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Smart Rowing ??‍♀️

Smart Rowing ??‍♀️

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

I hate exercise. 

Maybe that statement is a bit extreme. I love feeling healthy and being active, but I’ve always struggled to maintain the kind of exercise that I need: regular, full-body, and sustainable for years. The closest I came was working with a personal trainer for a few years in Seattle. It was twice a week and I dreaded it every time. What kept me going was the standing appointment, the feeling that I was doing something good for my body, and friendship with my trainer, who sometimes brought me pork belly he smoked over the weekend.

We had an elliptical trainer at home in Seattle that came close to being the right thing, but it didn’t stick. My body doesn’t react well to regular running and biking (road or stationary) isn’t my favorite either. I’ve realized that one of the culprits in this struggle is boredom. 

As Flattop was being completed, we wanted to use the move as a reason to establish new habits. New house, new routines, we’d say. Sachi’s doctor said the best scenario was to find an exercise you can do every day for the rest of your life. Rain or shine, young or old. Then, make that a part of your day. Even for 10-20 minutes. This was the goal. One of the reasons I’m sharing this review is because I know many people have a similar goal.

I started looking at home exercise equipment and rowing machines seemed to check a lot of boxes. Rowing is one of the best full-body workouts, working legs, core, and arms in a style that’s low impact and high cardio. But the question remained: would a rowing machine end up being another way to collect dust?

What I found is that rowing machines, like exercise bikes, are innovating. Peloton exercise bikes have become popular, in part, because they come with a touchscreen that is internet-connected and offers a library of workouts with real trainers guiding you. Your account tracks your progress and allows you to compete with others.  

Rowing machines are learning from Peloton’s success. A new class of machines now comes with built-in touchscreens and a library of workouts. These options are relatively expensive and often come with a monthly subscription fee for access to the library. We wondered: does the library of workouts matter? Will we end up watching a TV show instead?

It was impossible to know without giving it a shot. We looked at NordicTrack, Echelon, and Hydrow, which all do similar things. We ordered a Hydrow because the reviews said it had the best workouts and a money-back guarantee.

NOTE: I do not earn money or have formal relationships with Hydrow or any other exercise equipment. This is just my personal experience.

The Hydrow machine arrived eleven weeks ago and the results are in: I’ve found my exercise. Since it arrived, I’ve used the rowing machine at least 5 days a week and the Hydrow app even more. For the first time in my life, I actually look forward to workouts and feel confident that I’ll continue to do so. It’s become a habit.

Why has this worked for me? A few reasons:

The Workout Library 

I cannot imagine rowing without the workouts. There are about 3,000 rowing workouts that are filmed on the water, in a beautiful location, with an athlete rowing a boat along with you. The system is designed to create a rhythm where you match the rowing strokes of the trainer. As long as you keep up with them, you’ll get the workout you want, whether it’s a slow jog, a sprint, or a marathon. 

Most of the workouts I do are twenty minutes long and are organized into intervals. Rowing along with a person in a boat creates an immersive experience that feels like you’re training with them in Miami or Lake Lucerne. The commentary during the row is part reminders of proper form, part location information and part personal stories. This does a lot to prevent boredom.

The Trainers

The training team matters more than I expected, too. It’s about a dozen athletes and you get to know them over time and see them as individuals. They pick the music for each workout and fill the spaces with stories and anecdotes from their lives. They are world-class athletes, including Olympians, who are leaders of the community and chief motivators. Like personal trainers, they are positive, encouraging, and enthusiastic. They celebrate that each day you row is a win.

Space, Time, Noise

We keep the rower in the office, where it’s out of the way and takes up little space. It uses magnetic resistance, which is smooth and quiet. There’s no prep to get started, you just sit down and start rowing. In and out, including a shower, in thirty minutes. Rain or shine.

The Data

Because Hydrow is internet-connected and each person has an account, it tracks your workouts: how many, how far, how many calories, average strokes per minute, etc. This matters more to me than I expected. As my form has improved, I’ve seen it in the data and that improvement keeps me pushing.

