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Date: Friday, 19 Sep 2014 21:36

Productivity is all about mind management, not time management. If you want to be really effective at what you do best, it really helps to offload as many as unimportant details as you can. I’ve struggled with delegation, while watching my friends scale their impact, and their businesses, thanks to their delegation skills.

I recently made a breakthrough, after taking Ari Meisel’s The Art of Less Doing. One of the killer tools I discovered in that course is Fancy Hands.

Fancy Hands is an on-demand personal assistant. This means that no matter when you submit a request, there is a huge network of US-based assistants who are ready to handle your request right away. It’s like having an assistant that never sleeps.

Fancy Hands has saved me a ton of time, & has saved me from making 87 phone calls!

Fancy Hands has saved me a ton of time, & has saved me from making 87 phone calls!

Fancy Hands has not only saved me nearly 40 hours over the past four months, it has gotten me comfortable enough with delegating, that I’ve graduated to also having a dedicated assistant, and I also have multiple people helping me with more specialized functions through oDesk, and directly.

The more I get comfortable with delegating, the more mental energy I have for strategic thinking. My creativity has been restored, my impact is widening, and my business is growing.

Fancy Hands is great for flights, appointments, web research…

Here are some things that I’ve delegated with Fancy Hands:

  • Look up flight prices: I just shot off an email saying what dates and location I was interested in, and Fancy Hands got back to me with options. I could quickly decide if I wanted to go on the trip, before I bothered sorting through my options on Kayak.
  • Make a doctor’s appointment: Making an appointment with my doctor is a pain in the ass because they let every call go to voicemail. Don’t take my word for it, but whenever I make a doctor’s appointment with Fancy Hands, the task ends up being free.
  • Research late-night delivery options: I knew I’d be getting home from a trip really late, with an empty fridge, but I didn’t know who could delivery to my house. I told Fancy Hands what kind of food I wanted, and they told me who could deliver.
  • Process data in a Google Spreadsheet: I had a bunch of rows in a Google Spreadsheet that needed to be evaluated. I just made a quick screencast with Jing, and Fancy Hands worked on it for me. They can work on something as long as 20 minutes, so I just sent it a few times, and it was done. I saved myself an hour, and my sanity.
  • Tell me what I have to do to renew my driver’s license: Rather than poking around government websites to get information, I had Fancy Hands research and give me a straight answer.
  • Booking meetings: Just copy the Fancy Hands vanity email address you’ve set up, and they’ll put it in your Google Calendar (which you’ve also set up), invite everyone involved, and put in other relevant details. For some reason, these tasks have often ended up being free for me.
  • Check into Southwest flights (save $12 a pop): I fly Southwest Airlines regularly, which has an infamous check-in system: The earlier you check in, the earlier you get onto the plane to pick a seat. You can pay $15 for “Early Bird” check-in, or, you can forward your flight confirmation to Fancy Hands, and let them worry about checking in as close to 24-hours before takeoff as possible. Not only do you get to “set it and forget it,” but this trick saves you $12 a pop.

Fancy Hands can help you break down the cognitive barriers to delegating

I had the hardest time learning to delegate for a very long time, but Fancy Hands was the perfect set of training wheels to get me started. These are the cognitive traps that held me back. Watch out for them:

  • “You paid $X for someone to make a phone call!?” Some people may be calculating the ROI on each of these tasks. It may seem like these are all trivial things, but our brains are dumb, and have a hard time thinking of the other things we could be doing with our time and mental energy. There are many other things you can be doing instead of dealing with a DMV website, that will eventually bring you much more than the $2.60 per task that it costs on the largest plan.
  • “They can’t do a good job on X” You definitely need to pick and choose which things you are going to delegate, but recognizing that comes with practice. The Fancy Hands assistants are extremely well-trained, so usually if you don’t get a good result, it’s usually because you delegated the wrong thing, or didn’t communicate clearly. (That said, I have gotten some facepalm-inducing responses from an assistant a couple of times. If you aren’t satisfied, they’ll usually refund the task or assign a different assistant.)
  • “This will just take me a minute” This is the worst mistake of all, and the easiest to make. We have selective attention and it’s nearly impossible for us to think of the other things we could be doing with our cognitive energy. Additionally, even if something does wind up taking us the same amount of time to delegate, delegating requires less mental context switching, so it’s less cognitively draining.

Tips for getting started with Fancy Hands, and becoming a delegation machine

It can be hard to get started delegating, but Fancy Hands makes it much easier than worrying about searching for and hiring someone dedicated to help out. Here are some things to think about, that will make it much easier to get yourself started.

Don’t overthink your delegation

It can be very tempting to try to write out a bunch of instructions for everything that you want somebody to do, but you’ll quickly find that you are saving any time or mental energy at all.

Remember, these Fancy Hands assistants are handling tasks all day, so they are very good at dealing with ambiguity when it comes to tasks that they handle regularly. For example, if you simply copy Fancy Hands on an email that mentions a meeting, they’ll usually figure it out, and schedule it seamlessly.

A good way to make sure that you’re getting the most out of Fancy Hands is to try to see exactly how vague you can be and still get the result that you’re looking for. Sometimes they’ll come back to you with clarification questions, and that’s when you know you need to provide more direction next time.

Minimize friction

Fancy Hands has a great iPhone app, and web interface for submitting tasks, but there are some things that you can do to make delegation even easier. My personal favorite is that you can hold down the “New Request” button on the iPhone app and simply talk, which will create a message that will be sent to the Fancy Hands assistants.

You can also set up a vanity email address, which is an email address that forwards to Fancy Hands. It looks like you actually have an assistant, like some big shot.

Start with the biggest plan

You can try a free task with Fancy Hands, or start with one of the smaller plans, but if you’re just getting started, I think it’s better to start with the bigger plan, which costs $65 a month.

If you’ve had midwestern frugality pounded into your brain since birth like I have, you’ll balk at that idea. You’d be thinking “I don’t want to pay $65 per month…for what?”

If you let that thinking hold you back, you’ll never progress. Yes, I get some free tasks if you sign up through this link. If you don’t believe me on this one, you can use this link instead.

The problem with trying one task, or a few tasks, is that it puts up another barrier to you learning how to delegate. You’ll treat your precious few tasks like they’re your last few M&Ms. You’ll want to use them wisely.

But if you have 25 tasks, you start to think more creatively. You schedule a couple of meetings, you get some flight information, you have them research dog walkers. Then, you decide maybe you’ll have them prank call your fourth grade science teacher.

The point is, as you try more things, you get a feel for what works, what doesn’t, and just how expansive your assistant needs are. Then you can downgrade to a smaller plan if you see fit. If nothing else, think of the $65 as a lesson in delegation.

Thanks to Fancy Hands, I’m running for President

To get used to using Fancy Hands, it’s best to delegate whatever pops into your head. I’m turning 35 soon, so that makes me eligible to run for President of the United States. I was chatting with a friend about how I’d like to announce at my birthday party that I’m running for President.

Then I became curious about what, exactly, I’d have to do to get started. So, instead of futzing around on the internet, I just talked into the Fancy Hands iPhone app:

Here’s the response I got back:

Get your name on the ballot in all 50 states as an independent candidate. To do this you must have a petition in each state signed by a certain number of people (it varies by state). The number of signatures you need can vary from 2,000 (Minnesota) to 160,000 (California). It is important to get on all 50 states’ ballots because of the electoral votes you need to win.

Get out there early in the election season. It is imperative to start acquiring signatures and getting your face out into the public eye early. Make sure everyone knows who you are by the time of the elections. You will probably need around 700,000 signatures nationwide, which if done early enough, may only cost you around $2.5 million dollars (for paying circulators).

So, when I get my next bi-weekly paycheck from Kadavy, Inc., I’m totally going to apply all $2.5 million towards getting enough signatures.

Well, maybe in 2020.

One FREE task on FancyHands. What will you delegate?

As I mentioned before, you can get a free task on Fancy Hands, though I definitely recommend getting started with a plan so you can experiment with it. So, what will you use your first task for?

More delegation resources

  • The Fine Art of Delegation: This is part 1 of a 2-podcast series by Michael Hyatt, where he conceptually breaks down delegation, talking about the five levels of delegation. This really helped me learn to recognize what things were easy to delegate (levels 1 & 2 are great for Fancy Hands), and what things were going to require someone with more skill and familiarity.
  • How to Delegate Even if You Don’t Have a Staff: Part 2 of Michael Hyatt’s 2-podcast series on delegation. In this episode, he explains some ways you can get organized or use resources other than staff (such as Fancy Hands) to off-load work.
  • The Art of Less Doing (20% off): This Udemy course by Ari Meisel restored my creativity, and really got me using Fancy Hands. Ari breaks down “the 9 principles of Less Doing,” and introduces some great tools that have helped me scale up my impact, and my business.
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Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Productivity"
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Date: Thursday, 31 Jul 2014 17:38

The rise of automation and computing power has lifted vast segments of the population out of manual labor, thus freeing up their minds to pursue more existential concerns (such as making apps that make it so you can say “yo” to your friends with a tap of the finger).

But just because you can avoid “manual” labor, doesn’t mean that you always should. Having a system that does something quickly and easily is only worth it if you’re doing it often enough to merit building that system.

If you aren’t a big company, especially if you’re a single-person company like mine is, you need to find out if it matters whether something scales or not before you go through all of the trouble of making it scale.

As you read this, at some hackathon somewhere in the world, wantrepreneurs are rubbing their chins and pensively asking “will it scale?”

The question they should be asking is “will it ever matter?”

(Thanks to commenter Ken Doman for pointing out this perfect XKCD cartoon.)

Wantrepreneuritis made me ask “will it scale?”

When I did my first product launch, as I struggled with my own wantrepreneuritis I tried to make everything “scalable.”

I had a customer login area for…well, just because I probably felt like I should.

I had to do a bunch of hacking so that my payment processor would integrate with my member portal, which would then integrate with MailChimp, so customer data would be consistent across all of the systems.

This stuff took me months to figure out! I researched dozens of different configurations, then finally built it.

I was waaaay too concerned with whether it would all “scale” or not – way too concerned with avoiding doing “manual” labor (and doing way more labor than if I had just done that “manual” labor in the first place.)

When I finally launched my product, it just did “okay.” It didn’t matter that I built systems that could scale. (In retrospect, even if it had been explosively successful, the systems still weren’t necessary).

I cured my wantrepreneuritis by asking “will it ever matter?”

Last week, when I launched the Design for Hackers Video Course, I did things differently. I didn’t worry about making every last thing “scale.” I even scrapped the system that I had already built! It was too much of a hassle, and would ultimately slow things down.

Here is a list of some of the things that didn’t “scale” from my launch. Some of them could be considered downright “ghetto.”

  • The product is just HTML pages with Wistia videos embedded. There isn’t a secure login. Gumroad (my payment processor) sends digital files, so this was the most straightforward way to deliver the product. A “customer portal” wouldn’t have added much value for the customer.
  • The sales page was static HTML. I didn’t want to deal with integrating it into some kind of a WordPress theme. To get “smart quotes,” (hey, perfect typography is still important), I copy-pasted HTML from a draft page I created in WordPress.
  • I didn’t have version control for the sales page. “Pushing changes” consisted of uploading the HTML file (and CSS, if changes) via FTP. I don’t do development on a regular basis, so I’m rusty with version control.
  • I manually replaced the landing page with the “course closed” page when the sales deadline passed at midnight on Friday night. I could have figured out how to do this programmatically, but it would have taken me more energy than it was worth.
  • I manually updated people’s MailChimp files. I could have updated their files using Zapier, but that would have overwritten all of their existing group settings. So, I did a copy-paste import.
  • I manually reconciled email addresses across systems. Even though I auto-populated the “email” field in Gumroad’s checkout using a URL variable, some of the email addresses for customers were different from the email addresses on their MailChimp files. So, I had to manually contact those email addresses to find out what email address they had subscribed to my list, so I could update their MailChimp files. (I only marketed the course to existing list members.)
  • The community is just a private Facebook group. I might have been tempted to build my own community using WordPress, but that’s too complicated, and people already use Facebook much of their day. Why reinvent the wheel? I manually added people to this Facebook group.
  • I fielded all support requests and questions myself. I’m still learning about my customers, so I consider it R&D.
  • I used Zapier to send confirmation emails to people who had bought certain products. This is some slick automation, but the emails were sent through Gmail, which has a 500-messages-per-day limit. This wouldn’t scale if I had more than 500 customers in a day (at which point, I could afford to have a more elegant solution built).

I knew that my launch would be relatively small (fewer than 200 customers), so these manual tasks didn’t worry me. Since I did a “windowed launch” (with a start and stop date), I don’t have to worry about being distracted by these tasks while I service my new customers, and collect feedback for the next iteration.

Still, the launch went much better than my previous one had. I made over $17k in revenues over the course of the 4-day launch.


Manual labor != poor product!

This is not to be mistaken for delivering poor product. I (and my customers so far) believe the product is excellent, and in any case, there’s a money-back guarantee. This is about cutting out those things that don’t provide value for the customer, and not being afraid of a little “manual labor” if it helps you get your product out faster.

What do you do that doesn’t scale? Better yet, what are you going to start doing that doesn’t scale? Share it in the comments below.

Related: Do the things that don’t scale by YCombinator’s Paul Graham is full of practical ways to re-think what needs to be scaled in an early-stage startup.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Entrepreneurship"
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Date: Tuesday, 01 Jul 2014 16:47

Wantrapreneuritis is a horrible disease that plagues millions of men and women, young and old, around the world. Symptoms include:

  • Talking about stuff you want to do.
  • Not doing that stuff because [insert excuse/scapegoat here].
  • Spending countless hours looking at Analytics and running A/B tests on landing pages that don’t sell anything, and that have about 10 visitors a month. Or, worse yet, reading articles about analytics and A/B tests, but not actually having a site to run these on. (These findings just fuel the excuses for Not Doing Stuff.)
  • “Pivoting” so you can repeat the cycle again.

Wantrapreneuritis causes delusions that you are making progress, when you are in fact just keeping yourself busy, basking in the reflective glory of real entrepreneurs, and protecting your fragile ego from the harshness of reality.

