work week, or save you money form giving into fast food temptations, I highly cannot recommend meal prepping enough.


Day 16

Word Count: 333

Cost per Post: $9.74

Thank the Artist

Art is a hard career. In every career the superstar effect is always present, but in some careers more than others the superstar effect makes or breaks who can just get by to keep their lights on. Art, of most kinds, is one of these.

Art is the ultimate form of self expression, when an artist makes something they are making it for themselves, and if it catches on and people love it, the artist can make a career out of it. There is a famous essay by Kevin Kelly titled A Thousand True Fans, in which he argues that in order to have a sustainable lifestyle as an artist or content creator you shouldn’t focus on going big or going home, but instead focus on building a narrow but deep community of around a thousand people. All you need is a thousand people who love your work and want to help you succeed to keep your lights on as long as you keep producing great content.

I strongly believe that if you find an artist you love, especially ones that speak to you, you should make an effort to let them know how much you appreciate their work. It’s one thing to get paid, but it’s another to personally tell somebody how you feel about their work. One of my favorite pastimes is discovering new musicians and albums, especially small time artists who probably only get a few hundred in income from Spotify or Google Play listens outside of live shows. When I find these artists that really speak to me I not only will share their music across communities like reddit’s Listen to This, but I will personally reach out to them on social media to let them know that their work has personally spoken to somebody today.

Letting somebody know that their work, the work that they put hours, days, weeks or months into has connected to a stranger on a personal level is a reward every creator and artist out there wants. You are letting them know that they are appreciated, and that they have one more fan to add to their thousand true fans. If you find a song you like, a painting you love, a story you just can’t stop thinking of, always remember: thank the artist.


Day 15

Word Count: 383

Cost per Post: $10.39

The Role of Local Government

The role of local government is a simple one: to provide the foundations necessary for its citizens to live their lives, simple as that. The government lays the foundations of power, water, transportation, the economy, public safety, and many more aspects of life needed to sustain the city and its population. This is done through zoning, utility departments, police & fire departments, and economic policies. If the government does it right, you may never know it’s there, save election cycles.

The city council and mayor provide the necessary representation needed to address these needs, it is up to the city manager to execute upon the desires of the public. The manager then hands off the goals to the many different departments to carry out the solutions. Each department works within their own constraints to address these needs, maybe with a new power line or a community center.’

Priorities are made through the city’s budget, which is determined through a joint effort between the council, mayor and manager. A city is always in constant flux, and so a budget must be updated annually and adjusted to address the needs then and now of its people.

How the city is structured also influences how it accomplishes its goal. There are many forms of municipal government out there: council-manger, mayor-council, commission, and town meetings. In a council-manager government the council and city manager hold the highest power, the mayor mostly there to represent the city at large but holds no veto power. In a mayor-council government the mayor functions closer to that of a governor or president and carries out the day to day work needed to keep the people of the city happy and holds veto power. A commission government is a little different, the department heads are directly elected by the public to commission the operation of their specific fields. Finally in a town meeting everybody from the city gets together to discuss how the city will be ran and functions as a pure democracy.

Each city is unique in its own regard, but each government serves the same function, no matter how it’s structured: to provide the foundation necessary to gives the people the lives they are entitled to live.


Day 14

Word Count: 370

Cost per Post: $11.13

A Brief History of Podcasting: Serial and the Birth of the Indie Podcast Renaissance

Back in December 2014 a show about an a potentially wrongly convicted man made its way across the air. This show wasn’t broadcasted the usual way, through the airwaves into your car stereo, no this little show was transmitted through the internet through a wifi router and straight into millions of people’s phones. This singlar show, produced by an A team staff, would introduce the world to a yet-to-be-legitimized medium of entertainment. Suddenly the term podcast would enter the zeitgeist, and the show that revealed it to the public was serial.

 Google searches for Serial (Red) and Podcast (Blue)
Google searches for Serial (Red) and Podcast (Blue)

Since December 2014 the world of podcasting has boomed. Suddenly the term “podcaster” was a legitimate profession people could put on their business cards. It was no longer defined as “it’s radio, on the internet.” People knew what podcast meant. And soon people began thinking “Hey, podcasts are just audio files right? How can I make one?” And thus the indie podcasting renaissance was born two years after the release of Serial.

We are in a new era similar to that of the birth of blogging or the birth of YouTube, and yet it is a return to the earliest form of mass entertainment save written. Audio has always been a part of human culture with news shows, and audio dramas dating back to the birth of radio. From Stuff You Should Know and 99 Percent Invisible to your best friend Alex’s new show on local events, to audio dramas like The Black Tapes of Within the Wire. Unlike their predecessors limited by air times, station bureaucracy, and FCC regulations the realm of audio is entering the beginning of a new era of creativity, a podcasting renaissance unlike anything ever heard before.


Day 13

Word Count: 260

Cost per Post: $11.99

There Are No Solutions, Only Tools

If you’re a productivity junkie like myself it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the world of tips, tricks, and hacks to make it easier to get things done. From Tim Ferris to books from small time bloggers, each telling you that if you were to do this one simple thing your life would get so much better and you can reach your goals better.

The next thing you know your morning routine consists of reading for ten minutes before leaving bed, a three mile run, a twenty minute meditation, a five minute ice shower, three minutes of gratitude journaling, cooking your own meal, and then leaving for work. Every day at work you use five planners with different methods to keep your day and notes organize, you take long lunch breaks to exercise again, and only eat keto. At night before bed you meditate again, journal about your favorite parts of the day, fill in spreadsheets about your daily performance. By the time you realize it it’s midnight and you have to be up at 5am to begin your day again. Living a life with taking the advice from every productivity guru out there is overwhelming and unsustainable.

Now what I am not saying is that you should just abandon everything, or that all productivity gurus are wrong. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let these tips and tricks cloud your judgement and take away your time. You only have so many hours in the day, you should use them the best way you can. I once spiralled down into a hole of productivity systems that ate too much into my mornings and evenings that everything felt more like a chore that I had to get off my checklist, or else! The example above is pretty damn close to what I went through, until one day it hit me. I was doing this all wrong. These habits and routines weren’t the solutions to my problems, they were only tools to be used as a means to solve my problems and attain my goals. So I went back to the drawing board and reflected on what I wanted.

The mindset of there are no solutions, only tools freed up so much mental space. Things were now in my control. Sure I still experiment around with different task manager and habits, but I don’t incorporate them in my life full time unless it helps me fulfill a goal. After all, there are no solutions, only tools.


Day 12

Word Count: 415

Cost per Post: $12.99