Sometimes you need things to focus your attention on to keep you centred.

Since the blast, I’ve not really spoken very much. Yasmine has obviously taken it particularly hard, considering she was on the phone to her mother during the explosion itself. Shattered glass and rubble is a familiar sight in Lebanon. I would have hoped that this type of news coverage was over for the country, sadly it will never be over. I am slightly heartened by some of the support that is coming from the world, you know that things would have been different if we were not going through Corona. Fuck off 2020. Seriously, just fuck off.

Every year on the 1st of August, the peeps over at Hobonichi start their month long ‘festival’ leading up to the release of the new planners. This is the 20th Anniversary of the product line.

Last year I decided that these were not for me after having spent several years trying to use it as a journal. The format and size has not worked for me. However I have found that this type of notebook can enter my professional life.

For years I have depended on an A5 bullet journal style notebook. As I meander my way in my working life, what I do day to day has changed. Having adopted the Working Memory method, this Hobonichi Weeks would be how I would capture my thoughts and ideas in paper form, when I am away from something electronic (which surprisingly is happening more and more often).

Daily Lynchpin Tasks

Following reading Digital Minimalism, I’ve found myself circling around Cal Newport and his way of thinking. His podcast has made my digital detox cut. Even though he sends out two episodes a week, I find the information and discussion to be super useful in a practical sense.

I have been trying to refocus my mind in the little pockets of “free” time that I have available to me. One of the key takes from this week’s episode has been to identify my daily lynchpin tasks that over time build in a way that is important to me. Identifying these tasks is only part of the solution. Defining exactly when I want to do this will hopefully help me maintain this task. Each task has an elastic timeline, from 5 minutes to 1 hour tops.

I’ve settled on five separate tasks:

  1. Journalling - The plan is to begin my night time routine at my journal. 10-15min daily.
  2. Reading - I have been reading a lot more since the 21st of May, my current log is found over at kaa.bz/library. My subscription to The Economist remains, although I want to read finish reading this over the weekend over breakfast. 15-30min daily.
  3. Writing - My mornings are sacracent. This is where I do my deep work. This is my 30min to 1hour of writing that I allow myself to write by hand or in iA Writer to create the words that I am keen on doing. 30-1hour daily.
  4. Drawing - This is actually an exercise of relaxation. Doing this after I’ve had my dinner (the kids take an hour to feed, I take 15min, might as well doodle while they procrastinate about eating their veg). 15min daily.
  5. Exercise - Interspersed is some weekly exercise. 2-3 times a week I’ll be riding my bike. I’ve also started taking some 30-50 minute walks around the neighborhood, solving a problem I might be struggling with and clearing my head from things. I might add a little bit of basketball in there to loosen up as well. Depends.

Maybe doing more than I can chew to be honest, but some of these items I think I will be able to do daily, other items I might find that I miss a day or 2 a week. That’s fine, it’s not a sprint, its a marathon. Over time I hopefully will be more consistent.

Issue 031 of my newsletter In Abeyance is out. This is an important issue for me as I am changing the format a little bit to allow me to finish my book (currently finishing off chapter 07 of 12).

Ditching Mailerlite

For 26 issues I have been using Mailerlite to publish my newsletter. For the most part the experience was perfectly fine except the friction between moving from Markdown into the final email.

I switched over to the rich text editor (which admittedly in beta) and while the output was better, the friction has become unbearable. The interface in Safari iOS also does not work, by their own admission. Simple things like adding a link or deleting is just broken. Its been months of literally no improvement. The few times I have sent a support email, I’ve not had my issue resolved. Again I’m not a paying customer, but what I was reporting were bugs that could be fixed.

So what to do? I think I’m going to be moving back to Buttondown. The time spent on formatting a newsletter or wrestling with it could be better spent doing something else entirely. I am trying to reduce the friction in my life and my projects and this certainly qualifies as an important step.

What about the design? I’ve decided it doesnt really matter. Not really. What matters is that my readership get a well formatted email, that is typographically rock solid with a few minor items elements of flair. It’s likely too late for this issue (which comes out on Wednesday) but from next issue for sure.

