Does travel lack mystery?

Plan Your Next: Letter No. 17

Well hello there! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and were able to spend some time with people you love. I’ve been in Milwaukee spending some time with my in-laws

As much as I love talking about habits and routines, they get disrupted by travel or other things you can’t quite plan for. I wish I had an easy answer for it, but rolling with the punches is just part of the process. Thanks for sticking around.

It was only my second time visiting Asia. The first was just 18 months ago, and at the time, I had no idea what to expect.

Up until that point, I avoided that half of the world for a long time, because I was intimidated for whatever the reason. The language seemed more challenging to overcome, the cultures seemed more black and white, and my pure complacency to try something different.

We planned our trip the usual way; a combination of researching blogs, asking friends about their experiences, visiting sites like Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor, or scouring Twitter for references to obscure places.

The internet has made planning a trip incredibly easy. The bar feels almost too low sometimes. Head on Instagram to effectively visit a place before you go. Check out YouTube to experience that destination through someone else’s eyes.

Do you feel that planning a trip this way takes the mystery out of the whole process?

We have been looking for a new apartment recently, and usually what I’ll do is to visit Google street view to get a sense of the neighborhood or street. Is it all cement lined streets or are there plenty of green, or a park nearby?

You can do the same for any new city that you’re thinking of visiting, and soon we’ll probably all be on VR headsets to visit a lot of these places whenever we want. No need to fly and experience it for yourself!

I don’t fully expect this to replace the act of buying a plane ticket and renting a home, spending a week experience the sights, but I do think that it’s going to be a relatively convenient way to take in a new destination that you don’t have to commit to fully.

When we were planning our trip, we found out that some friends of ours were also bouncing from Tokyo to Kyoto just a few weeks before us. After we started trading notes, we realized that their trip was almost identical to ours. Some of the same areas and restaurants were well documented and already planned out in our Evernote. (Still switching.)

If planning a trip can lead to more of a dopamine hit than experiencing the trip itself, then maybe we should just always be planning trips rather than taking them!

Ok, of course not. But it does feel like the effort put into planning can rob part of the experience ahead of time, with the number of ways we can experience it ahead of time.

Have you ever visited something on Google Earth and thought, “Ok, now I don’t need to go there now?” I did that once with some volcanoes in Hawaii.

In the end, I don’t think that I’ll ever get more satisfied planning a trip than visiting, but maybe I need to balance things out and prepare to plan less somehow.


A few shots from our trip

Have a great week!

If you’re new to this newsletter, this is Plan Your Next. It’s a conversation about being ready for what’s next. Well, because there is always a next. I’m Nate, designer, and conductor of this group.

If you have something to share or add, please hit reply and expect a response!

Stop searching for the perfect space

Plan Your Next: Letter No. 16

I’m just in from traveling over 16 hours today, so this letter is going out a bit late.

Venturing out across Japan for the past week was eye-opening in a lot of ways, but especially in how it relates to environmental design.

I’m hitting send on this, and I apologize in advance for all of my grammar mistakes :)

Spaces like the one pictured above get my creative blood flowing.

“How productive I could be sitting in a space like this all day.”

If you were to pull back a few feet from the bottom frame of that image, there is a manicured slab of wood for a tabletop that looks like it’s about a foot off of the floor. There are soft square cushions to sit on, but as you start to crouch down, thinking you’ll have to sit crossed legged, your feet disappear into an empty space below the counter. Suddenly, you’re sitting on a simple stair step, perfectly nestled.

Japan is littered with thoughtful interior spaces like this.

If you search Pinterest for “creative space,” you’re presented with beautiful, minimalistic, reclaimed wood spaces that are neatly organized and thoughtfully assembled.

This homogeneous design trend is a pitfall for people looking to improve their own spaces. I’ve fallen for it many times, looking for ways to always improve the quality, utility, and aesthetics of my own spaces.

It’s a trap.

I’ve altered my own space more times than I can count, sometimes it’s based on an image that inspired me, others based on something I’ve read to try and understand how a space might work best.

The space isn’t the goal; it’s the system that you set up to build better habits or to wreak havoc on your bad habits.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by their space, but whether it looks like one of the results from Pinterest or not, isn’t indicative of how productive you might potentially be.

The image of Steve Jobs sitting in his empty living room is one of the more popular images closely associated with creative thinking, but the one I like to think of is this:

Steve Jobs home office, married, with kids. Books were strewn everywhere, unorganized, and yet you could probably assume this is how his mind might work.

Other famous thinkers like Einstein, were known to have spaces that resembled my garbage can on any given Tuesday.

