Scalable Living: changes you can make to be more productive

I’ve been going through lots of changes behind the scenes that is leading me down a new path I call “scalable living.”

To get there, over the past year, I’ve unfollowed about 10,000 people on Instagram. Then I did the same on Quora. I deleted hundreds of apps from my iPhone. Totally changed how I communicate with all of you (I almost shut down my blog, instead, preferring to spend time where most of you are hanging out anyway: on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+).

Over that same time I added more than 1,500 filters to Gmail, which clean out my inbox of a lot of crap. Rebranded our shows to “Small Teams, Big Impacts.”

These changes will continue the rest of the year. Here’s where my head is at:

I might only have one day left on earth. Several people I knew died this past year at a younger age than I am at (I’m 47). That struck me. What would I do if I only had one day left? What would I change about my life.

Well, I would focus on doing things that have scale. For instance, instead of calling each of my family members one by one (I don’t have much time left, for instance) I would get them all on a Google+ hangout together. That has scale. Calling them one by one doesn’t. By the way, the hangout would be shared with the world. That has scale. Letting you hear the news second hand wouldn’t.

Now, we don’t need to be so dramatic about these choices we make. After all, I hope I have more than one day left here (someday I won’t even have that, though) but let’s take it into smaller things: sharing and curation.

Over on Facebook I laid out a challenge to people. I called it the frictionless-sharing shootout.

See, if you really want to know who I am and what I’m doing, Facebook is dramatically ahead of other publishing systems. Visit my profile and you’ll learn what music I’m listening to, what questions I’ve voted on over on Quora, what news I’ve read, and much much more. Subscribe to me and you’ll know — while I do it — what articles I’m liking and commenting on.

That’s mostly done “frictionlessly.” That’s scalable living, because I didn’t need to explicitly share those things with you. See, writing a blog post is hard. It takes time, thought, and, I’d argue, even a bit of talent and experience to keep it interesting.

Worse than that, though, is that each time I publish I am keeping YOU from living in a scalable way. Why?

Sharing something like “I’m listening to Skrillex right now” means you have to see it on your screen, and pay attention to it. If you are still using an old-school RSS reader (I am using new school ones, like Flipboard, or Facebook) then they won’t be filtered out. If I do enough of them you will unsubscribe because I’m bringing too much noise and not enough signal to your life. You can sense that’s not scalable living.

So, what role does a blog have in this new world. It certainly is NOT centralizing my life. Facebook is — by far — the best place to do that. This morning alone I listened to several songs in the car. Do you really want me to post every time that happens here? No way. But on Facebook that’s easily dealt with. Even better Facebook usually filters that stuff out and Facebook gets better over time at figuring out what you want to engage with and what you don’t. If you saw everything I did on my profile come through on your home feed you would unfollow within an hour. Instead 330,000 new people in the past year alone have subscribed to me on Facebook. Why? It’s scalable living and having great inbound makes life more interesting.

Over on Quora, after unfollowing everyone, my inbound got a lot more interesting. Why? Because only once in a while are people interesting (even the most interesting people are only interesting once in a while, I’ve learned, while talking with hundreds at lots of conferences that have lots of interesting people). Quora, when you focus it on topics, brings you MUCH more interesting things. I was sitting on University Avenue last week looking at the Palo Alto topic and learned so much about a city I’ve spent a lot of time in.

Same is true everywhere I’ve applied “scalable living” techniques to. Can you write a script using IFTTT to do something for you rather than you do it yourself? You did click on IFTTT to learn about what it is, right? That stands for a service that lets you write scripts following a “if this then that” statement. You can do all sorts of things with Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, Email, Weather, and other channels. Scalable living for sure.

Have you “tuned” Facebook yet to bring you interesting stuff? Did you even know you had to tune it? First tip: run this tool to separate people you don’t talk with often into your acquaintance feed. Then use the other tips I sent to my friend Jason Calacanis.

I’m going to try to refocus my efforts with startups on this new kind of living. Entrepreneurs need to live this way to increase their chances for success. Paul Graham talks about “leverage-able moments.” That’s scalable living. Putting yourself in play to get the most out of life. When I answer Quora questions, like this one on connecting with high-profile people, that’s what I’m trying to do.

Even when I listen to music on Spotify, I’m trying to do that. Because you know that I listen to Skrillex one of you suggested I listen to Ratatat. Of course I liked their page on Facebook. Why? Because that brought me more news about them to my news feed.

Companies can do this too. Beyond using Cloud Computing, you can use tools like New Relic which helps you watch your cloud infrastructure, or integrate other services that do things like comments (I use Facebook here, but Universal Studios uses Echo).

Doing those things is scalable living.

Anyway, enough rambling. You can blame this whole post on Tim Ferriss. On his Facebook feed he posted a New York Times article on the Busy Trap and said it was one of the best articles he’s ever read in the New York Times. I agree, but Tim is one of the best authorities on scalable living I’ve ever met. So, Tim, this is for you! That article did, indeed, rock, and is aiming at the same thing I am: scalable living so you have time to hang out with your friends and not be “busy.”

That said, the article is wrong. The first rule of scalable living is to get control of your inbound. That means telling a lot of people “sorry, I’m too busy to have lunch with you today.”

What that really means is that Fred Davis, one of the founders behind Wired Magazine, will be here in a few minutes and we’re just gonna sit around this afternoon thinking about the future. The future is scalable living. Oh, and those Google Glasses things are gonna be how it arrives! :-)

Comments

  1. Hi Robert! I am eagerly following your progress on a more scaleable life. I realize you’re focusing mostly on the digital side of life right now (which, of course, makes sense as that’s how you earn your living) but once you begin to reap the benefits you’ll likely want to make improvements on the physical side of life, too. I’m a Professional Organizer in San Antonio, Texas (I know you don’t live here but I know you know your way around town) and have lots of great free tips on my site to help when the time comes. There are all sorts of free videos, etc, and the paper filing tips are very popular as of late.

    While I do some “digital” organizing too, most of my tech tips are aimed more at tech “newbies” as that’s who I end up helping the most. That’s why I’m following your progress so intently. So as you chronicle your progress just know that your lessons learned will likely have a beneficial trickle effect on individual clients and business I help! So, next time you’re in SATX you might just bump into someone who benefitted from your productivity journey and didn’t even know it!

    Thanks, Robert and best of luck as you simplify and organize your life!

    -Vanessa

  2. Hi Robert,

    We just lost a loved one recently and were looking for photos of him. One of the first places we looked was Facebook and then we realized that we weren’t connected. Just in case, it is a good thing to be connected to your loved ones now and leverage that scale when the time comes.

    thanks,

    Pete