February links

Interesting links on habits and creativity I’ve come across this month.

Video: It’s not you. Phones are designed to be addicting.

Everything from the refresh feature down to the colour of the icons on your phone was designed to be addicting. Understanding why you’re is the first step to regaining control. Read my post on stepping back from social media.

Article & Podcast: Five Habit Tracker

What are the five habits that will have the greatest impact on your life? Sean McCabe and Ben Toalson discuss a developing impactful habits and coming up with metrics for measuring those habits.

Article: Iceland’s Population Is Staggeringly Creative. Why?

One in four people in Icelanders work in a creative field. A recent study explores the driving forces behind the creative community.

Article: 13 Things That Will Happen When You “Level-Up” As A Person

“Leveling up” as a person should feel good, but it doesn’t. In fact, you may feel more discouraged than ever. Enjoy the lessons you learn.


Stepping back from social media

Every morning at 7.30 am, my phone alarm would ring. I’d reach over and grab my phone, dismiss my alarm and swipe through the laundry list of notifications on the screen. Half an hour later I’d find myself envying over my friends’ holidays on Instagram.

I wouldn’t even know how I got there. I just ended up starting the day with a raging wanderlust and guilt over my envy. It had become second nature to wake up this way.

Alcoholics have the urge to drink first thing in the morning. The obsession for alcohol haunts them from the moment they wake up until they return to bed. While I didn’t consider myself obsessed with social media, it was the first thing I’d consume when I woke up and the last thing I looked at before falling asleep.

Allergic to boredom, I became addicted to scrolling endlessly through social media, despite being able to point out exactly why they were so addictive.

Endless scrolling. Push notifications. Social validation. I fell for it all.

I was unwilling to entirely remove social media from my phone as I still needed them for work. I did the next best thing. I turned off push notifications and set Instagram, Twitter and Facebook icons as hidden. It’d take me the extra steps of toggling hidden apps for me to access them.

The slight inconvenience bought me a few vital seconds to decide whether I wanted to get up, or be enraged by some troll on Twitter who wasn’t even trolling me even before taking my first step of the day.

I chose to get up almost every time.

Next, I downloaded an app called Forest. You “plant” virtual trees in your phone. If you use a blacklisted app, your tree dies. It’s exactly as adorable as it sounds. It’s mainly a productivity tool that teaches you to focus but I also use it to improve my sleep. I plant a tree right before I sleep so I resist the urge to play with my phone before sleeping.

Forest collaborates with Trees for the Future. As you earn credits by not using your phone, you can eventually plant real trees. To date, Forest has planted over 200,000 trees.

I also started wearing a watch after a few years of relying on my phone for the time. Most watches caused my CTS to flare up but my secondhand smart watch was light enough to be unobtrusive. I steadily grew more comfortable being away from my phone.

I still browse social media on my phone, but it is no longer unconscious. With my newfound free time, I’ve become more productive. I even got more reading done despite setting the low, low goal of reading one book in 2018.

What are your social media habits like? Do you need to take a step back, or are you doing great right where you are?

How to start reading again

With distractions constantly available at our fingertips, it’s getting more difficult to concentrate on good old-fashioned reading. Here are several ways to get through the stack of books on your nightstand.

Know your purpose. Are you reading for leisure, or are you reading to learn? Are you enjoying this novel or are you dragging yourself through the pages? If you’re not getting anything from a book, drop it. Knowing why you read helps you decide whether or not to move on to your next book.

Set a yearly goal of books to read. Set a low goal and exceed it by a mile, or set a high goal to strive for. I’m being cheeky this year by setting my 2018 reading goal to just one book. I completed it in January with Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Buy less books. Ironically, you don’t need more books to read more books. Look around you — you probably have too many. Go through your bookshelf and pick two or three books you never found the time for.

Refresh your library for free. Go to the local library or book exchange. Donate or exchange the books you’re not reading anymore — they deserve to be loved by someone else. It’ll be exciting to have new books to read.

Replace social media with books. Keep e-books and audiobooks on your phone so you can read on the go. Develop the habit of reading whenever you have a few minutes to spare. Many purists say digital books aren’t real books. However, if they still require effort and concentration, how can they not be real books?

Try a book summary app. If you really don’t have time to read, Blinkist sums up popular non-fiction into ten pages or so. If a summary resonates with you, make time to read the full book.

Set aside time to read. You can read on your commute to work or in bed at night. Reading is a great way to wind down before falling asleep. Audiobooks come in handy if you want to read while getting things done.

Don’t read too many books at once. You could limit yourself to a physical novel and an e-book you can read on the go. If that’s impossible for you, that’s okay too. I’m reading five books at the moment.

You have what you need to create

Dozens of bottles of inks. Fourteen calligraphy nibs. Paints ranging from artist-grade acrylic to metallic watercolours. Too many sketchbooks to count. Like most graphic designers, I have a life goal of amassing as many tools as possible.

Eventually, I realised hoarding stationery doesn’t make me any better at my craft. I wanted to make things using the tools I lovingly collected over the years.

Steer clear of the stationery store. You don’t have to enter it each time you walk past. Really. My number one weakness is brush pens. I tell myself that each one has its own characteristics (not untrue) and that I need to bring them home (untrue).

Do a full inventory of all your art tools. I put together everything I own all in one place to help myself see what I need. It turns out I don’t need anymore brush pens.

Once you’ve gone through what you already own, you can start a wishlist of what you’d like to purchase. If you still need a certain item after waiting for a week, feel free to make the trip to the stationery store. If it’s something you don’t need, buy it as a gift to yourself in the future.

Work what you got. Experiment with what you already have. Bring out the colourful markers you used in school or craft your very own pop can pen. I’m always used to sketching in pen, so switching to pencil once in a while helps break routine.

Simplify. I travel a lot, so I ended up paring down to the basics. I put my favourite tools in one small bag. This small bag can go a long way.

  • Uni Pin Fine Line 0.1 technical pen for journaling
  • Pilot Futayaku double-sided brush pen in black and grey
  • Pilot Kakuno fine fountain pen (a new year gift to myself)
  • Staedtler Luna Blue colour pencil, Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 HB and 4B pencils for sketching
  • Eraser, pencil sharpener and ruler

For me, the pen is the only tool I need to create.

What’s yours?