Blake Snow

content advisor, recognized journalist, bodacious writer-for-hire

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Tagged offline balance

Easy peasy: 5 ways to rewire your brain for happiness

Grant Wood/Wikimedia Commons

Grant Wood/Wikimedia Commons

As a leading psychologist, Shawn Achor has spent two decades studying happiness. His bona fides include award-winning researcher and teacher at Harvard, best-selling author on positivity, and popular TED lecturer.

So when he speaks you should listen. For instance, Achor asserts our circumstances — including age, race, gender, social status, and wealth — only account for 10% of our happiness. The rest is determined by our genetic baseline for happiness (i.e. optimist vs pessimist) and our individual intentions, including the way we spend our time and the things we ponder.

Obviously, happiness means different things to different people. But there are plenty of standardized things we can do to boost our chances of finding it. Somethings such as knowing oneself, learning how to forgive, and balancing the personal, professional, and social demands on our time can be life-long pursuits.

But other happiness-building attributes are quite easy, Achor argues. In order from least difficult to most difficult, they are as follows:  Continue reading…

My favorite book review so far: “Log Off is an amazingly honest and engaging read”

Writes Bryce in his 5/5 star review:

“Log Off is chock full of delicious nuggets of behavioral wisdom. Concise and engaging, Snow lays bare a decade worth of personal experience, research, and experimentation. This personal journey is tied to, and sometimes driven by, recognized scientific study, and does not sugar coat any of the author’s personal struggles or failings. This honesty and frank vulnerability creates a narrative that is both relatable and inspiring, and I highly recommend this read to any connected individual seeking more meaning and focus in their life.”

Thank you, Bryce. I can tell by your writing that your read a lot, so it means a lot that you liked my book as well as you stated. High five!

Published works: Finding Europe in North America, Log Off coverage, 25 mood boosters

Courtesy Quebec Tourism

With exception to my non-bylined writing for Fortune 500 companies, here’s what I published this month, mostly related to my new book:

Media coverage for my new book, Log Off:

Thanks for reading and sharing what you liked.

Want to review Log Off, my new book? I’ll send you a FREE copy (while supplies last)

In an effort to promote my new book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, I’m giving away 25 Kindle and 25 audiobook copies on a first come, first serve basis. Email inbox@blakesnow.com for download instructions. All I ask in return is that you review the book on Amazon.com, which helps spread the word. Thank you.

5 questions for the author of Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting

Thanks in part to the help of a hired publicist, I’ve enjoyed being interviewed by radio shows, journalists, and book reviewers over the last few weeks. Here’s one in particular (set to publish later this month—will share link later) that I thought blog readers would enjoy:

Why is online addiction a growing problem?

While online addictions certainly existed in the desktop and laptop computing days, they didn’t go mainstream until the smartphone era about a decade ago. To compound the issue, the more information and entertainment that gets digitized, the easier it is to get lost in the bottomless search for distractions.

How does too much time online negatively affect our happiness and our relationships?

The last decade of research shows that excessive internetting, smartphoning, and social media make us miserable. There are two reasons for this. First, online abuse stifles our individual and collectively creativity and productivity. Secondly, it keeps us from bonding and connecting with others in more meaningful ways. That is to say that social media is mostly the illusion of relationships. True relationships develop largely offline, though facetime, human touch, body language, and shared presence and experiences. While social media can sometimes facilitate that, it mostly isolates us. In fact, in-person meetings have dwindled in the social media era, as opposed to being boosted by it. This all matters because all of us want to contribute and all of us our social creatures.

What are some successful strategies for limiting time online?

The first if not biggest step is turning off all beeps, buzzes, and visual alerts on our default phone settings (save for voice calls from very important people such as spouses and our boss). That way we can choose to use our phones when we want to rather than having our day interrupted by them every other second. As radical as it sounds, I’ve done this for the last nine years and my professional, personal, and social lives have dramatically improved as a result. True story!

What about work-related time online? How can that be balanced?

Set the expectation with bosses, coworkers, and clients that you’re revising your online use for greater productivity and fulfillment. This starts by ceasing to answer emails on nights, weekends, and vacations. Obviously emergencies happen. In that case, tell those you work to please call you. But remember, in most cases, legitimate emergencies are rare. Either way, 99% of people are understanding because they want the same thing in their own lives. If you happen to have a boss in the 1%, it’s probably time to start looking for a new job.

Are there benefits of online time? If so, how can we keep those benefits without going overboard?

Certainly! I wouldn’t be where I am today without the internet. It truly is a wonderful thing, the greatest human invention since Penicillin. I say as much in both the opening and closing chapters of my book. That said, the internet isn’t going anywhere. The sooner we all realize this, the easier it becomes to take more regular and healthy breaks from it (i.e. on nights, weekends, and vacation) without getting sucked into and distracted from the overwhelming amount of noise taking place online. It’s all about using the internet, our smartphones, and social media with purpose as opposed to the default and unhealthy “all the time.”

LEAKED ONLINE: Log Off is currently being read… er, offline

Thanks to Adam (left), Nick (right), and everyone else who’s bought, read, reviewed, and/or recommended my new book on Kindle, paperback, and soon on audiobook (sample here).

After nearly 10 years in the making, I’m proud and honored that the book has finally released. Its contents changed my life, and I hope they can yours, too.

Thanks for reading.

In the news: How quitting the Internet can make you healthier, wealthier, and happier

Blake Snow at Lake Bennett, Canada taken by Lindsey Snow

Big thanks to Randy Shore from the Vancouver Sun for his interest and recent write up of my new book.

