To Running Silent or Not

To Running Silent or Not

I’m finding I have to hunker down and seriously reduce the number of activities I’m engaging in to push past an important milestone, so my posting frequency will be (if you haven’t already noticed) drastically reduced. I was feeling very guilty about this, until I thought to myself that there was no reason to. My life is my own, right?

Well, not really. My life is now intertwined with dozens of other lives, and participating in the blogosphere has been very positive. I’m loathe to let go of it even for a short spell to again don the black clothes of the itinerant freelance codeslinger, but it’s what I need to do. I call it “hermit mode”, and last year I recognized that it was a kind of luxury to be able to shut out the world and focus exclusively on just a few things. As more of my friends start families, I see how their priorities change and how their schedules shift with the need to juggle many more balls.

I’ve never been particularly good at juggling, or perhaps more accurately I’ve never liked feeling the stress and fear of dropping the ball. My coping mechanism has been to run silent and deep, like a nuclear submarine on patrol hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean, alone with my work and shut out from the world. It’s during these times that I lose contact with the natural day, staying up later and later until I’m going to sleep at the crack dawn and waking up at noon. There’s just a couple of balls to juggle then, and there’s few distractions. It’s actually not so bad a life, if you have a few 24-hour supermarkets near you, and with the Internet you’re never completely isolated. Now that I think about it, since adopting the early waking schedule about a year ago (yes, I’m still doing it) I’ve lost touch with quite a few people that I used to talk to regularly in the wee hours of the morning, fellow hermits tapping greetings across the slumbering Internet.

I’m faced with a decision: I could manage my time better by applying any number of techniques I’ve used in the past, though frankly I don’t really want to do it. I’m tired. Or I could shut out the world and pour all my attention into the tasks that I want to get done.

  • The advantage of managing my time is that it’s more sustainable—if I accept that what I get done every day is going to be incremental and feel very small. I personally have little patience for incremental change, which is why I probably suck at it. The one exception to this is when I am actually observing incremental change in PEOPLE…that fascinates me, because each small change in a person’s behavior can indicate something much larger. I guess I am naturally curious about what makes people tick, not the number of ticks I can count.

  • The advantage of shutting out the world is that it is a more exciting commitment to action; kind of an adventure, really. I like getting ready for adventures, strategically planning my moves, getting everything ready for the big push. The problem is that it is an expensive contextual switch, on the order of planning a vacation without the relaxation, and it always burns me out at the end. This may, however, be the natural way I work by myself. It is a recurring pattern.

My gut reaction is that I should avoid going into hermit mode, but instead triage what I am focusing on. Blogging is going to have to go on the sideline for a bit, because there is a lot of other stuff that I need to get done for both the business and for my projects. I’m also considering my energy levels. Last week I tracked my hours using my excel timesheet and added two additional fields: energy level and what I ate. I had the feeling that I wasn’t doing the right work at peak times, so I wanted to see if there were any patterns at all to my day. I discovered that in the morning, after going to the gym, I was at peak alertness. I checked my email afterwards and followed up with people, and found that after a couple of hours of this my energy levels were again drained. Surprisingly, activities like washing the dishes seemed to recover some of that energy. What I ate didn’t seem to make as much of a difference as I thought, though the quantity might still have something to do with it (overly full = sleepy). My tentative conclusions:

  • I am getting eyestrain from looking at the screen, and this is making me dizzy. I can go maybe a couple of hours before the slight headache starts distracting me. I just ordered a larger monitor to alleviate this, hopefully it will get here tomorrow.

  • I need to pace my eating so it’s smaller amounts, more frequently. I hear this advice a lot from people who are optimizing their metabolism, and it’s high time I did the same. This is a whole new kind of process I will need to learn. Also, I should be drinking a lot more water. Remembering to do this in the winter time is more difficult, for some reason.

  • I need to shift the priority from communication to project, which is a reversal of my current values. I like to read email and respond to it, and I like chatting with people to see what they’re up to. For the past half year I’ve been pretty bad at replying to email in a timely manner because I’ve been busy with more projects, and I’ve felt guilty and inadequate. I will have to face up to the fact that I don’t have the bandwidth to spend 4 hours a day just writing back to people and exploring interesting opportunities. The “golden time” right after my workout should be devoted to project work, no exceptions. Email will have to wait to the end of the day, along with blogging. When I was responding to email, it was right after my workout. I’m still going to get eyestrain and dizziness after a few hours of staring at the computer screen (assuming the new larger one doesn’t alleviate this), but knowing this I can at least make sure my best hours are devoted to project work.


p>I don’t know how this will work out, and I’ve already frittered away some prime “work time” by writing this post instead of doing project work, but at least I am laying the groundwork for future productivity this week.

