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Note-taking is the key to consistent writing

Let me share two principles that help me write consistently and be abundant: write everything down and keep it simple. Let’s look at them closer.

Write everything down. It’s a fundamental principle of my writing process. I guess nothing gave such a boost to my writing as building a habit of taking notes. There are three reasons for doing that:

  1. Taking notes frees up the space for new ideas in your head. Since I’d begun writing down all the ideas that crossed my mind, the more new thoughts started coming in. My wife often observe me rushing to my desk from the bed to write down the idea that arose in my head before sleep.
  2. Writing ideas down helps to structure the knowledge and experience you’ve gained. Writing and deconstructing things I’ve learned was the easiest way to understand them much deeper and turn them into simple but efficient management principles. No video or audio can do so. Writing is the only creative process that implies analysis.
  3. Writing is the fastest and cheapest way to share your knowledge with others. Videos and podcasts require many additional skills and postproduction, while writing doesn’t take much time and energy to convey a message. Also reading is a natural way to get the idea, while a video or a podcast doesn’t allow you to skip a part of it without losing the context or some important details.

Keep it simple. I’m talking about note-taking, of course. I know that some of you may have a tendency to hunt for a new super powerful all-in-one perfect application that would empower you to start taking notes. I’ve been down that road. That’s a self-deception.

Dump this idea. Don’t wait for the perfect tool. It won’t make a difference to the world, but your writing may.

You already have a note app on your phone. It already has hashtags, folders, headings, bullet points, etc. You don’t need a list of unique features to make a grocery list, same goes for ideas. All you need is to start writing them down.

The simpler your note-taking process is, the better. I use standard Notes by Apple to jot down my thoughts. It’s enough to capture the idea that came to me and make the first draft so I could forget about it and move on. Any app that has autosave, folders, hashtags, and cloud sync will work.

This is how my note-taking system looks like

To sum up:

  • Write down all ideas that cross your mind
  • Take notes so you could forget and get back later to edit them
  • Keep your note-taking system simple
  • Use a standard app that is aimed at getting the job done
  • Use hashtags for topics and folders for projects

The next time you’re going to write something on social media, open you notes, pick one topic and simply edit this. No need to write from scratch anymore, you will always have a list of ideas to go with.

Most meetings are pointless

Before making an appointment, I ask myself a few questions. Is it possible to do what I’m going to do without a meeting? Is it possible to solve this without another Zoom call? How else can I accomplish this task?

In half of the cases, I figure out that a meeting can be replaced with a letter, a scheduled message, a screencast, a voice message, or an old-fashioned phone call.

Situations when meetings are not necessary:

  • to get an unambiguous “yes” or “no” answer
  • to update the status of ongoing tasks
  • to request information
  • to ask for or give feedback on a design layout
  • to make edits and suggestions to a draft
  • to make onboarding for a new admin panel of a website

✅ Situations when meetings are necessary:

  • to hold the initial meeting of the project
  • to present a logo, a website, or other deliverables from the contract
  • to resolve a personal conflict among parties of the project
  • to share knowledge and experience: one-on-one meetings, team training
  • to discuss issues that require a lot of clarification: briefing, cost estimate, agreement

This principle helps to understand whether a meeting is needed or not. If my email does more harm than good, a meeting will be a better option. For example, if there is increasing friction in the project, you should not dispute via email. Discuss disagreements face to face, this way it will be much easier for you to calm the interlocutor and resolve the conflict.

Though if the text allows you to solve the problem without putting the project and the relationship with a client at risk, you may cancel a meeting and find another way to get the job done. For example, it is more productive to comment on a new design layout in Figma and then hold a call on demand to discuss the feedback you gave rather than stare at the layout you’ve never seen before.

The main secret to making more time is to reduce the number of meetings. Half of the meetings people have are fucking pointless and unnecessary.

The things you own don’t belong to you ★

One of the biggest truths about life is that we don’t own most of the things we think belong to us. Sounds crazy, but keep reading, and you’ll get there.

The money in your bank account doesn’t belong to you. They belong to the bank. If tomorrow it goes bankrupt, you’ll have no money. The lease car you’re driving doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to a leasing company. The money you invested in stocks or real estate doesn’t belong to you. They belong to the company you’ve entrusted them to.