The Internet and its insidious agent of attention-seeking — the smartphone — are by their very nature addictive, conspiring with our natural curiosity and brain chemistry to keep us rapt to the machine, according to Blake Snow, author of Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting.

Published works: My first book, European biking cruises, writing for hometown papers


Excluding non-bylined writing for commercial clients, here’s what I published this month:

  • Log Off, my first book! Landing page here, Kindle here, paperback here. Thanks for considering it.
  • Why you should bike on your next European river cruise. Written for Frommer’s after a wonderful 8-day biking cruise with my 11-year old daughter.
  • Coming home to Carrollton. Op-ed I wrote for my former hometown paper.

Printed version below for those behind a paywall. Continue reading…

Tired of being tied to your smartphone? New short book provides convincing answers

In his first book, recognized journalist Blake Snow offers humorous, well-researched, and insightful advice on how to break free and enjoy renewed life offline

Provo, UT (December 19, 2017) – Do you or someone you know need a little help unplugging this holiday or new year? If so, Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting by Blake Snow (ISBN 978-1973543749, 2017) may have the answer and is available now at the world’s largest bookstore in paperback edition for $10.99 and Kindle edition for $8.99.

The self-help memoir and well-researched book is the first for Snow, a prolific writer for such publications as Wired, USA Today, CNN, and Wall Street Journal among others. The book produces convincing evidence and a path forward for people hoping to reclaim their offline lives without the constant distraction and “fear of missing out” caused by the internet, social media, and smartphones.

“With Facebook recently admitting as much, it’s official,” says Blake Snow, author of Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting. “Excessive use of smartphones, the internet, and social media makes us miserable. Although I wrote this life-changing book for myself, I feel strongly that the ideas and encouragement contained therein can help others find greater fulfillment, peace of mind, and better relationships after responsibly logging off.”

In this quick but potent read, Snow recounts his own journey from being a workaholic internet addict, his awakening (aka “Montana Moment”), and the steps he has since taken to increase his facetime with actual people, do more offline with less online, double his productivity in half the time, and tunefully blend his analog and digital lives with no regrets.  Continue reading…

JUST PUBLISHED: Interested in my first book? Here’s what you can do to help

I just published my first (albeit short) book on paperback and Kindle. It took me over eight years to publish it, but I’m very proud of the result.

As you can see, the book underwent a title change, but the contents remain the same—a self-help memoir on how to overcome excessive “internetting,” smartphoning, and social media. If that subject interests you, I hope you’ll consider taking one or all of the following actions:  Continue reading…

With regards to offline balance, money is everything

Courtesy MGM

Courtesy MGM

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you like money. What does money have to do with offline balance, though?

In my research, everything. Next to fame and sex—which by no coincidence are often facilitated by money—the latter is arguably the most sought after thing in life, particularly (but not exclusively) for male species.

For purposes of this newsletter, however, I won’t preach to you on the ill-guided focus of money or bottomless cup that is greed. Instead, I’ll let smarter people do it for me:  Continue reading…

Publication pending: Eight years later, I just finished writing my first book

Eight years ago, I began an endeavor that I thought would take up to 12 months to complete: writing my first book. In reality, it took nearly eight full years.

In any case, I’m happy to report that I finished the 12 chapter non-fiction and short self-help book not 20 minutes ago. I’m proud of what I wrote and can’t wait to share it with the world soon after vetting it with editors, agents, and publishers.

Fun fact: it took my seven years to write the first 40% of the book and just a month to write the remaining 60%—because writer’s block.

As a teaser, I’ve included the opening chapter here. Hope you enjoy it and share this post with any you feel my be interested in what I have to say.  Continue reading…

The secret to life is working to death, experts say

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

PROVO, Ut. — Want to get ahead in this world? Work lots of extra hours — even nights and weekends — experts say, and it will all be worth your while.

“It’s easy to forget what’s most important in life,” says Bill Loney, a certified life coach who hasn’t quite made it in life yet. “Family, friends, and social activities that can often inspire and enrich the life of an individual… these are all distractions in getting more work done,” he adds.

Emma Royds, who hasn’t stopped looking at her smartphone every five minutes for three straight years, councils that most people actually die wishing they had spent more time — not less — working. “People never regret working too much,” she says. “My neighbor opted to do adventurous, social, and fitness-related activities with family and friends in his spare time.

“Now 80, he told me recently he really wishes he would have spent more time on TPS cover sheets, obsessively trying to turn his company into the next big thing, and reading email during every waking hour of his life. It’s kind of sad, really.” Continue reading…

How to stay focused in a 24/7 world

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

Humans are more distracted now than ever before, at least since we’ve started keeping records. Over the last decade, the average attention span has dwindled from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2014, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine. The kicker: our eight second attention spans are one second shorter than a goldfish’s. No joke.

Who or what’s to blame for such abhorrent focus? “External stimulation,” says the Library of Medicine. That’s code for mobile internet, apps that vie for our attention, push email, social media alerts, work from anywhere, persistent connectivity, and our enthusiastic adoption of “the internet of things.” In other words, the only person we can blame is ourselves.

What’s a working professional to do then? You have three options, according to popular thinking: fall off the grid, stick with default technology settings for substandard productivity, or my personal favorite, set usage boundaries to upgrade concentration, contributions, and welfare levels.

For those interested in options one or two, this article won’t be any help. But for for those interested in the latter, there’s quite a lot you can do to stay focused in a 24/7 world. After extensive online research, here is the most celebrated and pragmatic advice for doing just that:  Continue reading…

New name, same thing: Work-life blending is all about balance

Photo: Lindsey Snow

Photo: Lindsey Snow

I tried work-life blending for six years. It sucks. Nothing more than a new term coined by self-absorbed workaholics to justify their personal regrets, negligence, and imbalances in life. Now let me tell you how I really feel.