How do I know so much about wantreprenueritis? Because I’m a recovering wantrepreneur myself. I’ve spent 10 years fighting my own wantrepreneuritis. All of the friends I’ve known since my earliest days of wantrepreneuritis are now rich. I’m the biggest wantrepreneur I’ve ever known!

The last time I launched a product, I made the big wantrepreneur mistake of thinking that everything had to meet my most grand vision before I could make a dime.

Over a year (yes, a year) after actually creating the content, I spent months building a landing page, and a customer portal, and spent thousands of dollars on production and licensing. When I finally launched, I made some money, but nowhere near what I expected. I had dreams of rollin’ in an Uber black car, instead I was riding a razor scooter.

I was thrilled with the quality of my product, and so were my customers, but the revenues weren’t going to keep me in business. I had to shelve my product and move on.

WWNKD? How I cured my latest bout of wantrepreneuritis

While working on my latest product – a video course based on my book, Design for Hackers – my wantrepreneuritis flared up again.

I had been running surveys with my customers, doing little tests, and crunching numbers in a spreadsheet, trying to figure out how much money I would make off of the launch. I even spent more than $1,000 going to a conference to try to untangle all of the questions in my head. I nearly spent several thousand more on a course that would have only perpetuated my wantrepreneuritis.

The problem was, I had no idea how much money I would make, so I didn’t know if there would be enough revenue to build my product to the grandiose heights I wanted it to reach. I felt like I was steering a big ship in the middle of the ocean, with no navigation equipment, and no landmarks in sight, so I fooled myself into just drifting in the sea.

Then I remembered my mantra: WWNKD?

No, that’s not “What Would New Kids (on the Block) Do?” (The answer to that would be “hang tough” anyway, and that’s just not useful advice.)

Instead, I asked myself “What Would Noah Kagan Do?” Noah is my friend, but also the king of getting a product validated and rolling. Did you ever read about how he started AppSumo with $50?

I imagined Noah standing there, drilling me with questions, as he often does.

“How long have you been working on this?”

(Sheepishly) “8 weeks.”

“And you haven’t made any money? No idea should take more than 24 hours to get validated!”

“But I have to make the customer portal, and the landing page, and…”


Noah was right. I deserved to be sumo chopped upside the head. I had everything that I needed to earn real money, validate my product, and start delivering real value to customers. More importantly, I could do all of this before doing any more work.

I had been afraid of not having everything perfect, and I had been afraid of that uncomfortable feeling of asking for someone’s hard-earned money in exchange for the responsibility of delivering real value to solve their problem. I knew I finally had to take action.

No naysaying: a classic wantrepreneuritis symptom

Before I get into details, I want to admit I was starting with a pretty good base. I already had a best-selling book, and nearly 30,000 email subscribers, thanks to my free email course.

If you are not a best-selling author with 30,000 email subscribers, don’t go naysaying yourself on the things I’m about to tell you – a classic wantrepreneuritis symptom. You can validate a product starting with nearly nothing. If anything, having a larger following makes wantrepreneuritis even more severe – the cost of failure can seem much larger.

The fact that wantrepreneuritis can cripple even someone like me is proof of how serious a condition it is. The faster you can fight through it, the faster you can start making progress.

Earn money: no landing page required

To cure my wantrepreneuritis, I knew I had to answer the most important questions in my head (and forget about the other questions), with as little effort as possible. My thought process was like this:

  • “Why am I stuck?” I don’t know how much money I’ll earn, so I don’t know how much to invest in the product, or whether I should be building it at all.
  • “How can I find out how much money I’ll earn?” By selling to a sample of customers, and making a projection.
  • “How can I sell to customers?” By making a product and a landing page, and…
  • “WRONG! How can I sell to customers?” By making a product, and…
  • “WRONG! How can I sell to customers?” By getting customers to pay me.
  • “GOOD! How can you get customers to pay you?” Tell them about a product, give them a PayPal link, then make the product.

Within a couple of hours of completing this exercise, I had sent off an email to a small section of my list. Within several days, I already had nearly $2k in my PayPal account.

Best of all, I now not only had a series of deadlines I had committed to, but I had newfound confidence in my project. I could comfortably work on it, knowing my hard work would be rewarded.

I’ve run another small campaign since then, and I now have earned nearly $5,000 for a product that isn’t even finished yet. This is good because:


  • Money is good. Having earned some money from the project, I can now move forward with confidence. Instead of floating in the sea, I’m full speed ahead.
  • I have realistic expectations. $5,000 is either lots of money, or not-that-much money to you. There’s no limit to how amazing I’d like to make my video course. If I had it my way, it would be directed by Steven Spielberg (actually, Alexander Payne, but you’ve probably never heard of him), and a rainbow would pop out of the screen and give you a back rub at the end of each lesson. $5,000 is not enough to warrant rainbow-popping, so I’ll have to make the best product I can otherwise.

Here’s how I earned money with no landing page (nor product).

Do a beta version

If I tried to make my product perfect, it would never get done. The thing is, most people don’t care if a rainbow pops out of the screen. They just want the most valuable parts – the content.

Besides, my experience with doing such a production was nearly non-existent. I didn’t even know what kind of mic I wanted to use for sound. If I tried to make it perfect the first time around, I’d surely never get done.

By committing to – and selling – a beta version of my course to my customers, I was able to get money early on in my project, and learn about how to make it even better while I made a version of the product that was supposed to be less-than-perfect.

I’ve got nothing against making ridiculously amazing products. I actually wake up every day with the mission of blowing minds. But it’s okay if it’s a long, iterative process. Doing a beta version gives yourself permission to suck at first, which is the first step to being mind-blowing.

Sell before you work

When I earned my first $2k for the beta version of my video course, I actually didn’t have even one of the 21 video lessons produced.

Instead, I outlined a production schedule, and told my potential customers I’d deliver my course in quarters. They’d get the first quarter of the course in 3 weeks, and one-quarter of the course every two weeks after that.

Having deadlines like this – from customers that have already paid you money – is highly motivating. Imagine this compared to trudging away on a project all on your own. It would never get done!

Since the beta version gave me permission to experiment throughout the process, I used an entirely different mic setup on every section of the course, getting better as I learned.

Landing pages are for wimps

People in startupland are obsessed with landing pages. There are entire businesses built around helping you put up and test landing pages, and since there’s so much money to be made selling you landing pages, there’s an inordinate amount of information supporting the landing page craze. (I’m not saying it’s some vast conspiracy. This is just how capitalism works.)

Landing pages can be useful. They explain your product, make your customer feel comfortable with you, and answer any questions your customer might have.

But landing pages are for your wimpiest customers. They’re for the I’m-not-so-sure-maybe-if-there’s-a-discount-and-its-the-third-Wednesday-of-the-month-and-Mercury-isn’t-in-retrograde customers.

Remember this “early adopter” curve from every Lean Startup blog post ever?


Landing pages don’t serve your “Innovators”

The customers who need a landing page are somewhere in that “Early Adopter” part of the curve. They’re probably actually really cool people who would be good to have a caramel with, but they’re not who you’re looking for.

If your product is going to survive, there’d better be some “Innovator” customers. These are the I-don’t-care-if-I-have-to-pay-by-carrier-pigeon-just-make-the-pain-stop-oh-it-hurts customers.

These customers don’t care about your landing page. In fact, making a landing page does them a disservice. They could be enjoying your product, and you’re futzing around on Unbounce? SMH.

How to use a PayPal link instead of a landing page

Instead of messing around with a landing page when I could have been working on my product, I just put PayPal links directly in the email.

It sounds pretty damn simple, and it is. But if I tell you how, you’re more likely to do it, so here it goes:

1. Go to “My Saved Buttons” in PayPal

This is where your buttons will live, and you can refer back to it to edit them. I couldn’t find this through PayPal’s navigation (Update: it’s under “My Account > Profile > My Selling Tools…thanks Angelo), so here’s the link.

My Saved Buttons - PayPal

2. Click on “Create New Button”

3. Enter your product details

You can enter the item name, the price, and the inventory.

Create a PayPal payment button - PayPal-1

Pro tip: under “customize advanced features,” create a custom field for “What email is subscribed to our list?” People tend to have a different email address for PayPal than they have subscribed to your email list, so you can update their file in MailChimp or whatever you use.

Create a PayPal payment button - PayPal-1-1

Yes, you’ll have to manually update their info in MailChimp, like some sort of caveman, but we’re not trying to get hundreds of customers at this point. You’ll survive.

4. Click on “Create Button”

5. Put the link(s) in your email

Generated Code - PayPal
Copy the URL from the “Email” tab on the “add your button code to your webpage” screen.

Then, make links in your email. (Be sure to include a note about filling in the email they’re subscribed with.)

When your (coolest) customers click on the links, they get sent directly to a PayPal page where they can sign in and pay you.

Email funnel tips for selling without a landing page

One good thing about landing pages is they create one place for all of the information on your product. Putting all of this in one email can get a bit cramped.

So, you’ve gotta break things up for a bit. Send out emails over the course of several days that generally follow the old AIDA sequence (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action).

(Email content paraphrased)

  • Email 1 – Friday: “Hey, you’re eligible for the beta of this thing I’m working on. I’ll send you details next week.”
  • Email 2 – Monday: “Here are the details about what this is and why you’d want it. Here’s how to pay me.”
  • Email 3 – Wednesday: “Here is an interesting story about why this product is really great.”
  • Email 4 – Friday: “Today is the last day. Also, there’s a money-back guarantee, so don’t worry.” (Assuage doubts at this stage)
  • Email 5 – Friday night: “Only a few more hours to get in. Don’t miss it!”

I didn’t run any tests to see if this is a good funnel, because I think split-testing is stupid at this stage (thoughts for another post). If you know your customer well and you’re not a weirdo, just think about how you’d talk to them and do it like that. If you don’t sell at all (and have 500+ people on your list), it’s probably not because you used the wrong subject line.

Get out there and serve your customers

After offering beta access to a little fewer than 12,000 of my customers, I’ve made about $5,000 on my video course. About 18,000 of them haven’t even had a chance to buy, so all-in-all, I imagine I’ll gross around $20k when I launch in July (expecting a higher sales-rate since it won’t be a “beta” anymore, and yes, there will be a landing page).

Before you’re all like, “damn, son, @kadavy be ballin’!” keep in mind I spend well over $200 a month just sending people free emails through MailChimp, I have a number of contractors to pay to help me with producing the course, and I’ve been building up to this for years. There’s still lots of wantrepreneuritis in my system.

As long as you have a product idea, and a target customer, you can start making money before you even do all of the work. Don’t let wantrepreneuritis hold you back by filling your head with grandiose ideas. Eliminate all barriers to collecting money from the customers that want your product the most, and start shipping product.

And if you ever get lost, remember: WWNKD?

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Entrepreneurship"
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Date: Thursday, 12 Jun 2014 23:27

Standing desks are everywhere these days. More and more office workers are switching over to standing desks, to prevent the health problems associated with sitting.

While it’s great that people are taking healthy computing seriously, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for standing to really catch on, when it seems obvious: if you have legs that work, what good does it do them to be sitting around all of the time?

A funny-looking keyboard may be the biggest ergonomics craze since the standing desk

I recently discovered a keyboard which is as good of a fit for the human body as the standing desk. It looks pretty strange, but I’m personally convinced this is going to be a very big deal as people get more informed about healthy computing.

split keyboard by kinesys

Here’s how your standard keyboard is hurting you

Much more often than you hear people complaining about computing-work-related problems with their legs, people tend to have problems with their neck and upper back.

One study of office workers found that 56% of workers have neck problems, and 50% have upper back problems.

The Trapezius muscles help support your outstretched arms. Good for hugs.

The Trapezius muscles help support your outstretched arms. Good for hugs.

These problems are often a result of tension in the trapezius muscles. These muscles connect to your head, spine, and shoulder blade, and help support your arms.

A big source of this tension is the way we interact with keyboards. When you use a standard keyboard:

  • You have to get your hands close together to type on the keyboard.
  • To get your hands next to each other, they have to go “around” your body, so your arms have to reach out from your body to reach the keyboard.
  • Because your arms are now stretched out, your trapezius muscles tense to support the weight of your arms.
  • Your shoulders are now forward, so your pectoral muscles are shortened.
Standard keyboards make you reach your arms out & around your torso.

Standard keyboards make you reach your arms out & around your torso.

Having this stress on your upper back also makes it easy to slouch. With this disastrous chain reaction, it’s no wonder that neck and upper back problems are so common amongst people who do lots of computer work.

The muscle tension you don’t even know about is cutting off your circulation by 80%

You may think that this is all pretty trivial – that you don’t feel any tension at all when you’re sitting in front of a standard keyboard. But, the fact of the matter is that people aren’t even aware of the tension that is in their muscles.

Dr. Erik Peper – a healthy computing expert that has been featured on ABCNews.com and in GQ, Glamour, and Men’s Health – and his colleagues recorded the muscle activity of subjects while resting, holding their arm in the air, and then while resting again.

All of the subjects were surprised at just how much activity was going on in their muscles, even though they thought it felt like nothing at all to hold their arm up for a few seconds.

Your muscles tense without you even knowing it

Look at this chart below, which shows the muscle activity of a clinical patient. That big spike marked “1” is her muscle activity when she was simply listening to instructions on what to do.

Muscle tension is high even when just listening to instructions (1).

Muscle tension is high even when just listening to instructions (1).

Just by thinking about moving her muscles, there was already muscle activity going on. When she was actually performing the task, the actual muscle tension (marked “2”) was hardly as intense as when she was just thinking about performing the task.

As you can see where the chart is marked “3,” muscle tension persisted even after the task was performed.

By working on computers, not only are we creating tension in our muscles (that doesn’t quickly subside), we’re too oblivious to what’s going on with our bodies to even know it, because we’re so focused on the task at hand.

I called Dr. Peper (no relation to the soft drink) to learn more about what, exactly, is so bad about about having your muscles tensed 8 hours a day.

Muscles, by their very nature, are made to contract and release. But, when you tense a muscle, you cut off circulation by as much as 80%.

So, even if you think that reaching around your body to get to your keyboard isn’t placing tension on your trapezius muscles, it’s probably more tension than you think, and that tension is cutting off circulation wherever it occurs.

Your brain is attacking your trapezius muscles

Not only is the position of your arms with a traditional keyboard creating tension in your trapezius muscles, the way that you’re processing information as you’re concentrating on your work is creating added tension in your trapezius muscles.

