Category Archives: Parenting


Lessons Learned: 2009 – Principles to Live By

The past year has been a tumultuous one — learning to raise a child, traveling all over the place, both by myself and with my family, finishing my Ph.D., starting a company and a couple of side businesses, and much more.

This year I finally started keeping track of lessons learned, not on a per-incident basis, but in the form of ‘principles to live by’ — things I’ve noticed forming a pattern over time. I’ll preface this list by saying that these principles apply to me specifically — I won’t say that they’re appropriate for everyone. However, they might give you something to think about in terms of your own best practices. None of this is original either, but out of all of the advice I’ve read, these things have really worked for me. Without further ado:

Brock’s Principles to Live By Based on Personal Experience

  • Don’t exercise until done with work for the day
  • Don’t drink alcohol until done with work for the day – yes that includes irish cream in the coffee and a beer if you go out to lunch with people and they’re having beers.
  • Exercise regularly, both strength and aerobic
  • Get enough sleep
  • Limit caffeine consumption to the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee per day, and none after lunch
  • Eat enough fiber
  • Plan your day
  • Don’t plan to do any work while watching an infant/toddler
  • Plan to clean/tidy/play while watching an infant/toddler
  • Limit work hours – work expands to fill the allotted time
  • Batch
  • Emphasize the positive, deemphasize the negative
  • Don’t complain
  • Know your goals
  • Say No
  • Don’t buy it if you can rent it, unless you’re going to use it regularly
  • Don’t keep it if you’re not going to use it regularly or unless it’s very hard to get. Give it away or sell it.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt
  • Clean environment – clean mind
  • Keep an accountability partner
  • Where possible, never leave any preparation to the day of an event — things always seem to pop up that prevent last-minute prep
  • Avoid instant messaging. It makes it too easy for conversations to drag on. Use email for asynchronous and phone for synchronous conversation.
  • Act professional in business, and give the best you can at the fairest price you can. It will pay itself back quickly and repeatedly.
  • Wait for the upgrade. You don’t have the time or money to be an early adopter anymore.
  • Pack lighter. You can almost always buy something you need there.

Much of this learning has been done through and inspired by the “Think Try Learn” / Edison philosophy/platform, now at v1.0. I’ve learned some other, more specific things through that site, including how to really increase my strength and musculature quickly, and how true the “what gets measured gets managed” mantra is.

What have you learned this year? Do you have any “principles to live by”?

Weighing Next Actions Using Prioritized Goals

Merlin Mann has uttered many sagacious phrases (and even sentences) about priorities. For example:

You eventually learn that true priorities are like arms; if you think you have more than a couple, you’re either lying or crazy.


Astute as that is, how does it help you choose what to do when you sit down at your desk? Sure, there are the obvious things. But if one of your priorities is “start a company”, and another is “maintain my relationships with my wife and daughter”, there’s still a lot of ambiguity when deciding just what is the best thing to do next.

I’ve discovered that keeping an ordered list of goals (note, my actions are not ordered or “prioritized”) helps immensely. It has two main benefits:

  1. When considering adding a new next action, project, commitment, or whatever, it’s easy to look at or think about the list and say, “This does [not] match up with any of my goals. I will [not] incorporate it into my to-do list.
  2. When sitting down to plan your day (you do that, right?), it makes it easy to decide what goes on the list. Start at the top of the list of prioritized goals, and work down. Pick actions suitable to your energy level, setting, etc, that move you toward your most important goals first.

Of course, you can’t really assign priorities to your goals. They exist. You just have to think about them and then formalize them by writing them down. More wisdom from Merlin:

I think priorities are simple to understand precisely because their influence is so staggeringly clear and unavoidable to behold, then act upon. Ready for this one?

A priority is observed, not manufactured or assigned. Otherwise, it’s necessarily not a priority. [Emphasis his]

In my book, a priority is not simply a good idea; it’s a condition of reality that, when observed, causes you to reject every other thing in the universe – real, imagined, or prospective – in order to ensure that things related to the priority stay alive.

Example. When my daughter falls down and screams, I don’t ask her to wait while I grab a list to determine which of seven notional levels of “priority” I should assign to her need for instantaneous care and affection. Everything stops, and she gets taken care of. Conversely – and this is really the important part – everything else in the universe can wait.

Merlin on 43Folders (The entire post is definitely worth your time and a major part of the inspiration for what I’m writing here.)

Here’s the exercise to do for coming up with your ordered list of goals: think about what’s important to you in life. Really important. Everything-stops-for-it-important. Write it all down. Compare the items in your mind — if you had to choose between two of them, which one would come first? Repeat until they’re in order.

See, it’s insightful for Merlin to talk about how priority just happens, but it’s so easy to forget about what’s important to you when you’re sitting in front of a computer (or a blank canvas or staff sheet, or whatever). If you want a method to ensure that you stick to what’s really important to you when distractions abound, give it a try.

I’ll give you a real-life example of how this was useful for my wife Amanda and I. Between our jobs, our daughter, and her day care, we have very little time or money to spare these days. We were making a list of goals using the method I described above, and I said, “maybe we should pause Netflix for a while.” She said something about how we enjoy watching stuff from Netflix and we have so many interesting things queued up to watch. I thought for a second or two, and looked at the list of goals that we had so far made. I asked, “Where on that ranked list of things that are important to us does ‘sitting together not interacting and watching tv shows and movies’ fit?”. She replied: “pause it”.

What are you still doing that wouldn’t make it onto your list? What aren’t you doing that would?

Happy 6-Month Birthday, Leyla!

I’ve tried, with some success, to keep Leyla from totally saturating this blog, but I feel like today she warrants a mention here. As of today it’s been six months to the day since she was born. What a cutie! (But then, I’m biased). So, happy 6-month birthday Leyla!

Leyla at Six Months


After a valiant attempt to keep up a regular posting schedule starting in January and lasting until about March, this blog has been on an unofficial hiatus for a while. I’m making it official today.

I am a new (as in recent) homeowner, I’m trying to graduate, I moved across the country, and I have a baby arriving in two months. This morning I had an epiphany — even though I try to keep anything that’s not immediately important in my Someday/Maybe category (in GTD), all kinds of things had crept in to my active system that were not pressing. A number of those things were blog post topics for VirtuallyShocking. After doing an aggressive move of many items to the Someday category, my active, actionable items dropped from about 80 to 35, and I can see now looking at the list that it will be much easier to retain my focus.

I’ve never been a terribly prolific blogger — this is mostly a diary blog, despite my best intentions to the contrary. In that vein, it will continue. I’ll probably keep up with the hearty Friday posts and occasional updates. Part of the reason for this is that most of the cardiac electrophysiology stuff that I’ve really wanted to blog about, I can’t, because the stuff I’m excited about is stuff I’m working on. That stuff generally needs to remain private until the related papers are published, at which point I’m generally already more excited about the next thing, and not interested in talking about the older stuff.

Hopefully once I graduate that will start to change, and I can build this blog the way I’ve really wanted to.