Living with one bag

About 2-3 years ago, I decided I wanted to start to declutter my life gradually. I went from one backpack and a carry-on bag to just one backpack. I count the following things as my belongings at this point:

  • 6 t-shirts
  • 2 sweaters, 2 hoodies
  • 1 coat
  • 2 pairs of dress-pant sweat-pants
  • 6 pairs of socks and boxershorts
  • 1 backpack
  • An iPhone, a Kindle, 1 Notepad and a MacBook Air (+ keyboard and mouse)
  • Gym shoes and gym shorts
  • Various toiletries like toothbrush, contact lenses, etc.

When I say “things that I count”, it does actually mean that I’m somewhat cheating. I did only live with the above things until I moved into an apartment earlier in 2014. Since then I bought some kitchen utensils as well as a mattress, bed, a couch, some lamps and a desk. I do plan on getting rid of these things in early may again, so I’m putting them on a “temporary” list in the meantime, separately.

Declutter your life, declutter your mind

If you have ever cleared your desk one morning before working, you’ll know the feeling of tranquility and peace this can give you. I found that that is exactly what happens when I got rid of most things I owned, apart from the crucial essentials.

Here is a list of the amazing benefits I observed from getting rid of stuff:

  • No decision making about what to wear in the morning, more decision making about stuff that actually matters
  • I can pack for trips in 5 minutes
  • I go clothes shopping about 1 a year (more on that below) and don’t waste any more time on it
  • There are less things to think about and there is more simplicity in my life
  • I don’t spend a lot of money on stuff
  • I indulge the “Is this all you have?” questions at borders after a long-haul flight

In order to see things clearly in life, and observe reality as it truly happens, owning less stuff is a super valuable step towards that direction. Of course, I’d never claim to be at a place where I can truly do that – see things as they are, without attachment or judgement – but I have an intuition that owning less things sets me on the right track towards that.

Replacement shopping

There are of course moments when you have to go shopping and buy new things. I managed to do this, while keeping to a minimalist lifestyle with one simple rule:

Anytime I buy something new, I need to throw out the equivalent of what I’m already owning. 

So if I buy new shoes, I throw out my old pair of shoes. If I buy a new coat, sweater or t-shirt, the old sweater, coat or t-shirt are thrown out or given away. Between my co-founder Joel and myself this lead us to call it “replacement shopping” or “clothes replacement day”.

Over the last few years, I also went up in quality gradually every time a new clothes replacement day came around. Recently, I invested in a MissionWorkshop backpack ($380), Ordered a pair of custom tailored jeans from Gebrueder Stitch ($535) and bought a coat from Burberry ($2200).

The prices for these things may sound expensive at first, but I plan on owning and using them for several years to come, which makes this well worth the cost broken down over that period of time. I’ve also made an effort to prioritize function over form, although at a very high level of quality, luckily often both are included. Dustin Curtis had some great thoughts on this with his post “The Best“.

Getting started with one bag living

The thought for many to get started with one bag living is a scary one. Luckily Greg McKeown wrote a terrific book titled “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less“, where he outlines a very handy technique:

Set aside some time where you go through your stuff and decide what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. You’ll end up with a few things that you can throw right out. Then you’ll end up with a few things that you’ll want to keep. Then you’ll end up with a few things you’re unsure of.

Put anything that you want to keep, but haven’t used in a while and anything you are unsure of in a box. Now, see, if after 3 or 6 months, you’ve actually taken out any of the things from that box and used them. If you haven’t, you can calmly through them out without having to worry whether you’ll need them in the future.

Jessica Dang also wrote a great getting started guide on one bag living that you can check out.

One bag living has simplified my life in a way that very few other things have and I can highly recommend giving it a try. I’d love to chat with you about this on Twitter:

Personal Transparency

My co-founder Joel and I recently received $1m in cash each, through Buffer’s latest funding round. It triggered a fascinating discussion between us about why and if we should share this with the world and be transparent about it. $1m is pocket change in Silicon Valley terms, but for me, this is more money than I’ve ever seen in my life, much less to think about having it in my bank account. So the first thought was to keep this quiet and between ourselves. We made up a number of reasons why this is right, all which were more or less empty assumption about what other people may or may not think about us.