Dr. Peper explains, “when you work, you are constantly vigilant. This state of ‘vigilance’ is heightened by the fact that information hits your amygdala (the ‘fight or flight’ part of your brain) 22ms faster than it hits your cortex (the more rational, reasonable part of your brain).

Your amygdala is not good for hugs. It gives your

Your amygdala is not good for hugs. It gives your “traps” a beating.

“You’ve experienced this imbalance in information processing if you’ve ever said something you regretted in an argument. This imbalance is in full effect when we’re on a computer, and hyper-focused on a task.”

This “cortex deficit” probably explains YouTube comments. Mystery solved.

Your trapezius muscles tend to tense when you have the fight/flight/stress response caused by this “cortex deficit.” So, not only are your poor shoulders and trapezius muscles in this unfortunate position all day because of your keyboard, they’re also getting attacked by your hyper-vigilant amygdala.

It’s no wonder that those chair massages are such a hot commodity at the Whole Foods. You know, the ones where the masseuse drives his knee into your upper back to try to undo all of the knots you’ve tied into it?

Split keyboards help reduce the tension in your shoulders

One of the best ways to reduce tension like this is to improve the ergonomics of your workstation, and Dr. Peper recommends a split keyboard for this.

For almost anybody who doesn’t need a number pad right away, get rid of your normal keyboard, and get a split keyboard.

One such keyboard is the Gold Touch, which is what Dr. Peper uses himself; but for some people – such as myself – it’s too narrow.

Try this experiment to see if the “truly split” keyboard is right for you

There are lots of “split” keyboards out there like the Gold Touch, but you may still have to wrap your arms around your torso a bit to get your hands on the keys. If you’re more comfortable having your arms by your sides, then a “truly split” keyboard – one that consists of two independent pieces – may be better for you.

Try this experiment:

  • Put the fingers of your left hand on your right shoulder, where your shoulder meets your chest.
  • Now, try putting your right hand on your keyboard, as if you were typing.
  • Now, move your right hand to the right, outside your keyboard.
  • Now that your right arm has cleared your body, you can have your hand closer to your body. Slide your right hand toward yourself a bit.

Did you feel how much your shoulder and chest moved? Did it feel more natural and comfortable to you? If so, you might like a “truly split” keyboard, like the Kinesis Freestyle 2.


A “truly split” keyboard lets you keep your arms by your sides, where they belong.

The Freestyle actually consists of two pieces, which allows you to keep your hands farther apart. I’m a skinny guy, but since I have totally insanely ripped shoulders from doing the INSANITY® program, having my hands right in front of my body all of the time tightens my chest and trapezius muscles, thus building up tension and restricting my breathing.

I couldn’t lift my own head

I got up close and personal with sneaky neck and upper back problems several months ago. I was feeling fine, when all of the sudden, as I lifted my arms to dry my hair after a shower, a tangle of knots sprang up in my upper back and neck.

I was in so much pain, almost no position was comfortable. Sitting upright was too much stress on my neck, lying down hurt because my head was on my pillow, and I actually had to cradle the back of my head with my hand just to lift it out of bed.

I couldn’t work, and I had to get a couple high-dollar massages just to undo the damage. It took two weeks to recover.

At that point, I decided it’s much better for me to have my arms at my sides when I’m working. This can be true for many types of bodies, whether your arms need to get around a belly, or if you’re a woman who has large…impediments…on her chest.

Your laptop is “a disaster.” The “truly split” keyboard is perfect for the mobile worker.

One of the biggest challenges to having an ergonomic workstation is that many of us are mobile now. It’s great that we can set up with our laptop at a coworking station, a cafe, or just on our couch, but that’s the problem.

Unfortunately, as Dr. Peper puts it, “A laptop, by definition, is a disaster.”

Here’s just a few things that make a laptop an ergonomic nightmare:

  • You put a laptop on…your lap (or a table).
  • Then you have to decide: do you want to crane your neck down at your screen, or have the laptop so high that you feel like a Tyrannosaurus Rex?
  • You have to put your hands together to type on the unergonomic keyboard, which forces you to find a way to get your arms around your torso and beyond the trackpad, thus putting stress on your trapezius muscles.

Here’s the setup that I like to use when I visit a coworking station with my laptop:


(Dr. Peper notes that facing a window like this causes glare, and isn’t an ideal setup. Your screen should be perpendicular to any windows.)

  • Kinesis Freestyle 2 keyboard (PC version), which allows me to keep my arms at my sides. I went with the model that has the 20″ cord, because then I can put it on either side of my laptop.
  • AViiQ Portable Quick Stand, which lifts the screen of my laptop up a few inches, so I don’t have to crane my neck down so much.
  • The trackpad on my MacBook Air is still perfectly positioned. I can access it with a much more natural wrist and arm position than I could the keyboard.

It’s still not ergonomically perfect. Even if I could get my screen as high as eye-level, then my trackpad would be too high. The AViiQ helps find a happy medium as far as that is concerned.


The Kinesis Freestyle 2 & AViiQ stand fit in even the smallest backpacks.

Best of all, this entire setup is totally portable. The AViiQ collapses, and since the Freestyle 2 is made of two pieces, it folds up and everything fits even into my tiny Tumi Empire Zepplin backpack (this is discontinued, but it would probably all fit in a Marley as well).

The versatility of the “truly split” keyboard is also great for office setups

For companies who have to do bulk-buying of keyboards that fit a wide variety of needs, the Freestyle 2 is also great because it can be set up any way you like it. You can keep the two sides of the keyboard as close or as far apart as you want, and each hand can be angled as desired.

wrist rests for split keyboard

The VIP 3 adds wrist rests, & allows the keyboards to be angled.

If you want to take things a step further, you can even get some of the accessories, such as the VIP 3, which adds wrist rests, and angles the keyboards a bit.

Arguably one of the best features for using the Freestyle 2 at your desk is that you can have yourself a snack while you work:

The drawbacks of the Freestyle 2

I did a lot of looking around to make sure the Freestyle 2 was the right “truly split” keyboard, and it turned out, it was really the only viable option. So, there are drawbacks that I have to live with.

  • It’s (sort of) expensive. Some of you may have sticker shock at a $115 keyboard, but if you are a technology worker who earns his bread through his keyboard, you think this keyboard would suit you well, and you think that price is a deal breaker – stop being a dumbass. That’s fractions of a penny per billable hour for your comfort and longevity. But, if you don’t need a 20″ separation, you can always save a few bucks with the 8″ separation model.
  • It’s not an Apple keyboard. By most objective measures, this keyboard sucks. It looks like it’s from 1995, it’s bulky, and it takes some really solid keystrokes to register. If a soft feel to your fingers is more important than the rest of your body, this keyboard isn’t for you.
  • There is a learning curve (and you have to type “right”). Most people ask me how I can manage to type on this keyboard, and there was definitely a learning curve. I swear, I could feel my brain being rewired as I figured it out. Fortunately, I already typed the “right” way, so it just took a couple of days to ramp back up, however, I still hit the wrong key now and then, as the option keys are in slightly different places than my Air keyboard.

There are some compromises to be made with this keyboard, but I am a convert to “truly split” forever. I will be your first Kickstarter backer if you’re a hardware person who can design a slim, lightweight, bluetooth “truly split” keyboard,

Will this keyboard fix everything?

As great as this keyboard is, ergonomics are only one piece of the healthy computing puzzle. Even if you get this keyboard, you can’t expect to pound away at it for 12 hours a day for the rest of your life. Dr. Peper cautions that paying attention to personal stress, and the “silent” tension inside of your body can go a long way in keeping yourself productive and healthy.

The most important part is that you need to move as often as possible. Once we begin working we are stuck in place. This leads to chronic low level of unaware muscle tension. People should be taking breaks. That is the cheapest intervention.

Dr. Peper recommends the Stretch Break program to remind you to keep your body moving. I personally have been using AntiRSI for years, but Stretch Break provides more guidance.

More healthy computing resources

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Best-of, Health, Productivity"
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Date: Thursday, 12 Jun 2014 23:27

Today marks the 10th year of the kadavy.net blog. As a natural way to commemorate an event like this, one might make a list of the top blog posts from all 10 years. (I’ve already shared the design evolution of kadavy.net.)

But I think the story that happened in between all of the blog posts is what’s significant about kadavy.net. Sure, the blog has been a great testing bed for web design and thought experimentation, and it’s lead to all of my biggest career wins, but more than anything, it’s been a vehicle for personal transformation.


Circa September 2004

I took this here #selfie just a few months after I started blogging on kadavy.net. My position in life at this time was one that is probably all-too-familiar for many readers. I was 25 years old, and I was using my college education to get paid $15 an hour to scan photos of my colleagues grandkids, or show them how to change the paper on the printer. (Though, really, I’d just have to do it for them.)

I felt stuck in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. I had dreamt of getting out since I was a kid, but – after traveling all over the country searching for a job – I was right back where I had started.

I spent a lot of time staring into the mirror, seeing what you’re seeing in that #selfie. I felt very compelled by my own reflection. Not because I thought I was super duper good-looking, but because I didn’t recognize the person I saw.

I thought I saw someone with talent, and promise, and something to offer the world. But, it didn’t feel like the world agreed with me.

I wanted badly for my life to change, but I had no idea how to make that happen. I could have just picked up and moved, but I was too timid-hearted for that – too risk-averse.

So, I spent the next 10 years making very calculated risks. From that, I’ve built the life that I had dreamt of – one of congruence of desire and action. I’ve written a best-selling book, built a business that allows me to pursue my curiosities, and I’ve done much of it while in various corners of the globe.


I have these disgusting Banquet meals to thank for my success.

Creating the force for a change

I didn’t have the guts to make a drastic change, so I just tried to create enough force that a change would eventually happen. There were two things, it seemed, that would make that more likely.

One was to have enough money saved up that I wouldn’t be scared to make a leap. So, I ate $1 Banquet meals nearly every day. I ate them so often, I couldn’t go into the break room to heat them up without numerous coworkers teasing me for eating Banquet meals every day.

“You should just get married,” was a solution frequently offered for the blandness of my lunchtime ritual. (I’ll just offer that up without comment.)

Sometimes, the Banquet meals were on sale, 10 for $8, making them 80 cents. I socked away as much money as I could into an Ameritrade account, and maxed out my 401k. Ostensibly, I was saving for retirement, but the back of my brain would say “business, business!”

The other thing I could do to create force was work on my skills. I got to do some challenging interactive work amid the picture-scanning and paper-changing duties at my job, but I wanted my own place for experimentation. One where there was no client to meddle with my decisions, and no boss to fire me if I messed something up.

Inspired by the Flash experiments of Erik Natzke, I had previously posted my own Flash experiments, but now I was more interested in CSS. If you didn’t work with the web back in this time, it’s hard to imagine what a pain it was to work with CSS. There were still plenty of advocates for using tables instead of CSS for layout, and the cross-browser compatibility issues were bad enough that those people didn’t sound entirely crazy.

So, I took inspiration from David Shea’s CSS Zen Garden, and bloggers like Jason Santa Maria and Shaun Inman, and started a blog on blogger.com.

If you read my first blog post, you have to shake your head and wonder how I ever managed to write an entire book. It’s all a run-on paragraph, and there’s even a misspelling. I didn’t like writing at the time, and it showed.

I spent my nights and weekends experimenting and redesigning kadavy.net. In fact, I took an entire week’s vacation and sat on my couch from 10am–2am every day of that vacation, just working on my blog.

Getting “discovered,” part I

Little more than a year later, all of that experimentation paid off. Jon Stevenson, co-founder of WorkMetro gave me a call.

He sounded much more formal than usual, like I could hear him standing up straight over the phone to say “we would like to extend you an offer.”

Several months prior, Jon had met one of my colleagues at a Spanish tapas restaurant in Omaha, and Jon became a client through the architecture firm I worked at.

“We’re raising some VC money, and we’ll move you out to California to be our designer,” Jon had said over soup at the Panera Bread on Saddle Creek Road.

I didn’t believe him. “California was for people from movies who are way better designers than I am,” I thought.

“Besides, what’s a VC?”

Silicon Valley: quenching the thirst

When I got to Silicon Valley, I felt like I was drinking from a whole sink-full of water, after trekking across a desert. These people could certainly change the paper on a printer themselves.

“You invented the box-model hack,” I said, dumfounded, when I met Tantek Çelik at my first SuperHappyDevHouse. These internet people I had been reading about existed in the flesh.

SHDH founder David Weekly grabs some pizza. (I'm in the back)

SHDH founder David Weekly grabs some pizza. (I’m in the back)

The all-night hackathon was full of stacks of Red Bull, and booze, and hackers. It was a microcosm of Silicon Valley: passionate and talented people with the confidence to take action and pursue their ideas.

Being in that environment made me more confident in pursuing my own ideas. Before coming to Silicon Valley, there was “beer talk,” where friends would sit around and talk about all of the ideas that they would like to pursue if it wasn’t for this-that-and-the-other-thing.

Here, ideas were met with a hell-yeah-let’s-do-that. You had to be careful what ideas you shared, not because people would think they were stupid, but because people would make you pursue them!

This environment slowly changed my brain over the next two years. The more I believed in the possibility of pursuing ideas, the more ideas that came to me. It was overwhelming. They’d come flooding out of me into notebooks and text files and mockups, faster than I could do much with them.

The best investment I made

The more ideas I had, the less excited I was to work on other people’s ideas. Add to that the fact that the Ameritrade portfolio I had shoveled Banquet-savings into was now valued at $130,000 (GOOG and AAPL were good picks), and there was a lot of force there, pushing me to make a leap. But I was still too risk-averse to take action!

Then, the best thing that possibly could have happened, happened: I got fired.

Instead of feeling a sense of dread, or wondering what I was going to do, I felt excited. “July 17, 2007. This is going to be a special day in my life,” I said to my boss. “Thanks.”

That was the last day I worked for someone else.

I immediately cashed out a good chunk of my portfolio, which was good timing because the market was at a peak. I thought about things that most people would probably do with that money, like go to business school or buy real estate, but none of those options made sense to me. I wanted to invest that money in myself. (James Altucher would have been proud.)