The Other Workouts

In addition to rowing, Hydrow has yoga, pilates, and strength + mobility libraries, all of which are filmed in the same fashion: outside in beautiful locations. I now do yoga 5-6 mornings a week. 

The Game

You can choose to be competitive, or not. During each row, there is an on-screen leaderboard that you can show or hide. It compares your rowing speed to everyone else who has completed that row. As you row faster, you overtake other rowers in the leaderboard, and I pay attention. 

Needless to say, I’m a fan of Hydrow and the new class of smart exercise systems. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have an exercise option that I can do for many years. I can’t imagine going back to exercising alone.

Designing for Dogs ?

Designing for Dogs ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

When building a house, it’s easy to assume that the builder and architect will account for what’s needed. You’ll surely have the desired number of bathrooms and a roof that keeps you dry. There are also things that are unique to you and your lifestyle. Daily rituals and long-standing annoyances could be improved with a bit of forethought, but only if they are communicated to the team. This is an important lesson we learned in building Flattop: Be diligent in accounting for ways the house can be designed to improve your day-to-day life. Communicate what you want and the pros will find ways to make it work.

Once the house was mostly complete, attention turned to the fencing. We shared our ideas for a small fenced area that aligned with the side of our garage. Gates flank it on the short sides of the rectangle. One gate leads to the driveway. The other leads to a larger fenced area that wraps around the house and contains our garden and back deck. 

This system of fences was designed with great intention and not without a bit of confusion. You could see the questions wash over the builders as they tried to understand what we wanted. “So you want a fenced area that leads to a second fenced area? With a gate in between?” Yes. Exactly. But only four feet high.

They built it exactly as we wanted and today, the system of gates and fences is emblematic of our efforts in making the house work specifically for our lifestyle. Builders and architects can work wonders, but they won’t live in the house. They won’t use it every day. They don’t have access to the daily rituals and events that fill the day. That information is the domain of the homeowner, who must explain what is needed, a few times, to make sure the house fits with these routines. 

We have dogs. We wanted Flattop to be a house that minimized the impact of PNW wet dogs and dirty feet on our nice new floors. We imagined waking up on a wet December morning and needing to let the dogs out to do their business. We could let them into the large garden area and watch them return happy and covered in mulchy mud. Or, we could leash them and walk in the rain, careful to avoid muddy areas. Or, we could design the house for this daily routine. We chose design. This meant thinking ahead about how to handle rainy days and wet dogs. 

When we were in the guesthouse, we built a small enclosure that connected to the entry. In the winter rain, the dogs could go out while we stayed dry on the porch. I used a nearby pile of wood chips to cover the surface and the system worked. The dogs still got wet, but their paws remained mostly clean. This was our inspiration. Could we do the same at Flattop? Instead of releasing them into the garden, could we create a clean place for them to use every day?

Soon, a plan came together. On the garage side of the house, a door opens to the exterior. We decided to enclose it and make it a dog run that would be our primary way to let them out. Like the guesthouse, we could stay warm and dry by the door while they take care of business. The cedar chips keep their feet clean and naturally repel pests. The gates in the dog run only swing inward so the dogs can’t push them open. As an added bonus, their waste is contained in a small area for easy pickup.

If the dogs do end up muddy from walks or garden play, we have that covered, too. We added a groomer-style dog shower to the garage that makes cleaning dirty paws a breeze. It also serves as a great washbasin for crabbing gear and garden veggies.

The system is almost perfect, but there is one minor hiccup. Maybe, our oldest dog at seven years, has developed a distaste for rain and wet ground. If she looks outside and sees rain, she’ll resist going out at all. When she does venture out, she carefully steps along the wall where the overhang keeps the ground dry. As much as I want to think of our dogs as PNW rain dogs, Maybe is still too civilized. We won’t tell the other dogs on the island.

Podcast Interview with Rodney Flowers of Game Changer Mentality

Podcast Interview with Rodney Flowers of Game Changer Mentality

This was such an interesting and fun interview. Part of the reason is Rodney’s smooth and confident demeanor. He’s composed and understated, but speaks with great confidence. By the end of the interview, I felt like we were friends. I hope you’ll give the show a listen. You can also read the interview on his blog.