Then Joel sent me a HipChat message after having discussed this, which I thought was much more eloquent than I could have ever put it in terms of why being transparent about this is important:

“I just wanted to say that I reflected more on being transparent about our $. I feel like we should definitely do it and set an example and surprise people there, it’s almost our duty to! I also think it will help us be more responsible with our money, and we might even get some great advice from people!”

Transparency makes you a better person

Sometimes, there is a fantasy that I have about strapping a camera to my head and live-streaming every second of my life to a public Youtube page. Imagine what might happen if you know that everything you do could possibly be seen by someone else. Sticking to doing the right thing seems so much easier to do.

In fact, those are exactly some of the things that happened when we started to make everything about Buffer as a company transparent. With people knowing your revenues, the salaries you pay and so much more, doing what is right becomes almost effortless. You don’t even have to try to do it.

The difference of making your very personal things public compared to your company’s data, certainly took this one step further. I’m not Buffer, so it’s easier to have a certain distance to it. So sticking to the same transparency is both scarier, but possibly even more rewarding since it’s even closer to myself.

It seems obvious now, but it’s much easier to conclude this now: Personal transparency makes you a better person in the same way that company transparency makes you a better company.

Personal Transparency vs Personal Privacy

What’s interesting to observe with this in the wake of recent NSA revelations is that it goes almost completely against what most people’s response was to these events: More privacy. What if we were to flip things on it’s head and respond instead with more personal transparency.

Of course, our intuitive and understandable reaction as humans when we feel like being attacked, in this case from someone we wanted to value highly – our own government – is to be defensive about it and close ourselves off. And yet, possibly the best way to solve this problem is not to attack back and lock ourselves in with more privacy, but to transcend it with complete openness. It would wipe out the discussion completely and it wouldn’t even be on the agenda anymore.

I found it a fascinating experience to push through my own personal transparency barriers recently and it’s already been so much more freeing to do so. And I’m excited to experiment with it further and see how far I can go.

I’d love to chat with you about this on Twitter:

Growth

For the last 2 to 3 years, about every day, I would wake up, open my laptop and type the letter “g” into the Google Chrome bar and hit enter. Chrome would auto-complete it to “growth.bufferapp.com”. It was like a daily ritual to check on Buffer’s growth numbers from a number of different angles. Revenue, new users, daily actives, monthly actives.

Growing, increasing our monthly revenue, our traffic, our user base, that was the number one priority in my mind. It only hit me very recently, about 4 months ago now, to pose a very simple question “Why grow?”.

Learning about Growth in Silicon Valley, aka “Traction”

When my co-founder Joel and I first arrived in San Francisco, in the summer of 2011, we were absolutely clueless about how startups work in Silicon Valley. It was a fascinating time filled with a huge amount of learning. One of the most intriguing concepts that I picked up very early on, was the idea of “traction”.

It meant that you couldn’t say a number to an investor, a partner, or anyone you were talking with about your early stage startup, without mentioning a second number: it’s growth rate. We have 100 users, and it’s growing 50% every month. Our revenue is $1m per year, growing 20% every month. Not mentioning the growth rate almost makes the first number meaningless.

When we entered the incubator AngelPad with Buffer, we internalized the concept of traction even further. We were prepping for talks with investors and the single thing they’d care most about was whether we had a graph, that was steeply growing up and to the right. If we didn’t have that graph, then we should create one. If we had too few users, we should try and find another metric, maybe time on site or something to show our traction. Traction was the one measure that would show investors that what we were building was working and not just an empty idea.

Growth with and without limits

My understanding of growth has moved from an obsession in the last few months, to seeing it more as one part of the many things that we observe and create.

When we look around ourselves, we see that almost all living things grow and enlarge over time. Trees, for some reason, are one of the best examples I can think of. They start as a tiny seedling and can grow into something like these gigantic redwoods.

