Tag “efficiency”

You have to happen to things

There’s an illusion that to get something or to reach a certain level in life you have to wait for a chance and then be smart enough not to blow it. This way of approaching life seems weird to me. Besides it has two huge disadvantages:

  1. There is no guarantee you’ll get any chance at all. It may never come. Such an attitude justifies your inaction and gives a right to blame an evil fate for all calamities that fall on your shoulders.
  2. There’s a high probability you’ll blink at the very moment the chance arrives to you door and miss the opportunity. Whom to blame then? How long to wait for another chance?

Being patient is a good strategy when something you’re waiting for is out of your control. Most things require actions from us so they could happen. I say don’t wait for the things to happen on their own, happen to those things.

Doing something is better than doing nothing. No matter how small or huge that something is. Have an intention to act, make the first step: write an email, ask a question, seek knowledge or advice. It will lead you somewhere.

There’re no right moment. As Lemony Snicket wrote:

“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting the rest of our lives.”

In the end, it’s all a judgement call ★

When having a hard choice in front of me, I use this simple principle to make a call:

If it’s not a “hell, yes”, it’s a “no”.

Sounds radical. Like black or white, like good or evil. But those are very shallow concepts. I am not asking you to simplify the world and narrow your choice to two options. This principle is not about that.

It’s considered to think that we make decisions based on data, facts and arguments. But in fact, we make decisions based on our gut or simply the feeling that prevails at the moment. We act the way we feel, not the way we think.

Sometimes you can have all the data in the world telling you to go a certain way, and yet you know it’s not right, it’s not your way. How do you know that? Where did this knowledge come from? Most of the time we can’t explain it. We just have a feeling.

When the decision you’re making puts a lot on the line the right question to ask yourself is not “What do you think of it?” but “How do you feel about it? How does it feel?” Let’s get it down to a few real life examples:

  • How do you feel about moving in together? Does it feel like we’re rushing or does it feel right and proper?
  • How does this color tint feel on the wall? Does it feel right or too much?
  • How do you feel about having pizza tonight? Or does it feel more like a Mexican restaurant?

When it comes down to this mundane questions we know exactly how we feel. We know for sure even though we can’t say how this knowledge came to us. ‘Cause it’s a judgement call. It works perfectly both with small and big decisions.

Just ask yourself how you feel about your the choice you’re making, and you’ll know the answer right away. And if it’s not a “hell, yes”, it’s a “no”. As simple as that.

Frisbee, bonfire and birdwatching: how we arranged a three-day studio camp in the forest for $⁠500 ★

In the middle of September we had our second studio camp. The first one took place in May, back then we kept it simple: took a walk around the old city center of Tyumen, visited the Japanese garden and had a picnic in Zatyumensky Park. This time we gathered the whole team together, rented a country house and spent three days together in the forest.

Misha, our CTO, and I are up to something

What camp is about

Camp is a corporate party but with a different spin. Instead of getting drunk and taking part in stupid contests we reinvented the way we hang out with teammates.

Camp is more like gatherings with good friends on a barbecue day when you talk about work, life, hobbies, share your favorite jokes and memes, watch movies together and play board games afterwards.

Camp is about everything that you usually don’t do with your teammates at work. Especially if you’re a fully remote or hybrid team.

When we did the first camp we weren’t sure if everything would go smoothly, so we set several rules and constraints:

  1. The camp is a project and it has to be managed like any other project.
  2. You have to prepare for the camp in advance. The bigger your team is, the earlier you should start preparing. There are only five of us, and yet we started planning our camp a month before the event.
  3. The camp lasts three days. This way you’ll avoid the feeling of tightness and get just enough time out of work with your teammates. More can be overwhelming and tiresome.
  4. The camp takes place on weekends so that everyone can make time or come from another city.
  5. Participation in the camp is not obligatory. Anyone can refuse and use this time for their own good.
  6. The camp has a schedule, but it is ultimate. You can flex it as you go like a scope on any other project.
Our team at the first Studio Camp in May. From the left to the right: Arthur and Nastya, our writers, me and Misha, our CTO.

How we came up with this camp idea

This year our studio turned six years old, and we realized that we had never come together in one place. So we decided to fix it.

We work remotely and live in different cities: Tyumen, Ufa, Saratov. All those cities are very distant from each other, so it is logistically difficult to get us together too often. It was important for us to get to know each other and take a break from work. But we wanted to spend time with ease, without a banquet and the CEO of the company making toasts.

We didn’t want to do it the way big companies do it. We wanted to do it our way.

