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RWDevCon 2016 Inspiration Talk – Going Deep by Ken Yarmosh

In this inspirational talk, Ken Yarmosh discusses strategies to arrange your work and life so that you have more opportunities to go deep in your work and create something really special.

Note from Ray: At our recent RWDevCon tutorial conference, in addition to hands-on tutorials, we also had a number of “inspiration talks” – non-technical talks with the goal of giving you a new idea, some battle-won advice, and leaving you excited and energized.

We recorded these talks so that you can enjoy them, even if you didn’t get to attend the conference. Here’s our next talk – Going Deep by Ken Yarmosh – I hope you enjoy!


Today’s work environment is broken. We’ve trained ourselves to seek out interruption, to covet being busy, and to let technology run our day and life.

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I know you’re feeling very inspired right now, even just with the material you’ve heard today. You’ve got another great day tomorrow.

Fast forward to Monday with me for a second. You get back into the office. You fire up your machine. You’re excited to start applying some of the things that you learned about today. You’ve got a new feature you’re ready to work on. You start working on that feature.

It’s 9:05 am. You get this nice little Slack message, and that Slack message says, “Hey, I gave you a Polar request last week. I need you to go ahead and get that done so we can merge this branch into Master.” You can see where I’m going with this.

You then start responding, and all of a sudden you have Tweetbot running in the background because we have to have Twitter open when we work, and we see a tweet. It’s getting a lot of attention.

You see it’s got a number of re-tweets, and it’s about an app that’s actually competitive to your app. The app happens to have the feature that you were about to start working on a moment ago. That app, as you do a little bit more research, you see it going up ProductCon.

You then find out, it has 1.5 million dollars in investment. It has a whole team of people working on it. You’re an independent developer.

Hours later, you don’t know who you are.

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You don’t know what you were doing, and you come back ready to work on what you were about to work on, but guess what? You got to do that Polar request still and you still have to fix your app that’s crashing.

This might seem like a “whoa is me” mentality, but we’ve actually come to embrace this digital addiction to some extent. We regularly now use technology to magnify the worse parts of our human nature.

  • We use technology to procrastinate.
  • We use it to distract us, and
  • we use it as an excuse.

Being reactive to the problems of technology is not a new mentality.

Throughout history, people have resisted all sorts of things:

  • electricity,
  • cars,
  • radios,
  • TV’s,
  • computers,
  • the Internet,
  • mobile devices.

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Everything, except Candy Crush. Candy Crush is something that we just had to hold on to. The amount of money people spend on that – let’s not even get started there. The point is though it’s harder than ever to avoid technology. Those of us that do what we do, that in and of itself is just not possible.

What do we have to do here? We have to come up with an approach and a mindset, if you will, to operate in this environment, to operate in an environment where technology is more interesting than ever, and society really has embraced this instant on-demand, 24/7 culture.

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It’s not easy, but the benefits can be amazing. Clear thinking, less stress, and doing work that we’re incredibly proud of. This is the essence of what going deep is really all about.

Some Examples Of Going Deep

I want to provide you a couple of examples to make this a little bit more tangible. Keep in mind that when I outline some of these examples, it may not be what going deep looks like for you, and we’re going to talk about that as we go through this talk, but they should help solidify the concept a little bit more.

  1. I didn’t even know that he was going to talk about it, but an Apple Design Award. Pretty good example of doing this going deep mentality or doing deep work. It doesn’t just happen overnight. The amount of time that someone like Jeremy spent working on his app, strategy, marketing, design, development, to the fact that it gets all the way up the ladder into Apple, and the editors decide that this is going to be something that a handful of people get every single year.
  2. Another example might be a library that we use, and a lot of us use these kinds of libraries. Almost in every single app you open up, you see one of these libraries. That’s a good example of people that have taken a lot of time and attention and thought about a problem, and then really focused on that to build a great solution.

    I almost thought about saying Xcode, but I decided not to. Another great example, we all like Xcode, but we have those days where we have to restart it 100 times.

  3. Something like Sketch. Again, a lot of people here are probably doing development, but Sketch is a user interface design tool. It came out of nowhere. Now, it’s something that a lot of the top designers use today.

    We use it at Savvy Apps for both user experience and visual designs, and as an example of someone that looked at a problem and really spent a lot of time focusing on building something better and now has a great amount of adoption. There’s all these plugins, so on and so forth.

  4. Then, a little nod to the people here that got us here today. When you want to find how to solve a problem, what is the place that you turn to? The tutorial team does awesome work.

    Even in terms of how they actually did this conference. Ray had all of us working and reworking our talks and gave great feedback, and this is the kind of approach that really is just exemplifying going deep.

It Takes Time, But Is Worth The Investment

If you start to subscribe to this, and this sounds like an interesting concept, especially as we talk through this a little bit more, just realize that it does take time if you do this.

Again, you don’t wake up one day and just win an Apple Design Award. I saw Jeremy go through that process. I’ve known him for a long time now, and I can tell you those blog posts, all the things that he mentioned, it took a long time to get to that point and to where he is now.