Mohammad El Sharif

I lost my uncle.

My mother’s face crumbled on the call. She couldn’t hold back the tears. Neither could I.

He was by and large a towering figure in my life. To understand the reverence that I held for this man is to understand my mother’s own upbringing. My uncle was the same age as my father, they were in the same class - small town Lebanon. My uncle however couldn’t finish his schooling. He had to shoulder the responsibility left by his own father. My grandfather died around the ages of 50 (heart attack) and left behind him his wife and eight children. The oldest barely in her early 20s. The youngest barely a child of 4 years old. I remember considering the weight that was on his shoulders. Yet for most of his life my uncle was a jovial character. His smile always warm. Natural.

My favourite memories that are seared into my memory however are as a child he held a special place. He loved kids. So much so that even after raising his fathers, he had seven of his own. During the years of war, he would pick us all up from the airport, an arduous journey, with a smile on his face. The best welcoming committee anyone could hope for. Optimism always shining, even when the country had fallen apart.

In that same mini bus/van he would pile all the cousins (there must have been 10 of us at a time) up and take us to the beach. Then we would go and get the best ice cream in the world (I made sure we had the same at our wedding). When we got home his work was not done, he would line us all up, hose us down from all the sand and salt water before sending us off to our mothers.

Sharp. He was a do-er. He would get shit done. I remember my mother telling me about the times her brother would come back exhausted from work after most of her family had gone to sleep. My mother would make him something to eat and off to bed. Only to wake up again before the family had woken up and repeat the cycle all over again.

He wasn’t a flamboyant character. A man who always lived in modesty. A man who lived two lives. One before and after his stroke. Things changed. There was a brief time where his mind wandered. Then there was a time where he was obsessed with the family tree. Something was lost. In life, you get one body and one mind. Sometimes parts of one fail before the other.

My mother had seen him a few days earlier. They’d talked for 20 minutes (a rarified feat), but he was getting hungry so he had to excuse himself and go. You’d get a few minutes from him here and there. Always in a seeming rush. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll catch up soon.’

My uncle Mohammad died yesteday.

I could have given him my old iPhone 6, but I decided to go a little less digital. Zane is fascinated by animals and creatures and nature in general. One of the ‘annoying’ habits he’s developed is asking us to ‘take a picture’ of bugs and beetles and ants. After the 200th fly or whatever it gets a little tiring.

Instead I gave him our last point and shoot Canon I bought 12 years ago. The experience is not great but for a 6 year old it has enough buttons and complexity to allow him to fiddle while taking one picture after the other.

Sometimes you need a good old think, a piece of paper and a pen to solve the difficult problems. Today I ‘solved’ two issues that relate back to the work I am doing on Stet.Build. The first related to the format that will unlock a bunch of things for me. The second is in how I use Twitter.

On our bicycle ride to Valby park, Zane asks me ‘Dad, what is the M-sign for?’. That son is for McDonalds and its an amazing feat that you are 6 years old and we have managed to shelter you from what that establishment provides.

It also goes to shows the strength of branding, considering that intersection had plenty of other symbols, the m-sign stood out from all the noise.

One of the things that I have not managed to re-introduce to my life is the act of reading comics. It seems very strange for me, considering I was absolutely obsessed with them while growing up and then well into my 20s as well. They have mostly disappeared from my life as I have decided to concentrate on other projects.

Really the stories that I wish I had completed was Blade of the Immortal, 100 Bullets, Saga and Scalped. I’m sure I have missed a shit ton of great books that have been created, but those where stories I had invested a lot of time into and want to find out what happens. Maybe I start there (as I have most of these in some digital format) and work my way slowly back. I do have 9 whole days off starting today, might be a nice way to do a different kind of summer reading.

Issue 030 of my newsletter In Abeyance is out. This one has empathetic leadership, world energy and some analogue vs digital.