An interview between Lee LeFever and Rodney Flowers on his Game Change

Learn more about my books, Big Enough and The Art of Explanation, which were featured in the interview.

Why Time is the New Wealth

Why Time is the New Wealth

When historians look back on the transformation of 2020, the dominant stories will involve politics and public health. And rightly so. But there is another transformation that is happening on a smaller, more personal scale. It’s happening in living rooms, home offices and in the minds of people whose lives have been changed by circumstance. That transformation is based on the concept of time and specifically, the emergence of time as a form of wealth and an ingredient in our quality of life.

I recently had a phone conversation with a colleague. Our business discussion veered into the personal and she said something that stuck with me regarding being quarantined. She said, despite all the horrible things that are happening, that she’s never been happier. She doesn’t want to go back to the way things were.

A friend described a similar situation regarding his move in 2018. He and his family moved from California to an island off the coast of Washington State for his work at a non-profit organization. He said that it was a relief for them because their lives had become so cluttered with obligations that they were constantly busy and weren’t happy. Moving was a clean break from their busy-ness and they didn’t want that version of their lives to happen again.

I, too, felt this way. Despite having worked from home since 2003, I felt liberated by the mandate to stay home and enjoyed not having so many plans. Whether it’s via a pandemic or an interstate move, we felt the burden of being busy and were relieved to see it wash away. We became richer with time.

Busy-ness and Quality of Life

In the era before COVID, a lack of time was a strange badge of honor for some people. They could never be spontaneous because their lives were scheduled weeks ahead with meetings, soccer practice, and dinners. They rushed from one event to another and watching them, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this version of life what they want?

For some, it can be. A strong work ethic and a feeling of responsibility to others is healthy and productive. Others are driven by the need to attain wealth that provides them the quality of life they desire. Again, not a bad thing. If a person chooses a lifestyle that matches their values, I applaud them.

The problem, from my perspective, is when people who are fortunate to have a choice don’t realize it or haven’t considered how time factors into their quality of life. Because financial wealth is commonly connected to success, time can seem trivial, or expendable. Why would anyone focus on time when money is how success is measured?

Today, as we hopefully look toward the end of the pandemic, I believe that a new perspective is emerging. By disrupting our lives, COVID-19 created an opportunity to re-think what matters and how time relates to our own versions of success.

You, Transformed

This brings me back to the transformation. The happiness many of us felt while quarantined came from finally being free from busy-ness and obligations. Instead of spending our time according to someone else’s calendar, we could be in more control. And that control is addictive. We don’t want to go back to our pre-pandemic lifestyles because it means less autonomy. Money still matters, but time has new value and relevance.

As I wrote in BIG ENOUGH:

Now more than ever, I believe that time is the new wealth, and in the future, it will be more valuable than money to many. It will be the element that people strive to control and design into their lives because it’s a source of real satisfaction and freedom. Unlike money, time can’t be piled up and spent later. Every day it slips through your fingers. Further, time can be acquired by making up your mind. You can decide to have more time and that means consciously designing it into your daily life.

But it’s not that easy. Seeking to be wealthy with time requires dedication, willpower, and acceptance of the trade-offs that are necessary. If you’ve found that time has more value than you expected, and you want more of it, you have to choose it with intention.

Seven Tips for Becoming Rich With Time

In 2008, when my company, Common Craft, had a variety of opportunities to grow, we committed ourselves to staying small and testing ways the business could earn a profit and contribute to our quality of life. For us, that meant remaining in control of our time. The list below summarizes the personal lessons were learned in that period.

