Sudden Insights

Shared thoughts of a young thinker

The Infinite Potential of Living

Reading my first fictional in years. The Graveyard Book (about a boy raised on a graveyard by ghosts) is such a pleasure read.

"Out there, the man who killed your family is, I believe, still looking for you, still intends to kill you."

Bod shrugged. “So?” he said. “It’s only death. I mean, all my best friends are dead.

"Yes." Silas hesitated. "They are. And they are for the most part, done with the world. You are not. You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.

Dreamers and Doers

There’s two types of people in the world. Dreamers and doers.

The power of doers is that they make decisions. They act. A doer might not feel more certain about his decisions than the person next to him. But it doesn’t keep him from making them. When a doer gets an idea he execute. And when a doer face adversity he refuse to just sit still and experience the suffering. The doers are the people who push the world forward.

Most people are not doers, they’re dreamers. They are dreamers because they are trapped in the downward spiral of passiveness.

Thousands of dreamers had the idea for Facebook before it existed. And another thousand for Google. But because they don’t have the habit of doing, testing and creating, the idea was worthless to them.

When dreamers get ideas they start contemplating. And for every minute they contemplate they drift further and further away from action. Dreamers tend to grow a decision instead of making it smaller.

Before writing this blog post I was watching an interview with Tyler Gage (co-founder of Runa Tea) on Good Life Project. Prior to that I watched an interview with Jonathan Abrams on This Week in Startups. Those two sites alone have more than 300 hours of inspiring and educational interviews. I could easily have spend the rest of my day doing nothing but stare at the TV. And I would probably feel good about it. But I know that to maintain my habit of doing, I have to overcome passiveness. I have to act. I have to create. I have to make an active decision and take control. So I got off the couch.

I’m a doer because I want to be. Because I everyday invest energy in building a habit of doing. I make sure my surroundings cultivate activeness and then I fight through the passiveness.

It’s a life changing moment when you realize the impact it has to step out of the quicksand of dreaming.

"No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself." Seth Godin

Upcoming blog post: How to build a habit of doing

Follow me on Twitter @jonasnielsen

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Inspire vs Convince

Have you ever caught yourself using a lot of energy persuading without seeing any results? Try another tactic. Inspire instead of convince.

Inspire vs Convince

Restitution Mode: 3 tips to improve your life while you sleep

I don’t remember anything from high school. The more than 3500 hours I spend on school ground (not including all the time I bunked off) should amount to gigabytes of lovely memories and useful wisdom. But it feels like the poor amount of things I remember all fits on a single floppy disk. The reason is simple; I didn’t get a sufficient amount of sleep. I was a complete zombie.

Few people understand how dangerous sleep deprivation really is. In severe forms it’s known to cause depressions, obesity, high blood pressure and weird hormone levels. Surprised? Probably not. What may surprise you, however, is the dramatic, positive change a consistent sleep pattern can have on your life and well being.

Being fully rested makes me feel more present in the moment. It give me the surplus energy to engage with the people I like (not to mention the people I don’t like). I’m more creative. More persistent, positive and open-minded. I’m appealed to work out, have fun and enjoy life.

3 simple ways to get better sleep

Even though we live in a very different world our brains have not changed since the stone age. That means it doesn’t cope very well with the ton of input we get every day: Emails, Facebook notifications, advertisements, news, meetings, Twitter updates. The list is endless. We’re curious creatures. We like to turn things on, and the idea of turning things off makes us anxious and sweaty.

Here’s three tips that helps me work against that.

1. Prepare in advance

In order for me to be fully rested I need steady nights with 8-9 hours of sleep (most people need 7-9). For me that means I have to be in bed before 10pm, which is pretty much impossible if I don’t start to think about ending my day at 9.30pm. This means last-call to reply important emails, catch up on Twitter and Facebook and make sure there’s not too many mental surprises waiting for me after I hit the pillow.

It doesn’t sound so revolutionizing, but it is extremely necessary for tip 2 to happen.

2. Switch on restitution mode

When the first iPhone shipped without an on/off button, the world was astounded. Steve Jobs didn’t like to turn off his phone, and the truth is, neither do you. But by including Airplane Restituion Mode Apple did, however, make it convenient to get off the grid.

Switching off doesn’t feel good, but turning on Restitution Mode is such a relief. Try it. Go to bed early. Take a deep breath. Embrace the rest that awaits your. And slide the little toggle button that Apple so delightfully designed for you. It sounds so simple, but on stressful days it’s an amazing feeling. It’s taking back control. Deliberately rejecting stress.

When I put down my phone at night I’m no longer attacked by paranoid thoughts:

"Should I just quickly check to see if I got that important email response? I don’t feel so sleepy, maybe I should just quickly check Facebook. It only takes a second. Maybe dad is going to call be back even though it’s late. Is it ringing? Is there any new texts? Did someone mention me on Twitter?"

None of that. I’m off the grid. No silent mode shit. No radio waves tripping the bad neurons to fire.