Squaring a Round Peg

Today I ventured into the office for the first time since the 1st week of March. A little over 4 months has passed. I took my bike for the first time. The ride there was mostly pleasant. Birds chirping. Sounds of church bells in the distance. The city was waking up slowly. Sun was shining in my face.

To look at Copenhagen, is to look at a city that is not going through a pandemic. Nobody is wearing masks. People are in Cafes and restaurants and bars partaking in ‘normal’ activities. I look outside my office window and I see a swarm of people outside Tivoli waiting for the doors to open.

It is very difficult to square what is going on in this country against what is happening across the world. Its not that Denmark doesn’t give a shit, its just that it sees a different threat because of this. Maybe its down to the size of the country? Maybe its how people generally respect the rules here? I expect to make more regular trips into the office to get a new perspective on life. Talk to people other than my wife and kids. Make new connections, but at a slower than usual pace.

Hopefully a second lockdown is not imminent. It took me this long to start to come out of the first one.

Micro Constraints

Its funny how things click into place.

2½ years ago, I’d all but given up on having an online presence. Then Micro.blog came along and gave me a limited framework from which to build something. Similarly I have been wanting to draw more regularly. The process makes calms me, but starting off a drawing was always a challenge. I didn’t make the process easy for myself and every time I would sit down, it was a chore to start. In a similar way, I think I have found a way to make entry simple

I have settled on is focusing on urban sketching. The idea is that this will help me understand how buildings and the built world is put together. I’m also going to be using photo reference. Not to replicate the photo as a drawing, but rather to allow me to travel the world and discover interesting details. I’m also limiting the amount of time I spend, to between 30 min to 1 hour every morning. The drawings don’t have to be a particular size, they just have to be fun. I hope to fill many, many books with tons of sketches.

I guess that is the one thing I would tell me 20 year old self. Provide proper constraints. Make it as easy for yourself as possible. And most importantly pick a time of the day and do it again and again and again.

1500

I must have imported around 500 photos and posts from Instagram and Tumblr, which leaves around 1000 posts over a 2½ year period. At first there is a question as to the reason for posting. Simply, it is primarily for myself. My site is one of the first sites I visit every morning. I head on over to the previously page and relive and remember my life from 1, 2 or more years ago. I don’t publish my deepest darkest thoughts (those I chuck into my journal), rather it is fun milestones that I would otherwise not record.

Today for instance was the first time that I took Zane on a long bike ride. It was a little bit stressful at the start as I needed to set some ground rules and make sure he kept close by and didn’t get in the way of other cyclists. Once we were inside the park it was a pure joy of just riding our bikes and exploring a park filled with trees towering above and around us. Its a moment in time, captured for me to see and relive in the future again and again.

In Denmark, kids draw things as big as their imaginations allows them, with massive sticks of chalk. Temporary graffiti. Also might use that as a self portrait.

Kinda annoyed by the smudge…but only just. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t exist in the digital world. Cmd+Z and its gone.

A small update about Affinity Publisher for iPad right at the end of this article. They cannot make this fast enough as far as I’m concerned, but I would say beginning of next year is the earliest we’re likely to get our hands on it.

From earlier today. I’ve missed playing with watercolours.

For years I have been buying art supplies and notebooks and all manner of stationary. Over the last 6 months as we have settled into life in Denmark I have the time and mental space to use all this stuff. They are like small gifts my previous self gave to my current self.

Danish summers. First you give me glorious sun. Sun like I’ve never seen before. Crisp. Pure. Clear. Then. Then you rip my heart out with changeable and non stop drizzle for 2 weeks. Begone foul deamon. Begone.

Shapr3D looks incredible. I was looking for something like this a few years ago when I was developing my very first side project. It kinda faltered around the 3D modeling stage. Maybe I can revive this project…

Also working on something else which has been burning a hole in my head for years. The year of consolidation continues. If it wasn’t for fucking Corona, this year would/could have been awesome on so many fronts.

Working on something which has been burning a hole in my brain for a few months now.

I have wondered about whether to use stock photography in my articles on Stet.Build and have decided to add some photos where I think there is something really appropriate. The surprising thing is the quality of the photos that are now freely available from places like Unsplash.