  1. Design time into your life through constraints. This means setting limits on your obligations and designating free time on the calendar. For example, no meetings on Tuesdays. No social engagements on Thursdays. You are just not available then. That time is taken. How you use it is up to you.
  2. Become comfortable saying “no”. This is not easy. We don’t want to disappoint others or lose an opportunity. It takes practice, but once you feel the power of “no”, it will become a strength that you can wield to great effect. You’re sorry, but your schedule doesn’t allow for that right now.
  3. Adjust your expectations. You have been transformed. Money matters and you want to be financially successful, but the real goal is having time to live the life that makes you happy. Unlike a new car that outwardly shows success, an abundance of time leads to a kind of satisfaction that’s personal and intrinsic.
  4. Forget the Joneses. You have something they don’t. You have a wealth of time that relates to the freedom to do what you want, when you want. That’s what matters.
  5. Understand the trade-offs. If you value time, consider what you’re willing to trade to have more of it. Would you accept lower pay if a new job had better hours and a shorter commute? Would you be okay with fewer social engagements if it meant being more autonomous?
  6. Become an evangelist. You’ve discovered something new and interesting. Share it. Talk to people about what you’ve learned about yourself and how you’re changing. They might be inspired to join you, or at least understand your perspective.
  7. Revel in your freedom. Do something interesting or, do nothing at all. That’s the secret. You are in control and have a choice. That’s the new wealth of time.

Big Enough, is a book about building a business that makes time and quality of life a shareholder value. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or career-changer, it will be a breath of fresh air.

The Entrepreneurial Imperative

The Entrepreneurial Imperative

Though it might not be obvious, we live in a world of imperatives. These are not laws, regulations, or other legally-binding rules, but expectations made by culture. We are bound by what others believe is the right path in a given situation. They are norms that, when followed, have a record of producing success.

Perhaps the most basic imperatives involve family. When people fall in love, there is a cultural expectation of marriage. If possible, the couple should raise children and send them to school. It’s a structure that has worked for generations and for good reason. It has a record of success. Because it works, those who choose to live outside it can be suspect. How dare they challenge the imperative?

A less considered imperative involves business pursuits. Here, it is assumed that businesses exist to grow and make their owners as rich as possible. Like family, this is based on a system that has worked. Growing businesses have been an engine of wealth for generations and in the case of publicly traded companies, the organization has a duty to make decisions that benefit the shareholders. But is it required for every business? Must every business person follow this path?

The entrepreneurial imperative seems to be this: Business success is based on becoming as wealthy as possible.

The danger of any imperative is it becoming so baked-in that it escapes analysis or skepticism. It becomes assumed and therefore thoughtless. I’ve heard multiple parents say, “I never knew I had a choice.” when it came to procreating. That’s what imperatives do. They reinforce an idea to a point where it’s unquestioned.

And so it is in business. From my perspective, too many entrepreneurs assume there is only one “right” way to build a business and it’s aiming to grow quickly and become the next unicorn. It seems that anyone who doesn’t take that path isn’t a serious or respectable entrepreneur.

I believe this perspective is changing as people begin to understand the personal costs that come with this kind of entrepreneurship. Yes, building a billion-dollar business is an incredible accomplishment that deserves respect. But it’s also incredibly rare and the path to it is frequently littered with those who tried, but were left with massive debt, broken relationships, and unhappiness. The romantic notion that appeals to so many conveniently leaves out the realities.

For some, it’s worth the cost. These entrepreneurs are willing to trade it all for a shot at the big time. But is it the only way?

We need entrepreneurs who aim for the stars. But, I also want entrepreneurs to see that, despite the weight of the imperative, they have a choice. They can choose a different path with different goals and different outcomes. There are still trade-offs and it’s not easy, but there is a respectable version of entrepreneurship that’s decidedly smaller and more manageable.

Money is often seen as the only true metric of success. The person who dies with the biggest bank account is the winner, right? For some, that’s the goal, but more people are starting to discover that their success isn’t so one-dimensional.

I believe, for example, that having control of my time is an important part of success. In order to achieve that control, I may have to make sacrifices, like taking on fewer projects and/or making less money. In this way, time is a part of my calculus of success. The same is true with the success that comes with independence or location. I want to be independent and work from anywhere and to do that, I have to consider the trade-offs. What I trade in terms of income may come back to me in the form of a healthier lifestyle. Success isn’t a single note. It’s a song.

