As long-time readers of this blog know, training and practice are things I’m very interested in. I’ve gone in depth on the topic in my guest post on Buffer: Why Practice Makes Perfect and my interview with Professor Anders Ericsson, who conducted the pioneering study that lead to the so-called “10,000 hour rule” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.

For the past few months, I’ve been working with Nathan Bashaw and the team at Hardbound to create an illustrated story about how practice makes us better. It’s called The Science of Practice and you should go read it now. Continue reading


side projectsHaving a side project to work on is a tremendously powerful way to develop new skills, improve your career capital and recharge from the repetitive tasks you do at work. In a couple of months (or less) you could learn how to code, or train to run a marathon, improve your social skills or write a novel.

Despite these advantages, most people never even get started with their side projects.

They make excuses, saying how they don’t have time, how next month will be less busy or how they’re more dedicated to their job or their families to embark on such extracurriculars. Look, I know it can be tough to find the energy to embark on a side project. But unless you are working 100 hours a week (and you’re probably exaggerating) or the parent of a newborn child, you are probably just lying to yourself.

Stop Watching So Much TV

Most Americans watch around THREE HOURS of television per day. Sure, there are probably a few people watching like 10 hours a day, but that’s still a lot of people vegging out for over an hour a day. For a lot of folks, TV can be swapped with social media or video games to the same effect.

You really only need average 35 mins a day on your side project to net 4 hours a week on your side project. That’s 200+ hours over a year – which would allow you to do a tremendous number of things.


The Mayor of Newark Has a Side Project

Cory Booker is the well-known mayor of Newark, NJ and unofficial Senatorial candidate, has also co-founded a video sharing startup called Waywire. Now, I don’t care what your political stance is, being the mayor is a lot of work. And if you believe even half the stories that make him one of the “hardest working mayors in America” you’ll understand that Booker is not just punching the clock on his public service duties.

Yet that has NOT stopped him from creating something new from scratch – on the side.

Paul Graham Spends 3-4 Hours a Day on Hacker News

Paul Graham is the cofounder of Y Combinator, which funded my startup Ridejoy and other, far more successful startups like Airbnb, Heroku and Dropbox. In addition to running Y Combinator as a partner and being a husband and father, he also spends a lot of time working on Hacker News, the Reddit-like community he created that gets 1.6M pageviews daily.

How much time? Three to four hours per day, according to a recent article on TechCrunch. Sure, Hacker News is tangentially related to his job running Y Combinator, but most side projects do provide real tangible benefits to your main work responsibilities.

Start Slow

Swayed? Thinking about buckling down to really take on that side project? Cool. But don’t start too hard.

From my research on human behavior change, I think one of the big missteps of human psychology is that we’re overly optimistic about our own abilities to change. We bite off more than we can chew.

Instead of diving in for hours one day, try spending 10 minutes a day on the project for a week. Consistency is great than intensity. You’ll make more progress in the long run if you keep at it a little bit each day, than if you immerse yourself once every few weeks.

I estimate it took me about 100 hours over many months to learn enough programing to build the first version of RewardBox, but there’s no way I would been able to do it over 50 hrs/wk for 2 weeks.

What’s a side project you’ve wanted to start? Let me know what’s holding you back in the comments.

Is athletic ability something that’s transferable? Deion Sanders was an outstanding baseball and football player, but Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, struggled in his short-lived baseball career.

I spent over a decade as a nationally competitive gymnast and learned a ton about performing under pressure, overcoming fear and mastering skills. I owe much of my success to my amazing coach, Levon Karakhanyan, who trained me for the last 3 years of high school and helped me earn a spot on the US Jr. National Team. (He also is the only man I have truly feared because he was … aggressive about correcting my mistakes and making sure I finished every last rep of my strength conditioning. And yes, there were serious consequences if I cheated.)

