1% Better

I’ve been reading James Clear’s brilliant book, Atomic Habits.

In it, he tells the story of the British cycling team, who went from mediocrity to winning everything there was to win at the 2012 London Olympics.

And they did this, says Clear, by improving everything they could think of just by 1%.

They improved the cyclists’ sleeping habits, attitude, gear, clothes, nutrition, even bike storage came under scrutiny.

If you’re reading this and thinking – wasn’t there a doping scandal though – James covers this in the British Cycling Update on his website.

Doping scandals aside, the team were making a million and one improvements on a day-by-day basis, which allowed them to improve exponentially overall.

And you can too.

With small improvements every day, we can reap the benefits of what Team GB’s cycling coach, Dave Brailsford, calls The Aggregation of Marginal Gains.

When you’re writing, podcasting, making the thing you create every day, ask yourself this.

What can I do to make my system 1% better?

Recently, I’ve been trying to put this into practice on my podcast, Level Up Human.

We’re 70 episodes in now, and I’ve been working on the show notes. For the first 50 episodes, we didn’t write any. It wasn’t a huge thing in podcasting.

Then I noticed other shows released extensive show notes every episode. I’ve tried to improve ours by 1% for the last 10 episodes in a row.

Having done this, I also discovered it’s possible to feed your podcast into a Google speech to text translation service, in order to create an edited transcript of the show.

We now have extended show notes available to our Patreon community, and on our website, which are too long for our hosting service, Acast.

This allows our listeners to get a deeper understanding of the episode. Hopefully, it extends their enjoyment of the show.

This can be applied to multiple aspects of life. If you make a 1% improvement change every day, over time these build into systems that make it easier to succeed.

Clear says in his book,

“The more tasks you can handle without thinking, the more your brain is free to focus on other areas.” – James Clear

Building routines can lead to exponential growth and improvement.

It takes time, but after a while, these small changes build on one another to allow rapid improvement and growth.

Just don’t expect the returns to show up immediately. You have to keep at it!

I’ve been enjoying the Streaks app recently, which makes it easier to track small habits and build streaks to incorporate them into daily routines.

If you’re a science podcaster or love science podcasts, I run a new facebook group you might like to join.

What are you working on making 1% better?

Why Podcasting is AWESOME

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Level Up Human recording at the Blue dot festival. Holly Shiels, Sarah Jones, Simon Watt and me!

I just want to take a second to talk about podcasting. I launched a podcast called Level Up Human with Wellcome Trust funding in 2015, and 5 years later, we’re still going strong.

It’s my opportunity to learn about evolutionary biology, to talk to an audience of loyal fans, and to hang out with my buddy, Simon Watt.

Level Up Human is a podcast panel show on a mission to redesign the human body.

Here’s our latest episode.

So today I want to talk about why, if you don’t listen to podcasts, you should!

Why Podcasts are AWESOME

The best thing about podcasts, in my view, is that they are great for busy people.

You can listen to podcasts whilst you commute (when that’s a thing again), whilst you do housework, when you’re driving, jogging, cycling, or even swimming if you get yourself some snazzy active headphones*.

This review by Robin Capper, one of our listeners from New Zealand

There are podcasts of all kinds of different lengths. I love Tim Ferriss’s loooong form podasts, and some with much shorter episodes like Meg Cusack’s Courage Makers podcast.

If you’ve never listened to podcasts, here’s how to start.

And if you’re a creator, podcasting is BRILLIANT. Here’s why.

Why podcast?

If you’re a creator, chances are you either write, podcast, or make videos. Here’s why podcasting is one of the greatest creation platforms ever.

Low start-up costs

Podcast start-up costs can be absolutely minimal. You can record on your phone, you can use free editing software like GarageBand or Audacity, a free podcast hosting service like PodBean, and you’re away.

The danger, of course, like all things, is that once you get into it, you will want to upgrade your gear. I trained in sound editing using Adobe Audition, and I absolutely love it. Mostly because it’s familiar.

You can spend thousands on fancy microphones, computer hardware and home studios, but at least to get into it, you can keep the costs absolutely minimal.

Edit anywhere

Once you’ve recorded your audio, you can take your laptop to a cafe, or the park or the beach to do your editing.

You don’t need a team of people to make it work. It is very nearly as easy as blogging.

Build a connection with your audience

The written word is great, and everything, but there is an extra level of intimacy in speaking directly into your listeners’ ears.

You can talk to them about all kinds of things, even things you mightn’t discuss with your best friends, because it’s essentially a private conversation.

Communicate science!

I work with science podcasters, and one of the best things about podcasts is that it allows researchers to speak directly to the public who fund their work.

They get to explain how their research is going, what they hope to discover, and how this will change lives. Without the need for a camera crew, or loads of expensive equipment.