For us, the camp is also a rare opportunity to discuss working moments and strategy in person, talk about dos and don’ts, listen to each other, share ideas, and raise important questions.

How we used Basecamp to prepare for the camp

We decided to spend the second camp outside the city. It was much harder to organize it than the first one when we simply had a picnic in the park and a short tour around the historical city center. We had a lot of things to deal with.

First, we created a new project in our Basecamp, outlined tasks and deadlines, and distributed responsibilities among the team. Everyone was in charge of something: Nastya and Misha came up with the camp schedule and a list of things to bring with us, Anna made a list of products and the camp menu, I managed the production of the studio merch, booking a house and shopping for groceries.

It took us a month to prepare for the camp. But what I like about it is that there was no rush. We kept our pace. As they say, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

The preparation began with a short pitch of mine in our Basecamp
Those are our lists of tasks: the first is for things like menu and camp schedule, and the second is for the studio merch
We designed the studio merch

For this camp we decided to make our own merch. We collected examples of hoodies we liked, and every team member came up with a phrase or a motto for embroidery.

With that, we came to Gyunel, the founder of KIKA clothes brand, and a good old client of ours. Gyunel helped us choose the fabric and design a fit of the hoodies. We agreed that it would be black hoodies of thick 100% cotton with matte threads embroidery.

We addressed our order to Gyunel a month before the camp and did the right thing: the fabric we wanted for the merch was not available at the time, so Gyunel had to order a new batch from Moscow just for us. While the fabric was on its way to Tyumen, Gyunel designed a pattern for our hoodies, and we did the prepress files for the embroidery.

In the end, we came up with a detailed doc describing all details of the fit, fabric, details and embroidery layouts. It’s a public Basecamp doc, but it’s all in Russian. You can read it using Deepl or Yandex Translate. I recommend using Yandex as it’s better designed for translating from Russian.

The merch was finished right on the eve of the camp. Perfect timing!

Four hoodies made of 100% cotton with a large embroidery cost us just about $⁠230, about $⁠56 per item.

Our hoodies right before we received them
Vasily, a tomcat of our writer Nastya, seemed to approve our merch as suitable for basking
We a rented a house in the forest

I was responsible for the search for booking a country house. We were looking for a house that fitted the following criteria:

  • With an independent heating system. September in Tyumen is usually warm, but the nights and mornings are chilly. So we rejected the idea of sleeping in a glamping house, without a heating system and a shower.
  • There is something to do. We immediately discarded daily rent houses as we would have to entertain ourselves. We wanted a place that would offer options for rest and fun.
  • There’s an equipped BBQ spot. We didn’t want to carry a bunch of utensils like a grill with us for just two days, so we were looking for a place where we would have everything we needed for a bonfire and a grill for roasting meat.

I narrowed the choice down to three options, and we discussed them asynchronously in the studio Basecamp. As a result, we chose a house named after Leo Tolstoy in Kuliga Park. The place looked great, beside there was a rope park, sports grounds, and a small restaurant so we could dine there if we were short on food.

Renting a house for two nights cost us $⁠200 which is a great price for the weekend. Just for comparison, renting a private house in the outskirts of the city would cost us twice as much, about $⁠360−400.

To make a final choice I created a separate post in the camp project, listed options there, and invited the rest of the team to comment on
We had a spacious house: two bedrooms, a sleeping place on the second level and a living room combined with a kitchen
Our house was named after Leo Tolstoy, we had his portrait at the entrance and a few books on the shelf in the living room.
We made a menu and went for groceries

Our designer Anna was responsible for the camp menu. The task was to come up with something simple that would not be time-consuming. In addition, there was no stove in the house, so we had to adjust the menu on the go.

Anna shaped out the meals and then specified what dishes and snacks we would have. Others dropped their preferences in the comments on Basecamp, and Anna gathered them all in a final Google Docs.

We made a list of groceries from the menu. On the eve of the camp I went for groceries to a huge hypermarket called Lenta, which is like Walmart in the US. It cost us $⁠100 to get enough food for four people for the whole weekend.

Here’s a final doc with the camp menu for three days
We made a schedule and a list of things to bring with us

Nastya and Misha were responsible for the camp schedule and sports equipment. They make an approximate list of to-dos with timeframes, rather in order to gather together ideas of what we could do during the day than to actually follow this plan. It helped us to be at ease and not to think what to do—we opened the list and chose the activity we felt like doing at the moment.