$40,000 is not-really-that-much-money, but it’s also a lot of money. I figured it could get me through a year of experimentation, where I wouldn’t even take a freelance client, and I’d just pursue my ideas.

It was kind of neat to have that kind of cash. For example, there was a line-item on my Wells Fargo checking statement for “bullshit charges” (or something like that). So I transferred all of the money to the checking account, and went in to dispute the charges.

I figured, surely, they’d see a balance of $40,000 and be like “oh, we want a customer like this,” and stop charging me the bullshit charges.

And you know what? It didn’t matter. They still had to charge for the bullshit every month. I don’t have an account with Wells Fargo anymore.

Filling the vastness

So, for a whole year, I didn’t work for anyone else, not even a client. I just wanted to pursue the ideas in my brain, and take my time, and do work I could be proud of.

I’ve heard lots of people talk about all of the things they’d do if they just had the time, but it’s actually really scary. You just wake up in the morning, and there’s nothing and nobody to tell you what to do with that day. It was just vastness, and a flurry of energy bursting into that vastness. I imagined that parts of the vastness would eventually fill in, and the energy would have to flow around those spots, and fill in more, and eventually, it would be clear how to fill up my days.

But for now, my main metric was a feeling in my brain. I wanted to fill up as much of my day as possible with the soft buzz of the swift passing of time – like being alone in my room as a curious child.

The main project I worked on was called “Through a Friend,” and it was like a Craigslist that used your Facebook social graph to help you find a roommate, sell your car, or put together a Neutral Milk Hotel cover band (actual listing).



Everyone was making Facebook apps at this time, and Through a Friend seemed like it was off to a good start. But, when Facebook made major API changes, it broke the model that really made TaF work, so usage went crashing down.

I could have fought back and rebuilt, but I’m glad that I didn’t, because I don’t think the app would have worked with the way that apps integrate with Facebook today. Additionally, another startup with a similar idea came out a year later, raised $1.2 million, then eventually disappeared.

While working on this, and many other things, I’d just wander around San Francisco, compiling the best “moworking” cafes on a wiki, and meet with developers and other entrepreneurs and just jam and share ideas and help each other out.

I remember many times, the satisfaction of walking home after a 16-hour day, thinking about how I hadn’t made a dime that day, but feeling good for everything I had learned, and for all of the things that I would learn the next day.

Leaving Silicon Valley

Then, I actually did have the guts to make a bold leap. I left Silicon Valley.

It was clear to me by now that I was an entrepreneur (or, maybe an artist, or just a crazy person), but I couldn’t get interested in raising money. I was much more interested in taking my newfound confidence in myself and my ideas, and having a place to explore what was inside my brain. The $1,000 a month I was paying for a tiny bedroom in SF would have had a great ROI for someone raising money, but not for someone trying to explore their mind.

So, I moved to Chicago, and got a two-bedroom apartment (the second bedroom for an office) for about the same price.

By then, I had spent most of the money that I had cashed out, and it was a good time to start taking clients. Just as I was moving to Chicago, someone at oDesk reached out to me after reading a blog post I wrote about Garret IA. They were my main client for the next year.

Having awesome clients was great, but I still wanted to explore. My strategy was to bill as few hours as necessary to get by, and spend the rest of the time trying to set up passive revenue streams.

I had a forum dedicated to people with lumps in their mouths – a spin-off of one of my first SEO hits, that brought in maybe $100 a month. I never could get much more out of it than that, even though each of the of the 20k monthly visitors required expensive surgery. I estimated about $20 million a month was flowing through that blog post. This was a good lesson in finding the right spot in a value chain.

I also had a blog post about transferring your iTunes library, and I started selling affiliate software through that. This time, my position in the value chain was much better. The first time I made a sale, I thought to myself “wow! I might make $500 a month off of this!” At its height, that was bringing in around $2k a month.

I also had an online dating advice blog, written under a pseudonym. I had been doing lots of online dating when I lived in San Francisco, and at SXSW 2007, I had been talking about it with some friends. I “[didn’t] want to be the online dating guy,” I told them, but they practically forced me to start blogging about it. (Remember, you had to be careful what ideas you talked about). I actually really enjoyed writing on that blog, even though I still was making hardly any money from it by the time I moved to Chicago in 2008.

During this time, I was still experimenting with collaborating with others. For one hackathon, some friends and I built a food photo-sharing app. Before you laugh too hard, I was actually talking with Foodspotting founder Alexa Andrzejewski when we were both speaking at a conference a few years later, and it turns out our app predated Foodspotting by about 6 months. So, nom.ms was probably the first food-dedicated photo-sharing community. (Alexa sold Foodspotting to OpenTable for $10 million, but I don’t fret about the missed opportunity, as they clearly executed better.)

Formulating a strategy

Why was I dabbling in affiliates, adsense, and dating blogs, when I could have been making big bucks in a design position in Silicon Valley? Well, the simple answer was that I just liked it. I loved to tinker and learn about the part of the marketing stack that involved finding customers and making money. But, there was a method to this madness.

Just like I had eaten $1 Banquet meals to save up for the day I would escape Nebraska, I was trying to find that passive stream that would free up my brain to explore what had brought it to Chicago.

Here is an illustration of the vision that I planned out on New Year’s Eve, 2008/2009.


My revenue strategy, as outlined on NYE 2008/2009

Note that “A” is for “active” revenue (consulting), “P” is for “passive” revenue, and “S” is for “speculative” revenue, as in “whatever-I’ll-find-in-my-brain” revenue.

Thankfully, I didn’t write down the timeline for how long I thought this was going to take. That would be kind of depressing, because it was probably much, much faster than it’s actually taken (and is taking).

Getting “discovered,” part II

After 3 years of experimentation, everything came together. I had wanted to do a talk at SXSW for years, and so I dug into my experimental archive and found an old talk I did at a BarCamp conference called “Design for the Coder’s Mind.” I renamed the idea, and wrote a blog post on the concept to try to get votes to talk at SXSW.

The blog post I wrote was so popular on Hacker News, I got this email from an editor at Wiley.


It made perfect sense. My seemingly disparate interests in design, entrepreneurship, and writing were converging on this one challenge. Design for Hackers was born.

The timing was perfect for me to fully dedicate myself to this book. I wound down my freelance contracts, and – just as I was wondering if the advance on the book was going to be enough – that silly online dating blog I had started 4 years previous started bringing in thousands of dollars a month from the coupons it offered.

When Design for Hackers debuted, the same community of people that had made my blog post popular enough to become a book, made my book popular enough to become a best-seller. Design for Hackers reached #18 on all of Amazon on that day.


It’s been nearly 3 years since Design for Hackers debuted, and the way that I set up my business and life has made it so I could pursue this passion, travel the world, and educate without being too concerned with the monetary returns.

More than 40,000 people have taken the D4H email course, and none of them have had to pay a penny for it.

kadavy.net, present & future

The Design for Hackers portion of my business continues to mature into a community of passionate learners, as my upcoming video course launches, it will hopefully fund more exploration and experimentation.

So, what is next? I continue to be fascinated by the very mechanisms that I’ve used to reach this point. How does one drown out noise, find their true calling, and form an existence where passions feed needs?

I’ve done some armchair neuroscience research, and have thought about how a mind best makes use of its precious and scarce time. Those thoughts connected me with the likes of Dan Ariely and Timeful, and I’m excited to see what that team does with those thoughts.

Looking back to 10 years ago, I don’t envy that puzzled young man staring into the mirror. It’s been an exciting journey, but I hope to never be quite that scared, or lonely, or uncertain again. (Maybe a little scared, and lonely, and uncertain, because that’s when you know that something fun is about to happen.)

I shake my own head at the number of seemingly lucky incidents that got me where I am. But, for each of those crazy coincidences and lucky incidents, I know there are dozens more where things didn’t pan out: unreturned emails, dud blog posts, killer start-ups I didn’t go work for, and things where I just plain messed up.

Getting here has been a constant balancing act: trying to find the business in the art and trying to find the art in the business, the whole way trying to operate with faith that if I followed my curiosity, it would lead me somewhere wonderful.

Circa now-ish.

Circa now-ish.

Except to marvel at the speed at which beard hairs turn gray, I don’t stare into the mirror anymore. Instead of “who is that?” I just say “yeah, that’s me.”

I don’t know what I’ll be writing in my 20-year blog post. There’s not much point in speculating what the content of it will be. But, I get excited at the idea that – with any luck – life is not short. Life is long, and with enough patience, great things can grow from it.

Thanks to you for reading this far, whether it’s your first post, or 100th, I hope you’ll read many more.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Entrepreneurship"
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Date: Saturday, 24 May 2014 04:56

My blog, kadavy.net, has been my testing sandbox for web design and thought experimentation for nearly 10 years now (May 31st will mark 10 years since my first blog post). During that time, kadavy.net has gotten me new jobs, new clients, and eventually, one blog post turned into a book deal for Design for Hackers.

Yes, 10 years is a very long time in blog years, but it could have been much longer. A bunch of Flash experiments preceded the blog, and I made my first webpage, using whatever space AOL gave me with my membership, in 1996.

Throughout 10 years, the blog has been through 4 major redesigns. All along, I’ve tried to evoke certain values about myself and my philosophy, while keeping up with the times. Here’s an overview of the design evolution of kadavy.net.

A Humanist Design Philosophy

In my work and life, I always strive to balance between the powers of technology with those things about humans that we can’t quite crack with technology just yet. So, I’ve always wanted to evoke a “humanist” philosophy in my designs.

I’ve always had an off-white or cream-colored background. From the beginning, this has been inspired by the color of natural, unbleached paper. It was a more intense yellow in the earlier days, mostly because color palettes across users were pretty restricted. So, #ffc was about the softest yellow I could use.

I’m big on minimal ornamentation. I feel really strongly that you can do amazing things with a little white space and alignment, and that you can’t have a beautiful design without mastering those factors. So much so that I wrote a post called “death to ornament”, and removed all ornament (except underlines in hyperlinks) from my 2005 redesign.

I’ve also used mostly humanist typefaces. I started with Trebuchet for body copy for the first two design iterations. I used Georgia for headers, which isn’t technically humanist (it’s realist), but it was the best choice for a serifed typeface for the web, especially back when using custom fonts was difficult-to-impossible. In the 2005 redesign, the site logo is set in Jan Tschichold’s Sabon (humanist). I would have used that for titles had it been feasible and readable.

The 2004, 2005, and 2008 designs used lots of green and beige accents, which were there to support the  “natural” color configuration. The link colors in 2004 and 2005 were skewed slightly blue in part because back then it was a big “no-no” to have links that weren’t at least a little bit blue (and underlined). The web was still in relative infancy for the mainstream, so affordance on clickable things had to be pretty heavy-handed.

2004 design, “blogger.com”

In my 2004 iteration of the design, I was really just happy to have a custom design at all. Inspired by David Shea’s CSS Zen Garden, I had started kadavy.net to experiment and learn to use CSS. If you weren’t working with CSS at that time, it’s hard to imagine what a pain in the ass it was. There will still plenty of people arguing that you should use TABLEs for layout, and all of the browser inconsistencies and bugs made them not sound that crazy.

I was using blogger.com, so I did what I could with an existing template. Looking back at the post I wrote when I was first attempting this redesign, I impress even myself at how I was thinking about design with a sensitivity to technology.


Read the post that introduced the 2004 design.

2005 design, “movies”

At the end of 2004, I took a week’s vacation from work, sat on my couch from 10am–2am every day that week, and redesigned my blog.

At this point, the blog had started to gain a purpose as my place on the web. I not only wanted to showcase my blog posts, but also my portfolio work, and my writings on another blog on which I was a contributing author.

This was the first incarnation of the overall front page layout that I still use: The latest blog post is the most important element on the page, there are a few tidbits from other blog posts, and then there is information about other stuff I’m up to.

In this redesign, I migrated from Blogger to Movable Type, and was inspired by a portfolio Douglas Bowman (now former design lead at Google and Twitter) had hacked together using Movable Type. So, I figured out how to hack Movable Type the same way to use as a content management system for my portfolio.

The movie marquee was just a vision that came to me. My blog felt like a written record of my own journey – a story – to me, and I imagined it as a movie on a marquee. There was also an element to this concept that spoke of my fascination with the idea that the internet was changing the idea of what a celebrity was. (and I was even more not famous at this point)

So, I stood in the middle of Dodge Street in Omaha, and dodged traffic to get a photo of the Dundee Theater’s marquee, on which I then photoshopped the movie title. Notice also that “kadavy.net” has a glow behind it, to echo the visual feel of the marquee.


The the blog post for the 2005 redesign, will make anyone who designed for the web back then nostalgic. There are shout-outs to many still-familiar names for helping with inspiration, though many of the links are now dead.

2008 design, “WordPress”

Within a year of the 2005 design, I got a job in Silicon Valley, and was happily working at startups for a couple of years. So, it was awhile before I redesigned again. I was starting to grow frustrated with Movable Type, so I switched to WordPress.

This time, I embraced ornamentation more, making some juicy icons to highlight and visually anchor the various sections on the site. At this point, there were so many different types of information being presented: tweets, comments, portfolio stuff, blog post, “best of,” I felt like I needed more visual factors to differentiate them from one another.

Additionally, cross-browser compatibility issues were still enough of a pain at this point that it was easier to let things be off a pixel or two – and let the ornamentation help out – instead of trying to get all of my white space perfect.

Blue started to creep in as a more prominent color in the design, mostly to make up for the fact that I wasn’t underlining my links anymore.


Read the post that introduced the 2008 redesign.

2013 design, “Snowfall”

Five years passed before I redesigned again, which is a darn long time. The first few years of that, I was busy experimenting, freelancing, and setting up passive revenue streams to do more experimenting. Then, I got the book deal for Design for Hackers, and that kept me pretty busy with writing, promoting, and traveling for a couple of years.

“Snowfall” as I called it, was my main project during one of my mini-lives in Medellin, Colombia. I felt comfortable with revisiting minimal ornamentation because I could design across browsers with more precision, users no longer required so much affordance on clickable elements, and easy-to-use Javascript libraries made it easier to create design elements that were contextually-intelligent. So, certain elements could be exposed only when needed (like the “extruding” navbar, the fadeaway header, and the “notification bar” that pops up at the end of posts).