Issue 029 of my newsletter In Abeyance tackles architectural glass. This issue marks the halfway mark of the newsletter. Like everyone else on the list I’m always interested and excited to find out what the next subject is and what I will learn.

Not sure if he’s too young (he’s six), but I started reading The Hobbit to Zane as a bedtime story. Partly inspired by the latest two episodes of Revisionist History, which you should totally check out, if only for the Smaug references and music.

After nearly 4 years (maybe more?) on my Kindle, I finally finished The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero. I found a lot of his words can be applied and spread across any design practice really. It’s now available in a beautiful online edition and in a gorgeous paper package.

Love this post by Justin Duke (of Buttondown fame), The luxury of atypical success. This is kinda of how I see my work on Stet.Build. It’s something I am incredibly proud of, I’m having a ton of fun doing the work itself. The cherry on top is the amount I am learning in the process as well. Find that little project and let the moss grow.

In September iA Writer turns 10 years. Easily one of my favourite tools (digital or otherwise). Ramping up, iA have refreshed their site. As with the best ‘redesigns’, they’ve taken all the good from before, but added refinement.

Out of Corona

There was much said and discussed as the world gradually went into lockdown. The one idea that resonated with me was that we should aim to be better coming out than when we went in. For me this happened in two distinct ways:

  1. Going on the S-diet that I have managed to maintain for nearly 2 months now. Slowly I have seen my overall mood and general face look a little healthier. I don’t think about sugar (except that spoon of honey I might have with my oats). Beer intake has dropped off to a couple a week maximum and snacking has been eliminated (save for a few almonds on occasion).
  2. Reclaimed my attention from my phone and internet.During that time I was able to read multiple books and continue to do so on a regular basis. I have writing on a regular basis. I have had soo many excellent conversations with friends and family that I had also not really done in a long while.

These are two major elements of my life that I have felt had gotten away from me. The most encouraging element is that I have been able to maintain.

The very last element that I am now slowly starting to dip my toe in cautiously is social media. That is Twitter and Micro.blog. I am also in no rush to reintroduce this back into my life. For example on Micro.blog I have added Manton and Jean to my RSS feed and that is it for now, as though I was starting from zero and building the list in a very slow and purposeful manner. I don’t ever want to go back to that phase in my life when I was basically scrolling mindlessly. The signal to noise ratio has to be maintained at a point which is giving me joy and value.

On the road towards the culmination of 2 years work. Super excited.

The Flying Gherkin is a series of children’s books by Fosters & Partners. It’s funny to see a building I spent several months on during construction be used in a children’s book.

Dribbble has been a source of inspiration for a while now. More importantly however is that I enjoy looking back at the work in the same way I enjoy looking back at my photos and previous posts. So I’ll try and post something new from my work in progress on a more regular basis.

Un-hijacked

It’s now been 4 weeks into my digital detox, so its time to review how that’s been going.

The Problem

I have said this before and it absolutely remains the case but 4 weeks ago my attention was completely hijacked. I had fallen into a trap that I had enabled and partially built for myself.

  • I had 50 podcasts that I wouldn’t listen to.
  • I was subscribed to sites that would collectively pump hundreds of posts every day.
  • I was subscribed to email newsletters and services that would constantly spam me.
  • I was part of a few social networks that stole minutes from me throughout the day.
  • I found myself incapable of concentrating for a sustained period of time.
  • I would take my phone with me to bed (with the lie that it was acting as a clock, but it really wasn’t). My sleep was terrible as I would wake up in the middle of the night and I could not get back to sleep.
  • The same phone would be taken with me as we played with the kids and I would let my attention focus on this thing (even if it was for seconds or minutes).
  • I would visit ‘news’ websites that were blasting bite sized pieces of information that added nothing to my life in the interest of ‘staying current’.
  • I was texting people, thinking that this was enough for us as communication. Sadly it was nowhere near where it should be.