The phrase “work-life balance” entered our lexicon when faxes reigned supreme, the 1980s. Knowledge workers, globalization, and computer networking went mainstream that decade, and with it, the temptation to work ‘round the clock on the Hedonic Treadmill (i.e. the misguided belief that the more money one makes, the happier they’ll be).

In response, first-world countries had a real first-world problem on their hands. The more connected their workers felt to the office, the more pressure they felt to “get ahead” by staying on the clock for extended periods of time. With only 24 hours in a day, something had to give.  Continue reading…

In the absence of extraordinary, ordinary is more than enough

Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Cinemagraphs

For most of my 20s, I largely existed to leave my mark upon the world and strike it rich. In order to achieve those goals, I labored through the day and voluntarily burned the midnight oil. In other words, I lived to work—how cliche of me!

As I approached 30, something happened. I experienced what I call my Montana Moment—cheesy, but catchy! I realized that my double life as a work-a-holic and present husband and father could no longer be sustained.

So I changed. I set strict boundaries on my time and never looked back. If I was going to be remarkable, I was going to have to do so in a set number of hours and no longer at the expense of my health, family, sleep, friendships, and self-improvement. (That change, by the way, was the catalyst behind my still unfinished book.)  Continue reading…

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Now is the most important time because it’s the only time we have any power

Leo Tolstoy courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Leo Tolstoy courtesy Wikimedia Commons

This issue of the Offline Newsletter is brought to you by Leo Tolstoy.

It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

Several learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently (e.g. advance planning, multi-tasking, mentoring, high-ranking people, science, warfare, religion).

All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom.  Continue reading…

Ready Player One persuasively challenges extreme escapism and digital obsession

ready-player-one

What might happen if humans lived an entirely simulated life, doing everything online except for eating and sleeping?

Earnest Cline has a dystopian, geeky, and fist-pumping answer in Ready Player One, his best-selling novel which I read over the holidays.

The story takes place in 2044 and follows a teenage prodigy named Wade as he seeks hidden fame, power, and fortune bequeathed by the world’s richest man. “But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue,” reads the synopsis, “he is beset by rivals that will kill for the prize, forcing him to confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”

Clever, huh? USA Today accurately described it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” I’d add a little Brave New World, ’80s game geek culture, Tron, and “The Wreck-It-Ralph of books” for good measure—all good things.

For fellow nerds who appreciate those things, I award the book a tilted four and a half out of five stars. For everyone else, particularly those who share my desire to curb compulsion disorders, I give it four stars.

These were my favorite passages:  Continue reading…

In case you missed it: offline vacations, converting cruise-haters, overlooked wonders, and dream believers

MGM

MGM

Here’s where my travel column went last month:

Want to make better decisions? Do these 10 things

Courtesy Miramax

Courtesy Miramax

Smart people don’t make better decisions because they’re smart. They make better decisions, research shows, because they habitually do the following:

1. Remove unimportant decisions. If a decision doesn’t have an impact on your work, relationships, or spirit, then remove it from consideration. For example, many CEOs, heads of states, or creative people wear the same thing every day. Steve Jobs wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck everyday. Mark Zuckerberg only wears blue jeans and a gray t-shirt. Similarly, the leader of the free world only wears blue or gray suits, “Because I have too many other decisions to make,” the president recently told Vanity Fair. “I’m trying to pare down decisions,” he added. “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing.”

For those of us without a personal chef, deciding what kinds of food to eat is a very important decision. But removing or outsourcing unimportant decisions to other people helps us make more meaningful decisions. One of the ways I achieve this is by removing TV from my life, limiting the number of sportsball games I watch, and restricting the number of news sources I read to only three per day. Doing so introduces more social encounters, analog experiences, and thought-provoking literature into my life, which make me a better writer (instead of regurgitator).  Continue reading…

Never postpone what you have the desire and means to do today

Blake Snow

My wife taught me a valuable lesson recently.

For years, we’ve been planning to build a new house for our growing family. With that decision, we pegged a lot of other things to it, such as a new living room, new places to see, and even a family dog.

“Let’s update the living room after we move,” we told ourselves. “Let’s hold off on that vacation until we’re settled. Let’s wait for a dog until we have our own yard.”

We’ve held that belief for many years with various plans, not just shelter. Wait, wait, wait. When.. when… when… After, after, after.  Continue reading…

Doing these two things will instantly improve your mental harmony

Not-so deep thoughts by Blake Snow

Not-so deep thoughts by Blake Snow

Half of Americans say they lead “imbalanced” lives, according to a recent survey. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than what I’ve anecdotally experienced. But it’s worse than other countries.

Of course, finding balance has always been a part of the human condition, at least since the industrial revolution, if not before—many recorded and Biblical accounts acknowledge this. Our imbalance plight accelerated in the ’80s, however, after we entered the information age.

Why does more imbalance exist in America than anywhere else?  Continue reading…

Work-life balance is NOT a myth. Experience proves this.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Brian Hamilton is head of a million dollar software company. He believes work-life balance is a myth. “Working obsessive hours is nearly a requirement for success,” he writes for Entrepreneur. “For those who feel possessed by entrepreneurship and want to get their idea or product out to the world, you can have work-life balance, as long as the two are one in the same.”

