Know your metric

When it comes to blogging or marketing, people often have different metrics for success.

Some people measure success through the number of followers or subscribers they have. Others measure it through the amount of money they make per month, either from advertisers or from selling something. Others measure it through the number of shares they have for a post, an update, a video, etc.

My metric is simple: appreciation. Specifically, it’s the number of people who tell me, either through comments or emails or in-person, that something I’ve shared or created has helped, impacted, or challenged them in some way.  If at least one person shows appreciation for something I’ve shared or created (not just gratitude, not just “thank you,” but some acknowledgement of impact), then I consider that a successful share or product or service. (More people showing appreciation = a greater measure of success.)

Keeping this metric always at the forefront of my mind helps guide all my decisions online (and offline).  It allows me to judge possible decisions based on one simple question: “Is this something that my readers or customers will show appreciation for?”  Is this something that my readers or customers will tell me, “This has changed the way I think or do things”?

If it’s yes, then I consider doing it. If it’s no, then I won’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

Of course, people don’t have to show appreciation in order for something to change the way they think or behave.  But if I think I can get that response from them, then to me, it’s worth trying.

Now what about you? What’s your metric?


Use a commonplace book

I found out about this system from Ryan Holiday, but it’s a practice that has been used for centuries by famous figures throughout history. It’s called the “commonplace book,” and it is extremely useful for studying and research.

So what is a commonplace book? A commonplace book is a cache that is filled with references, quotes, anecdotes, ideas, and thoughts that you find interesting in your studies or readings. It’s basically a literary scrapbook of all the stuff you like, enjoy, or find inspiring or interesting or useful.

A lot of famous artists, scientists, writers, and thinkers – from Montaigne to John Locke to Ralph Waldo Emerson – have kept and maintained commonplace books.

The idea behind the commonplace book is to use it as a resource for things you might use later – like a book or a speech or a screenplay or a business. It keeps useful, interesting information at hand so that you don’t have to go scrounging around trying to remember who said that quote you really like or which interview revealed that strange anecdote about your favorite filmmaker.

There are many ways to make and maintain a commonplace book. One way, recommended by Ryan Holiday, is to create index cards for each quote, anecdote, idea that you encounter. You then categorize each card into a theme (like “courage” or “character development” or “programming”) and group cards with the same theme together. You then store the note cards into some kind of depository (a shoe box, a folder, a container) for easy access.

You can also adapt this idea for the digital realm, which is what I do. Whenever I come across a reference or quote or idea, I just create a note in Evernote and I store that note into a certain notebook, usually revolving around a theme or a project I’m working on.

Another method you can use is to create a Word or Google Doc that you continually update over time. This page can be a theme that features many quotes, ideas, thoughts, or references. You can then save the pages in a folder on your desktop or in Google Drive.

Regardless of the way in which you can create and maintain a commonplace book, commonplace books are excellent resources for not only storing cool stuff that you love, but for organizing your own thoughts and, hopefully, creating something cool yourself.

And who knows? Maybe someone will put something of yours in their commonplace book.


Ryan Holiday

Maintain an essential library

I consider myself a pretty eclectic reader. I enjoy books on psychology, philosophy, self-help, writing, communication skills, politics, relationships, history, marketing, business, science, and religion. Anything that presents a unique yet elegant point of view on a topic.

Despite this variety, however, one thing I’ve noticed is that in different periods of my life, I find myself returning to the same books. Some books explore concepts, ideas, principles that just stick with me more than other books.

These books have shaped the way I think about something, allowing me to carry their ideas and sentiments and influence how I live. They aren’t simply interesting and thought-provoking – they are life-changing.

I call these types of books “the essential library” – that small collection of books that you return to often for wisdom and/or deeply shape your thinking. These books are essential because without them, you wouldn’t be the person you are today.

(Site note: essential libraries are essentially the opposite of what Nassim Taleb calls the anti-library – those books that you have not read, but may read in the future for research purposes. However, the idea is the same: you’re not collecting these books to show off, but to actually use them.)

On my projects page, you’ll see my own essential library – the books that have deeply influenced me. The idea is to keep this library as small as possible, by applying two simple criteria when considering a book:

  1. Do I return to it often?
  2. Has it deeply changed my thinking on something?

If it passes that test, then it deserves to be put in my essential library.   

What about you? What books would you put in your essential library?

Prepare, prepare, prepare

One of my favorite fables is The Boar and the Fox. It goes something like this. One day a Fox is walking in the woods and spots a Boar, sharpening its tusks against an old tree. The Fox, seeing no one around, asks the boar: “Why are you sharpening your tusks? There is neither a hunter nor a hound in sight.”

The Boar responds: “It would do me no good to have to sharpen my tusks at the time when I should be using them.”

Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, advises his readers: don’t start a business until people are asking you to. In other words, focus on trying to fill a demand or need – don’t just create an idea and hope people like it.

But what if, like me, you don’t know what demand you’re trying to fill? What if you know you want to start a business or enterprise, but you’re not sure what to do, who to help, etc.? My answer: Sharpen your tusks.

Prepare yourself. Start a project you can be excited about. Don’t worry about being rich and famous and powerful yet. Develop your skills and make yourself valuable. Build a network of valuable connections. Show your work.

As you develop your skills and grow your knowledge, you’ll have a much better time spotting and seizing opportunities that come your way. And because you’re prepared, you’ll have a much easier time with it.

So don’t feel bad when you hear “success stories” of people around you. Just focus on yourself, build yourself, and you’ll be fine.


Austin Kleon



Make a list of possible projects

Sometimes you have too many ideas pop into your head that take you into a million directions. You want to write a book, you want to start your own business, you want to create your own course, you want to build a website, etc.

You know you can’t do it all at once, but you also know that you don’t want to let go of these ideas. So what do you do?

What I do is create a file for each possible idea. Then I put all these “possible projects” into a folder (actually a notebook in Evernote, but same difference). And voila!

Most of the projects include ideas that I probably will never get to; but some of them do turn into projects that I’ll actually work on.

Doing this allows me not only to give an idea a chance for consideration later, but to give my mind a break by letting it not get consumed by a possible project. Right now I have 25 possible projects in there (some of which I actually did turn into real projects).

I love this practice because I never get bored now. I always have something to work on, something to apply and develop my skills towards. Maybe it’ll have the same effect for you.


Derek Sivers

Read for insight

This post is a reminder for myself and other self-help readers:

Don’t read because you want to know how to be successful. Don’t read because you want to know how to be happy. Don’t read because you want to stop feeling sad, depressed, unmotivated, bored, and so on. Don’t read because you want to improve yourself or your relationships. Don’t read because you want to be richer or smarter or healthier.

Instead, read for insight. Read to understand differently. Read to realize something about yourself or the world. Read for the moment when you can say, “Wow. I never thought about it like that,” or “I didn’t realize that was possible.”

It’s those moments – the moments of insight – that actually allow you not only to grow, but to approach life differently. Tim Ferriss has a different approach to business than, say, Derek Sivers does, just as Tony Robbins has a different approach to happiness than, say, John Gray. And all these differences come from the different experiences, the different insights, each person gained from life, from trying and experimenting and planning.

In the end, it’s not anything specific that will determine if you become happy, rich, or smart; rather, it’s how you approach your life and what lessons you’re learning.

Don’t look for answers. Rather, look for interesting, deep, exciting ways to approach the question.

Little control, little investment. Big control, big investment.

When I was younger, my drive to take an exciting idea and try to bring it to life was seemingly boundless.  As I grew a little older, and experienced a lot of disappointments, I became more conservative with how I spent my time, energy, and money.

But I couldn’t stay that way for long.  I am still ambitious, and I still have ideas that I want to see happen.  So, to balance these two drives, whenever I have an exciting idea that I want to bring to life, I have a simple rule I follow:

Little control, little investment.

Meaning: if my chances of executing an idea successfully are low (little control), then my investment of time, effort, money, and/or attention in trying to execute it should also be low (little investment).

Investing only little where I have little control, I dramatically reduce the cost of failure and, subsequently, disappointment.

For example, you want to create a blog – one that has a big online readership – but you have never created a blog before.  Your control then is small – you’re not sure if you’ll be able to get the results (huge readership) that you want.  What should you do?

According to the rule above, don’t invest a lot of time or money trying to attract visitors.  Instead, create a free blog and write up some blog posts regularly on topics you think other people might be interested in.  Experiment with different ways to get people reading and commenting, but don’t treat the blogging too seriously.  And don’t think you have to be consistent, that you can’t switch things up.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because in your mind, people probably won’t come to your site anyways.

This way you won’t be disappointed if people don’t show up to your blog, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised if they do. Even more, it gets you out of the mindset that you “need” to succeed. Instead, you can just experiment and have fun with it.

The Corollary:

There’s a corollary to the rule above.  I call it “big control, big investment.”  What this means is that the more control you have over the successful execution of an idea, the more you should invest in making it happen.  In doing this, you strengthen where you are strong, building your success up.

For example, let’s say you have built a small, but somewhat dedicated following online. Instead of trying to get more and more people to follow you (little control), consider investing more time and energy in strengthening your connection with this small following (big control).  This strengthens your influence over them, getting them to spread the word, thereby making it easier to recruit new followers.

Strengthening what you have control over, you’re essentially laying and cementing bricks. This way when a random storm or hurricane comes, your house will stay up.