During the lockdown I’m offering free podcast training and help, so if you’ve been thinking about starting a podcast for a little while, get in touch.

 

 

Remembering Towel Day 2018

On May 25th, 2018, the second Towel Day was held at the Star of Kings in Kings Cross.

Photos by Mike Conterio.

If you’d like to attend Stay In for Towel Day, which will be on May 25th online, due to lockdowns around the world, you can RSVP to Save the Rhino here:

https://www.savetherhino.org/get-involved/events/stay-in-for-towel-day-2020/

6 Easy Ways to Start Writing

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

The blank page is terrifying.

But the good news is, writer’s block doesn’t exist.

Not really.

Not being able to think of anything to write is easily overcome with a few strategies.

And if writing is what you do, and you’re serious about it, not being in the mood is not a good enough excuse. You just have to keep turning up, and getting started.

Which is not to say that I’m not the world’s greatest procrastinator. Lately I’ve been tackling this head on.

Here are 6 of my favourite ways to get started.

1. Start by writing an email to a friend

Here’s a lovely way to trick yourself into writing when you’re not feeling it.

Don’t.

Start an email to a friend instead!

Address the email to a friend you think might like the post or the story you’re about to write, and start writing directly into that email, instead of into a word document.

This also helps to make the style of writing friendly and relatable.

2. Start first thing in the morning

First thing in the morning, our brains are at their quietest.

If I can wake up early, and give myself a couple of hours in which to get some writing done, it can feel like there’s nothing else I should be doing.

No children clamouring for me to download them an app, no washing to put on, no emails pinging around or messages coming in on my phone.

3. Start by getting really bored

The Internet is sometimes not terribly helpful for writers. It can provide a million different types of distraction.

And yet, the most powerful way to overcome writer’s block is to have nothing else to do.

So if it’s difficult to start writing, and there seem to be a million and one other things you could do to procrastinate, turn all of that off.

Put your phone on airplane mode, and sit quietly until ideas start tumbling around in your brain.

4. Start by writing longhand

I was writing a couple of days ago about Pen and ink vs computer.

Starting to write with a pen in a notebook might be less intimidating than watching a cursor blink at you on a screen.

It can change the style of writing that you do as well. Having to physically form the words we want to write can make us more thoughtful.

5. Start by knowing what kind of writer you are

“There are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners.

The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house.

They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be.

They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.

The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it.

They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever.

But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.

And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

George R.R. Martin

If you’re an architect rather than a gardener, it might be helpful to plan your writing before you start.

More and more detailed planning can be satisfying if you write this way. All you need to do afterwards is fill in the sections you’ve created in your blueprint.

I love everything that ConvertKit does, they have a great blog template on their site.

If you’re a gardener, the best thing might be to just start writing. Don’t worry that you haven’t had an idea yet. Allow the idea to emerge as you write.

To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing…

When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head.

What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.

Pablo Picasso

6. Start by blocking distractions

Having Whatsapp messages, texts or carrier pigeons flying in through the window can be distracting.

Start by putting your phone on airplane mode. Or use an app like Flora to keep you on track. This is a lovely app. You plant a seed, the tree grows while you’re writing. If you close the app or wander off into other apps on your phone. THE TREE DIES. Brutal.


Above all, don’t panic! Writer’s block can be more to do with what else is going on in our lives than a lack of ideas.

If you can make space for it and try all these techniques, the ideas will start to flow.

Unless you’re trying to come up with a completely new idea. I’m not sure that’s possible.

Leave me a comment if you have any more ways to start I should know about. What works for you?

Remembering Towel Day 2017

If you’ve RSVP’d to the Save the Rhino event on Towel Day 2020, you might like to know what #Team42 got up to at previous Towel Days*.

The very first Stand Up for Towel Day was in 2017 in the basement of Waterstones in Tottenham Court Road.

My sister, Helen Puddefoot, very kindly made me a towel jacket.

The towel jacket, by Helen Puddefoot

Trystan Mitchell of the Big Foot Studio made us our beautiful logo.

Steve Cross interrogated the original Hitchhiker book to find out which day the world ended for Arthur Dent and the rest of the population of Earth in the book.

You can watch the set in full, here.

Steve Cross. Photo credit: I think possibly I took this with Steve’s camera.

There were Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters courtesy of the Waterstones bar, and Andy Mil of the Cocktail Trading Company, who very kindly gave me the recipe.

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Photo Credit: Stuart Green

Paul Duncan McGarrity materialised as a sperm whale at a probability of 8,767,128 to 1 against.

Paul Duncan McGarrity. Photo credit: Steve Cross

Nell Thomas and Katie Overstall won our costume competition.

Kimberley Freeman, Nell Thomas, Katie Overstall and me. Photo credit: Steve Cross

And John Lloyd joined us to read some extracts from the book he wrote with Douglas in 1983, The Meaning of Liff.