However hard I try, my desk usually ends up like a complete mess.

Shawn Blanc has a great review of workspaces that he’s been highlighting for years. But yet, is there much that we can glean from how someone else chooses to work?

I still find myself fascinated by how other people choose to layout their own spaces, hoping to gain some insight from it, but does it really matter?

Designing your space

To design the perfect space for ourselves, we should be looking at how a space can best enable us to be as creative and productive as possible. Maybe that means reducing the number of distractions, like leaving your phone in the other room while you work.

Maybe it’s not even about the space, but the software tools you allow yourself access too.

I personally use an app called RescueTime to track my hours spent on my computer, show me how much time I’m wasting, and what apps I’m using the most. I can also shut down access to certain sites for any period of time to help keep me focused.

Having an environment that you’re able to be creative, productive, and focused on is highly critical to getting shit done.

What should be most important is how we design our own environments to cater to our most useful routines.

One of my favorite books on designing your space is called Apartment Therapy: The Eight Step Home Cure, by Maxwell Ryan. He founded the popular site

Although the book encompasses more than your workspace, you’ll not find a single image of another home inside to inspire you.

It’s devoted to learning about how to make a space work for you, by doing incredibly hippy dippy things like placing your hands on your walls and getting a sense of its temperature, to help determine color and space. Not by looking at other homes and replicating them.

The same goes for how we work. Our minds can be all over the place, and it’s important to think about how we can make our spaces work for us, and not by imagining that the perfect space is peering out into a Zen garden, hoping to find inspiration by staring at the serene.

The case for nice things

If someone has an inspiring space that is full of great design and where everything just works, your base level of what you will do in your own craft is going to be significantly affected by this. The corporate America way of doing this would be to have a crappy cubicle farm and then post motivational posters everywhere saying, “Have high standards,” which is crazy. Clearly that doesn’t work. This is how we find that changing the environment just helps us get the things that we want.

– Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify


Have a great week!

If you’re new to this newsletter, this is Plan Your Next. It’s a conversation about being ready for what’s next. Well, because there is always a next. I’m Nate, designer, and conductor of this group.

If you have something to share or add, please hit reply and expect a response!

Packing for your next trip

Plan Your Next: Letter No. 15

I’ve been a bag nerd for as long as I can remember. Every time I hear about a new travel backpack, my ears perk up, wondering in what way a bag can still be improved at this point.

Although I feel much less traveled than some of my friends, I’ve been to over 20 countries, having spent most of that time using a single carry-on for most of my trips.

This isn’t a review of the best bag, although I do have my favorites. I’m still concerned about the functionality of what it can provide, but I think that the most significant gains can be found by minimizing the stuff you bring with.

My first big trip was when I was 20. Then I waited 5 more years after that to take my second most significant trip at the time, to London.

What I remember most about that London trip—other than the video I made—was that I spent two months before that trip in an REI, trying to decide what kind of bag and gear I should buy.

Gear. Gotta have the right gear.

I must have gone back to that store a dozen times with about $150 burning in my pocket, looking for the BEST bag I could possibly get my hands on.

I consulted friends, who told me that a backpack is best. Another who said to me to at least get one with wheels. Then lastly one who said I shouldn’t get a black bag because they all look the same.

So guess what I got?

Backpack. Check.

Rollers. Check.

Green? Check.

It was like buying a TV/VCR combo expecting it to perform equally flawlessly in all of its features.

Since then, I’ve tried bag after bag after bag, focusing in on the qualities that work best for me.

These days, I’m strictly a backpack person with a few niceties, but in the end, it’s really not about the bag. It’s what you don’t pack.

Pack less

I take a lot of pride in thinking about how to pack for each trip, and there is a bit of research that happens at the beginning of each journey, looking at the weather, deciding what camera gear to bring, should I bring swim shorts, etc.

Nothing drives me crazier than packing too much or carrying things that I never end up using. Or, packing too much, so there isn’t enough room to bring something back home.

Forcing myself to pack everything into a 40-liter bag provides some limitations to what I can bring.

My 3:1 method

So instead of trying to figure out how many socks, pants, and shirts for every trip, I’ve boiled it down to a simple formula.

The basic premise for how I pack is this:

For every 3 days that you’re traveling, you’re allowed to pack one change of clothes. And you’re rounding down.

Our 10 day trip to Japan is coming up, and so I’ll only pack 3 changes of clothes.

That means 3 changes of underwear, 3 shirts, and 3 socks. Usually, one shirt will be a button up, and either a t-shirt or another button up depending on the weather.