Sadly this had been going on for years. What is even sadder, is that looking around me, I know that I am not alone. If any of the above has resonated with you, then I honestly encourage you to try and read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and start thinking about how you want to manage your life.

Life

Like a switch that had been turned on, I was finally able to be more present around people around me. I have also been more present to people away from me having phoned a number of friends and family that I used to only text.

Sure that number could be a little better but this is barely the first month. There will be plenty of time to review.

Writing

One of the things that I implemented pretty early on is to write, on paper, every morning for about an hour. For sure the amount of writing notes I took in this month far exceed what I have done in a very very long time - if ever.

Reading

This has been one of the biggest joys that I have gotten back. In the space of this time I have managed to read 4 books, 3 issues of the Economist and several mega articles on the internet. Wait, what?

Drawing

Somehow I have also been able to get some actual drawing done as well. Not just for In Abeyance but also randomly. Its a slow start but one that I have wanted to include as part of my daily routine for years.

This has been the greatest gift that I could give myself. My evenings are now filled with reading and the occasional show.

I know I am very, very late to the party but I can’t get enough of Wait But Why. So much greatness on this site. I know I’ve stumbled on this site in the past, but it hasn’t really clicked until yesterday?

I have wanted to keep a sketchbook that I actually use on a daily basis for years. I would keep these books and use them sporadically. This meant books got filled over several years. At the rate I’m going that trend will hopefully change and for once I will actually use all the stationary that I have bought over these years.

Re-seeing the Tree

Something felt off.

I put the final touches on the latest issue and then we went downstairs for the kids to play in the park. I normally take a small notebook with me and just try and collect my thoughts for a few minutes while the kids play in the sand (I hate playing in the sand). Across from me was a tree. I looked up and just thought to myself ‘I can actually see this tree. Why can’t I draw the thing?’ I could see the values, I could see details. So I went back to my favourite teacher, Alphonso Dunn. The man is arguable the best art teacher I have ever had. I recommend you buy both his books and subscribe to his channel. Its all gold.

Issue 028 of my newsletter In Abeyance is out. This one was different. The tock issues are usually a lighter affair, but with my renewed attention and focus I was able to expand on several subjects. Also updated the design of the email itself.

Week 3 of digital declutter…and it has been properly quiet. Both in my head and in my online world. I haven’t disconnected completely, because frankly that just wouldn’t be practical.

I have let in many newsletters into my life, and unlike before I am reading these in their entirety, rather than skimming. This has meant I am actually loving email now. because it’s all good.

In terms of news, I read through my issue of The Economist and if I want an additional fix,…I read some more of the issue - the beauty of this publication is that it is dense. I have reached for the online websites out of habit (& likely some boredom) but I have managed to stop myself every time.

Another pillar that fell this week was podcasting. I had a very rough idea of what I wanted to bring back into my life. I limited it to seasonal series (Revisionist History, 13 Minutes from the Moon, Against The Rules), sporadic podcasts (On Margins and Hello Internet), and bi-monthly (Erasable Podcast). The only weekly podcast I have allowed is Akimbo, although this is a 30 minute show. I might also bring 99% Invisible back.

I’m also playing a game with myself which is to keep driving the average amount of weekly screentime down week on week. The big margins happened a while ago, but now 10% or 15% is surprisingly meaningful.

Every day after work we take the kids downstairs to the various parks around our house. It is one of the main reasons we chose this particular location when we moved as it afforded us not one but close to 7 parks for the kids to play. These last few days Zane has been obsessed with bumblebees. I will happily admit that I did not really appreciate the difference between a bumblebee and a regular honeybee (except maybe that they were bigger and don’t die if they sting you).

Living with a 6 year old nature obsessive will enlighten even the most uninterested 40 year old. Today I go to spend a good 15 minutes look at a tree in bloom covered with all sorts of insects. Honeybees, bumblebees, caterpillars, ladybirds and a magpie. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have spent a fraction of that time if this was 3 weeks ago. Every time I see someone engrossed in their phone missing such life around them I feel a little sad, in the same way that I would feel for someone who could not kick a smoking habit.