In other news, the initial wave of people who have pre-ordered Emergent Task Planner Pads has dwindled, and the remaining people who haven’t yet ordered either have decided not to or have non-functioning email addresses. I am now going to start the process of collecting the names of people who have expressed interest in leftovers. I also need to figure out a better way of doing order fulfillment, as PayPal’s initially-promising merchant tools are cumbersome and painful to use. The biggest obstacle to just opening up a store is the ability to track inventory levels; PayPal does not offer this, and I do not want to accept money when I do not have product in stock. Someone must make a combined ordering, payment receiving, inventory-counting e-commerce front end with integrated postage and packing slip management. Eventually I will probably go with Amazon Fulfillment, but for now I want to continue to ship myself as I work out the best way to package these boxes. Until that time, there are so many shopping cart options out there that it’s going to take days to research them all. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.


  1. Nate 16 years ago

    It’s truly the easiest shopping cart to use right now, and very full featured.  It’s got inventory control, but probably not the postage stuff you are looking for.  It also has integration with every payment mechanism under the sun. 

    Not to mention there’s a good handful of default templates to use for style, or you can pretty easily put together your own. 

    I’ve used a bunch of shopping carts before to help my mother sell flip flops (, from hosted to install my own.  But I’ve stuck with the longest and they’ve been the best.

  2. Fred Schechter 16 years ago

    Hey Dave! Good to see you and your sciencey methods have come up for air! (ok, we just love watching what you’re studying about yourself analytically).

    I’ve been meaning to post (I’m going to get to it this week I swear) about the unboxing of the Emergent Task Planner Pads. 

    I was so stoked to get them, and well, the difference from just printing them out, to actually getting them from you is quite palpable.  They feel, well, more precious.  After reading about all the hard work to get them out the door, I’m more judicious with them rather than your sheets I typically print out (ad nausem). 

    I recommend to people that haven’t bought them yet to do so.  Plus you’re helping Dave (you read him for free all the time,, throw him a fricking bone here ok!)

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Steve French 16 years ago

    Hey David – I’ve had that same struggle myself! When all else fails, I just swing back to the ETP and it always seem to clear my head ;-)

    You asked about other smallbiz solution that can incorporate inventory and I’ve heard good things about the Yahoo ecommerce product – it can cover the inventory, payment and shipping bases that you are grappling with.

    Here’s the link:

    Keep us posted with your progress!


  4. Amanda Himelein 16 years ago


    Is it possible for you to do some sort of hybrid time management scheme?  Can you devote (say) 6 hours a day to a single project, then time-manage the remaining two hours to keep the rest of your life in standby mode?  Then when that project is done, put that area of your life in standby mode, select a project from another area, and do it all again?  Maybe come up with a ritual/process for switching gears, so you can make those transitions as quickly as possible?  Then, as you get practice with time management, you can increase it (because your patience has increased) or decrease it (because you’re better at it and don’t need as much time.)

    Good luck.  I love reading your posts and looking at your thoughts – it’s nice to know that other people struggle at least as much as I do.  But if you end up not posting, I’ll understand.

  5. Boris 16 years ago


    The headache from looking at a computer screen has nothing to do with the screen size or frequency.

    If you are looking at a short distance and your eyes need to focus. In order to do that the eye muscle contracts.

    Imagine you would have to flex your biceps for two hours straight without relief. Do you think that might hurt.

    Giving your eyes relief every 20 minutes or so and let them focus on distant objects and or let them focus for a few minutes using multiple distances will give them some relief.

    I am not 100% on this, but it works for me. Anybody knows about this please correct me if I am wrong.

  6. Nadine 16 years ago

    Hi Dave, I thought I’d make a small suggestion for the order fulfillment part of your process, whenever you do get ready to go that route:

    Linda Sorna was very helpful when I discussed a project with her recently, and their fees seem very reasonable.  I appreciated the fact that they weren’t “faceless” like the Amazon behemoth seems to be.

    Good luck!  I might be interested in one of the ETP leftovers, if there are any…

  7. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Nate: I’ve been curious about shopify, as it seems like a quality operation. I’ll look into their pricing…thanks!

    Fred: Heh, thanks for the boosting, dude! Go ahead and use them up…the whole point is that they are NOT precious! I wonder if I should print them on cheaper paper next time, though the cost doesn’t go down by that much unfortunately. Maybe once the entire automatic fulfillment chain gets going, prices will drop.

    Steve French: LOL…the solution is right under my nose apparently! :-) I think I have been avoiding it because I just realized I might be depressed. Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder? Too much working alone? It’s possible. Thanks for pointer to Yahoo Stores…I keep forgetting they have a solution.