John Lloyd. Photo credit: Steve Cross

And everybody had a generally hoopy time.

Stand Up for Towel Day attendees. Photo credit: Steve Cross

This year’s Towel Day is going to be online and you can sign up to attend here.

And if you’d like to be first in the know about the event on May 25th, you can join our Facebook group.

I’ll be back with a review of 2018’s Towel Day events soon.

* Towel Day is an annual celebration on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On that day, fans around the universe carry a towel in his honour.

Pen and ink vs computer

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Is it harder to write now that it’s easier to write?

Hundreds of years ago, there was no digital editing, paper was expensive and to find a pen you had to butcher a peacock*.

*Or something. Turns out quill pens were made from goose, swan and turkey feathers.

19th century landowner, explorer and ‘first modern lesbian’, Anne Lister used to write her letters using every last inch of paper – it was pricey stuff.

In a ‘cross-written’ letter to her lover, Sibella Maclean, she turns the paper to write across what she’s already written.

In it she says, “I am an enigma even to myself and do excite my own curiosity.”

With thanks to the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

When writing materials were expensive, you would want to have a pretty good idea of what you wanted to say before committing quill to parchment.

Shakespeare, (who may have written King Lear during lockdown) never crossed a line, according to legend. But maybe he just had a massively inflated ego.

These days, you can just digitally vomit onto a word document, and there is no cost to you if the majority of it is garbage.

But is this a less satisfying way to write?

Some modern writers still swear by the pen and ink approach.

Neil Gaiman explained on The Tim Ferris Show that he usually writes his first drafts longhand, with notebook and fountain pen.

Nobody is ever meant to read your first draft.

Your first draft can go way off the rails, your first draft can absolutely go up in flames, you can change the age, gender, number of a character, you can bring somebody dead back to life.

Nobody ever needs to know anything that happens in your first draft. It is you telling the story to yourself.

Neil Gaiman

Then he extracts the best lines to type up..

Then, I’ll sit down and type.

I’ll put it onto a computer, and as far as I’m concerned, the second draft is where I try and make it look like I knew what I was doing all along.

Neil Gaiman

Creativity is about gumption as much as it’s about talent.

And there’s a lot to be said, psychologically, for doing things this way.

A second draft sounds more satisfying if the method is to select the best lines from a notebook, rather than deleting great swathes of digital text.

There might be something to slowing down and writing ‘analogue’ before committing finger to keyboard.

Stay In for Towel Day 2020

Stay In for Towel Day logo by Trystan Mitchell of The Big Foot Studio

Delighted to announce that Towel Day this year will be performed online in collaboration with Save the Rhino.

Towel Day is an annual celebration on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams (1952-2001).

On that day, fans around the universe carry a towel in his honour.

Due to the UK’s COVID-19 lock down, grab your towel and join us for ‘Stay in for Towel Day’ from the warmth and comfort of your own sofa.

Join me, Save the Rhino and some comedy pals for an evening of stand-up comedy, slam poetry, sketches, improv and more in homage to H2G2.

For more information, go to https://www.savetherhino.org/get-involved/events/stay-in-for-towel-day-2020/

Stand Up for Towel Day at the British Library

The cast of the original Hitchhiker series, with Douglas Adams

To celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the original radio broadcasts of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the British Library are hosting a whole day of events.

Stand Up for Towel Day will be there, with Steve Cross, Cerys Bradley, The Underground Clown Club, Declan Kennedy, Jonathan Hearn and The Story Beast all performing homages to the late, great Douglas Adams’ work.

https://www.bl.uk/events/the-hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy-at-42

This event is sold out but Stand Up for Towel Day will be back on international towel day, May 25th, in collaboration with Save the Rhino International.

Watch this space or join the Stand Up for Towel Day Facebook group for more information.

BBC Sounds Podcast Radio Hour: Hitchhiker Special

Me and Anne-Marie Luff looking hoopy af

42 years ago tomorrow (Wednesday, 8th March, 1978), a radio series called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was launched on BBC Radio 4 at 10.30pm. The author, Douglas Adams, was disappointed with the timing of the broadcast, as the timeslot was guaranteed to turn the programme into a ‘cult’ with a small but dedicated audience.

Happily, the programme gained a very large mainstream audience, and spawned books, a second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth radio series, a TV show and two films to date.

This week I was delighted to join Anne-Marie Luff at Radio 4 Extra to record a special ‘Podcast Radio Hour’ tribute to Hitchhiker’s at 42. Do give it a listen! We recommend a raft of wonderful audio fiction podcasts, including Diary of a Space Archivist, We Fix Space Junk and The Strange Case of Starship Iris. Anne-Marie and I also chatted to Mark Steadman, creator and host of Beware of the Leopard.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000fx18