Snowfall is also the first responsive design for the kadavy.net blog. I designed using rem units, and type scales down easily as the window is resized. Not all elements are simply scaled down, though. Some adjustments are made to keep certain elements legible, while retaining the hierarchy.

kadavy-net-2013The post outlining the Snowfall redesign has been the most exhaustive of all, explaining all of the technological and business forces that shaped the changes.

What will be next?

Changes in the factors that shape web design have hopefully slowed down, which is part of the reason the spacing between redesigns lengthened through the years, and I hope the current incarnation will last for awhile.

I’m sure that after another 10 years, you’ll just be able to download my thoughts directly to your brain, so the current design is probably the last.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Design"
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Date: Wednesday, 26 Mar 2014 16:07

Productivity is about mind management, not time management. To really be effective in what you do, you need to be ruthless about not wasting mental energy on things that don’t produce the results you want.

red-brainThe tricky thing about this is, your brain is dumb. Your brain has a hard time distinguishing between what’s really important, and what’s not. If you’re concentrating on something mundane – like filling out a bunch of little radio buttons on a web form that keeps malfunctioning – your brain probably isn’t aware of what else it could be doing with all of that energy.

Instead, it just gets frustrated and tired and cranky, and decides it needs to check Facebook.

I struggled with my own creative energy

Nearly 10 years ago, I used a week’s vacation (of my measly two weeks) for a “staycation,” and sat on my couch from 10am to 2am every single day of that vacation.

But, I wasn’t watching TV. I was working on this very blog right here.

I designed, I coded, and I did it all over again, nit-picking on little details for 16 hours a day, in the most un-ergonomic position imaginable, all without feeling mentally fatigued.

As I got older, and as my creative projects became more successful, I started to lose this creative energy. I needed to take more breaks, I felt more fatigued at the end of the day, and the thought of doing any kind of work late into the night became even more unappealing.

I still loved my “work,” more than ever, and still felt a constant drive to do things with it, but I would just run out of creative energy.

Until lately, I thought it was just that I had gotten older. That I had better just relegate myself to viewing work as “work” for the rest of my life.

But I was wrong. It wasn’t just that I had gotten older.

My embarrassing struggle with delegation

I’ve long been an avid “Lifehacker,” always looking for ways to get more out of less, but until recently I still struggled with delegation. It had started to become embarrassing.

I had watched many of my peers grow to be smashing successes, and widen their impact exponentially through delegating and growing their teams. Meanwhile, while I felt good about the impact I’d had, I knew if I never learned to delegate, I’d never realize my potential.

There were just too many cognitive and emotional blocks for me: I didn’t know where to begin, I didn’t think I could trust others to do a good job, or I didn’t think I could afford it.

My unconscious mind was screaming at me that I needed to delegate, but my conscious mind was always coming up with reasons not to.

How I broke through my mental barriers to start delegating

Fortunately, I have a trick I’ve built into my business that lets my unconscious mind win from time to time.

In the tradition of my week-long couch potato sprint, every once in awhile, I declare a week my “Week of Want.” All that means, really, is that I’ll work on whatever the heck I want to work on, instead of things I feel like I “should” work on. It’s great: I write blog postsbroadcast a Google Hangout, or decide I’m going to start playing with Instagram, all explicitly without worrying about whether it’s a productive activity or not.

It’s a bit like Google’s famous “20%,” but there’s something powerful about taking a full week, instead of just a day, or a few hours of a particular day.

I’ve held two “Week(s) of Want,” and great things always come from them. The first one I held yielded my thoughts on Mind Management that have now lead to me doing some very cool as-of-yet-top-secret stuff with some amazing people, and the other one – which I held more recently – may prove to be just as powerful.

Just as I was beginning my “Week of Want,” a friend introduced me to a Udemy course called “The Art of Less Doing,” which is all about automating, simplifying, and delegating unimportant details in your life and work.

I could feel my brain getting “spongy.” It was thirsty to learn what this course had to teach.

How “The Art of Less Doing” freed my creative energy

I took “The Art of Less Doing,” and it broke down so many cognitive barriers that I had to delegating. Ari Meisel (more on him later) introduced his “principles of Less Doing,” and explained step-by-step how he builds systems that make it so you have to do less “busy work” and can start doing more “real work.”

With the help of the Less Doing Course, I made the primary focus of my “Week of Want” learning to delegate. Instead of trying to actually get things done right then and there, I applied what I learned in the course to build systems for things that didn’t really need to be delegated, and then I actually delegated the things that needed a human touch.

Then I realized something amazing.

It happened late one night, while I was sipping some tea that came with my Instacart delivery. It was at some point amidst drafting my third blog post of the evening, asking FancyHands to call my credit card company, and preparing to delegate some administrative work to an oDesk contractor.

I was sitting on my couch, it was 4 am, and I didn’t want to go to bed because I was too excited. I had too much creative energy.

My creative energy was back!

My “Week of Want” turned into more of a “Month of Want.” I ended up making systematizing, simplifying, and delegating my primary focus for an entire month. The burst in my creative energy was just too powerful to ignore.

Thanks to taking “The Art of Less Doing,” the foundations of my business are reorganized, and more efficient than ever. It will take time for the gains of this investment to be fully realized, but it’s already paid off.

The surprising reason I lost my creative energy

The most shocking realization was that I hadn’t simply lost my creative energy simply because I got older.

In this area, I was a victim of my own success: being successful in my creative endeavors simply created a lot of “gunk” in my creative machine.

When I spent that week on my couch, I had hardly any blog readers. Now, I have a book, thousands of blog readers and email subscribers, Twitter, Facebook, and – thankfully – revenue.

Learning how to clean the “gunk” out of my creative machine by offloading unimportant details has freed my mind up to be creative again.

The scary thing is, I hadn’t even realized this was the problem. My brain is dumb.

“Freeing Your Creative Mind.” An exclusive webcast (okay, it’s a “webinar”) to free up your creative energy

Through teaching about design – whether in my courses, or my one-on-one coaching sessions, I’ve realized that the barriers to being effective usually have much less to do with knowledge than they do having the mental energy to do something with that knowledge.

We can Google about how to do just about anything, but can we actually do that thing?

So, I’m holding a very special webcast (okay, it’s a “webinar”) with Ari Meisel, who teaches the Udemy course that is still transforming my business.

I want to give you an inside look of how I stopped making excuses, and started taking action.

About Ari Meisel: from near-death to Ironman

Ari Meisel learned how to get organized and automate the hard way: he did it to save his own life.

In 2006, Ari was diagnosed with a severe case of Chron’s Disease, an incurable inflammatory disease. Ari had to take as many as a dozen medications daily, and made several hospital visits.

After one near-death hospital visit, Ari decided to take matters into his own hands.

Through disciplined self-tracking and personal organization, he was able to change his diet and lifestyle to eliminate all traces of this “incurable” disease, and compete in Ironman France in 2011.

Ari has incorporated the habits that saved his life into everything he does: automating, outsourcing, and delegating everything possible in his life and business. Today, he teaches these skills to others through his blog, and his amazing Udemy course: The Art of Less Doing.

What you’ll learn in this webcast (okay, it’s a “webinar”)

  • How to automate and organize your workflow so you can dedicate your brain to being creative.
  • How to overcome cognitive and emotional barriers to stop second-guessing yourself and start delegating.
  • How to manage the costs of delegating to get maximum return.
  • Specific ways to use tools like Evernote, IFTTT, and Fancy Hands to make sure you never have to do the same thing more than once.

This event is exclusively for the loyal subscribers to Design for Hackers emails, and is only available live. Sign up below to reserve your spot.

Click here to register »

The webcast (okay, it’s a “webinar”) will be held February 19th, at 8pm EST. Be early, because spots are extremely limited!

Tell me in the comments: is there something that holds you back from delegating the details of your business and life? If it’s not a problem for you, how do you do it?

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Creativity"
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Date: Wednesday, 26 Mar 2014 15:40

Seeing the world is simple: just get on a plane and go somewhere. If you really want to get the full experience in a place, it’s even better to live a mini-life, which is just like living your normal life, but in a different city. It shakes the cobwebs off of your old routines, introduces you to new things, and you return to your home base with a more sublime sense of your self.

My view from ESPACIO, a coworking station in Medellin (It was -7? F in my home base of Chicago on this day)

My view from ESPACIO, a coworking station in Medellin (It was -7° F in my home base of Chicago on this day)

So, just drop everything, fly off to a foreign land, and live a mini-life. Easier said than done, right? Most people can’t just take off to another place for a couple of months at a time. We have to earn money, pay rent, or take care of our kids.

So, how can one possibly pull off a mini-life? Once we’ve figured out the basics, how can we make sure we’ve lived a good one?

I’ve lived mini-lives in Rome, Buenos Aires, Medellin (twice), and Brooklyn. Even though I’ve traveled all over the world promoting my book, my mini-lives have been far more enjoyable and impactful.

Here’s how to make a mini-life happen, and how to make sure it’s a good one.

Don’t make excuses

If you’re totally on board, go ahead and skip this section. If you have your doubts about whether you can pull off a mini-life, read on.

Pulling off a mini-life is not for the faint of heart, and the more tied down you are, the harder it is. But be careful when you start making excuses to stop yourself. The trouble with excuses is that they usually can’t be proven correct – but they can be proven incorrect.

For example, if I say “I can’t live a mini-life because I don’t have the money,” yes, it’s true that you apparently don’t have the money that you think you need to live a mini-life; but, there’s a number of things that could prove you wrong. You could realize that mini-lives can often cost less than your normal life, or, you could start taking steps today that would ensure that you met the financial goals that would make you comfortable. Finally, you could work to change your perception of what is an adequate amount of money.

I made hard decisions for years to finally set up my life so I could easily live mini-lives. I didn’t magically arrive at this point. I had to give myself permission to suck from time to time. If you start today, eventually you’ll get there.

Where there is a will, there is a way. If a couple of details are going to prevent you from doing something, then it’s probably better to just admit that you don’t want it that badly, or aren’t willing to put up with the trade-offs. It’s okay. It’s not for everyone.

So, before you say “I can’t because…” try reading the following with an open mind.

How to make money during your mini-life

The most obvious impediment to living a mini-life for most people is their job. Many people have to be at a certain place during certain times in order to collect their paycheck. Here’s a few approaches for such people:

  • Convince your boss: If you can convince your boss that you are productive when working from home, you may be able to convince her that you are productive – maybe even more productive – while away from the office for several weeks. Good remote work habits that you develop while away can also be re-integrated into your everyday, making you and your team work more efficiently. (For step-by-step instructions on getting your boss comfortable with remote work, read The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss).
  • Get your whole team in on it: If you have a small company, or a small company within a team, a mini-life (or, sometimes called a “workcation”) can be great for deep collaboration on a particular project, as well as a bonding experience for the team.
  • Ask for a sabbatical: Some companies already have sabbatical programs that allow you to take several weeks off every couple years. That’s cheating, really, so if your company has such a program, revisit #1 and see if you can do your mini-life while still working.
  • Start freelancing: If you’re relegated to only dreaming about the kind of flexibility required to live a mini-life, it’s never too early to start setting it up. You can pick up some freelance work on oDesk, or otherwise try to pick up a client or two who is indifferent about your location. Being successful at freelancing is a challenging road, but there are programs such as Ramit Sethi’s Earn1K that can give you actionable advice that would take years to learn through your own trial-and-error.
  • Do it between jobs: This is again cheating on the “mini-life,” and takes you into Tim Ferriss’ famous “mini-retirement” territory, but next time you’re changing jobs—or if you find yourself unemployed—use it as an opportunity to go live a dream life for a little while.
  • Flip your career: If you’re someone whose work relies on meeting with clients in-person, or being certified by a government entity – such as if you are a doctor or dentist – then you might have to get creative. If your desire for mini-lives is not strong enough to make you willing to change your career, then you can start finding ways to use your existing expertise in a way that allows you mobility. You can start a blog and work toward writing a book or conducting traveling workshops, or find programs in your profession that allow you to travel (such as Doctors Without Borders or Dentists Without Borders).
  • If all else fails, explore your city: If you absolutely cannot leave your home city, you can – at the very least – live mini-lives in different neighborhoods of your city. If you’ve ever wondered if you’d rather live in Brooklyn than Manhattan, or Wicker Park instead of Lincoln Park, try a place there for a couple of months. Your experience of your own hometown can change dramatically just by where you choose to live.

Living a mini-life is a bigger challenge for some professions than it is for others, but if you’re resourceful, and you are willing to make changes – and sometimes be very patient – you can achieve the flexibility you need.

Where to stay during your mini-life

Aside from having money to pay rent, you’ve gotta have a place to pay that rent to. To make matters more complicated, you’re often committed to paying rent somewhere else.

If you have a mortgage that allows you to rent your place out, then there’s not much left to do but tidy up and post your place on AirBNB. If you have concerns, remember that they have a $1,000,000 host guarantee.

If you have a lease, you’re most likely not allowed to sublet under the terms of your lease. Some people are lucky enough to have a landlord that doesn’t mind, and others are willing to simply take the (unlikely) risk that there will be consequences beyond a couple of dirty dishes and some missing Q-tips. (I am not a lawyer, and take such risks at your own…risk).

Finding a place to stay during your mini-life is a little more flexible. Most major cities have a decent market of furnished apartments that can be found with a quick Google search, and of course AirBNB and HomeAway have places to stay almost anywhere.

One strategy I have used is to spend my first week at a hostel, roam around the city and talk to other expats to get an idea of the best ways to find housing, and then find a place. This is a notably more time-consuming and stressful strategy, but I wouldn’t recommend against it.

If you’re willing to be less selective in your housing search, you can swap homes for free with someone on HomeExchange, but you’re of course limited to the location the people who are swapping with you are in.