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If you go down this path, many habits have to be broken and retrained. Depending on research you look at, it could take 21-66 days to form a new habit, but then take the better part of a year to break some of your bad habits.

If you’re constantly going through your day and letting all these different notifications and all this different technology drive you, expect that it’s going to take some time to start really being able to go deep.

Eight Things to Consider That Will Help You To Go Deep

I want to talk with you now about eight different considerations for setting up your environment, your work, so that you can start doing these things.

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It doesn’t mean that if you follow all these eight things, you’re going to win an Apple Design Award or create a library that every single person in the community’s going to use, but these are the kinds of traits and things that you’ll see out there for those who actually do go deep.

1) Define Deep For You

The first one ties in nicely actually to what Jamie talked about. If you think about “Why” being your higher level guiding principles, the next level is to think about what really matters most to you and what you want to accomplish, more specifically, in your goals.

A number of weeks ago, I got to hear a New York Times bestselling author. His name’s Lewis Hobbs. He talks about doing great work, and he wasn’t someone that started out this way. It’s, again, someone that just started on a journey, started a podcast, started having people listen to him. He talked about what he does.

One of the things he does is he frames his vision, literally. He takes it and hangs it up on his wall and he said, “This is going to be my certificate of achievement in the next 6-12 months.” He’s very, very specific. Something that we also heard earlier in another talk. This grounds him in the distraction-filled environment and this is the place that we need to think about.

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We also took the time to do something similar to what Jamie talked about, tying these two things again together at Savvy Apps, called our Guiding Principles.

Why do we do this? So that we have the more tangible, quarterly or yearly goals, but we also have these things that help us that we can reflect back to on a regular basis. This is actually something that we’ve even published on our website.

2) Foster a Creative Environment

Having an inspiring work environment is another element that has a significant impact on going deep.

If you look across at the people who are the most creative, the most prolific, you often see they have these great environments, things that they keep around them to refer back to. It even talked about Lewis’ certificate of achievement that he puts up on his wall in his office.

But if you look at someone like Mark Twain, as an example, there is a really beautiful place that he got to work out of.

It’s one of his writing spots, a writing hut or writing gazebo. It had these beautiful scenic views and a very focused workspace, and it’s very likely, from what we know in history, that he probably wrote both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in that spot specifically.

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For us specifically at Savvy, it’s taken us a long time to get to this spot, but we now have a really fun work environment that we can feel proud to come into every single day.

We have very minimal kind of design. We have places where we can collaborate. We have places where people can work that’s not a traditional work spot.

I want you to think about this, even if you actually work at home or work in a shared space. It doesn’t mean it’s just only applicable to the office environment. If you work at home, make that an inspiring environment. Don’t have your personal bills laying around your desk. Don’t have laundry a couple of doors down. As you walk to the bathroom, you’ll see the laundry and think, “i’ve got to get to that later.” Think about this as it relates even to those kinds of environments.

Also, in the shared workspace. If you’re working out of a coffee shop or in a co-working spot, I’m sure it’s not distracting you. You need to be able to have a focused, inspiring environment when it comes to being able to set up to go deep.

3) Be Present

If you think about the creative, physical workspace as one part of it, another element of going deep is really your mental aspect of this. Being present for me is about focusing on those who are around me. It’s about focusing on my family members. It’s about focusing and allowing my mind to wander and to just be alone with my thoughts.

Believe it or not, it actually really starts with my iPhone, my mobile device. How many times now do you see people sitting somewhere and there on a public transportation, they’re just scrolling through everything. They’re crossing the street, they’re scrolling through everything. Everyone’s always checking something on their phone.

We’re all guilty of it. I won’t call you out if you’re doing it right now. It’s totally fine.

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What I’ve done with my own mobile device is actually set it up so that I have no reason to want to grab my phone and check it. I don’t put any news apps on there. I don’t have social media things going on. I don’t have any work applications. I don’t have email hooked up to it.

It’s really just a communication device to some extent. I even have a lot of things muted. I have notifications turned off, especially for those special family threads that we’re all on. Some of them are not the ones that we can unsubscribe to unfortunately. Really what it comes down to is, I’m even on the weekends often putting my device away and just being present.

What happens when you do this? You let your mind recharge, refresh. You actually come back to work ready to really do work. Just generally speaking, I think I’ve overall felt more fulfilled and just even a lot of times gotten ideas that I might not have gotten if I was going on my device and playing with it.

4) Regulate “News” Intake

This ties into that last point, but another common trait of those who are prolific and very creative is that they’re smart with the news that they actually consume. Take a look at someone like Adele. She actually just broke all these records for her last album and she had a nice little interview that I thought was relevant for this.

She talks about social media and how she doesn’t participate in it because she wants to spend time writing music. She wants to spend time in the studio. She wants to spend time with her family, which is a really inspiring thing for her.

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I think it really stands on itself here. This doesn’t mean, again, that you should just completely get off those things, but I think you should be smarter about it because if you think about it, it really is the food for your mind in many ways.

I also want you to think about the fact that often time news is depressing. It’s sensational. It’s rumors. It’s things that we can’t actually act on.