One thing that’s so fascinating with everything that grows is this: It has a limit. Organically, nothing grows forever. A tree eventually stops growing, our body does. There is one natural exception that occurs, where things keep growing without limits in nature: cancer. From my limited understanding of this works in detail, it’s when cells keep splitting and multiplying, somehow “forgetting” to stop growing.

An amazing quote on the topic, that started to make a lot more sense to me, now that I read it again, comes form Seneca:

Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping-point. The false has no limits. When you are travelling on a road, there must be an end; but when astray, your wanderings are limitless. Recall your steps, therefore, from idle things, and when you would know whether that which you seek is based upon a natural or upon a misleading desire, consider whether it can stop at any definite point. If you find, after having travelled far, that there is a more distant goal always in view, you may be sure that this condition is contrary to nature. Farewell.

Especially the line “If you find, after having travelled far, that there is a more distant goal always in view, you may be sure that this condition is contrary to nature.” is what I found so incredibly telling. With your startup or any type of company, it seems that no matter how big you’ve grown, you’ll always want to grow bigger. It seems completely unthinkable today, to say that for example Apple or Google would announce “we’ve grown enough, we’ll stop here”.

Inducing growth

What’s fascinating on top of all of this is that in most cases, we try to manufacture growth. Governments want to “kickstart GDP growth again”, startups want to “move the needle on monthly growth”, I personally wanted to do everything possible to have Buffer grow faster each month.

What’s become clear to me now is that whenever I’m trying to create growth, I’m not focusing on the “stuff”. I’m not doing the things that actually matter. Everything becomes a means to an end. A new feature, a new product, another A/B test, more marketing, more hiring. Everything is destined to help the one and only purpose that is “more growth”. Building a feature to induce growth is one of the most subtle forms of self-sabotage in today’s startup world. Only when we talk about products having become “monsters”, (which is surprisingly similar to the idea of “tumor” or “cancer”), is when we realize this.

Slowly turning away from the endless road of ever continuing growth has been a fascinating challenge. I feel like I’m slowly releasing a grip on something, that was never something I wanted to hold onto in the first place.

I still believe that growth is important and that it will always occur naturally. Making it the central focus and for it to not be able to “stop at any definite point”, is where I’ve gone wrong largely in the past.

PS: There are two incredible resources that have helped me shape my changed thinking on growth. One being the book “Reinventing Organizations“, the other being a documentary called “The Economics of Happiness“.

The more I meditate, the more I enjoy my life

The more I meditate, the more I enjoy eating my lunch.

The more I meditate, the more I enjoy my hours of work.

The more I meditate, the more I enjoy brushing my teeth.

The more I meditate, the more I enjoy a conversation with a friend.

The more I meditate, the more I enjoy a walk.

The more I mediate, the more I enjoy a phone call.

The more I mediate, the more I enjoy drinking a cup of tea.

I recently realized what an all-encompassing power meditation has for me. Meditation creates this energy of mindfulness for me, that lets me pay attention longer to anything I do.  Of course, I still drift off, but it feels that over the last year or so, my attention span has gradually become longer and longer.

It is fascinating for me how any aspect of life is improved with this greater sense of being in the now. It just makes all the difference. For the first time in a long time I mediated twice a day, while I’m traveling in Nepal right now.

As a closing note: I realize that being in an environment where mediation is “easy”, i.e. with a lot of other people doing it and general welcoming of it, makes a huge difference also.

How I forgot to scale my sleep

Recently, something fascinating happen to me. Here it goes:

Forgetting to scale my sleep when working out

Gradually, over the last year or so, I started to work out a lot more. I hit the gym roughly 5 times a week. It’s been a great way to strike a balance between the crazy startup life with its ups and downs.

A few things became very clear to me. To get stronger and more fit, I had to work out more. That’s probably the most obvious. Secondly, I realized, I’ll have to eat more. Also, still fairly obvious.

But then, I got it completely wrong. As I got more and more fit, I got more and more tired. That didn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t I, as I am now more fit, be less tired? That’s at least what I had assumed and it took me some digging and research to find out, this might not quite be how it works.