Many of us are living through changes of all kinds. Now is a time to think more critically about the entrepreneurial imperative and what assumptions you’re making about success. Money matters, but is it everything? If you can break out of the imperative, you might find that building a business that’s Big Enough is the song that’s been playing in the back of your mind for too long.

The Simple Life in Northern Sweden

The Simple Life in Northern Sweden

I’ve always been enamored with Scandinavia and feel some connection to the region as a resident in the Pacific Northwest. While it’s not as cold here, the landscape and people have things in common. In fact, the Pacific Northwest was a popular destination for Scandinavians in the early 1900s, many of whom worked in the logging industry. I recently read the book Deep River by Karl Marlantes, which is about loggers who migrated from Finland and settled by the Columbia River.

My friend Jeff Henshaw shared the video below, which takes a look at a young couple’s off-the-grid cabin in northern Sweden. The host, Kalle, is engaging and funny and the photography is beautiful. In terms of simplicity, it’s more than I want. But I do find it inspirational to see people making this choice.

Kalle is also on Instagram

In 2006, Sachi and I visited Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Most of our time was spent in the Lofoten Islands, which are inside the arctic circle. It was the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen.

Lofoten isalnds landscape in Norway
Lofoten isalnds landscape in Norway

Here are our best photos from Scandinavia and a video on YouTube.

A Lifestyle Tip From Einstein

A Lifestyle Tip From Einstein

From The Guardian:

A Japanese courier arrived at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo to deliver Einstein a message. The courier either refused to accept a tip, in line with local practice, or Einstein had no small change available.

Either way, Einstein didn’t want the messenger to leave empty-handed, so he wrote him two notes by hand in German, according to the seller, a relative of the messenger.

The handwritten note from 1922 recently sold at auction for $1.5m. The note described Einstein’s theory for living a happy life. It reads:

“a quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest”.

Well said. This is Einstein and his second wife Elsa in 1921, a year before he wrote the note and won the Nobel Prize for Physics:

Stepping Away from the Seattle Bustle

Stepping Away from the Seattle Bustle

Mossy View Blog Header

Less than a year ago, I left Seattle, a city that had been my home since 1998. I always loved the city and especially the feeling that I was a part of a big, bustling place that constantly changed. Just being outside meant being among people and vehicles and busses. There were always things to do and it sometimes felt like a race when a new bar or restaurant appeared. If you discovered it early enough or knew the secret time to go, you could beat the inevitable crowds. FOMO was a constant part of my city life.

In recent years the city seemed to change, and more than that, I changed. I suppose it has to do with growing older, but I came to see that another kind of life was possible for me and that I could be happy in a different context. I loved the bustle, but it grew less attractive over time.

This change in attitude manifested in a number of ways, including a decision to leave Seattle and move to an island off the coast of Washington State in 2019. Along with the personal side of this change, I started to think differently as a professional. In Seattle, I have many friends in the tech industry who worked for big companies like Microsoft and Amazon along with start-ups of various stripes. In the city, success is usually valued traditionally. Executives earn promotions and shares vest over time. Startups attract VC funding, a growing number of employees and the potential to make it big. Some friends have seen big exits, some are still working at it, others have moved on. This, too, creates a sense of FOMO. I sometimes felt that, despite owning a company since 2003, I might be missing out on this traditional version of success because we chose to remain a small, home-based business. An IPO was never something we saw happening.

As the idea of moving away from Seattle became a daily conversation, I felt my perspective change and with it, my perception of what represented success to me. Instead of judging my accomplishments based on peers in Seattle, I started to see that I had a choice. What if, instead of a growing startup and/or the potential of an IPO, I had the freedom to choose how I spent my time? What if I could devote myself to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle? What if I only needed a fraction of my city income to be satisfied and lead a fulfilling life?