Where to go during your mini-life

It all depends upon what you want to achieve during your mini-life (more on that later), but picking the right place to take it can be critical. Here are things to consider:

  • Weather: One of the best reasons to go live a mini-life is to escape undesirable weather. I live in Chicago, which is an awesome city most of the time. However, January and February absolutely blows in the windy city, so I’ve skipped those months the past three years in a row. If you live in a similar climate, go somewhere warm in the winter.
  • Cost: If you manage to rent your place out and book a flight with miles, a mini-life can actually cost you less than $0 if you pick an inexpensive area of the world, such as Southeast Asia or South America. Or if you’ve dreamed of living in an expensive city, a month in San Francisco is much cheaper than a lifetime!
  • Lifestyle: Do you want to party hard, or gain some peace of mind? The place you pick will make all of the difference in the type of lifestyle you lead in your mini-life. You may live in a small town, and just want a taste of big-city life, or vice-versa.
  • Business connections: Mini-lives can pay huge dividends if you pick a place with business connections you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. I don’t want to live in NYC, but I spent a month there just to do some networking. During that time, I met Ryan Holiday, which lead to this post’s precursor. Check with your accountant: you may even be able to expense your mini-life!
  • Language: If you want to work on a new language during your mini-life, you’ll obviously want to go somewhere that speaks that language. But, not all places are created equal in this regard. For example, I found that Argentines have a strong accent, and lots of people in Buenos Aires are eager to speak English, while people in Medellin, Colombia speak more clearly and are more likely to speak Spanish to you.
  • Dreams: Almost everyone has them: visions in your head of what your life might be like if you picked up everything and moved to a particular city – maybe even a different country. If you’re a little timid to go that far, mini-lives can be valuable just in quieting that voice in your head that whispers “what if?” I liked my time in NYC, but my mini-life helped solidify that I’m not looking to drop everything and move there.

Have a plan for your mini-life

One of the things people like about traveling is flying by the seat of their pants. That has its time and place, but I like to approach my mini-lives more deliberately. If you have a plan, you can execute it, and finish your trip feeling satisfied and refreshed. Keep these things in mind:

  • Length matters: One mistake I’ve seen people make with mini-lives is that they don’t go for long enough. For example, you might think that a month is a long time to go on a trip, but if you’re living a mini-life in a foreign city, it’s an extremely awkward amount of time. It’s too long to distract yourself with tourist attractions, but not quite long enough to really get into a rhythm and make new friends. I recommend at least two months for foreign cities, but one month can be okay for a domestic city or a city where you already have friends.
  • Have projects in mind: Mini-lives are a great opportunity to really dig in on a project that you’ve been meaning to work on. You don’t have the distractions of being in your hometown—with all of the loose social connections—and it’s a finite amount of time, so you can plan your work. When I lived in Buenos Aires I worked on my SXSW presentation. In Brooklyn I worked on my free design course, and Other mini-lifers I know have used their mini-lives to write a screenplay, shoot a documentary, or learn to Tango. As mentioned in my previous article, two months is also a perfect amount of time to do the INSANITY workout program.
  • Plan your trip trajectory: How many times have you finished a trip feeling like you didn’t do all of the things that you had hoped to do? You can prevent this and leave your mini-life feeling good by simply planning out the trajectory beforehand. I like to just make a bullet-point list of each week of the trip and make a few sub-bullets that loosely describe what I want to accomplish that week. The first week is usually reserved for getting established: checking into the apartment, getting acquainted with local food staples, getting a local SIM card, and making new friends, while the last week is reserved for winding down and planning a smooth re-entry into my hometown life.
  • Pack heavy: Many people will violently disagree with me on this, but I love to pack heavy for my mini-lives. Mini lives are already disruptive, so if you can have a few comforts of home it can make it all seem more normal. I tend to have different dietary supplements that are hard to find in foreign countries, and I’ve even brought my favorite blender—and yes, oh, yes, almond butter—along on my trips. Since I have to be productive while I’m away, I bring my ergonomic but travel-friendly setup. I start planning my packing list by brainstorming in Evernote several weeks before my trip. Plus, I still have packing lists from past trips to use as a template.

Kids, dogs, and relationships

Mini-lives may sound like some fantasy only for unattached people with no responsibilities at home; but if you want it badly enough, almost anything is possible.

First of all, if living mini-lives is important to you, and you don’t yet have these things in your life, take this desire into consideration before making those commitments.

But if it’s “too late” then be creative and work to bust down those excuses.

Take David and Carrie McKeegan of Greenback Tax Services as inspiration. They started their firm in 2008, and have since lived all over the world.

Not only did they manage to turn a usually-location-dependent profession into a unique business by providing tax services for other expats, but they’ve done this – along with all of that travel – while having two kids. Listen to the What is the Best Place for Location Independent Families? episode of the Tropical Talk Radio Podcast to hear more of their story.

Start small and dream big

Some people are already living mini-lives, while others are just a few small changes from being able to take off next week.

Even if a mini-life seems like a longshot to you, you don’t have to do a full-blown one right away. Open up a new note in Evernote, and start brainstorming. What would you need to set up? Where would you like to go?

If there are barriers in your way, practice small ways to break them down. It may be just convincing your boss that you can even be productive working from your own home, landing that first freelance client, or seeing if you can find a friend to take care of your dog while you leave for just a week.

Whatever it is, chances are, a mini-life is possible for you. It will be an experience that pays off if you take the right steps to make it happen.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Travel"
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Date: Tuesday, 18 Mar 2014 20:23

It seems like everyone wants to have more time. In a recent open-ended survey of folks on my email list, time was the second most talked about thing.


The D4H community is almost as concerned with time as they are with design!

This is in a survey about design!

Time is our most precious resource. Just as soon as it is here, it is gone. Once it’s gone, we can never get it back.

Do you wish you had more time?

It’s okay if the answer is “yes.” We suck at managing time. There are so many things that are trying to command our attention at once, but they’re from different sources.

  • We have things we want to do (or that other people want us to do) on our to-do list
  • We have emails coming at us, asking us for our time
  • Then, that all gets interrupted by things in the “real” world

Imagine if you had all of this under control. What would that be like?

You’d wake up each morning, confident that you knew exactly what needed to be done. Interruptions would be easy to manage amongst all of the demands at work. You’d never let your goals slip: exercising enough, drinking lots of water every day, spending less time watching House of Cards.

You’d have a clear head throughout the day, giving you more space in your mind to communicate clearly, and with confidence, to your clients and coworkers.

Best of all, you’d spend more time with people whom are more important to you than any of the above.

The secret is out. Introducing Timeful.

For the past 9 months, I’ve serving as an advisor to a team of superstar behavioral scientists, data scientists, and product designers on building a tool to help you achieve this level of time management Zen (or rather mind management Zen).

I’m very excited and proud to finally be able to tell you about it.

One of the co-founders is the legendary Dan Ariely. Dan is a pioneer in the field of behavioral economics, and his research uncovers cognitive errors in day-to-day life. He’s the author of three New York Times best-sellers, including Predictably Irrational, and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. I’ve always loved his books and TED talks, so I’m thrilled to be working with him.

Dan Ariely, three-time NYT best-seller, behavioral scientist, & Timeful co-founder.

Dan Ariely, three-time NYT best-seller, behavioral scientist, & Timeful co-founder.

Now, he’s using this knowledge about human behavior to help people overcome their cognitive errors when it comes to managing their time (and their minds).

Another co-founder is Yoav Shoham, Stanford professor who started TradingDynamics, which sold for $400 million, and who sold another company to Google.

Dan and Yoav have teamed up with CEO and founder Jacob Bank, a Stanford grad student who specializes in algorithms and machine learning.

We’re funded by the top VC’s: Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Ashton Kutcher (through A-Grade Investments).

The rest of the Timeful team includes the best product designers and engineers, formerly from Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc..

We’re Timeful, join our private beta

The Timeful team has been doing all of the really hard work, but I’ve been advising them on product, sharing my time management (mind management) philosophies, so I like to think that in some ways, this app is designed around the way I work. I’ve grown to find it invaluable, and can hardly wait to see how it improves as the Timeful vision is realized.

Everyone will get to see what the Timeful team has been working on in April. Until then, find out what your “Timeful Quotient” is by taking the TQ (my “Productivity score” is 89 out of 100, but then again, I’m using Timeful). We’ll be inviting a select group of people to our private beta.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Productivity"
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Date: Friday, 21 Feb 2014 22:24

It was a demoralizing feeling, staring down at my paycheck.

It was a lot of money.

I thought about when I was a kid, the first time learning what my father’s yearly salary was. At this pace, I’d make that in less than three months.

I thought about my job just two years prior. It would have taken me three months to make what I had just made in two weeks.

I was making lots of money. I was designing things. Why did I feel so shitty?

I thought about what I had been working on in the previous two weeks. What was this paycheck made of?

I had designed some buttons, written some code, designed some other stuff – I had sat in on some meetings. I had definitely been “working” the whole time. Quite hard, in fact.

But where did that work go? The objectives of the company were unclear. The metrics were inconsistent. What were we really producing?

I thought about where the money in my paycheck came from: The CEO going around, talking to people with money. Then they’d write some check – kiss the money goodbye – but hope that they’d make some more money.

My job was a dream job on the surface: making lots of money doing work I loved, a kitchen stocked with all sorts of organic goodies, massages for employees, lavish parties, and fun times. The product manager once spent an entire afternoon potting plants.

But still I felt like a shell. I tried to crunch the numbers in the little calculator in my brain: “Well, that button will do this, and that’s $X, and also this intangible thingie,” and “no, well, that code actually won’t be used.” It just didn’t add up.

Nothing could fill in enough earth underneath this shell to make it seem like it sat where it belonged.

Sure, the money was speculative money. The investors had to reasonably assume that it would disappear into thin air. But in that process, my time and talents and efforts – and those of dozens of others – had to disappear into thin air as well.

We were operating on false mechanics. Allowing our actions to be guided by the whims of others; and by the dangerous false sense of importance that can result from getting paid lots of money.

As I walked to work the next day, I passed the place where people line up to ride the cable car. Some of them were elderly tourists. I imagined that they had worked their whole lives to come visit this city – to come stand in this line and ride this famous cable car.

Yet I got to walk by this every day. Two years prior, this was a place of fantasy – like it only existed on TV and in movies. Why did I get to live this life? Why did I get this big paycheck and to live in this city?

I looked around at all of the people going to work, and thought about their paychecks. I imagined many of them also got paid lots of money to ultimately produce nothing. They didn’t have any earth underneath their shells either.

When I finally got laid off, I didn’t feel a sense of despair. The fog of fear floated above a feeling of rightness, freedom, inevitability, and certainty. Like it feels to be strapped into a roller coaster, listening to the chain pull it up that first incline. I didn’t want to be a shell anymore.

I wanted to earn it.

The months and years since that day have been filled with trying to gather earth.

From the beginning, it was gratifying to dig into the dirt – to constantly have to be resourceful, to constantly evaluate what I had. How could I collect all of this into one solid pile and keep building on it? I dug into nooks and crannies trying to find whatever I may have missed the last time around.

I had more big paychecks waved in front of my face. One CEO literally begged me to come work for his company. It all sounded like it should have been enticing, but I surprised even myself at how uninterested I was. I just didn’t see enough earth there.

The process of gathering earth has not been easy. It has not been massages and organic fruit baskets and lavish parties. Much of it has been fear and paranoia and anxiety and loneliness and doubt.

The satisfaction that I’ve gotten along the way hasn’t come from big paychecks, or getting to tell people at parties that I worked for a cool company, or really having any sort of straight story about what I had been doing at all.

The satisfaction came from the comfort of dark walks home, after 16 cafe laptop hours of tinkering with nothing in particular, thinking to myself about how I hadn’t made a dime that day, but still feeling like the earth was swelling beneath my feet.

It came from the very thought of an idea making my blood pump harder – as if that force were what powered my fingers.

It came from the repeated realization that the way I had imagined things would be, wasn’t how they were going to be. It came from the constant knowledge that I had a lot left to learn.

It manifested itself in the form of a smile that came from within and shaped my lips without their conscious will.

When the paychecks did return, tiny though they were, the satisfaction came from thinking about where they came from: the things I had learned in order to make things, the things I had made, the things that those things I made did, the things I had learned making those things, and the things I had yet to make.

This isn’t a story about how money is the root of all evil. I couldn’t be convinced of that. This isn’t to romanticize the path of the starving artist, as if money doesn’t matter at all. It does. It just does.

This also isn’t a story about how there is no better metric to guide one’s actions than the almighty dollar. As evinced by my own experiences, that doesn’t make sense.

And this isn’t a story about the virtue of lone wolves – as if anyone can operate without others; or of the justness of the world – as if we all always get what we deserve. The Universe is clearly too fickle for that to be true.

But there is some place in the middle of all of these things. When you strip away the artificial structures that harbor you; When you dig your fingers into the dirt, and salvage even the soil under your nails; When you do that every day; When that becomes your way of life – eventually you’ll have a mound, then a hill, then a mountain that no shell can contain.

And it will feel right, because maybe, you might be able to say…perhaps…

…you’ve earned it.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Entrepreneurship"
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Date: Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014 04:42

“That was kind of scary, how you were able to do that.”

George only noticed because he was one of the fellow speakers – still coming down from the inevitable nerves of giving a talk – but if you’ve watched my TEDx Talk, you probably didn’t notice at all.

It’s over 17 minutes long, but there are no slides or teleprompter to help me remember a thing. I still have a long way to go before my skills catch up with my taste, but I managed to deliver the talk almost exactly as I had intended.

There are two main components to successful public speaking: the nerves component, and the art component. As frightened as many people are of standing up in front of a group of people and giving a speech, most of us will eventually find ourselves in a situation where we have to do it.

Still, there is a desire to do it. Giving an effective presentation is a powerful way to share your knowledge and ideas. Thankfully, we can learn to manage our nerves and develop our art.

The nerves component

For many people, the nerves component feels nearly insurmountable. It could be that they are shy, they lack the confidence, or they have impossibly high expectations.

Then there are the things that are out of our control: the faulty projector, the audience member’s Jay-Z ringtone, the lighting in the room, the acoustics, the mood of the audience, or the fact that you had to skip breakfast because you missed your alarm. All of these things are what come together to make speaking so horrifying for some people: it’s a lack of control, the lack of predictability, the lack of knowing how the hell to convey your thoughts through all of this madness and plant them into the brains of your audience members.

I certainly wasn’t born being able to do this. Just ask my mother, who recently sent me this note:

…when I read about you loving to speak, I am reminded of the little boy on the stage in grade school who looked so panic-stricken that I feared he may pass out. But, you didn’t, and just kept on doing those things that scare you, until they didn’t any more!