    Amanda: That’s a really interesting suggestion. I probably should just admit I suck at time management, but I need to be more specific about what I am sucking at. I am pretty good at using time efficiently once I get going. Starting up, though, is never smooth. I like the idea of coming up with a ritual…I know from the gym and waking up early experiments that rituals do work for me if they are easy and involve movement from one place to another, and that the environments are relatively self-contained.

  8. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Boris: I am extremely nearsighted and am getting headaches from the eyestrain. I take frequent breaks also, but maybe not as frequently as you suggest. I don’t look out the window either. I’ll try that out. I will have to disagree on the computer screen, though…in my case, I was looking at a 1920×1200 17” monitor on a Macbook Pro. Very tiny. It’s worth having the extra screen real estate, but I’m finding I can’t use it for long periods of time (or I get headaches). 2 hours is about the max. I just got in a 27” monitor that I am now mirroring, and I am noticing that my eyes are much more relaxed. I do maintain the furthest distance I can get away from a monitor and still focus, but I never thought of optimizing it for “relaxed eye posture”. Interesting! A Russian friend once told me about some eye exercises they do to strengthen vision…will have to ask about that again.

    Nadine: Cool, thanks for the link! I’ll look into their service as I’m comparing them.

    There are extra leftovers (quite a few, actually) so as soon as I can figure out how to do this with the least amount of pain, I’ll put up a public page where people can order. I just disabled the pre-order function, so I can show the page: Pad Order Page (Non Functioning).

  9. lynnoc 16 years ago

    Hi Dave: I’ve been into project mode for about a week now. Knowing I didn’t have to teach this week (my current seminar is Monday evening and we were off for MLK day), meaning I didn’t have to leave my home office, gave me a sense of space around me, like freedom. I had dinner with friends one evening, and continued to see clients, loaded into one intense and long day, otherwise I was buried in various projects. Reading technical articles (for literature review, for research reports) is always hard, perhaps the hardest part of a big project. Editing down over and over to get things to the acceptable word count, harder yet. (You know from experience with me about that one). I have been using then ten minute dash over and over, and it keeps working. I am talking to almost no one, I like your submarine image, its an accurate picture of how this feels. In truth, I like it and don’t want to change it. It feels like a great luxury to be alone and productive. I can be in my office or hiding out in the bedroom, it doesn’t matter, I take piles and computer with me. Maybe switching locations helps me focus, like getting up and stretching. I sit for very long hours however. I forget to eat. These may not be ideal ways to be, but I accept it. I am still getting up relatively early, and therefore going to sleep before 4AM (most nights). I think I need to function this way intermittently. Don’t feel guilty about not writing to us as often, we will simply wait for you to re-emerge when you are at the point that you can and want to.


  10. Eileen 16 years ago

    Hi Dave,

    Re: drinking water in the winter—My life has totally changed this winter since I’ve started drinking lots of *hot* water.  I always thought that what I liked about tea was the tea, but it turns out it was actually the hot water.  Sometimes I put a squeeze of lemon (or honey, or both!) in, but lots of times I just drink plain ol’ hot water.  It’s lovely.

    Also!  Re: lots of small meals… Some ladies I know who are Ayurveda* consultants swayed me away from doing the same thing.  The Ayurvedic way of thinking says that doing that is like leaving an engine at quarter-throttle all the time, and that your digestion/energy/etc work much better if you go with (more infrequent) big filling meals so that your ‘engine’ can work at full throttle, then go completely idle.  (You need to make sure you don’t get hungry in between meals.  For me, adding a bunch more protein to each meal did the trick.)

    *They’re in Franconia, which is probably a bit far for you to visit them.  But they’re amazing. :)

  11. Colin Joss 16 years ago


    Perhaps you should analyze your life pattern like I did. For me, cramp hectic busy hours are inevitable. The only major treatment to keep me going and not losing my quality grip is also to cramp in sufficient amount of an absolute quiet time separated from those hours.

    Colin Joss
    East Lothian, Haddington
    United Kingdom

  12. Colin Joss 16 years ago

    And one more suggestion..

    I also like breaking the habits and my regular hours… Extremeely shift my rest hours, or my meal hours, and so on.. and return to original habits the next two or three day.. Not sure how, but it mostly helps

  13. Amanda Himelein 16 years ago


    Don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with lifehack or not, but you might find this article helpful.

  14. ha3rvey 16 years ago


    As another very near-sighted guy, I have one other potential solution to the eyestrain problem. I find I can only stare at this particular 19” LCD (1280×1024@60Hz) for about 30 minutes under fluorescent lights before my eyes feel like there’s sand under the lids. The headaches start a little after that. If I turn off the lights or switch to incandescents, I can go two hours without noticing it.

    At work, where the light switch is about 4 doors down (?) the hall, I get up every 20 minutes and walk around. The change in focus seems to help.