Take a look at our schedule:

The camp schedule was also outlined in Basecamp

A couple of days before the trip, we made a checklist of things and clothes to take with you and downloaded movies in case wi-fi would be out of order. We bothered like hell to make everyone feel at home. We thought through everything in advance, so that we could relax and not worry about things on the spot. And it was totally worth it!

Our list of things

How did it go? Awesome!

We got lucky with the weather—all three days were sunny and warm, +20−22°C.

On the first day we moved into the house, had coffee with waffle rolls with a boiled condensed milk—an immutable attribute of the camp—had a walk in the forest and played frisbee.

For dinner we had a barbecue and then watched “Treasure Island”, a legendary Soviet cartoon. Some scenes from that cartoon became viral and turned into memes, spreading way beyond the Russian speaking community.

Anna is throwing frisbee to Misha, that was fun!
We picked the right dates for the camp. Indian summer was in full swing!

We started the second day with birdwatching. We happened to see a woodpecker, a nuthatch, tits, magpies and a finch. Birds are awesome!

After lunch we played badminton, played a card game called “Strangers: Office Edition” and designed for teammates. We shared our work experience in other companies, discussed our approach to design and our focus for the next three months.

The first thing in the morning, Nastya and Anya went to look at the birds with binoculars
Me, Misha and Anna planning what to do on the second day
Nastya, Misha and Anya decided to play badminton

On the third day we returned to the city. The key goal of the day was to prepare for the launch of our new product. We gathered in our favorite coffee shop, polished some things in the backend here and there and launched our first paid service called “Okoshki”, a service for small makers who work alone and deliver services by appointment.

In Russian “okoshki” literally means windows but it’s the word people use when they have a free time slot to receive a client. A maker often says, “I have okoshko for 5 pm. Does it work for you?”

Nastya and Anya are working on Okoshki
The view on the Lovers' Bridge from the highest spot of the city

Impressions of the camp from our team

Most of all, I liked that there were many activities at the camp. It’s harder to do in the city as it’s harder to make time and it can be windy. During the camp we got lucky, the weather was perfect, and it was an ideal moment to play such games like frisbee and badminton. Well, it’s always nice to just eat in the open air.

Misha Vorobyev, CTO

We have a great team, the second camp was very cool and comfortable — even for me, as I am an introvert. Although we are all united mainly by work, we had a lot of fun at birdwatching, watching “Treasure Island”, and playing badminton.

Nastya Fyodorova, writer

The coolest thing at the camp for me is the forest and the great company of my coworkers. It was great to sit at the bonfire in the evening, take a walk in the forest in the morning, listen to the birds singing, look at them through binoculars and determine what kind of bird it is.

It was the first time I went to another city to visit my colleagues. I’m a cautious person, and for me the camp was a way out of my comfort zone. But everyone was so nice I forgot about everything.

Anna Borisova, designer

Camp is the best internal project of our studio. Managing rest and fun is the hardest thing to do and we nailed it! Time passed unnoticed, and the intensity of events was so high that I got the feeling that the camp lasted not three days, but at least a week. We will definitely do it over again, but now somewhere else!

Evgeny Lepekhin, editor

How much does it cost to organize a camp?

The first camp cost us almost nothing. The only expenses we had were the purchase of the game “Strangers” and dinner at a Mexican restaurant on the last day.

The budget of the second camp was about $⁠500, but we went a little beyond it and spent $⁠570. The camp could have been even cheaper if we didn’t make the studio merch.

Here is a list of our total expenses:

  • House rent for a weekend — $⁠200
  • Merch for the team of four — $⁠230
  • Grocery shopping — $⁠100
  • Transport — $⁠40

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed this post.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask → evgeny@lepekhin.me

Our studio’s website → https://lepekhin.studio/en

If you love the story and would like to share it or mention on your blog, newsletter or social media, please do it. I’d appreciate that!

The benefits of being an underdog ★

Hey! We’re a design studio of five from Tyumen, Russia. It’s the first city founded in Siberia.

We were an unusual studio from the start and underdogs in the design world by any measure. Despite our small size and living 2,000 km away from Moscow we work with clients from all over the world and various time zones.

Here are five facts about us that have helped us to benefit from being an underdog:

Text-oriented. Most studios are founded by designers. They believe that glowing and bouncing animation will solve a client’s problem. It won’t. But a good and succinct, thoughtful text might. Our founder is an editor, not a designer. We spend most of our time writing. Every project starts with a longread describing what we’re going to do. That’s why our websites and interfaces are well-structured. Words are important, and we’re the most fastidious people when it comes to picking the right ones.