3. Wake up at the right time with Sleep Cycle

If you don’t know about Sleep Cycle, this is going to be big. Almost as importantly as getting enough sleep, is to wake up at the right time. From Sleep Cycle’s description in the App Store:

"As you sleep you go through different phases of sleep ranging from deep sleep to light sleep. The phase you are in when your alarm clock goes off is a critical factor regarding how tired you feel when you wake up. Sleep Cycle use the accelerometer in your iPhone to monitor your movement to determine which sleep phase you are in. Sleep Cycle then wakes you in your lightest sleep."

Try it for yourself for a week. It’s quite remarkable.

Sleep Cycle also ships with a small, but surprisingly valuable feature: average total sleep time. This simple metric is making sleep tracking fun. It almost becomes a game to try to push the average up just a few minutes.

Last night I got a solid 8 hours and 13 minutes of sleep. I felt calm an relaxed when I ducked in and Sleep Cycle woke me up at just about the perfect time. I’m in surplus energy and looking forward to starting my late-night ritual again tonight.

Follow me on Twitter @jonasnielsen

Information Asymmetry


My first (released) video. I’d love to hear your feedback and criticism. Don’t hold back.

Follow me on Twitter: @JonasNielsen

Lying - The Biggest Smallest Mistakes we Make

For 23 years I have made the same stupid mistake again and again. I lied. Even though most of it was white-lies, I had no idea how badly this was influencing my life. 

 One thing that was bugging me for a long time was how a lack of integrity impacts our life in weird ways. Politicians, bankers and other soulless people obviously cannot be trusted because of their complete lack of integrity. But even if you don’t lie on TV every day, there’s a good chance that your life quality is suffering because of the exact same thing. 

In September 2011, neuroscientist and author of several eye-opening books, Sam Harriss, made the insight about integrity very, very clear to me. Lying is deleterious and I had to stop.

Why would you stop lying?

 In his excellent essay, Sam argues that lying, even of the most innocent type, always has a negative impact on the quality of your life (and/or others). As he so elegantly puts it:

 “Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste - everyone is potentially harmed by their spread.”

Bullshit? No. 

If you overhear a friend lying on the phone because he doesn’t want to go to some stupid dinner party, what will you think the next time he/she declines your invitation with an excuse? Even though it seems harmless, this single lie can have a undermining impact on the trust that is part of your friendship.

“Failures of integrity, once revealed, are rarely forgotten

To lie, when asked for an opinion, can also be extremely disrespectful and even damaging. Before you encourage your talentless child or friend to enroll in a reality show, please at least spend 5 seconds to consider what abusive and depressing impact it’s going to have when the person gets fried on national television. 

“False encouragement is a kind of theft: it steals time, energy, and motivation a person could put toward some other purpose”

If you want to be supportive as a friend, you should focus less on being encouraging and more on being truthful. 

A dedication never to lie and the unexpected implications

After reading Sam Harriss’ essay I was inspired in such a way, that I decided never to lie again. Like everyone else, I occasionally lied to help me on my way. It has not been more than a couple of months and the transformation is astonishing.

One effect I felt very quickly was a strengthened self-confidence. When I talk to people I get a calming feeling from knowing that I don’t have to lie, all I have to do is be myself. My improved integrity forms as a positive feedback loop, helping me easier bond with people and to establish transformative relationships.

“Vulnerability comes in pretending to be someone you are not”

Additionally, I now know that my view on things is often the most valuable around. Why? Because unlike most other people, I don’t just talk crap to avoid uncomfortable answers or appear more interesting.

This is huge. People intuitively appreciate honest answers, and If you have a history of being honest, your praise and encouragement will actually mean something. Some people will not appreciate this. If this means that they don’t return to get your opinion another time, it is not the kind of people you want to connect with anyway.  

Honesty is a prerequisite for building meaningful relationships, so no matter how much you disagree with someone, you know you are doing all you can to help the person and support a transformative relationship, just by being honest. Honest about what you think, but also honest about the stuff you don’t know.

Another thing I realized, is that lying might be a smart short-term solution to many difficult situations, but a dedication not to lie forces you to try to avoid these situations entirely.

I feel a short-term discomfort in declining to do stuff I don’t enjoy, but I know that the decision is going to pay off long-term. This might be difficult for you in the beginning. As Sam puts it:

“.. it can take practice to feel comfortable with this way of being in the world - to cancel plans, decline invitations, critique others’ work, etc. all while being honest about what one is thinking and feeling. To do this is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life - because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. ”

Lastly, even though I don’t have a history as an all-time liar, it feels good to earn back the energy you would otherwise spend doing lie-accounting

“One of the great problems for the liar is that he must keep track of his lies.”

Urine

A decision to never lie is like deciding never to drink your own piss. Don’t hold off from doing it because people tell you it’s morally incorrect. Do it for the life quality increase you get if you dismiss the temptation to do so.

I beg you. Please read Lying by Sam Harriss. It’s only 26 pages and the effect is life-changing.