In 2007, Levon picked up golf as a hobby but quickly made leaps and bounds in his play. He is now a single digit handicap golfer (about 7.3), which puts him in the top 16% of all golfers in the US who keep a handicap, which is even more impressive when you consider that most golfers probably don’t keep a handicap at all.

And he’s done all this while being the Head Coach for the boy’s program at NESA and raising a young son. He’s now

In the interview, Levon and I discuss:

  • How he got started as a gymnast himself
  • What differentiated him from other gymnasts
  • Why patience was a key quality of becoming a better coach
  • How he found the time to practice while holding down a full-time job
  • Why the ratio of practice to competition matters so much 
  • Jason:  Levon, let’s start with gymnastics.  You’re my gymnastics coach.  When did you start doing gymnastics?
  • Levon:  I was about six years old in Armenia.
  • Jason: Did they pick you up from a program?  How did they find you?
  • Levon: My parents were very concerned about me doing all kinds of crazy things.
  • Jason:  You were a really active as a kid so they wanted to put you in a gym.
  • Levon: Yes.  My aunt actually had a friend who worked in a gymnastics facility, after her complaining about me doing crazy things, she said,”Oh, it looks like he might be just the right person to do gymnastics.  Why don’t you bring him over so they can check it out and see if he’s good.”
  • Jason: So were you a good gymnast as a kid? Did you immediately …
  • Levon:  When I came, it was a selection process.  They wouldn’t pick anybody.  They were impressed.  They put me on the bars.  I did 10 pull-ups, and they said, “Enough,” and they were pulling me off the bars, and I was still trying to do more pull-ups.
  • Jason: You were pretty strong as a kid.
  • Levon: Yes.
  • Jason: Did you have good air sense? Were you able to pick up some of that like the skills? Did you learn skills quickly, do you feel?
  • Levon: Yes, relatively quickly. It was a long process from that point. Many years of training and everything else.
  • Jason: You liked gymnastics too.
  • Levon: Oh, yes. Absolutely. It was a lot of fun. I could do everything that I wanted to do instead of everybody telling me, “Oh, stop doing that.” Everybody was like, “Oh, yes. Do more.” Continue reading

As the cofounder of a collaborative consumption startup, I do my best to try all kinds of “sharing economy” services like Couchsurfing, TaskRabbit, Airbnb, Vayable, Grubwithus and Skillshare. I even blogged about my experience taking a UX Design for Non-Designers Skillshare class.

But there’s of course generally two sides to these products – the consumer and the producer. In Couchsurfing, theres the host and the surfer. In Vayable there’s the guide and the explorer. And in Skillshare there is the student and the teacher. It’s important to get both perspectives when you can.

I’ve worked hard to avoid blogging about blogging here at The Art of Ass-Kicking. The vast majority of my posts are on overcoming your fears, doing great work and making epic sh*t happen.

At the same time, in building this blog up, I have learned some great lessons about creating compelling content, discovering my audience and attracting 100,000+ visits over 2011.

And I’m sharing what I’ve learned in a class.

Continue reading

Skillshare is a collaborative consumption startup that focuses on democratizing learning through a marketplace of independently taught classes. I recently attended my first class – UX Design for Non-Designers – it was taught by Cielo De la Paz, a senior designer at Hotwire.

I cleaned up the notes I took and figured I’d post them here! In general, I like to try out all these new sharing economy services and I think as her first class, Cielo did a pretty good job. It would have been nice to get to know the other folks in the class a bit better (there were like 20 of us jammed into a conference room in an SF tower) but time was limited so she did the best she could.

If this sounds interesting, you should check out her class here. She sent us her deck + tons of great resources for further learning.

UX Design for Non Designers

Definition / roles within UX

  1.  information architecture
  2.  interaction design
  3.  user research
  4.  visual design
  5.  copy
  6.  also now web dev

Companies often leave out user research + info architecture. Often focus is on interaction + visual

This order is typically the work flow. Don’t think of them as roles, but as steps. But make sure not to skip a step!