Local identity as a foundation. Most studios bashfully conceal the fact they’re not from the capital. Not us. We talk about it at every corner. We’re proud of being Siberians. We promote Tyumen as a great place for living and creating. We turned patterns of the Tyumen carpet into a sticker pack and designed beautiful postcards with the most beautiful sightseeings of the city. In fact, many clients choose us because we’re more real than our bigger competitors.

Remote & async. Most design studios try to get a fancy and expensive office when they start out. Not us. We started at the end of 2017 and we were remote from the first day of work. Thanks to that we had clients from Moscow, Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, and even Toronto. We had people working on our team from Singapore, Turkey, and Hong Kong. Could that be possible if we limited our market to one city? Barely.

Without managers. Most studios have managers who loiter and disturb others by asking stupid questions like, “Is it done?” every ten minutes. We don’t do that. We write long posts and discuss things asynchronously. That compensates for our size and boosts efficiency. Thanks to that we have recently launched our first paid product within four months and only around $⁠5,000 spent. Big companies can’t even imagine this kind of budget for a product that works!

The most dependable. Most design studios spend tons of money on advertising to convince people to buy from them and assure they’re the best in business. But that’s a lie. You can’t be the best at design as design is a very subjective matter. We don’t say such a bogus. We claim the title of the most dependable design team and do everything possible to make it real. We’re never late for a meeting. We send meeting notes within an hour after a call. We finish 95% of our projects on the date we promised.

Наша команда на студийном кэмпа в мае 2023 г. Слева направо: авторы Артур и Настя, я и наш техдир Миша.

That was our story for the Underdog Challenge by 37signals. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

Note-taking at lectures

My friend Tonya Alexeeva posted this on Twitter some day:

“Tomorrow begins my intensive one-week course on machine learning. I just realized I’m not used to make notes, but it would be great to revise this material later. Any tips for making notes for technical subjects and coding?”

I came across her tweet and gave a piece of advice on making notes during meetings and lectures. Here’s my perspective:

I don’t think there are any special tips for machine learning. No matter what subject you’re learning, techniques are pretty much the same. There’re dos and don’ts.

Dos:

  1. Take notes not during the lecture, but in the first 30 min after it. This way you’ll be able to focus on listening and absorbing new information.
  2. Sketch anything that requires visual explanation. Images work better than abrupt and incoherent notes.
  3. Record a memo of the class to go back to something you’ve missed later.

Don’ts

  1. Don’t make screenshots or photos of the teacher’s slides. No one ever gets back to review them.
  2. Don’t try to remember and catch every minute detail. Pay attention to what brings novelty into your work, not what you already know.
  3. Don’t be afraid of asking questions like. “Why” is the best tool of gaining knowledge. Use it as more as you can.

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Prefer not to know ★

There’s an endless flood of information. It keeps going 24/7.

And not just information. Knowledge, too. Courses, webinars, conferences, new technologies. We’re forced to be aware of all those things, care about them, have an opinion on them. But should we?

We learn so many things through life that we’ll never put to use. Daily we receive more information than average person from 19th century probably received in their life span. For example, in 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986. That’s insane!

We’re overdosed with knowledge. The worst thing is that we’ve decided that we’re obliged to know everything and be always aware. We are voluntarily agreed to have our attentional filters overwhelmed on a regular basis. We should leave some mental space for just being, instead. As we used to do 30−50 years ago.

I remember that even in my childhood that took place in 1990s we didn’t have this problem. On the contrary, people had to make a lot of effort to gain some knowledge, to get some information. To read up for exams you have to go to the library or ask a friend who had a PC to visit him so you could search something on the internet. You had to be creative to get information.

So much we didn’t know back then! And we couldn’t care less that we don’t. We didn’t consider whether it was a lack of knowledge or we were uneducated. We simply didn’t give a fuck about that. We were much more easy-going and didn’t put a pressure on us for not knowing. Things are different today, bad different.

So when I hear people say:

— Oh, there this ChatGPT thing. I have to learn more about it…

— Oh, there’s this Barbie thing, I should create a pic of me as a Barbie doll

… Oh. there’s a new program language I should learn to code in…

I think to myself, “Jeez, I am lucky not to know!” Because no matter how hard I try to filter the incoming flow of information, people still will bring it up and post it anyway. There’s literally nowhere to hide from it these days.

I prefer not to overload my brain with that information. I prefer not to know. 'Cause let’s be honest, 99% of news and information on our feeds is a complete bogus. It’s useless. So why bother? Why waste our energy, motivation, and attention on it? Why please interests of those who will not care back?