I like to think about this. Is the human mind actually built to take in information that’s happening 1,000 miles away that’s tragic? This is why some people who often look and read news all the time are depressed.

Our mind’s just not really built to take in all this information. Again, I’m not advocating that you’re ignorant, but just be selective with what it is that you put into your head every single day.

5) Now Versus Later

Another thing that we’re guilty of is the tyranny of the urgent. We have this propensity to have to respond to everything that happens at every single moment. Someone mentions us on Twitter, we have to respond. If we get an email, we have to respond. It goes down the line there.

What I want you to do as you go back next week to work, consider if a task requires immediate attention. If it doesn’t, deal with it later. Allocate specific times for conversations and collaboration with your team members, and especially when something comes in that requires thought, give yourself the time to have that thought.

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Step away from things when you’re emotionally charged. This one actually does require a little bit of team buy in, so if you are out there and you’re in this environment where everyone has to be urgent and immediate, you might have to be the champion for this one specifically.

6) Use The Right Tools

For tools itself, we have tool overkill today. There’s just a million things out there. I mentioned some of the ones today already, but how often do you get a text message or a Slack message that says, “I just sent you an email.”

Your response back to it is “I’m not sure if you understand how this works. I got a notification the first time. I didn’t need a second notification about this first notification because that’s what the purpose of the first notification really was.”

What do we have? Some ideas or guidelines for how we use the different tools at Savvy Apps, and it really comes down to just being smart about the right tool.

If we’re working on something right now, it’s a ticket that’s in progress or a card that’s in progress, we’ll discuss that thing in Slack, but we don’t want to spend all day managing Slack. If you’re talking about something, and I’m saying Slack. You could use HipChat, whatever it is that you might use, but we don’t want to spend all day messaging back and forth on these things.

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If you’re spending more than 10 minutes talking about something, jump onto Hangout, walk over to someone’s desk, whatever is the relevant thing, but again, we don’t need to just message the whole time about this.

If it’s something in the future, use the relevant tool. Again, Trello, Pivotal Tracker, JIRA, whatever it is that you use, but put the context on that future item. Those real-time messaging things, they don’t maintain context very well. If you’re talking about something in the future in a channel, guess what? You’re not going to have that context on the future item because it’s going to be left in the channel somewhere. You have to go dig it up later on, so use the relevant tool instead.

Mention it to someone. Assign it to them. When they get through their cue, they’ll get to that item. Wouldn’t that be nice to not be interrupted every five seconds? This is something that we do in our own workflow.

If something needs a lot more attention and thought, you really need to lay out the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, use something like a document base. Use Quip, Google Docs, whatever it may be.

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Amazon actually goes to the extent of saying that people in certain kinds of meetings need to write 5-page memos before they step into that meeting. The reason why they do that is they just want people to really think through the problem before they start having lots of conversations about it.

Finally, if something is much more focused on a private exchange, an HR issue, compensation, whatever it is, we actually prefer email even versus a direct message in Slack, and we’ll use email to have those kinds of conversations.

You can see here just thinking about the right tool can really help you so you’re not interrupted 100 times a day because that’s not going to be helpful for you doing this deeper work.

7) Automate Whenever Possible

It may seem counterintuitive, but actually having a process automation can actually help you focus on the most creative parts of what you do.

Instead of continuing to ask questions over and over again about the way to setup an Xcode project, how to ship an app update, how to have a new person join the team, you can instead focus on the special parts of your app, the thing that you are real excited about and that fulfills you.

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At Savvy, we use Trello a lot. We have a bunch of different Trello templates. They’re just literally templates that we can take and copy into a new board.

We have a new team member join, they literally get put into here, and they start going through all the different items to help get them up to speed, and we have a lot of documentation. We have crazy amounts of documentation.

They read through that relevant documentation, and then they’re able to understand how we work at Savvy, and they can start focusing on contributing to the team almost immediately.

8) Allocate Deep Time

Enacting many of these suggestions will considerably free up your time. They’ll free up your brain cycles, and they’ll give you the opportunity to find deep time, and that’s what this is really all about.

My personal approach is that I like to get into the office really early. I get into the office at 7 am every day. I make some super snobby coffee, and I am to do my deep work, my deep time, 1-2 hours before any of my team comes into the office.

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By the time a lot of the team’s rolling in, I’m feeling fulfilled. I’m feeling like I have done the thing that’s going to have the biggest impact on Savvy Apps that day. I then can be more available to my team and help on different things.

I hope that I gave you some different ideas here. As you go forward, I really hope that you consider going deep, to find that for yourself, and I think you’re going to have a much more fulfilling 2016.

About the Speaker: Ken Yarmosh is the Founder & CEO of Savvy Apps. He’s the creator of more than 20 featured apps, including an Editor’s Choice selection and Starbucks Pick of the Week. An O’Reilly author, Ken regularly speaks about application design & development, as well as the future of technology at outlets ranging from Bloomberg TV to Google.

Note from Ray: If you enjoyed this talk, you should join us at RWDevCon 2017! We’ve sold out for the past two years, so don’t miss your chance.




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