The one exception to this rule is that I never pack more than 2 pairs of pants—which take up too much space—one of which I wear while traveling.

When finding a place to stay, just spend a bit of extra time making sure they have laundry or bring your own sink detergent and clothesline.

How you should pack

I’m not an expert in this area, but if you’re not rolling your clothes or using cubes, you’re doing it wrong.

At least that’s what one flight attendant say.

What I’m looking forward to

The bag that I use right now is the GORUCK GR2. It’s a 40L backpack with minimal branding, and a bombproof laptop bag. GORUCK was founded by a former Special Forces soldier, and they build these bags to be indestructible. If they don’t, their lifetime guarantee covers anything that happens to it. This applies to anything you purchase through their site.

I find that using a backpack allows me to travel more easily, limits my packing to one bag, and keeps me hands-free.

But I wouldn’t be honest if I said that I wasn’t always looking out for what’s next.

Peak Design just announced a Kickstarter for their next bag, which is a 45-liter backpack with many more accessibility options. I’m a huge fan of their design so I might be selling the GR2 if I end up liking this better.

Goto items that I pack for every trip

  • 1 backpack (3 to 30 day trips, excluding kids)

  • AirPods are my new favorite gadget in the past 18 months. They charge quickly (4x using their case), are extremely small, and are wireless. Side benefit, you look like a total schmuck while wearing them in public, so there’s that.

  • Apple Watch for fitness and general weather tracking

  • Laptop (I just can’t leave home without it)

  • Sketchpad

  • Blackwing pencil, MUJI pen

  • Camera (preferably fixed focal length)

  • Klean Kanteen water bottle

  • Kindle

  • Evernote/Notion/Tripit apps for our schedule (made ahead of time with links)

Resources & discounts:

Looking forward to reading:

A question for you

When you’re thinking about taking a trip, how do you usually plan for it?

We’ll be leaving the country next weekend, but I still plan to send a letter over the next couple of weeks, hopefully not missing a beat.

Have a great week!

If you’re new to this newsletter, this is Plan Your Next. It’s a conversation about being ready for what’s next. Well, because there is always a next. I’m Nate, designer, and conductor of this group.

If you have something to share or add, please hit reply and expect a response!

Finding lost time

Plan Your Next: Letter No. 14

Writing consists of continually trying to find time to write. 

I’m pretty sure you could apply that to anything you’re wanting to do, but it’s not always easy finding some of that sweet, sweet time.

Finding time is like losing weight. If you’re focused on losing weight, 80% of the effort shouldn’t be devoted to working out to burn those calories, it’s about choosing not to take in those calories in the first place.

You have the same amount of time in a day as everyone else, but like dieting, you shouldn’t be trying to work harder, but rather focusing intently on what you’re doing within the same time constraints.

As I started writing this last week, I knew that I was going to miss my personal goal of not losing a week. I was in Northern Minnesota for a wedding, flying in early Saturday morning, driving for 3 hours out and back, then flying out Sunday.

I had planned to do what I needed to do during those small breaks at the airport, or on the plane, but I just couldn’t find the time.

As it usually goes, as soon as I have a title or an idea for a topic, I start to see cues all over the place to reinforce what I’m thinking about.

While having already started this late letter, this tweet affirmed what was currently on my mind. I ordered it immediately from Amazon, hardcover style.

You might know by now that I much prefer my kindle over my paperback books. But, when you see a cover designed like this, you just know that it’s going to be a book that you want to hold in your hands due to its illustrative style.

Some books are just meant to be read a certain way. I’m not a monster!

In the moment

It’s difficult to notice the shape of your day as it unfolds in front of you.

That type of self-awareness is not easy to groom.

You could be working on a project one moment, asked to jump into another, and that context switch is enough to set you back a few minutes, if not more.

Or you’re checking email, and that one particular link sends you straight into the wormhole which is difficult to escape.

Multiply those moments throughout the day and these small moments unravel more quickly as the day goes on.

Do you need a shock to the system? What happens when you place those electrodes directly onto the offender?

Finding ways to free up time

After reading through most of the book, “Make Time” I’ve been experimenting lately with a few things.

The first was to clean up my iPhone’s home screen. Right now I’m down to a total of 3, plus a folder called Future.

Which 3 apps are most important to me? My calendar, Google Maps, Halide (my default camera app), and a folder of necessary items labeled Future. And as I’ve done before, notifications are off for about 98% of all apps.

The one experiment that I decided to try out was removing my email application. What?!