What Hamilton is describing is the trendy practice of anything-goes, work-life blending, which treats imbalance as a pipe-dream at best, a casualty of war at worst. To that I say: Keep telling yourself that. The only thing that seems to change peoples’ minds is a death bead. After not being true to oneself, overwork is the second biggest regret of the dying.

Deep down, I think even Hamilton and others like him know this. “The ability to compartmentalize and separate work,” he concedes, “probably leads to a much more content and happy existence.” But he, like many others, seems dead-set on wholly identifying with (or at least spending the majority of his waking time on) what he contributes economically to the world. Often times popular ego-feeding is to blame.  Continue reading…

Why do successful people often fail at life?

Photo: Platon/New Yorker

Photo: Platon/New Yorker

Clay Christensen, a man I deeply respect, has the answer:

“Christensen had seen dozens of companies falter by going for immediate payoffs rather than long-term growth, and he saw people do the same thing,” writes Larissa MacFarquhar for the New Yorker. “In three hours at work, you could get something substantial accomplished, and if you failed to accomplish it you felt the pain right away. If you spent three hours at home with your family, it felt like you hadn’t done a thing, and if you skipped it nothing happened.

“So you spent more and more time at the office, on high-margin, quick-yield tasks, and you even believed that you were staying away from home for the sake of your family. Christensen had seen many people tell themselves that they could divide their lives into stages, spending the first part pushing forward their careers, and imagining that at some future point they would spend time with their families—only to find that by then their families were gone.”

In other words, you become what you prioritize. Metamorphosis from sustained work-a-holic into a well-rounded and interesting person doesn’t just happen.

Why I won’t buy an Apple Watch (for now)

Courtesy Apple

Courtesy Apple

Constantly checking your wrist watch is less rude and less distracting than constantly checking your smartphone. It might even improve your life.

Or so says a report from Wired on why Apple chose to manufacture the forthcoming iWatch, which serves as a second, more accessible screen for your iPocket, I mean iPhone.

“Your phone is ruining your life,” writes David Pierce, who, like many others, ignorantly blames the object instead of the abuser. Rather than setting boundaries on his technology, Pierce and others like him egotistically search for reasons to be elsewhere in thought and suffer the consequence.  Continue reading…

This month’s Offline Newsletter is just three sentences long: Enjoy your life!

From the short and sweet files: “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”—Dalai Lama XIV

See also: American businessman misses point in life, hilarity ensuesmore offline issues

How to get through the rest of winter

credit: lindsey snow

credit: lindsey snow

Thanks to my wife, I’ve grown to appreciate winter instead of loathing it. Still, the persistent cold, dormant life, and extended darkness can take its toll on our mood, especially near the tail end of the season.

That said, here are four things everyone can do to beat the winter blues, according to USA Today:

  1. Volunteer, it will warm your heart. To get inspired, visit United Way.
  2. Eat healthy, from scratch foods; mostly plants, no seconds, but don’t vilify entire food groups (including sugar). The right nutrition can improve your mood.
  3. Schedule leisure. Lunch with friends, night out with a loved one, or your next vacation. Anticipating events does wonders for your mood. Planning yearly vacations in late January (after the tax man takes his cut) has served my family well.
  4. Get moving. Exercise is a dead horse. But I’ll kick it again, because it works. Don’t know where to start? Try a 20 minute outdoor walk everyday or the scientifically proven 7 minute workout.

See you in spring.

8 ways to conquer your smartphone obsession

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

“I really wish I spent more time on my phone,” said no one ever. I doubt anyone will.

And yet, many of us can’t resist the Kavorka of our phones, in times of idleness or activity. What’s a modern human to do?

Don’t worry, Internet denizens. I got you. After five years on a lean, enlivening, and offline-rich phone diet, here are eight things you can do right now to put your phone in check, free yourself from its compulsive clutches, and live in the moment:  Continue reading…

Texting and dating: Young lovers, I feel for you

I don’t know if falling in love is more challenging today than it was before. But it can’t be easy with the constant allure, cover, and distraction of smartphones.

Case in point: I saw a guy macking on a girl recently—or at least trying to. He was obviously interested; his attention undivided. She was preoccupied with her phone, however. She occasionally rejoined his advances with peppered smiles and words, but she mostly focused her attention on the tarot card-sized device she cradled in hand and poked at with thumbs.

From a distance, I couldn’t tell if she was coping with embarrassment behind her phone, considering a counter-flirt, or not at all interested. If I had to guess, I’d bet on the latter because newly crushing or in love couples usually stay fixated on each other’s eyes. Of course, interested males are horrible at deciphering this universal truth — always have been, always will, with or without smartphones. But I know first-hand how complicating phones can be to loving relationships.  Continue reading…

You are more than your occupation: This question proves it

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

“What do you do?” is a question humans often hear. It’s a new acquaintance’s favorite ice breaker because it’s socially acceptable, easy to answer, and easy to process. Doctor. Carpenter. Businessman. Homemaker. Forget and move on.

Problem is, we are so much more than our occupation, even workaholics (although they might not realize it if wholly absorbed by their trade). The better question to ask when meeting new people is this: “What do you like to do?” Asking that will give you a truer glimpse of who someone is, because what we think about and do under no obligation is a better indicator of who we really are.

Continue reading…

Which countries work, leisure, and volunteer most?

AM Charts

AM Charts

I’ve done some light reading on time use this summer — invigorating stuff, I know — and came across some insightful observations from John Robinson. He’s spent the last four decades reviewing thousands of “time journals” from people around the world.  Continue reading…

Wasting away: 5 reasons people work too much

Photo: Blake Snow

Photo: Blake Snow

Americans rank near the bottom in work-life balance because we work more than anyone, that much we know. (Caveat: We don’t work more than we used to, according to decades of research by John Robinson. We just perceive busy-ness as work and fill our free time with it. More on that later.)