The more I trained, the more I ate, the more I would need sleep. These days I’m getting around 9-9.5 hours of sleep in a 24 hour cycle (~8 hours/night and 1-2 25 minute naps in the afternoon). It’s as if I somehow thought everything could get more, and sleep could get less. Changing both my behavior (sleeping more) and attitude (not feeling bad for sleeping more), made a big difference to my happiness.

On top of that, it wasn’t surprising for me to find out that professional athletes sleep 10-11 hours every night.

 

Why did I  forget about this?

Generally, I don’t think that this is something to worry about. I don’t think that’s what we should be focused on at the beginning.

When you go to the gym, your goal isn’t to finally hit that 10 hours of sleep/night mark.

Whilst sleep is incredibly important, it’s just more an effect than a cause. It’s something that pops out, as you poke in.

The key, I believe is to keep an open mind and stay reflective. I found that if we do that, all these things, that come in as effects are being noticed and you’ll take care of them.

 

We grow in circles

We have this idea, that we want our business, our revenues, our whatever to grow up and to the right. It’s a 2D graph that moves.

When I thought about the above, I realized, that that might not be how we grow things actually. It’s more like a circle, that gets bigger as a whole. If you just look at what grows up and to the right (strength), you forget that something might grow up and to the left too (sleep).

It reminds me of the fact, that machines often operate in the up and to the right way. We humans, are much more cyclical, so a circle, that grows as a whole, actually might make more sense.

 

A mistake I often make: Confusing passion with drive

Recently I finished a book that inspired me and I believe has directly influenced some of my opinion on a few projects going forward with Buffer.

The book is titled “The Monk and the Riddle”.  It’s a brilliant book that I felt bridges the gap between 2 very different worlds I’ve recently ventured into: Startups and Buddhism (with a particular focus on mindfulness).

One quote that stood out particularly to me was the following:

Passion and drive are not the same at all. Passion pulls you toward something you cannot resist. Drive pushes you toward something you feel compelled or obligated to do.

Why is it so easy to confuse the two?

I believe that the reason it’s so easy for me to get caught up in confusion between to the two, comes from how I approach working. What tends to come easy to me is to churn through a number of tasks and be fulfilled by having them done.

It means, it doesn’t matter what kind of task is at hand. As long as it’s on the list and I can push through it, to eventually tick it off, I feel good.  What counts is that my to do list is empty and all the stuff got done. What “stuff” it was, might not be so much in the center of my attention.

What I’ve learnt to better separate passion from drive

The key for me over the past few months to help me to better separate passion from drive is reflection. Reflection in itself is something that I’ve struggled with for as long as I could remember.

In more detail, the way I managed to achieve a tiny bit of a better sense of reflection so far is through meditation. After I meditate for just a few minutes, my brain has slowed down. So naturally, it’s in a more reflective state to think things through on a higher level.

So it is this slowness, that lets me see through things much better. I can much easier filter the: “oh, I want to get on with this, because I love doing it and it’s important” – tasks out from the “it’s on the list, so let’s get it done” – tasks.

The fact that this happens amazes me, especially as Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my favorite Buddhist authors often says that “meditation means looking deeply”, which is the very definition of reflection I believe.

Granted, I think I’m at the very beginning of improving my reflective mindset, and sure enough I’m still not very good at it. And yet I’m very excited by how fast you can change your outlook this way.

Travelling with the tools of the future: What a weekend trip to L.A. can look like

venice

This weekend, my co-founder Joel and I took a 2 day weekend trip to L.A. There was no particular reason for it really. Ever since we arrived in the US, we hadn’t spent much time exploring other parts of the country, other than SF, so we felt it was time to widen the horizon a bit and get a picture of what other places are like.

Whilst we aren’t particularly proficient travelers, one thing struck us both as exceptional: the tools we used to organize our whole trip. On our way back to the airport we reflected a bit on all the amazing new tools that we are able to make use of to make this trip as smooth as we could possibly think of

It definitely felt that by living in California, we are privileged to be amongst the first to experience new tools, and it feels a lot like we are living in the future.