Neither cool things nor expensive toys you buy belong to you. They are simply tools that provide comfort for you and your family. But they don’t belong to you. They are not a part of you. Even the clothes you wear, and the food you eat don’t belong to you. Those are just things you buy with money.

Money is the biggest illusion of power and stability.

Politicians own your money, and they screw up every goddamn day. One poor decision of theirs and you have less money than you had last morning. Trying to be in control and believing you’re in control of the things you own is probably the biggest self-deception in the world. Don’t fall into this trap.

Your real possessions are the money you’ve already spent and the experiences and skills you’ve acquired with that money. Choose wisely, spend more easily, and get richer.

Nine steps to writing a good follow-up email ★

Most people spend hours writing follow-up emails after meetings with their clients. They keep looking for the right words that will work. However, follow-up emails aren’t about the right words and metaphors. Speed and accuracy is all they require.

A follow-up email is easy to turn into a template and reduce the time of writing one to 20−30 minutes maximum. The meeting itself is where all the magic happens. Here’s a ready-to-go plan to nail follow-up emails, follow it and you’ll be able to build trust with your clients way faster than before:

  1. Read up and prepare questions. The best meeting is the one you’ve planned in advance.
  2. Show up on time, don’t make your client wait for you.
  3. Remind participants why you’re having this meeting and draw a short plan of what’s going to happen next.
  4. Ask questions, shut up and listen to the answers—that's the most important part. Your client has all the necessary information you need to solve your problem.
  5. Ask additional questions to clarify anything you didn’t get or have doubts about. Don’t be timid, it won’t help you to do a good project.
  6. Make notes during the meeting. Write down only core ideas and thoughts. It shouldn’t be a word-by-word transcript.
  7. Edit notes and turn them into a list of agreements, certain steps, and tasks with deadlines.
  8. Send the list of agreements and the following steps to your client within one hour span after the meeting. Ask them if you got it right and offer to make suggestions to your notes if not.
  9. I added this point to make the total number odd.

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Always be the last to speak

Good leaders are always the last to speak on a meeting. They let the other team members share ideas and feel appreciated for their opinions, and only then they make a decision.

Bad leaders never care for a another opinion. They’re too busy enjoying their power of a leadership. Team members with this type of leaders simply become indifferent to the decisions their leader makes. They end up feeling burned out and useless.

For leaders it’s important to see the whole picture, not just fragments of it. If a leader speaks first he or she doesn’t let team members have their say. Such a leader will never learn what real picture looks like!

Therefore, always be the last to speak.

Start with questions, not writing

One of the most common mistakes writers do is writing without research. That’s one of the reasons so many authors have a writing block and wrinkle their foreheads over the blank sheet. They simply don’t have an idea what they’re going to write about!

It may sound ridiculous, but writing doesn’t begin by opening a laptop or picking a pen and a notebook. The stories are born in your mind, not on the screen of your laptop. That’s why I recommend starting with questions and researching the topic in the first place.

Imagine that you’re writing a commercial copy for the website. Schedule a call or a meeting with a client and ask them about their business. Where their strengths lie, how they managed to overcome the previous crisis, how they see their mission, and why their product is considered the best on the market. Of course, questions may differ depending on the area you’re working in.

Ask as many questions as you can find, don’t interrupt, just listen and make notes. Now that you have all the necessary ingredients for your story, wait till it gets done. It works the same way we make soup: we put the ingredients in the pot and then leave it on the stove till it’s ready. The more complex the topic the more time it may require to research and get things clear. Sometimes I need to hold several meetings with a client before I can draw the first draft.

The hardest part of writing is to find a metaphor to convey the principal idea of your story clearly and succinctly. When you find one, it’s easy to unfold the story. Questions and research help you decompose the problem you’re trying to solve for a reader. So, ask questions, listen carefully, and you won’t miss your metaphor.

Never start writing until you have the whole story unfolded in your head until you know exactly what you’re going to write about. When you know how you’re going to tell your story, writing a good text will become a matter of your skill and experience, not talent or inspiration.

Never start writing until you have the whole story unfolded in your head until you know exactly what you’re going to write about.


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How to deal with failure and reduce the stress it brings ★

It’s been three days since my wife and I returned home from a short trip to Ufa, the capital city of Bashkortostan. It was our first trip together in six months, so we were expecting it like never before.

We did all we could to make this trip joyful and pleasant: booked a good four-star hotel, asked our friends to recommend us good restaurants and cafes, and made a list of places to visit and local food we should try. However, everything that could go wrong went wrong on that trip.