But we don’t have to work as much as we do. Quite the opposite, in fact. “Researchers note that productivity rates have risen, which theoretically lets many people be just as comfortable as previous generations while working less. Yet they choose not to,” reports the New York Times. Even visionaries admit as much. “The idea that everyone needs to work frantically is just not true,” says Google CEO Larry Page. “Reducing the workweek is one way to solve the problem.”

I decided to do just that recently in switching from a five to four-day workweek. Like after I quit working nights and weekends, I won’t ever go back (given the choice). In four days, I’ve gotten just as much done as I did in five, because I waste less time now. As the forward-thinking Jason Fried explains, “Constraining time encourages quality time. When you have a compressed workweek, you focus on what’s important.”

So we have evidence that all this snazzy technology lightens our load, increases our productivity, and allows us to work less. And yet we still choose to work more than we need to. Why?! I’ve researched the issue for my book and came away with the following five answers:   Continue reading…

American businessman misses point of life, hilarity ensues

Geoff Livingston

Geoff Livingston

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal village in Mexico. Just then, a skiff docked with one fisherman inside. His boat contained several large yellowfin tuna.

The American complimented the fisherman’s catch and asked how long it took to reel them in. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied. The American then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s needs.

“What do you do with the rest of your time?” the American pressed.  Continue reading…

Overheard in the analog world: “Where are all the twenty and thirty-somethings?”

© Blake Snow

© Blake Snow

My brood just returned from a week long road trip to the Black Hills. At close range, we saw Devil’s Tower (4.5 out of 5 stars), Rushmore (4 stars), the Custer Needles and Sylvan Lake (5 stars), Badlands (4 stars), and… a lot of senior citizens (2 stars—wink). We bumped into a few younger families on our travels, but not many. The vast majority were graying couples.

“Where are all the twenty and thirty-somethings?” I asked my wife. She shrugged.

A moment passed, then she offered, “Maybe they’re at Disneyland.”

“Maybe they’re watching TV,” I added.

Wherever they were, they weren’t outside.  Continue reading…

Before sharing this on social media, check your motive at the door

Blake Snow

Blake Snow

I quit social media four years ago. By that I mean I quit Facebook, Twitter*, Google+, LinkedIn and other “social networks” that require the declaration and management of electronic relationships. Since then, my personal and professional lives have been greatly enriched. So much so, I don’t plan to join digital social networks ever again. (More on that here.)

Unless, of course, those networks can enhance my physical relationships. Consider, for example, Google Hangouts, an ad-hoc social network. After reluctantly declining six months of invites, my wife recently convinced me to join. I’m glad I did. It’s allowed me to stay in close touch with extended family without colleagues, associates, admirers, like-minded people, or old high school acquaintances getting in the way. It’s also let me indulge in animated gifs.

But even this endearing network has become a distraction at times. By my own doing, it’s sometimes made me lose sight of the big picture.  Continue reading…

Either/or: How using the Internet affects our lives

Wired

Andrew White/WIRED

Ev Williams believes the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” In a speech reported by Wired, the co-inventor of Blogger and Twitter added, “We often think the internet enables us to do new things, but people just want to do the same things.”

For instance, we want to socialize, entertain ourselves, learn, and make work easier. The internet does all four better than any other convenience of the last century.

It does this in two ways, Williams explains. “Big hits on the internet (think Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) are masters at making things fast and not making people think… But the internet is not a utopian world. It’s like a lot of other technological revolutions.”  Continue reading…

Now I remember: Why I quite working in bed

I slipped up. After resolving five years ago to never work from bed again—thank you, Montana—I did it again recently.

“I’ll just work a little,” I told myself. Several hours later, I finally put the computer down. It was AM o’clock and I was fried. With lights off, I stayed up an hour or two longer, still trying to solve work stuff.

Of course, I woke up exhausted and sluggish. Had an unproductive day. Struggled through much of it.

But it was an effective reminder: Working from bed and overtaxing your brain is no way to live—at least for me. To be fully operational, you gotta keep your thirds separated.

So long, writer’s block. Chapter 5 is a go.

Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

After more than a half year of writer’s block, I started typing the second act of my book today.

I’ve always liked the first act, and know how I want to end the book. But I’ve struggled mightily in penning the midriff.

Not anymore. I found my way again. Ain’t nobody’s gonna hold me down—not unfamiliar territory, the possibility of failure (i.e. the world thinking I’m a crap author), and certainly not myself.

In the meantime, might I suggest…

Hit your pipes as hard as you can this year

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

This edition of the Offline Newsletter is written by an unknown author as told by my father, Brent Snow. As you work to find your digital sweet spot this year, I hope this serves as inspiration.—Blake Snow

There is a story about a billion dollar luxury liner, outfitted with every possible appointment, convenience, necessity, and designed to gratify every decadent demand of its prominent passengers. This floating Taj Mahal, booked solid for months by wealthy citizens and exporters, exhibited a phenomenally delicate profit margin in which time was money. Lots of money. For this great ship to sit idle for even an hour would cost the owners millions of dollars.