So, without further ado, here is a list of all the tools that helped us throughout the weekend:

The Hipmunk experience

The first step was to book our flights to L.A. and naturally I always used to associate booking flights with a stressful experience. Not with Hipmunk. The way they display date and time of flights is so unique, that booking the flights becomes incredibly smooth. They compare prices, times and booking overall took us no longer than 15 minutes. This is was a true life-saver to get us off to a good start.

The Uber experience

On the evening before our trip, we checked on our flights, only to realize that they would leave SF earlier than the BART would be in service. Not to worry, with a quick check, we could grab an UberX (cheaper than a cab!) the next morning, which would get us to the airport in exactly 15 minutes.

What amazed me the most about UberX is that it looks like a 100% regular car – the only thing it needs to charge you, find the route, communicate with you as a customer and everything else is an iPhone. That’s it, an iPhone is all you need to turn a car into a cab these days.

The Zipcar experience

After arriving in L.A. we went to grab the Zipcar we had booked a few days before within the app. No queuing for a rental car, no extra fees, no filling in of forms or anything like that. We walked up to our car, placed our ZipCar on top of it, the car opened and we were off on our way.

I belive the ZipCar experience was maybe the most mind-blowing one as we couldn’t believe to just be sitting in our own rental car so quickly just minutes after arriving from the airport.

The AirBnB experience

We spent the whole day exploring L.A. (mainly hanging out at the beach) and went to our AirBnB apartment in the evening. This again was incredibly amazing,  I had texted with the host throughout the day to arrange everything. He had left the apartment open for us. All we had to do was park our car, walk in and we were staying at an amazing, affordable place, where didn’t need any further interaction than hitting a “book it” button on AirBnB.

We left the apartment again the next morning, leaving an apartment without ever having met the host (which of course would have been awesome though!), completely open and were on the road again. Smooth as something really smooth can be.

The Foursquare experience

On Sunday, we spent the whole day in Newport Beach and actually I hadn’t used Foursquare in a while. When we had to find a coffeeshop close by, our first option was Yelp, that didn’t work out all that well, especially as we were in a very touristy place.

Using Foursquare on the other hand was gold, as the friend recommendations for coffeeshops were spot on. We found one a bit hidden away, that I’m sure we’d have never found otherwise. The “2 of your friends were here” was something that absolutely changed everything for the better compared to googling or yelp.

The Google Maps experience

Out of all the experiences that probably stands out the most is Google Maps. Having never been to LA, but finding our way around like we’ve lived there for years absolutely blew my mind.

Of course, GPS devices have been around for a while, but I simply couldn’t get my head around the fact that I’d know about how much traffic there is and what the best routes are at our fingertip. The idea of “being lost” has practically not happened to me for the past few years.

To end this, I’m just amazed by how far we’ve come in terms of traveling the world so effortlessly. I’m incredibly grateful to the advances in tech and can’t wait to see what’s next.

Would love to know about your best travel tips and apps so I can get even more hassle-free next time! 

 

 

So few are part of the tale

Recently, my slight obsession with Lord of the Rings got a tiny bit worse and I dove into reading all the books from start to finish.

Right now, I’ve made my way through The Hobbit and half way through the first part of The Lord of the Rings “The Fellowship of the Ring”. Out of all tales that I have ever seen as a movie or read about in books, the Lord of the Rings seems to have one of the most majestic ones.

Especially the book (as opposed to the movie) is filled with hints and hints to dozens of other tales, stories and riddles, that flesh out the vastness of the plot even more. Those are the stories I like the most. They leave so many questions unanswered and pose even more ones you want to know and wonder about all the time.

The one thing that I noticed though was how few are really part of the tale: It is a handful of people that at the end of the day save the world. In the fellowship there are 9, then there are a few more people involved along the way, who shape events greatly, and that’s it.

After I realized this, I thought about any other story or event that had great meaning to lots of people. And really, I couldn’t find any where there were more than a handful of people involved that shaped everything. I pondered tales of all kinds from Star Wars, to the Bible, to the history of Google or the recent Mars Landing.

Of course, there are always tons and tons of side rolls and supporting characters. And even more people cheering on or greatly opposing of what’s happening. And even more people who simply happen to have lived at the time of the story happening. They are important too. It’s just, they aren’t really part of the tale.