The mishaps started right after we arrived. We planned this short vacation a month ago to get to the concert of Pompeya, a Russian indie-rock band that sings in English. The organization was so bad that there was a cram. As the gig started, soon my wife and I were squeezed between two flows of people like rye in the windmill. So, we had to leave and listened the rest of the show from the distance.

For the next two days, bad luck followed us. Everywhere we went we encountered indifference from waiters and baristas, rudeness from people in the street, and prying eyes of random passersby. In all the restaurants we’ve been to the food was unsavory or cooked in some weird way. For example, in one place we were served an Italian pizza with dill, and in other cafe—a waiter brought eggs Benedict that were watery.

That’s how we felt during this trip at restaurants in Ufa

The city of Ufa is a nice place from an urbanist perspective: there are many parks and green cozy alleys, breathtaking landscapes, lots of old merchant houses, and unique local wooden architecture. But we didn’t have a chance to enjoy the city, because we didn’t feel welcomed there.

Even though I can’t say our trip was a pleasant experience, we accepted it and tried our best to enjoy it anyway. As soon as we realized things weren’t going the way we wanted, we made up our minds to accept anything that would happen and live every moment as is, not trying to control the consequences of our choices.

We can’t control the outcomes

The only two things you can control in life are your perception of events and your attitude to the impact they have on your life. You have the power to make conclusions and decisions you think are best for you. But you can’t control the outcomes.

You can design a great process, tweak your mind to the right tune, thoroughly manage your daily routine, and still get the wrong result. It’s insane, but it happens every day. And when it does, it’s crucial to focus on the next attempt rather than the outcome you are aiming for.

I rewrote this post three times before I got it right

There’s no 100% working solution that will lead you to success. There are no magic pills. The previous experience that worked in the past can become a letdown or another pitfall in the present. The only reliable tactic is to keep trying and not be afraid of failure.

Failures always come with stress, and it’s a good thing. Stress kept our ancestors looking for a better place to settle. Stress and hunger kept them seeking an easier and more reliable way to get food—that's how livestock and crop production emerged.

Stress and failures are the essences of life, without them, we’d be extinct. So if you’re feeling stressed right now, that’s OK. You can’t completely remove stress from your life, but you can change your attitude toward it. Legalize failures, let them be.

Babies are best at failing, and they don’t give a shit about it!

Think of a baby boy who learns to stand and walk. He doesn’t care if he falls a thousand times before he can stand holding onto the edge of his bed. He doesn’t give a shit! He keeps trying, and, in the end, he gets there. We are no different from them!

Another great example is people who run marathons. Marathoners don’t run a marathon on their first attempt. First, they run 1 km, then 2, someday they run 5. Then they run 10, 20, and only after years of training—a marathon. They don’t care much about failures, because it’s OK not to be capable of running 42 km from scratch.

Legalizing failures is the healthiest way to handle stress. By changing your attitude to setbacks you can greatly reduce the amount of stress in life. This will release more time for new attempts and ideas, and allow you to see solutions that were unavailable to you before.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. The same goes for failures and stress.

I kept writing (process) until I was satisfied with the final draft (outcome)

Accept failure when it comes your way. Never think you’d fail, but also never regret it when you do. Go forward, do your best, and never look back. Then it’ll be easy for you to start over as if nothing bad happened at all. That’s the best way to master the game. Any game.


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Failures are our best teachers ★

Yesterday I woke up at 5 a.m. and couldn’t sleep. Trying to fall asleep again, I caught myself ruminating the following words in my head: “Failures are our best teachers”. Suddenly the whole story started to unfold in my mind, so I jumped up, took my laptop and started typing it until I lost my train of thought.

Half an hour later, I had a draft about the benefits that failures and mistakes bring us. Thus was born this post and Twitter thread for Timestripe.