Thankfully, I don’t feel like passing out when I’m on stage anymore. In fact, I’ve spoken dozens of times on 3 continents, in places as far away from home as Chile and Singapore. I’ve talked to a room of 800 people at SXSW, and an audience of 50,000 people online, streaming from Mexico City. It’s still not a relaxing Sunday picnic in the park, but I overall find it enjoyable nonetheless.

Whenever I’m scared of something, I ask myself what it is I have to gain from facing that fear. I would probably be scared to jump out of a plane, but I don’t think I would gain much out of it. On the list of fears that you can grow from by facing, public speaking is way high on the list – right behind striking up a conversation with that cute someone in the coffee shop. It can literally change your life, but with almost no tangible consequences for failing.

Start so small you can’t fail

A key to gaining confidence, besides giving yourself permission to suck is to actually put yourself in a situation where it’s nearly impossible to fail. There are many opportunities to either do a talk that is so short that you can’t fail, or where you can be in a situation where failure is part of the fun.

Improv classes are an invaluable experience for anyone – no matter what you do. I took classes at Second City, the famous comedy theater in Chicago that has produced the likes of Steve Carell and Tina Fey. Not only do you start off “performing” in a small class in structured, tiny chunks, you also find that there isn’t really a wrong way – and that if something doesn’t go as planned, you aren’t going to disintegrate into a million tiny bits.

Besides classes like that, there are lots of opportunities to talk in front of people. I did a talk at BarCamp 5 years ago that was the very seed that eventually grew into my book. I did a more polished talk at an Ignite event as well – it’s only 5 minutes long, so getting used to memorizing and saying things was much easier to handle.

Rehearse. Seriously.

The most surprising thing that people neglect to do when preparing for a speech is rehearsing – actually standing up and saying. the. words. that you’re going to say. Without rehearsal, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You’re guaranteed to experience strong feelings of anxiety because you know deep down that you’re not prepared.

Besides, words sound much different when spoken than when written. Some words and combinations of words are just hard to say, or hard to understand when spoken. For example, in my TEDx talk, I say “…if we go back 500 years…” instead of “…if we rewind 500 years….” “If we rewind” is just too much of a tongue twister.

To put it simply: If you haven’t rehearsed your speech, then you haven’t finished writing it.

Rehearse your talk. Say the words out loud. Program them into your basal ganglia. Until you get really good at remembering what you want to say, try saying certain passages of your talk extremely slowly. and. ex-ag-ger-at-ed. This will intensify the muscle memory and you won’t believe how much easier you can recite the words, especially after a nap or a good night’s sleep.

Let me be clear about this, because as simple as it sounds, it can be hard to get into your brain. Yes, I mean actually standing in a room by yourself and saying the words out loud. It sounds and feels weird at first, but it’s very important.

Your talk isn’t the only thing that needs practicing. Prepare for unexpected as well. What happens if the slides stop working or an audience member shouts something in the middle of your speech? You can’t predict everything, but planning even for a few things can give you a boost in confidence that you’ll be ready for anything.

Master your nerves

When you get up in front of people, you are going to get amped up. Your heart will race, your breath will get shallow, and you will start to sweat. Heck, I’m still screwed if I have to hold a microphone. Even if I don’t feel nervous, that microphone will probably be shaking visibly. The experiences of thousands of your ancestors are telling you that this is a scary situation.

If you’re someone who gets nervous when public speaking, those nerves may never completely go away; but you can learn to harness them into improving your performance. Mastery doesn’t mean abolition. It means control in the face of a challenge.

Think of it like doing push-ups. When you’re out of shape, your arms shake a little bit and you can’t do very many. But, if you keep doing them every day, you’ll find that you magically shake less and less and you can do more and more. You can feel those tiny muscle fibers that used to shake actually propelling your body up off of the floor more smoothly and confidently than ever before.

So many things in life are just like doing push-ups, and public speaking is definitely one of them. The best way to really get control over those tiny little nerves is by meditating. Meditation helps you bring awareness to every little thing going on in your body, to the point that you can have control over your own physiological reactions. The deep breathing associated with meditation lowers your heart rate, which in turn, lowers feelings of anxiety. With enough practice, you’ll be able to calm your nerves and lower your heart rate just by taking a few controlled breaths.

What you put into your body will make a big difference in being able to control your nerves, as well. Some people employ caffeine to give them a jolt, but that can make your already raised heart rate increase even more. Others take a shot of alcohol, but too much and your talk is going downhill in a hurry.

I don’t drink caffeine so that’s a big offender that’s easy for me to avoid, but If I have a big talk coming up, I’ll be sure to enjoy some calming Chamomile tea before bed for a few days before the talk. If you must do caffeine, you may want to consider supplementing with L-Theanine, which is an amino acid that synergizes with caffeine to make you alert without being jittery. Alternatively, try a lower dose caffeine drink such as tea or a “half-caf” coffee drink. (I’m not a doctor, so be sure to check with yours before using supplements.)

Regular exercise has also been proven to lower anxiety. Going for a quick walk or practicing yoga also does wonders for the creative process when preparing for a speech.

The art component

A few lucky people are born without the fear of public speaking. Others have already mastered their nerves. But being an effective speaker certainly doesn’t stop there. Speaking is its own art form that needs to be appreciated as such.

Speaking isn’t writing

Consider the audience’s point of view: There’s something distinctly different about listening to and watching a person speak than sitting and reading the written word. You can’t “scan” or “skim over” a speech like you can an article. You can’t re-read a speech like you can an article.

With a speech, what they get are your body and face and movements, the words you say, the way you say them, and whatever visuals you’re providing – all in real time. All of these things are interpreted as they happen, and the only reviewing the audience can really do is what you burn into their memory.

This sounds simple, but to understand this is to understand what is unique about the medium of speech. The thoughts that are conveyed in a speech go through many layers of abstraction:


To make things even more complicated, you can’t really experience your own speech the way you can experience your own writing. Sure you can (and you should) rehearse your speech out loud, but you can’t sit in the audience and watch yourself. When you write something, you can just read it and imagine being one of your audience members.

Speaking isn’t a slide deck

Whatever speaking gig you sign up for, they’re going to naturally assume that you have slides. People love to do talks with slides. It helps you remember what you’re supposed to be talking about, and it gives you something to do and look at while you’re talking.

The killer is that it gives you something to obsess over that’s far more tangible than the talk itself. It’s much easier to fiddle around with the typeface on your slides than it is to think about if your talk opens up in a compelling way, or if you have the right stories and metaphors to convey your points.

Sometimes slides are really useful. If you’re really illustrating something that must be seen to be understood, of course, they’re invaluable. But usually, slides aren’t really adding anything to a talk, but rather, taking things away. They dominate the consciousness of the audience and distract them from your body, your movements, your voice – from the words you’re saying. To make matters worse, they’re usually projected at several times your own size.

For my TEDx talk, for example, I considered using slides. The way it opens, I could easily get a few laughs by showing Comic Sans being used in strange places a couple of times. But I realized that I didn’t even need the images to get my point across. People already knew what Comic Sans was, and they know damn well that it’s not appropriate for funeral programs.

So, I took the slides out. This had the added benefit of proving my point that design topics are now deeply embedded in the contemporary brain.

Great artists steal

If you want to be a great painter, look at – and copy – the work of great painters. If you want to be a great public speaker, watch – and copy – the work of great speakers. Don’t be afraid to steal ideas (on an abstract level, not direct plagiarism, of course) from speakers whom you admire.

I’ll readily admit that a couple of speakers that I’ve “ripped off” are Malcom Gladwell and Seth Godin. More specifically, in preparation for my TEDx talk, I studied Mr. Gladwell’s talk on the Norden bombsight and Seth Godin’s talk on education. It was Mr. Godin’s talk that inspired me to use props – a large book and an iPhone – instead of slides.

Besides, imitation won’t turn you into a copycat. If I try to speak more like Gladwell or Godin, it will still come across as David Kadavy. After all, I’m not an impressionist. My tastes are part of who I am as a creative person. They inform my art.

Another great thing about watching great speakers really closely is that it can help you realize that they are imperfect, despite giving amazing talks – which makes emulating them less intimidating. For example, Mr. Gladwell loses his place and has to backtrack in his talk (which doesn’t detract from how good it is). You realize mistakes are okay.

Quick public speaking tips

Now that you’ve heard my more abstract explanations of speaking. Here’s a few quick-and-dirty tips:

  • Memorize your first minute: If rehearsing your entire talk is a bit much for you, at least memorize and rehearse the first minute. You’ll feel less nervous, get off to a smooth start, and feel great for the rest of your talk. After the first minute, have the basic structure in your mind and improvise off of that.
  • Record and listen to your talk: Talking isn’t writing, so you can’t really experience your own talk the way you can your own writing. Do the next best thing and record your talk (I like to use the voice memos app on the iPhone), and listen to it a few times. It will program the talk into your brain, and help you point out areas that don’t flow together well.
  • Say in 20 minutes what you could say in 20 seconds: It sounds silly and annoying, but really, you should keep the overall message of your talk simple, and find different and interesting ways to illustrate that point through stories and examples. Your audience can’t “skim over” or review your talk, so your points need to be simple, clear, engaging, and memorable.
  • Kill your slides: Try rehearsing your talk without slides. Are there specific parts that just won’t work without slides? Add slides back in there. You don’t want to be the person that is reading their slides. Make them count.
  • Say the words out loud: I said this above, but I have to say it again because it’s so important. Actually rehearse the talk out loud. Practice saying the words. If you feel weird rehearsing a talk to yourself – well, stop feeling weird about it. Rehearsing your talk pays huge dividends.
  • Make bullet points, then improvise: Being rehearsed but natural is tough. If you’ve written out and rehearsed your whole talk, try rehearsing again with just bullet points. Try to keep it loose and tell some bad jokes. Most won’t stick, but some will, and your talk will sound more natural.
  • Rehearse in the space (if you can): If you’re speaking at an event that will give you an opportunity to go see the space and rehearse in it, do it. The feeling and acoustics of the room you’re in can completely change the ideal pacing and attitude. My Ignite talk on Comic Sans hate was completely different until I went and rehearsed it. The space felt like a comedy club, and echoed much more than my home office did, so it made a more comedic posture and delivery feel appropriate.
  • Try voice exercises: Performers of all types use voice exercises to help their voice project loudly, clearly, and confidently. Especially if you’re just starting with public speaking, you should be no different. There are some voice exercises – originally intended for signing – that I’ve found helpful. Here’s links to the videos, but essentially they involve singing scales of “ya-ga-ya-ga” and “la-ga-la-ga” while keeping your mouth completely open. You’ll feel even more silly doing these than you will rehearsing your talk, but consider it a growing experience.

So, if you know deep down that you’d like to be better at speaking, I encourage you to find some low-pressure speaking opportunities on which to try out some of these tips.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "How To"
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Date: Tuesday, 07 Jan 2014 17:27

The thing that has always propelled humanity forward has been the sharing of ideas. Spoken, then written language intensified the pace of innovation.

The thing that makes written language so powerful, is that it serves as a shorthand through which we can exchange thoughts with one another asynchronously.

Language connects brains.

Shortly after Gutenberg perfected the printing press, the transfer of ideas exponentiated. For the first time, people were able to store their ideas in a book that could then put those ideas into the brains of thousands of other people.

Publishing connects brains.

But, the world moves much faster than it did in 15th-century Germany. Now, the shorthand that is written language isn’t short enough. The “bicycle for the mind,” the computer, has enabled ideas to transfer even more rapidly.

The invention of language, and the invention of the publishing of that language networked brains so ideas could spread faster. Computers, mobile devices, and the Internet have intensified that pace by many orders of magnitude.

Thanks to these technologies, ideas transfer instantaneously, and the limits of their reach are boundless.

Computers connect brains.

We don’t have to pour molten hot lead into copper matrices to make letters. We don’t have to typeset one page at a time, and we don’t have to make paper to print it all on. When an idea is ready to be published, we don’t even have to ship physical copies of that idea.

Once our brains put an idea into a computer, that idea can be on another computer in an instant. The bottleneck in this network of brains, then, is between the brain and the computer.

This is where design comes in. The clear presentation of the subtext of information (this is more important than that; that is related to this) through shapes, lines, colors, and spaces between pieces of information, strengthens the connection between brain and computer where language isn’t enough.

They say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but a design can be worth 30,000 words. The subtle curves of a typeface, the sizing and alignment of words, and the spaces between those words all make up their share along with colors, textures, and shapes.

Computers publish language that connects our brains to other brains. Design connects our brains to those computers.

Design connects brains.

(Until we find a more direct route.)

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Design"
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Date: Wednesday, 01 Jan 2014 18:41

The trouble with resolutions is you can’t keep them.

Maybe you think you’ll exercise more this year. So, you join a gym, and you might even come up with a workout plan.

But it’s damn hard to keep yourself motivated, and eventually you stop going. Maybe you’ll skip a day because you’re tired. “I’ll do it tomorrow,” you say to yourself.

Then “tomorrow” comes, and you say “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and now you’ve cheated yourself so much, it doesn’t really matter. Everything else in life takes over.

Get your design abs ripped

Design is hotter than ever, and more people are trying to learn design than ever before. But just like getting your abs ripped, learning about typography, and alignment, and colors takes commitment.

If you’re someone who has been trying to learn design, you may have bought my book, Design for Hackers, but the trouble with a book is that it’s entirely up to you to actually pick it up and make some tea, and sit down and read it, even though you’re busy.

What you need is a “commitment device,” which is basically something that commits you to doing something you mean to do. Your “present you” uses it to keep your “future you” on task.

Your free design coach

I’ve created a 12-week email course to do just that for you. It’ll be a good kickstart to make 2014 your year of learning design.

Each week is based upon a chapter of my book, Design for Hackers. You’ll learn about choosing and pairing fonts, using the grid to create a clear hierarchy, or what colors convey what meanings. The emails are packed with interactive quizzes and polls.

So, when your “future you” is lost in a sea of YouTube compilations of Segway accidents, your “past you” (currently “present you”) will be like “HEY! Time to learn some design! (Also, that is a funny video)”

Then an email from me (that your “past you currently present you” wisely signed up for) will show up in your inbox. It’s like a free personal trainer to keep your design butt in gear.