As such, every effort had been made to ensure that the ship would operate at peak efficiency. The engine room had as many backup systems and fail-safe mechanisms as an Apollo rocket. No detail had been overlooked in building the most reliable, durable mechanical equipment money could buy. The engine room was staffed by officers, experts, and mechanics from around the world. Each stood vigil in a gleaming white uniform looped with gold braid and brass buttons. Computer systems, draped in matted plastics and steel, lined the walls. Nothing could possibly go wrong.  Continue reading…

Celebrate Halloween with The Offline Podcast

AP Photo/Tom Stromme

AP Photo/Tom Stromme

Had a lot of fun recording the latest podcast with Josh this week:

In this Halloween Special of The Offline Podcast, Josh and I discuss the “new normal” work week, an app that supposedly boosts offline encounters, how to turn a small reward into something you’ll treasure forever, and doorbell ditching (aka the best offline experience of the week). Enjoy your life! Music by KC & The Sunshine Band and Tales from the Crypt

MP3 (23 min) | iTunes | Feed | Reruns

Happy Halloween, readers. May all your Pagan dreams come true.

This advice doesn’t apply to you

Hey, you. Yeah, you—the one reading this. The one that says ignorant things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” “I’m busier than you,” or “I only require 3-4 hours of sleep.”

This research by Harvard obviously doesn’t apply to you, because you’re the exception in life. You’re superhuman.

For the rest of us, the study is a convincing reminder of mortality. Not only convincing, but alarming.

Continue reading…

My phone settings are better than yours

Here they are:

blake-smartphone-alert-settings

They didn’t always look that way. Like most smartphone users, I used to set all my alerts to interrupt my life the second anything came in. Voice calls. Emails. Texts. Software alerts. Website comments. RSS updates. (Keep in mind this was before social media, so things have gotten worse.)

These distractions understandably drove my wife crazy because I was, in essence, having an affair with my phone. White lies were told when asked, “Blake, what were you doing?” Often times I’d leave the room – or wherever it was we were vacationing – for “a quickie” to avoid sideways glances that accurately accused me of being elsewhere in thought, priority, and identity.

I did this for a couple of years until it drove me crazy. I had formed a love/hate disorder with my phone. I liked it for the conveniences it did then (and now), but I knew I was unable to have a personal life with my leash-phone around. So I began purposefully leaving it behind on nights and weekends. Continue reading…

I’ll tell you exactly how this story ends

bane blackgate speechThis story.

(Note: When reading the below spoiler, it works best if received as Bane would deliver it. Got it? Good. Here’s how it’ll go down.)

White-collar workers will burnout, inspiration will wither. Compulsive disorders will rise, productivity, focus, and attention spans will fall.

Loved ones, friends, and family will be ignored. Mental and physical health will be depleted, and cast out as a deafening level of self-importance surrounds us.

Passions will die. Joy will with it.

But it doesn’t have to end that way. It’s why I’m writing a book on the subject. With guts, discipline, and offline identity, “we will endure.” We’ll eventually put these online devices in their rightful place and be better for it.

But act II of the story will be crucial in getting to the end. I’ll tell you that part later this year.

Offline Balance: Update on the book I’m writing

bookcoverI don’t know the scientific name, but I’m one of the lucky creatures that possesses an insatiable curiosity. As such, I use the Internet not only for work-related and entertainment purposes; I use it to satisfy every conceivable whim I encounter within my immediate environment on any given day.

For example, I often ask myself, “I like this song—I wonder where this band is from?” Or, “What other films has this director made?” Within seconds, Wikipedia has the answer. Last week, I overheard someone mention the country of Chad—a mystical place in west Africa. “Why haven’t I ever heard of this place?” I thought to myself. An hour later—thanks to Google—I was entrenched in all things Chad and was prepared to write an introductory discourse on the republic to attentive undergrads.

But as with all things in life, too much of anything is unhealthy. Except for maybe air guitar, chocolate cake, and dancing. But I digress. The trouble is we’ve reached a point with personal technology that it is so accessible, so immediately gratifying, and so demanding that digital indulgence is no longer just affecting information junkies like me. It’s affecting everyone. Continue reading…

Smooth Harold’s top 5 quotes of the year

Screen shot 2012-12-14 at 10.56.10 AMQuotes are a curious thing. They’re presented entirely out of context, so most of them go unnoticed. In the right state of mind, however, they can have a reaffirming or insightful impact on the reader.

Here are five quotes that connected and resonated with me most this year:

  1. “It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement. Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs, therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity or undue depression in adversity.”?Isocrates
  2. “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”—Old British proverb
  3. “If you see someone on a high mountain, you can bet they didn’t fall there.”—Anonymous (Very similar to another one of my favorites from last year: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”)
  4. “If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you wont give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy…. Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”—Bob Marley
  5. “Everything happens for a reason. And some of those reasons are because you are stupid and make dumb mistakes.”—Anonymous

The anti-technologist: Three years later

the-neverending-commuteEditor’s note: The Anti-Technologist is a new column by Blake Snow. It advocates late adoption of consumer technology until proven useful, and dishes advice from Snow’s forthcoming book, Finding Offline Balance in an Online World.

In 2009, I had a radical idea. “What if I canceled my phone’s data plan?” This was undoubtedly a first-world problem—I get it. But for someone who had previously spent 1,300 consecutive days attached to a Blackberry or iPhone from wake until sleep, it mattered.

The catalyst behind the idea: A weeklong trip in a remote Montana cabin with family and friends. No cellphone coverage. No internet. Just a landline, a moose lick, a horseshoe pit, and a river running through it.

Although initially apprehensive about the trip—”How am I suppose to continue my affair with work while on vacation now!?”— I was molded by it within a matter of days. As my wife said at the time, “With no online distractions, the social aspect had dramatically improved.” Continue reading…

More than one way to skin a cat: Finding offline balance a different way

offlinebalance

Regular Smooth Harold readers and those closest to me already know I take a hardline to offline balance. With exception to the rare 2-3 emergencies per year, I don’t open email or answer work-related calls on nights, weekends, or during mini vacations. I killed my phone’s data plan three years ago, and I quit Facebook two years ago.

