For the last several weeks, I’ve been embarking on a digital declutter as described by Cal Newport in his book, Digital Minimalism. I won’t say that I feel rested or recharged. But I do feel that I’ve been using my time well.
As I transition into yet another team (more on that another time), I’ve been engaged in some career coaching (which is awesome, by the way. If you feel as lost in your career as I have in mind, I’d recommend thinking about it.) I’ve been able to work through reflecting on my previous team as well as reading lots more books and tackling my infinite list of courses that I purchased ages ago.
What I’m Working on Right Now
Right now, I’m working through two projects. The first is a complete refresh of the UX + LX app (link to post). I made that app way back in 2017 as an exercise in going through that full cycle. Over the years, it has broken down, so I decided that it would be a good re-starter project. So far, I’ve done some scrappy user testing of the wireframe and built out most of the high-fidelity version. I’ve also completely re-written a couple of the lessons to be much shorter and more focused on things you can apply. I’ve been leaning heavily on the Google Primer app as a source of inspiration.
I’m still on the fence about whether or not to test this version, and if I do, whether I should do more moderated testing, or try unmoderated testing. I intend to do a project in progress post about this soon.
The second project is related to game writing, which I’ve been bringing up for the past couple of years. I took the plunge and joined Anna Sabramowicz and Ryan Martin’s Interactive Storytelling Accelerator and I’m now working on my first interactive story with the group. I’ve done Twine stories before, of course, but now I’m really focused on writing something that is emotionally resonant.
What I’m Learning
Basically everything that I am listening to, reading, and experiencing right now is converging on story and storytelling.
For example, I very recently finished the TED Talks audiobook. There are some tedious bits, but it had a lot of interesting detail about structuring talks different ways. In fact, their emphasis on the talk as being something that you “gift” to the audience is one of the things that convinced me that I didn’t have anything new or interesting to say about portfolios for an upcoming conference (again, I’ll make another post about this later).
Also, as I embarked on the UX + LX refresh, I also started a membership on SkillShare. And I happened upon a course about branding by Roman Muradov . One of the things that resonated with me about his approach was that lots of brand illustrations look the same. Instead he encourages thinking broadly about your brand’s story and then defining and refining a style that helps tell that story. I looked back and some of my Visilang posts from years ago, and realized that I had been progressing pretty well in defining a drawing style for myself. So I recently ordered up an iPad Mini and I intend to try my hand at drawing my own illustrations for UX + LX. I’m not sure if I will like them. At this point, I’m also not sure if I want to actually code up the app and put it back on the app store or just go through the redesign process. But I think this is a great way for me to think about writing and storytelling through another medium.
As I mentioned, I’m learning a lot about storytelling through the Interactive Storytelling Accelerator group. One of the things that interests me is the niche definition they have of an interactive story: it’s a story that takes learners on an emotional journey; it acts as a catalyst. So it’s not the same as a simulation or a serious game. It occupies the space of helping the learner care about what it is that you are trying to teach them. Once they have moved from “cold” (unconscious incompetence) to “hot” (conscious incompetence, plus being highly motivated to seek out resources), you can move them on to sims, serious games, practice activities, job aids, etc. It’s a fascinating distinction.
I’m struggling with implementing some of the ideas, though. In particular, I think what I’m looking for is some tenets that I can apply to my own story as a check, something that I can use the next time I try this so that I can begin a few steps farther along the path. But one of the central themes of the group is to “amp up” the emotion of the story. While I understand this sentiment, it’s not concrete. I’ve gotten various feedback that the story I’ve created doesn’t have enough conflict or the desire isn’t enough. But I’m not sure how to set the dial. What should I be internalizing about this? How do I know when my story is amped? Perhaps it’s just a part of being new at this, but it’s frustrating.
What has me Curious
Digital Minimalism has me curious about a several things right now. As I type right now, I’ve dedicated this Saturday to a kind of modified not-quite-Shabbat observance. I first read about Shabbat, interestingly, on a Twitter thread (which I can’t find anymore) from a Rabbi who talked about how she uses it to reflect on her week and really sit with her thoughts. Digital Minimalism argues in the latter part of the book that we all need to spend some time free from the influence of other minds. So as a part of my tools to continue to implement more active, high-quality leisure, I’ve used the Freedom app to block my internet and most of my desktop apps (across multiple computers). I’ve set my iPhone on Do Not Disturb for most of the day. And I’m writing without the aid of music (which I really miss).
I’m not sure if writing is considered an act of creation (now I’m curious about that), but I suspect it is, so I’m not quite aligned yet with the entire spirit of Shabbat as a day of rest, but I’m hopeful that I can continue the practice as weekly period of introspection and reflection without the influence of other minds.
I’m also really curious about the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement. I’d heard about this before Digital Minimalism, but Newport’s discussion of high-quality leisure brought the community up again. For several months, I’ve been trying to track my spending, both the daily spending and my numerous subscriptions. I keep looking at them, trying to whittle them down, and I succeed a little, but there’s still really big chunks of spending that I’m not sure how to do without. I’ve got a couple of books lined up that I’m hoping will help.
Last but not least, I’m very curious about Stoicism. I ran across mentions of this in numerous other productivity books, which can taint a thing with a kind of bro cult-like feel, but I think there’s probably a lot of value in it. I remember listening to a couple of books about Chinese philosophers several years ago which I thought were excellent. I’m a little afraid that stoicism books will be less interesting, but I’m going to give them a try. Like many other people, I think the current pandemic has inspired me to consider that I will die someday and I want to do what I can to live a good life.
I’ll share the wealth by listing my resources for this week:
- Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World - Cal Newport
- Brand Illustration: Create Unforgettable, Stylized Brand Imagery
- TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking | Read | TED
- How to use interactive storytelling to create engaging elearning
- Freedom - Block Websites, Apps, and the Internet