 

What could go wrong?

That is the line, that we have had built into our heads since the very start. “What could go wrong?”, is what our ancestors asked themselves every day.

When they went into the woods to gather berries or find the next animal to kill, that was the one premise they went out with. That is what they accounted for, so that no predator could attack them or do them any harm.

In the most literal sense, the line “what could go wrong?”, deeply ingrained into our ancient lizard brain is what saved our ass.

In fact, I would go even further, “What could go wrong?”, is the one line that brought us to where we are today. It is the one sentence that helped us to outsmart any enemy, as we could pre-empt their attacks, built caves with better protection and make sure our children and theirs will make it through many summers.

It does seem quite ironic then, that in today’s world “What could go wrong?” has completely turned her back on us. The ones that keep thinking “What could go wrong?” are the ones who are plentiful, and the ones that bring very little value to the table:

“There will always be a surplus of people eager to criticize, nitpick or recommend caution.” ~ Seth Godin

In today’s world, “What could go wrong?” has little to no use. The ones that succeed are others. It is the people who dare. Who dare greatly. It is the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musks, Barack Obamas, Jack Dorsey’s, Mark Zuckerberg’s and Larry and Sergey’s.

At first, it almost seems, that mother nature has turned her back on us. The one ingrained understanding of caution we are all born with is that one that will no longer see us through to arrive safely in the next generation. The one ingrained understanding that you, who are reading this carry within yourself burnt into your synapses. The one that I, as I write this, carry with myself.

Maybe though, so I think, it isn’t all wrong. Maybe it is just that we are continuing our course of evolution, where, after many years of good use, the tool “What could go wrong?”, finally needs to be put to (a well deserved) rest.

On behalf of “Yes!” and on behalf of daring, it is my sincere belief that thinking “What could go wrong?” can’t bring us any good (anymore).

Instead, I think it is of the highest importance to learn (and learning this I think we must, as none of us are born with it) to start asking ourselves and everyone else “What could go right today?”. And then, go do that right thing.

 

How can you reinvent yourself?

Let’s say you’ve grown up in a small town like me. Or a big town. It doesn’t quite matter so much. You went to school there, you made lots of friends there. You even found your first love there. Then you went on going to College there. You enjoyed some more time with your friends and family. And then, slowly, but surely, you realise something. You aren’t quite the person you want to be. You realise this:

You want to be a quite different person. And you are thinking of changing yourself. Ever so slightly. Then a bit more aggressively.

The shy guy, all of a sudden speaks up in a crowded room to express his idea.

The pessimistic girl starts to smile and talk about the great things of life every day.

The person who has always suppressed their emotions, expresses their feelings clearly and heart warmingly to someone.

And then, after our attempt to change comes the sentence. It is being told to us by someone we know so well, maybe our friends, maybe our family. And it hits us like a knife being stabbed into our stomachs:

“But that’s not the <name> I know. You are a different person now!”

What follows in many cases is ridiculing, laughing, disbelief of your new actions. Your surroundings, your friends, your family, who have come to know you as this or that kind of person won’t accept the new “you” that you are exploring. Change is always hard; for everyone.

And so, slowly the shy guy becomes more shy again. The pessimistic girl gets back to smiling less and complaining more about the hard life. The feelings are getting suppressed again.

We cannot change without the environment around us approving of us. As hard as this truth may sound, it is something that I have found more persistent than anything else.

So what we have to do, if we really want to reinvent ourselves is to change our environment. It is to find a place, where we can change and become a different person. The person we want to be or think we want to be. Where we can change our minds when we yet again, want to become a different person from the one we originally changed into.

Doing this is hard. It’s insanely hard. It takes all the courage we have as humans to do so. And yet the reward is greater than anything else: Freedom. The places where you can become the person you want to become are rare. In fact, they are extremely rare. And even if we are in such a place, it takes a whole lot more courage to find out about it.

The above is a truth (and story) I have come to understand over the past few years. I have completely changed my environment several times. I’ve changed the people I interact with and even the continent I lived on, twice. And I couldn’t think of anything else that’s more worthy of doing.