Furthermore, unless its for leisure, educational, shopping or correspondence reasons, I try to stay away from my iPhone, Chromebook, iPad, desktop or any other internet-connected device as much as possible during down time. The strategy has made me a better person, worker, husband, father, recreationist, adventurer, brother, and friend. I’ve even managed to increase my income, despite working fewer hours.

That said, I’m not the only one to have found offline balance. In fact, my approach would largely only work for similar extroverts with similar compulsion disorders. Simply put, there are other ways to find offline balance. Continue reading…

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Keep telling yourself excessive work hours are a noble endeavor

workaholicWhen I was younger and dumber, I used to work 11 hour weekdays, half-day Saturdays, and was mentally distracted with work for much of the rest of time. Although I work for myself and have a ridiculously flexible of schedule, I vacationed very little at the time. I was seeking fortune and professional notoriety. I thought 60+ hour work weeks would get me there faster.

It did’t. It made me counter-productive, short-sighted, and less money on a per hour basis. In fact, Henry Ford discovered this 100 years ago, according to Inc.

Continue reading…

You don’t have to “put in your time” to take time off

As I’ve said before, the idea of overworking yourself while you’re young so you can relax later in life is bunk. Which is why I take issue with the below remark by Amber Mac, writing for Fast Company on how to validate your unwillingness to take time off:

I’m not saying that [notable businessmen who leave work after hours and on weekends] don’t work hard. Quite the opposite. Clearly they’ve hustled for years, propelling themselves into fantastic careers that I would argue finally give them the opportunity to design their lives with the freedom they’ve shared as of late.

Wrong. Some success stories just have different priorities than others. If you’re like most people and are driven by a “getting ahead” mentality, then sure: work your tail off while your body is in tip top shape while neglecting family, friends, and hobbies in the process. Then regret it later as you sit in a empty home with lots of stuff, a deteriorating body, and wishing instead you had followed your passions.

Or you can do it the other way: Work hard during the work day. Want less (aka be content with the simple things in life). Take nights and weekends off to foster relationships, listen to good music, eat good food, read great literature, watch film and volunteer. Then pepper that several times a year with wonderful vacations to see the world.

As for me and my house, we choose the latter.

This wired life: You’re still doing it wrong

machinesThe below commentary by Sherry Turkle in the New York Times is brimming with so much contemporary wisdom, I’m gonna share my favorite excerpts in the hope you’ll not only read the entire article, but ponder what it’s telling you:

I spend the summers at a cottage on Cape Cod, and for decades I walked the same dunes that Thoreau once walked. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the water, the sky, the sand and at one another, talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices…

During the years I have spent researching people and their relationships with technology, I have often heard the sentiment “No one is listening to me.” I believe this feeling helps explain why it is so appealing to have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed — each provides so many automatic listeners. And it helps explain why — against all reason — so many of us are willing to talk to machines that seem to care about us…

We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely…

Ignore that advise at your own analog peril.

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About the book I’m writing

offline-balance-blake-snow-concept-cover-title-2012A long-time Smooth Harold reader — and by long-time I mean four days — writes:

Dear Smooth Harold,

I’m looking forward to the book you’re writing, but your fans want to know: What technology are you using to write a book about life/tech balance?

Yours in blogging,

David Cole
Cambridge, Mass.

Hi David. I’m writing the book in iA Writer. I’ll also require electricity to turn my computer on, an internet connection, and working plumbing. Does that answer your question?

As for the book, I’ll be launching a website, newsletter, and maybe even a podcast soon with sample chapters and the process I’m going through to ensure the book gets maximum visibility (i.e. the best agent, publisher, and distributor my idea can buy). So stay tuned. And by that I mean keep refreshing this page every 30 seconds for the next several weeks.

Thanks for writing.

Here’s why we’re more comfortable online than offline now

phone in public

Since it’s related to my book, I was fascinated by this excerpt from USA Today:

“Our brains are sensitive to stimuli moment to moment, and if you spend a lot of time with a particular mental experience or stimulus, the neural circuits that control that mental experience will strengthen,” he says. “At the same time, if we neglect certain experiences, the circuits that control those will weaken. If we’re not having conversations or looking people in the eye — human contact skills — they will weaken.”

In essence, we’re willingly training ourselves to favor online virtual stimuli more than offline real stimuli, which is madness.

How long could you go unwired?

USA Today recently published one of those corny but entertaining “man on the street” stories asking people how long they can stay offline. The answers ranged from never, to one hour, to a few days.

In recent years, I suppose the longest I’ve gone offline is a week, what I call my life-changing “Montana Moment” in 2009. Since then, I’ve gone entire nights and weekends offline, but I’ll usually reach for my iPhone for sports scores and other little personal interests over the weekend (but never for work-related reasons on nights and weekends).

What about you: How long and how frequent can you stay offline? And when you do, how much of it is work-related?

Don’t blame “information overload” for your tiny attention span, blame yourself

Screen shot 2012-01-06 at 3.46.40 PMSince the dawn of the web, humans have become increasingly distracted. Our attention spans are crap now.

But it’s not because of information overload (which is bunk), argues Clay Shirky. It’s because most people don’t know how to filter useful information from noise. Or worse, they have no self discipline and are incapable of saying “no,” “this isn’t or no longer is helping me,” “when,” or “enough is enough.”