Now that we’ve moved and my life has changed in fundamental ways, I can’t help but see that there is beauty in stepping off the treadmill of traditional measurements of success and professional expectations, and reevaluating what success means to me. This feeling is still relatively new to me and it’s not been easy to put into words. That’s why I’ve included the video below. The last part of the video (set to start toward the end) from The School of Life does a good job of presenting this alternative way of thinking. The first time I saw it, it spoke to me. Maybe it will speak to you, too.

Common Craft and Camping on Tuesdays

Common Craft and Camping on Tuesdays

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


Maybe and Sachi in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Maybe and Sachi in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Camping on Tuesdays is a kind of philosophy for Sachi and me that came from running our company Common Craft. It represents how we look at our time, our lifestyle and the sources of our happiness. It’s a recognition that we can choose to live by slightly different rules and expectations.

The idea that became Camping on Tuesdays started around a campfire on a busy Saturday night many years ago. As we settled in for an evening of car camping, we surveyed our surroundings. We were enjoying the great outdoors, but we had little in the way of privacy. With kids out of school for the weekend, whole families were out walking dogs, riding bicycles, and peering into our campsite. At night, we heard waves of laughter and music from sites near and far. It was camping in public, and for a while, we never thought it could be very different.

Eventually, we started backpacking and found that miles of hiking tended to weed out most campers and allow us a bit of the privacy and quiet we so desired. But even long, steep trails could get crowded on weekends in the Seattle area. We knew our perfect camping scenario must be out there, somewhere.

Alongside this search for camping nirvana, we were running Common Craft. To our surprise, videos we started making in 2007 became viral hits and made us, to a small and fleeting degree, internet famous. The attention from these videos led us to opportunities we could never have imagined. We were hired to make custom videos for companies like LEGO, Google, Intel, Dropbox, and Ford. Our original videos were viewed tens of millions of times. I wrote a book and became a keynote speaker. It was a stroke of luck that changed our lives and we’ve been working to build onto that luck ever since.

And through it all, Common Craft always felt like an experiment. It was our laboratory and we were testing what was possible. We decided Common Craft would not grow in traditional terms or pursue traditional opportunities. Despite a lot of demand, we wouldn’t hire a team, find conventional office space and take on more custom projects. Instead, the company would remain intentionally small, home-based, and with low overhead.

At heart, we decided to design Common Craft around our time and independence. We hoped for two things: (1) enough income to support us and (2) a lifestyle that promoted our long term happiness. This decision meant we’d never have employees, investors or an HR department. We’d also never sell the company for a life-changing sum. Whatever Common Craft could become, it would be fit for two people.

Over time, we started selling video files from our website so educators could use them in presentations. This kind of licensing meant we could earn a living, however small, in our sleep. And it was small. But over time, we put everything into making this part of the business grow because it fit so perfectly with what we dreamed Common Craft could become. It took many years and a lot of doubt, but the plan started to work.

As the company changed, so did our perception of time. The 9-to-5 schedule, five days a week, seemed to no longer apply. We worked as much or more than anyone, but that work could happen on a schedule of our choosing. We could take off Wednesday and work on Saturday. We could play in the morning and work at night. We could optimize errands for avoiding traffic or long lines at Costco.

Honestly, I didn’t take to this new schedule as easily as I thought I would. As much as I wanted to live unconcerned about conventional workday schedules, I found myself drawn to it. I discovered a part of me that wants that structure. Sachi was the opposite and became our lifestyle champion. She would say, “We worked so hard to get here, why would we waste it?”

She was right and I slowly transitioned to seeing the beauty in living outside of normal workday hours.

One of the sure-fire ways we could celebrate this new independence was camping. We could camp on Tuesdays, instead of weekends. We could arrive at virtually any campground and find it nearly empty, as if we were lone survivors of a plague. For us, camping on Tuesdays became a symbol of choosing the unconventional route and making our lifestyle a priority.

Today, we’re still camping on Tuesdays and Common Craft is operating in a similar fashion. In fact, it feels like our lives and Common Craft are intertwined more than ever before. It’s the motor that runs in the background, creating space for us to continue experimenting with the business and our personal lives. One day, we’ll get it right.