 Also don’t drink your own urine. 

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How to find A-team programmers on Elance

Hiring programmers doesn’t have to be a pain. I’m a programmer, and having the ability to study the quality of the code a candidate has written is obviously a great advantage. But it’s not a necessity. I recently hired a Ruby on Rails developer on Elance, and reflecting on the experience, I really don’t think it’s necessary to be a programmer to find the right guy for the job. All you need is a bit of preparation and a clear understanding of what you want.

I’ve dissected the process in 6 easy steps for you, don’t forget to pat yourself on the shoulder as you proceed.

STEP 1: Writing the Project Description

Writing a project description may be the most cumbersome part. But it really is the place you need to invest most of your energy. Here is what it should include:

  1. 2-3 lines about who you are (company or private person) and what you do.
  2. A brief general description of what kind of person you are searching. E.g. "I’m seeking a skilled Ruby on Rails developer to put part time hours into further development of a trading/sales application used by a Swedish finance company."
  3. A brief description of the project the selected candidate will be working on. Include technologies (if you know).
  4. Describe how the collaboration is going to work. What will a typical work day look like for the candidate? How are you going to communicate tasks (visual is good) and do you use any tools to manage the project? (AgileZen is simple and effective)
  5. In one line, emphasize on what is most important about the candidate. Feel free to copy ”I obsess about thoughtful code and only want to work with people I can trust 100%.”

    Thoughtful developers don't write anxious programs
    Thoughtful developers don’t write anxious programs

  6. A list of strict requirements.
  7. A list of plusses that cannot be considered requirements
  8. An indication of how long the project will run, and what the candidate’s expectations should be.
  9. What will the hired person get besides his salary? (I don’t sit on a ton of cash, but love to help people become better at what they do)
  10. A small requirement in order to apply for the job. This will help to filter out all the poor souls spamming every job post. I ask candidates to provide a small code snippet and attach a sentence or two describing what is great about it. The winning candidate send me a link to a pull request he made on Github. His attached description demonstrated that he has brains and is a good personal fit:

I think it’s cool because:
- I wrote some solid unit tests to verify proper function of the feature
- I encapsulated and added the feature in a clean and non-obscure way. This is a consequence of I was able to follow and understand the source code of the anemone gem. 
- I think is cool because it shows I’ve learned Ruby ;)

Remember, it’s important that the tone of the project description reflects who you are. If you’re a dull corporate company, fine. Good luck with that. If not, make an effort to not sound as one. Make it intriguing and personal.

STEP 2: Invite relevant people

This is a no brainer, but few people actually practice it. Search the elance database for programmers who you think would be a good match and kindly invite them to send a proposal for the job. This is a quick way to show your interested and will help kick-start the bidding. Don’t focus on price here.

STEP 3: Make clear expectations

Think about how you expect the ideal candidate replies, and decide on how you are going to evaluate each proposal. Doing this beforehand saves you from having weird negotiations in your head, because you get influenced on what is coming in.

What you need is an A-player. If you only get B-player replies kindly tell them why they all suck.

How are you going to judge proposals?

STEP 4: Select 3 candidates

Some of the proposals you get will probably amuse you so much, that you’ll feel your work payed off already. This is one of the small traits in hiring, so enjoy. 

If your project is interesting you should get at least 10-15 proposals. I got more than 20 and half of them was qualified. 

Use your predetermined expectations to filter the crap from the diamonds. Select 3 candidates and ask them to do a payed tryout task. Pay them the hourly rate they suggest, but set a max of 5 billable hours.

STEP 5: Hire them to do a tryout task

Send the candidates a tryout task that is well-described, small in size and preferably touches upon the most important aspects of development (front-end or back-end, testing etc.)

As in step 3, it is extremely critical to have a clear understanding of what you expect of the results. Attach clear success criteria to the task description and make the entire thing as real as possible. 

Choosing the task can be difficult. I decided to pick an already implemented feature, move it to a new repository and strip away all the good stuff. That made it easy for me to judge the candidates’ implementation and helped me make sure that the task was not too big.

Pay the candidates even if you don’t hire them.

STEP 6: Evaluate and select

Use your fixed expectations to judge the three implementations. If you’re not a programmer you obviously need help with this. If this is the case, I suggest you find an expert in your local Ruby group and convince him to help you with everything related to code. These guys are usually helpful, and having an advisor on the sideline can be very beneficial. 

If you followed everything above, chances are good that you just landed yourself an A-team programmer. Great job pal.

Insights

  • Don’t focus on money. If you hire cheap you get shit.
  • If you put a number on the required years of work experience, it means you don’t know a rat’s ass about software development. David at 37signals points out why.
  • Good news for all you unfortunate people in the software business who don’t know how to code: There is a direct correlation between ability to communicate clearly, personal fit and code quality.
  • Not all great programmers have a long list of open source contributions.

What is your number one advice for hiring people online?

Follow me on Twitter @JonasNielsen