You don’t need to know everything that is out there. It’s hard to be good at one thing, and yet people try to be good at plenty. Instead of stuffing your brain with another new technique do what you already do well and perfect your routine. And choose wisely and thoroughly what you want to see on your feed, what you’d like to draw your attention on.

Know your drill. Keep your focus clear and steady. Prefer not to know.


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The less, the better

For six years of writing I used to believe the more platforms I post on, the better. It wasn’t a very effective strategy.

Yesterday I deleted my Twitter and Instagram accounts, and soon my Telegram channel will be closed. Starting from today I will keep writing only on these three platforms: this website, Substack, and Mastodon.

The less platforms I have to maintain, the more attention I can pay to the writing and not the distribution.

If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, seek an opportunity to reduce the amount of projects, errands, and tasks you’re dealing with. Keep three the most important to-dos you have on your list, start with them and drop everything else. You’ll get back to it later after you’ve handled the essentials.

If three is too much for you right now, cut it to one to-do. The less, the better:

  • Doing three projects? Take a break in two, and finish the one with higher priority.
  • Reading three books, none is finished? Pick one, finish it, then move to the next one.
  • Repair works are stuck and it’s all a mess? Stop everything and choose one, for example, fix a kitchen door that’s been out of order for weeks.

When life pushes hard, don’t try to bear it all on your shoulders. Reduce the number of options, select the most important thing to focus on, and after it’s done move to the next most important thing on your list.

One-thing-at-a-time strategy always works, plenty-things-at-a-time strategy—not so often. The less, the better.


To stay in touch: follow me on Mastodon, subscribe to my newsletter on Substack, or grab the RSS feed. See you there!

Keep your pace ★

Writers and designers are afraid of ChatGPT and other AI services popping up all over the place. They shouldn’t be. It won’t leave you out of work unless you do one thing: keep moving.

TV didn’t kill theater. The internet didn’t kill TV. Remote work didn’t kill offices. Those things changed the game, but didn’t kill prior technologies. They just kept going. Nobody likes change, but it’s not death.

AI is yet another tool to your arsenal. It won’t replace you, because it can’t feel and reflect. It runs algorithms designed by… humans. It was designed to replicate and repeat ideas invented by humans. And most of the work today can’t be trusted to AI. Not without a human supervision.

ChatGPT can write a good summary, give some ideas, and spur your imagination. But it can’t create new meanings. Humans exceed AI in innovation. And I don’t think AI will ever come any close to what we are capable of when it comes to creating new paradigms, concepts, and ideas.

Don’t panic. It’s a long-term run. A marathon, not a sprint. Keep your pace and stay in the game as long as you can by bringing new meanings and ideas to the people you serve. It never goes out of fashion.

Know your focus ★

For the past three years I’ve worked with and for various product and SaaS teams. They were from different industries. But all of them had one common problem—bad focus.

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen small teams and products initially aimed at a certain audience transformed in the minds of their founders into humongous, rigid structures. Simply because founders lost their focus.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard these words: “We need to get attention of everyone on our product. Our product should be universal. Our goal is to corner the market and beat those big guys!”

Really? I believe your starting plan was to create a better user experience for a certain segment of the market, rather than corner it. But appetite comes with eating. This rising appetite blinds people and makes them lose the way.

Knowing your focus and saying no to other things is the most important lesson I’ve ever learned.

The lack of focus erodes ability to flex and accomplish your initial goals. In 99% of the cases the focus shifts to money, and here’s why.

Startups are hungry and it’s a good thing. Business should stay hungry. Hunger keeps the mind clear and the focus precise. However, you have to control your hunger and not let it become a starvation. Have a bite once in a while. Starving businesses lose their focus easily.

It’s not long before they start eating anything that comes their way, just to beat this sick feeling at the pit of a stomach. Side projects, little opportunities to make some money on the side, new feature that your customers want to see, a darn dark theme, or a mobile app. That’s how it always starts. The end is never that fun though.

You probably wouldn’t like the idea of feeding your body with crap like chips and coke. To stay healthy, efficient and strong you have to eat proteins, slow carbons, greens, and drink a lot of water, not soda. The same goes for business. You should be cautious about what you’re feeding your product with. The businesses feed with ideas, hypothesis and guesses you take. Take one and go with it. Don’t squander.

Control your hunger and know your focus. Otherwise you’ll end up creating a product that has no market, no demand, and no unfair advantage. All of that is simply because of a bad focus.

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.