Failures are the best teachers. Here are eight reasons why:

  1. Mistakes increase importance of wins. Failures teach us so much more than any success could ever teach. If it weren’t for our failures we wouldn’t value our wins and achievements, because there wouldn’t be anything to measure or compare them by.
  2. Continuous success blinds us with illusions. Successful projects and positive outcomes are necessary, but they don’t teach us much. Instead, they make us get along with the idea that if it worked this time it will always work in the future. But it won’t. That’s a cognitive bias we get trapped into. Failures, on the other hand, teach us that if something didn’t work it didn’t work only here and now in this very conditions, in this context, on this project. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible or it won’t work some other time in some other place.
  3. Failures teach us patience. Having failed doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Failing at something teaches us to be patient and persistent about our approach. We learn to make projects and achieve results with a small steps strategy, not by making one perfect decision.
  4. Failing shows it’s OK to be wrong. It’s not the end of the world. Everyone makes mistakes. Even the great minds did. Why should we be perfect? There’s no need for that, no one expects that from us. We’re only expected to fulfill the commitments we’ve made. Nothing else.
  5. Mistakes encourage us to enhance our process. Failures help us discover the hidden power of limitations: time, money, and our physical capabilities. Any project has a limited amount of money and a deadline. Nor can we be productive six-eight hours in a row. Limitations help us find a solution within our available sources.
  6. Failures teach us to value the way, not the goals. Failures and limitations teach us to be flexible and not to put all our money and time on one great idea that will do all the work. Instead, we become more committed to consistency and methodicality rather than an occasional success. They matter more in the long run.
  7. Having failed doesn’t equal being bad at something. In the end, failures don’t define us as bad workers and contractors, or as being bad at our craft. They only mean that we chose the wrong way to solve the problem, and now we’re going to find another one until we find the right solution.
  8. To learn and improve you should be ready to fail. Writing this thread I recalled a good dialogue from “Game of thrones” that happened between Jon Snow and sir Davos Seaworth after Jon’s resurrection:

Jon: I did what I thought was right. And I got murdered for it. And now I’m back. Why?

Sir Davos: I don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know. What does it matter? You go on. You fight for as long as you can. You clean up as much of the shit as you can.

Jon: I don’t know how to do that. I thought I did, but… I failed.

Sir Davos: Good. Now go fail again.

If you’ve failed recently, don’t panic. Don’t stop dreaming, and don’t stop moving forward. Just go fail again.


This post was initially published as a thread on Twitter and in Timestripe Journal. Subscribe to Timestripe to receive new posts right into your inbox.

Not all Russians are Russian

In Russian language there’re two different words: rossiyskiy and russkiy.

The first one—rossiyskiy—refers to the country, government and means something that was produced in Russia. For example, Russian president, Russian citizen, Russian smartphone Yota, Russian cars.

The second—russkiy—is used for nationality or cultural aspects. For instance, to be Russian, listen to Russian songs, Russian folklore.

As you may notice, in English there’s only one word “Russian” for both meanings. That’s why most English-speaking people don’t distinguish the difference between being Russian and being from Russia.

Besides Russians there’re over 100 nationalities in Russia: Tatars, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Armenians, Azerbaijani, Georgians etc. All of them are Russian citizens. See the difference now?

So don’t be surprised to have the following chat:

  • — Where are you from?
  • — Russia.
  • — Are you Russian?
  • — No, I’m Uzbek.

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Multitasking sucks

There were times when I loved doing several things simultaneously. I could make a soup and at the same time discuss another website layout, write a newsletter and watch a TV show. Over time I’ve realized that multitasking almost always sucks, and here’s why.

  1. Only few people in this world can multitask and deliver great results. There’re almost none.
  2. The desire to complete two different things at one is a pathetic attempt to buy some time. Both are likely to be done badly.
  3. Multitasking is often used in the wrong places. It leads to mistakes, sometimes fatal.

To figure out when it’s okay to multitask and when it’s not, I follow a simple method.

If the task doesn’t require thinking and analyzing new information—cleaning, washing dishes, walking through the park—it can be combined with another activity. For example, I make half of my calls and team meetings on the go, because I can move my legs without thinking about it.

However, if the task requires you to immerse yourself into the topic, to constantly assess the situation, to watch for safety—meeting with a new client, playing basketball, or driving a car—you'd better put everything else on hold and focus. Otherwise, you might miss a crucial idea of the talk or get hit in the face with a ball. And if you’re checking your phone while driving or crossing the street, you may die eventually.

I’m not a fan of multitasking, and I hate it when it is mispresented as a criterion for success. But at the same time, I love variety. I enjoy running several projects at once, meeting new people every day, and visiting different cities. The variety is in the spice of life! It inspires me and gives me food for thought. But doing several tasks at once — fuck this. It’s highly likely to turn out to be bullshit.


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