Email is part of our central nervous system, and it’s become routine for me to dive into it the first thing in the morning. While I can’t fully give up my email for work, I thought maybe this would prevent me from checking it as the very first thing in the morning.

In fact, I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a routine of just opening up my email from my phone and just deleting all of the spam. It feels rewarding in some extremely screwed up way. I’m not giving up email, but I’m relegating it to my laptop.

In the book, Make Time, they bring up the idea that the technology that we adopt into our lives has a default behavior set to get our attention. Unfortunately, it’s our job to try and limit its access to us.

Some ways I have helped gain free time and clarity

Highligting one or two things to work on:
Let’s get one thing straight. I struggle with using my time in the best way possible all the time. One thing that helps me focus is by just writing down a couple of high level things that I should get done for the day. This doesn’t always happen, and pushing it to the next day is completely fine. But

Becoming a morning person:
All my life I’ve been a night owl. Even though I haven’t always been that productive, I am a recent convert to the primal lifestyle since moving out west. Part of it has to do with my job, but it actually has a lot to do with my wife, who gets up at an ungodly hour. It’s easier to adopt a similar schedule. 

Not owning a TV:
I still have a problem with Netflix and some other subscription shows, but not owning a TV for the past 8 years has helped prevent me from sitting my ass on the couch and zoning out for too long. It was one of those devices that truly sucked me in.

This is a piece of software that gets installed on your computer. It can turn off certain sites that cause you to go down that infamous rabbit hole for amounts of time. It also gives you a report at the end of each week showing how much you slacked off last week. I’ve been using this for over a year, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about an app called Freedom.

Not belonging to a gym:
I haven’t been to a gym in a long time, and part of that is because the gene that some of you have to pack your bag, drive to the gym, and push yourself to have a decent workout in under an hour doesn’t exist for me. I have adopted a routine at home that utilizes some free weights, a kettlebell, and online instructors to help motivate me to do what I need to do. It helps me free up time that I would waste on going to the gym anyways. 

If it’s not fully apparent yet, this is a theme of mine that I’ve struggled with over the years. If you have some good resources or ways that you’re able to stay locked in, I’d love to hear about them.

I’m on a plane to Minneapolis for work as we speak, so if you’re in the area and want to meet up, reach out and let me know.

And selfishly, my wife and I are headed to Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka) in a couple of weeks, so if you have ever been, I’d like to get any advice or things we should do. (Yes, I’ve already ordered my rail pass, gotten my WiFi router, and decided on which camera I’m bringing 🙂 )

Hope you all have a great week!


The cost of time

Plan Your Next: Letter No. 13

How much time is lost by saying, “Yes?”

You know what I’m talking about. There’s a new email about a new thing that is now available from that one company.

In my inbox this morning, I’ve got 4 emails asking me to buy, subscribe or learn something new. The cost of saying yes to each of those is not insignificant.

What if, instead of determining the cost of our expenses in dollars, we thought about the time we had to give up to pay for it?

Saying yes to just one of those products would have cost me 14 hours.

That’s the equivalent to watching an entire season of The Office.

If I had clicked “yes” to each of those emails, the sum would have burned 58.33 hours of my life.

What does each hour of your life cost you?

How much time could you gain back?

You’re being sought-after, re-marketed, and targeted. You’re easy to spot. Your habits, your interests, your desires are all out there.

We can buy directly from Instagram or Pinterest now. Soon, our reality will include the virtual buying will never be easier.

At one time, we thought we were wasting money on cable channels we never watched. The telecoms and newly created companies found ways to fill those gaps.

Netflix. Hulu. HBO. Showtime. Amazon Prime. Sports. Phone plans. ISP connections. All sold separately.

It seems that no one is losing time faster than us.

Apple just released their new phones and watches. Start preparing for more new products this fall.

Capitalism says that the consumer is always right.

We’re losing more time than ever before, and our opportunity costs are piling up.

We’re great storytellers, and maybe you just need a story from a new perspective to see things differently.

So what do we do?

You stay flexible by minimizing the impact each hour has on your life.

Your question

In the moment you’re considering a purchase, do you have method of choosing whether it’s worth it or not?

The most basic equation

It’s not perfect, but add up all of your monthly expenses, and divide that by the waking hours in a month. Let’s round that nicely to ~480 hours in a month. (I’m hoping you’re sleeping enough)

Monthly life expenses/480 = Hourly lifestyle cost


Matt D’Avella directed the Netflix documentary, Minimalism. I’ve found his popular YouTube channel refreshing this week. I often revisit the concept of minimalism, since I’ve lived in small apartments for the past 7 years.

Have a great week!

xx Nate

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