As Shirky calls it, “filter failure.”

So the next time you hear someone blaming “information overload” for their lack of focus, remind them to grow and pair and prioritize their life to the point of quitting useless or excessive behavior.

Next!

For more than just photos: Rule of thirds the balanced way of modern life

File:RuleOfThirds-SideBySide

Want to take a good photo? Follow the rule of thirds. Want to live a sustainable and enriched life? Do the same.

In fact, I’ll make it even easier on you. Instead of dividing your life into three vertical columns and three horizontal columns, simply divide it into three overall columns for maximum balance. They are as follows: Continue reading…

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The anti-technologist: How to smartphone without a data plan

iphoneEditor’s note: The Anti-Technologist is a new column by Blake Snow. It advocates late adoption of consumer technology and expels the wonders of finding offline balance in an online world.

I’m convinced that cellular data plans will someday replace the broadband cable lines most of us still use to access the internet. I also think data plans are great for mobile workers, extended-stay vacationers, or anyone else who doesn’t have access to the internet for the entirety of the work day.

I also know, however, that the last four years of my life after quitting my data plan have been irreversibly better than the four previous years in which I subscribed to a plan. The reason I abandoned the portable internet? In short, I did it because I was tired of being on a self-imposed work leash. That and the “always there” internet didn’t mesh well with my indulgent lust for information. So I cut it.

A lot of people I encounter are surprised by this, mostly because the mainstream view incorrectly assumes that staying on an internet-connected smartphone for extended periods lets you get ahead in life (i.e. make more money). It doesn’t. It’s just an illusion. In fact, all-day internetting actually leads to less inspired work, since obsessive users are never able to truly break away, recharge their batteries, and return to work with a hungry mind.

Nevertheless, smartphones are still great, even on dumb plans like mine. Here’s why: Continue reading…

Three reasons the iPhone is more dumbphone than smartphone

3gsAfter six (sometimes) productive years, I abandoned the sinking ship that is BlackBerry last week. In it’s place, I upgraded to the “magical,” status-enhancing iPhone.

As early adopters discovered a few years ago, it’s more than a phone: it’s the greatest piece of personal technology ever invented. Phone, texter, navigator, iPod, mini TV, game console, digital assistant, e-reader, and tiny computer all in one. Not only did it serve as the inspiration for the more popular Android clone, the iPhone is the more organic and less painful version of touchscreen phones, i.e. not unlike what Macs often are to Windows machines.

Of course, like all smartphones, the iPhone can be a total drag on your analog life if you don’t set limits. (In my case, that means shunning a data plan, turning off all alerts except for voice calls, staying away from it as much as possible on nights and weekends, and only connecting to the internet when I need it, as opposed to the more common always-on, always wired, and always distracting “push” internet mode. More on that in my forthcoming book.)

But the iPhone gets a whole lot more right than it gets wrong. In fact, I count only three usability flaws on the device: Continue reading…

One year after quitting Facebook, I still have friends

A year ago to the day, I quit Facebook. At the time I feared I might be committing social suicide. Today, I can happily report that didn’t happen.

Since quitting the popular online hangout, I’ve limited the number of work and out of office distractions I encounter. I no longer feel the desire to “check in” online at every waking hour. It takes me longer to discover new bands. And I don’t have to consciously decide or distinguish friends from colleagues, associates, and nobodies. I just let them happen naturally now; unannounced and evolving.

Continue reading…

One year after canceling mobile data: 10 things I’ve learned

gp792536-00vliv01Update: As of 2013, data is now included with my cell phone plan. But thanks to my four year break from it, mobile data no longer interrupts my life like it use to. When used sparingly, it actually enhances it.  

A year ago this week, I canceled my data plan. The unexpected catalyst was an awesome trip to Montana. After being tied to my Blackberry for four years, here are 10 observations of “my rebirth” into mobile obscurity:

  1. My quality of life has improved while productivity has remained constant. By that I mean I get as much done as I did before, only now I enjoy a lot more personal time without work interfering. In many cases, that translates into greater productivity upon returning to work the next morning or after the weekend. Believe it or not.
  2. My relationship with my wife and children has improved. I recognize them more. I play with them more. With fewer alerts to interrupt us, it’s a lot more fun now.
  3. Email still waits for me on my computer. Continue reading…

Uh—there’s a time and a place for that, Apple, and it’s not your iPhone

YouTube Preview Image

When used properly, I think iPhones are nifty devices. Like all Apple hardware, including my two Macs, they have an impressive interface. Still, iPhones are probably the most overstated status device of the decade. Case in point: Apple’s latest “Did you get my email?” commercial (shown), which attempts to embellish and sell three bad behaviors “without ever leaving a call.” Let me tear ’em down for you, may I? Continue reading…

Incredible: Unread email actually waits for you on your computer!

gmail

OREM, Utah — After four convenient but usually bad-habit forming years, I canceled my Blackberry email/data plan with T-Mobile last week. To my surprise, I was amazed that my email would actually wait for me on the computer, as opposed to following me around wherever I went. Now, if I’m away from my desk, my email will tell me how many unread messages I have upon my return, so as not to overlook anything. (Some fancy email programs even support audible alerts, such as “You’ve got mail!” Really neat stuff.)

In a flurry of discovery, and in search of more answers, I asked a representative of ARPANET, the inventor of email, for comment. “The great thing about email is that it’s free, provided you don’t give money to your cell phone provider for the same service,” the spokesman said. “And unlike the Post Office, you don’t have to put a hold on your mail if you’re away, say on nights and weekends. If it fits, it ships—which is all the time.”

Continue reading…