I’ve offered a similar course in the past as “Summer of Design” and “DesignTrain” available to limited groups of people, but now, enrollment is completely open, and is still completely free.

Once the course is over, you’ll still get emails from me about design, all year long. I explain design like it’s my job, because it is. I quit my lucrative freelance career to dedicate myself to teaching you about design, and spend hundreds of dollars a month just to send you these free emails.

So, do “future you” a favor and sign up right down here.

To learn more about the curriculum, check it out here.

Once you’ve signed up, help create a world full of totally ripped design abs with a retweet.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Design"
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Date: Friday, 08 Nov 2013 16:16

The world is just stuff and things. They sound similar, but they’re very different. To be effective, you have to be really good at turning stuff into things.

To me, my business is just a bunch of stuff. There are a bunch of cells in my body that work together to turn stuff into things, sometimes for reasons I understand, sometimes for reasons I don’t. (“Reasons” are just stuff anyway)

But, to my accountant, my business is a bunch of things: dollars, time periods – months, quarters, years. All of the dollar things that I spend and make have to go into these things, and also into category things.

To the government, my business is its own thing. It’s even an “S-Corp” type of thing. There is stuff inside the thing, and stuff outside the thing. You don’t want to mix stuff outside the thing with stuff inside the thing. That’s bad.

The world moves forward when people turn stuff into things. It’s all just a nebulous collection of atoms, but they comprise “customers,” “markets,” and “technology.” You have to turn stuff – whether it’s raw materials, bits of code, or even thoughts – into things to create a “product.”

I really just want to do stuff all day, but no, I have to turn that stuff into things. That is, if I want to keep doing stuff.

My thoughts are just a bunch of stuff, and I have to turn them into word things. Then I package them up into something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stuff doesn’t have bounds like that, but things – like this blog post – always do.

One time, I even turned my thought stuff into a book thing. All of my thought stuff had to be put into word things, into paragraph things, into chapter things, and so on, like a bunch of Russian dolls inside one big Russian doll.

The cool part of turning stuff into things is that when you’re done people can put the thing in their brain with all of the other stuff in there and it gets mixed all together and sometimes even turns into other things. That’s how the thing you made came to be anyway: you mixed things in with your stuff and then it became things again.

It’s kind of brilliant, because people can then say they made that thing, and they can get things for that: “recognition,” “money,” “cred(it).” This is part of the fuel that gets people to turn stuff into things.

The challenging thing about this system is that some stuff is way easier to turn into things. Numbers, for example, they already are things. Since the number things represent the dollar things that represent all of the stuff, it only follows that people who control the number things representing dollar things get more dollar things.

Then there’s the other stuff that’s pretty easy to turn into things: like house things, car things, and ham sandwich things.

At some point in time, each of these was brilliantly transformed from stuff to thing. Now it’s just stuff that’s easy to make things out of. Some of it is important, but not that interesting.

Then there’s big piles of other things that are just made of stuff: degree things, marriage things, insurance plan things to protect your stuff things from unexpected appendicitis things. Then all of the law things that make things out of all of these stuff things; and the public office things of the people things that turn stuff things into law things.

Damn, there’s lots of things in the world. Things are easy to see. Things command your attention. You have to be looking hard to really see the stuff.


There’s the challenge: with all of these things in front of you, how can you ever see the stuff well enough to make things out of it?

You have to see the things for the stuff that they are. Call their bluff things! You have to see the stuff for the things it could become!


Most people, once they have things in front of them, it’s game over. They’ll smack their alarm thing, drink their coffee thing in their car thing, go to the job thing, then watch the TV thing or comment on the Facebook thing. It’s so easy.

But it’s also so hard. These things are robbing them of their stuff.

If you learn to see the things for stuff and the stuff for things, suddenly the things won’t overpower the stuff so much. The supposedly urgent email thing from the boss thing, and the oh-my-god-buy-this-stuff-thing-or-you’re-ugly-fat-and-stupid-thing on the TV thing will just look silly.

Suddenly the what’s-this-thought stuff will become the look-at-it-this-way thing, and the what’s-this-feeling stuff will become the here’s-what-I’ll-do thing. Suddenly the line between stuff and things starts to blur.


This is how really interesting things are made. When people start to see stuff: untapped desires, cultural trends, the very thoughts in their heads, human interactions, etc., and realize they can make things out of them: groundbreaking mobile devices, musical acts, books, social networks, and other stuff things that you can’t even dream of.

Don’t let all of the things make you lose sight of the stuff. The stuff, well, that’s the good stuff.

P.S. I’m teaming up with some all-stars to make something that will help you manage your mind. Stay tuned. You’ll learn about it in early 2014.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Entrepreneurship"
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Date: Friday, 08 Nov 2013 16:05

Productivity is less about time management than it is about mind management. Sometimes you can get a ton of stuff done in a 10-minute burst, while other times you may be totally distracted and unproductive all day long.

The key to really making good use of your time is to master your mental energy. If you can do the right kind of work for your current mental state, or get yourself into the right mental state to do the work you need to do, then you’ll be well on your way to a more effective existence.

This is a topic that has fascinated me since before writing my book, and (because mind management was so important to writing that book) has continued to fascinate me. Here are my top thoughts on mind management:

  1. Mind Management (Not Time Management): The introduction to the overarching concepts of mind management. By working according to your mental state, and learning how to manage your mental state, you can get more out of your time.
  2. Permission to Suck: To become good at something, you have to first be not good at it. Don’t let the fear of imperfection stand in the way of starting.
  3. Stuff & Things: The whole world is full of “stuff” (undefined matter, like thinking and human desires) and things (defined matter, like money and products). All of the “things” are distracting, but to really be effective, you have to know how to turn “stuff” into “things.”
  4. Thinking is a Thing: It can be difficult to block off time for thinking. Thinking gets crowded out by everything else in your life. Making time for thinking can keep you operating mindfully.
  5. Prefrontal Mondays: High-level decision-making and prioritization uses your energy-hungry Prefrontal Cortex. Set aside a special time when you have lots of mental energy (perhaps Monday morning) to do this important kind of thinking.
  6. The 10-Minute Hack: To get started on something, set a very conservative goal (like working on it for 10-minutes). This makes it easy to get started; and once you do, you’ll want to keep going.
  7. Be Cognizant. Make Your Perfect Salad: Our awareness of what exists limits the quality of our experiences. You have to actively build your cognizance to come up with the combination of things that work for you.
  8. LifeBeans: Jelly Beans for Keeping Your Resolutions: Write yourself “prescriptions” for how often to do certain things to pursue your resolutions. Keep track of them with jelly beans.
  9. Goals are Bananas! The Fallacy of Goals: Focusing too intently on one far-off goal can distract you from opportunities that are right in front of you. The world changes too quickly to not remain mindful.

Don’t let a hyper-awareness of the most tangible things in front of you get in the way of making the most out of your mind.

P.S. I’m teaming up with some all-stars to make something that will help you manage your mind. Stay tuned. You’ll learn about it in early 2014.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Productivity"
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Date: Monday, 16 Sep 2013 19:14

I wrote Design for Hackers to teach hackers about design. But that wasn’t the hokey pokey of it.

That wasn’t what it was “all about.”

I wrote it for hackers because hackers have the most power to do great things with the things that they make.

But that’s changing.

Hackers have made makers

All of that collective work, all of the long hours of coding, sharing and contributing to open-source work – and of coding and making for profit – are distributing that power to people who don’t even know what a <br> tag is. (They should learn, but that’s another story)

Hackers have brought the power to make things to the mainstream. All sorts of people are making things, and more people have the ability to get their ideas seen by the masses.

Along the way, they’re learning about design. You can talk about the differences between Times New Roman and Helvetica at a party and people will know what you’re talking about.

Do you realize how huge that is?

Do you realize that wouldn’t have worked 20 years ago? Not even 10.

Regular people are learning about design

We already know that communicating with the visual language of shapes and lines and white space can be the difference between someone dismissing what we make, or embracing it.

Regular people are already learning about design without even being aware of it. They may as well be intentional about it and harness its power.

This is the subject of the talk I gave at TEDx DePaul University in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. If you watch the video, you may think I’m just speaking to the “exit” sign, but I swear, there were lots of people there.

I’m very excited and proud to have had the opportunity to share this idea through TEDx!

(If you enjoy this talk, please let the TED people know simply by clicking on this link)

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Design"
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Date: Thursday, 13 Jun 2013 17:45

You’ve heard the famous quote: “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.”

Similarly, when I was a kid, naturally I would often decide I really wanted a certain toy. My mother would usually tell me that if I still wanted that toy in a few weeks, “maybe” I would get it.

This was clever, because I would usually forget about it. But sometimes, my desire would persist. Sometimes, I would maybe get the toy.

This advice is useful not only in love and toys, but also in ideas.

If you love an idea, set it free. If it comes back, you’re onto something.

What’s fueling your idea?

Excitement for an idea can be very powerful. It gives you the momentum to pursue that idea. But sometimes – eventually – the pursuit of that idea is no longer fueled by your love for that idea. It’s fueled by all of the things that have been put in place in order to pursue that idea.

Investors, employees, leases for office space, and TechCrunch articles can have dangerously seductive qualities. They can make you feel powerful, give you the sense that your idea has merit, and that you’re spending your precious moments in a worthwhile pursuit.

But these things carve grooves that only get deeper. They can create false forces that guide your actions.

You thought you were your own boss, but now you’re a marionette.

This can go on for much longer than the life of that idea. Not only are you in deep, but now other people are as well. They’re spending their precious moments in pursuit of your idea. The marriage persists, but the love is gone.

If you love your idea, let it go

The next time you get really excited about an idea, whether it’s the healthcare portal that is going to revolutionize the industry, or that from now on you’re going to drink 8 glasses of water a day, do yourself a favor: pursue it just a little bit.

Try it on for awhile. Daydream about it with a Moleskine and a glass of wine.

Then let it go. If it comes back to you, you may be onto something.

Ideas take time to grow. You do, too.

About 5 years ago, I decided to do a little talk to teach developers about design. It was called “Design for the Coder’s Mind.”

So many things weren’t quite right about it: the name I chose didn’t have punch, I was just okay at expressing my ideas, and my presentation skills were also just okay. Most importantly, not many developers were interested in learning about design.

It should have been harder to let go of that idea. I had loved design as long as I could remember.

I might have decided to continue working on that idea. To plow through the things I wasn’t so good at, and to persevere through the lack of market interest.

But I was still thirsty to try other things. So I did the presentation, and let the idea go.

Two years passed before I gave that idea more thought. Lots of things happened not only to bring the idea back to me, but to improve my chances of pursuing that idea successfully. I wrote about other things on my blog and got better at writing and expressing my thoughts; and I messed around in improv and sketch writing classes at Second City, which improved my presentation skills. I freelanced just enough to support myself while I built passive revenue streams.

I was pursuing lots of other ideas: I had a roommate-meeting service, I built a food photo-sharing app with some friends, and I started making YouTube videos. I was learning how to better articulate myself, how to create things that were appealing, and how to navigate my own curiosity.

While I was doing these other things, though, my idea was maturing. More people started sharing my presentation, and more people were asking me about learning design.

When love is strong, it’s easy

One day, the idea came back to me in full force, and I was ready. The name didn’t have enough punch: “Design for Hackers” it would be. The concepts needed that special something: a compelling topic to open the mind to deeper ideas.

I wrote one blog post and had a book deal.

When the idea came back to me, I was ready. Ready for the writing, the marketing, the speaking.

When I was asked to drop everything to write a book, there wasn’t much to drop. I was free to pursue it, and the idea had persisted enough that I felt as if I had no choice but to do so.

Most importantly, the idea was now ready. People wanted this and there was little question it would succeed. Everything fell into place.

I’ve always operated this way somehow, but I’ve learned to trust it. Heck, this blog post sat in draft form for months until I woke up this morning – the concepts suddenly clear in my head – and finished it.

But it will work for you, too. The mind can’t be open to making creative connections when it’s too focused on producing a result. Like Archimedes’s famous bath, you need to wait for your Eureka moment.

If you love your idea, let it go.

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Entrepreneurship"
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Date: Thursday, 23 May 2013 15:10

Learning new things is so much easier when you have someone coaching you along – and when you have classmates.

That’s why, on June 4th, Summer of Design will start. Be sure to sign up before then, because enrollment will close. (If you already get my emails, you’re already enrolled)

Introducing Summer of Design (it’s free)



It’s 12 weeks of emails that will teach you about design. Each email is based upon a chapter of “Design for Hackers.” If you have a book, you can work along with your copy. If you don’t have a copy of “Design for Hackers,” don’t worry, you’ll still learn plenty from the emails. (But, you can buy it on Amazon, or anywhere else books are sold.)

Each email will be accompanied by a group discussion on the D4H Facebook Page, a quiz, or a task. Not only will Summer of Design keep you on schedule, it will help you learn from others, and test your newfound knowledge.

Learn the “whys” behind design

The Summer of Design curriculum is designed to teach you the “whys” behind design. You won’t hear any “top 10 tips,” and I won’t claim to increase your conversion rate just by choosing some magical button color. Instead, I’ll show you how design really works.

There are various factors that make good design, and you see them in action over and over again. I’ll teach you how to see design in a new way, so you can keep learning about design even after the course is over.

Once you start to really understand design, you’ll really be able to speak with its visual language. Your projects will start to look better, and you’ll be able to talk to your team members about design using a common vocabulary – hey, get them to enroll in Summer of Design, too!

Here’s a run-down of the Summer of Design curriculum:

  • June 4  Why Design Matters
  • June 11  The Purpose of Design
  • June 18  Understanding Typography
  • June 25  Technology & Culture
  • July 2  Proportion
  • July 9  Composition & Design Principles
  • July 16  Visual Hierarchy
  • July 23  Color Science
  • July 30  Color Theory
  • August 6  Choosing & Pairing Fonts
  • August 13  Typographic Etiquette
  • August 20  Closing Remarks

Join thousands of other students. Enroll by June 3rd (or else)

Summer of Design is free (this time around), and if you don’t enroll by June 3rd, you’ll miss out completely. You’ll be in it with the thousands of people already enrolled. So, sign up now.

(If you already get Design for Hackers emails, you’re already enrolled!)

Author: "David Kadavy" Tags: "Design"
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