Note: This class is about implementing an idea – as big as a startup or as small as a profile page

Step 1 – Set a clear user goal

Very important! Know what you want your users to do!

  • “I want iPhone users to take a photo and share with their friends”
  • “I want to connect people interested in teaching to people interested in learning”

Step 2 – Audit competitors

check out sites similar to you

  • be more formal about it
  • at least 6 sites
  • screen capture, side by side
  • circle what you like, what you don’t like
  • notice patterns

ex: online education site – all seem to have video. This is what a user might be expecting

Step 3 – Create a Blueprint

Map out the flow – visio, axure, omnigraffle, illustratro, whiteboard

  • ex for instagram: splash screen -> camera -> add filters -? photo feed -? photo details
  • note – this is NOT what the app/technology is doing, it’s what the user is doing / experiencing
  • why is this so important? sometimes I haven’t mapped things out b/c of time and ended up being screwed way later in the process

She’s identified 4-ish basic types of pages/screens that do specific things

  1. Landing Page
    (home page / category page)
    this is a path to other sections of the site.
    hero image, copy, tells ppl to go elsewhere
  2. Gallery / List
    it’s either a grid or a list
    in between stage, not a final stage
  3. Detail
    the goal / end page
    ex: photo detail or article
  4. Forms
    inputting information – boxes, submit

Wireframe/prototyping – she uses axure, but if you search on Quora, there are a lot of options. Apparently axure is like learning photoshop – but not as simple. Balsamic is easier. Mindmiester is easier

If you search “50 free UI and Web Design wireframing kits, resources and source files” – smashing magazine resource

Step 4 – Use Design Principles

The secret sauce – design principles. She discussed this list with various colleagues and peers. Obviously not the final word.

1 – Don’t reinvent the wheel

  • most things work a certain way for a reason
  • look for pattern libraries
  • Pattern Tap – compile screenshots of a bunch of sites
  • Yahoo Pattern Library – dated from 2009 (says why and how to use something, not just screenshots)
  • – just iPhone

2 – Know what is possible

  • you want to push your designs and push the limits
  • also, you don’t want to design something you can’t implement
  • jQuery – droppable (new feature/interaction she can use!)
  • Firefox – new things you can do with HTML 5
  • things you can do with CSS alone
  • you can tell the devs “hey i KNOW this is possible!”
  • go to techcrunch and click startups tab – startups are often pushing the envelope

3 – Design for the primary user

  • you have to pick one of several users
  • this is not referring logged in vs logged out
  • ex: Airbnb – two users, host and guest — optimized for guest
  • ex: Kickstarter – focus is on investors, not creators

4 – Less is more

  • the fewer choices, the better
  • Amazon is a/b testing – new site
    • no left nav, very clean
  • Side note: she is against focus groups – sees as bad way to get information from users

5 – Create a visual hierarchy to organize your content

  • spotify – homepage is headline + hero image + download
  • Groupon – color coded – price stuff is blue, green is motivational element – there is a sense of order
  • Tripl – grouping, categories,

6 – Make it feel effortless and efficient

  • Twitter – infinite scroll, don’t leave the screen
  • Google hotel finder – combined everything into one page – 3 colums – search form, listings, detail page
    • this is one example of “know the rules before you break them”

7 – emotionally engage your users

Other resources for design principles

Step 5 – Show 5 people

  • show five people and make them go through it
  • when you design it, hard to see straight
  • how to get users on a budget
  • Rinse and repeat
  • wireframe/design <–> get feedback

Step 6 – Refine your design

  • bells and whistles, colors
  • hire a web designer etc

Sorry the last point is a little short but I think the meat of the post is in the early stages/steps. My biggest takeaway from this class was that UX design is not some mysterious ritual performed by the priests known as interaction designers, but is more akin to scientific research. Intuition and hunches matter, but there is also a great deal of structure, feedback and iteration to the process.

Anyway, hope this was helpful! Skillshare is sweet.