🦊 Quick Brown Fox #3

Hi friends,

Happy 2020 🎉, and welcome to the latest edition of Quick Brown Fox! I’m Salman, and in this newsletter I share out my latest writing, learnings, and the best resources I’ve found online.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday break! When I sent out the previous edition, I was exploring the red rocks of Arizona. After I got home, I spent some time reflecting on 2019, and identifying some goals for myself as we head into 2020. I’m usually not one to make “resolutions” for the new year, but I do believe it’s worth taking a moment to check in and give some thought to where we’re trying to go.

In an effort to make these goals a bit more real, I decided to share some of them with you here. Let’s get into it!


Writing Momentum

The biggest goal for me, by far, is to continue my writing momentum. My goal is to continue both with publishing blog posts (ideally 2 per month) as well as writing this newsletter (once a month). I think this is going to be my most difficult goal — often I’m able to start on a project because I’m fueled with energy and excitement from doing something new. Once that novelty wears off, though, it becomes a lot more difficult. I’ll need to consistently remind myself of the benefits of writing online, so I can keep up the momentum.

I’d love your help with this goal! Whenever you see a post or some words in this newsletter that resonates (positively or negatively), let me know. Learning and connecting with you is a big part of why I’m doing this. The other major motive for me is to learn about myself — my hope is that through regular writing I can get a sharper lens into what areas and ideas I’m truly passionate about in the long run.

Meaningful Conversations

One of the great experiences I had in 2019 was an increase in deep, meaningful conversations with friends and peers. This usually happened in a smaller group (often one-on-one), and I discovered a number of people in my life who helped me grow through these conversations. These mostly happened by chance, and so they didn’t happen too often.

In 2020, I want to be far more intentional about facilitating these kinds of conversations in my life. Specifically:

  • Setting up Zoom calls (on the calendar!): Usually I find that the people I really want to talk to are not always around, so I settle for the usual “let’s catch up next time you’re in town / I’m visiting.” I’ve found that video calls are a great way to get past this barrier. It may not be as good as in person, but it’s a lot better than never / rarely talking, and I’ve also found it’s significantly better than phone calls.

  • Traveling to visit / taking short trips: This one is more challenging to facilitate (likely won’t do more than 2-3 trips in a year), but again it goes back to being more intentional about it. If you leave it up to chance, it’ll never happen.

Make the life you want to live.

Mental Clarity

A couple of years ago, I realized that I was using my phone too much. I found I felt constantly distracted, and overwhelmed by the endless influx of information. I was also wasting a lot of time and energy that could instead be channeled to creative work or fulfilling activities. So, I made a bunch of changes that really helped taper this down. They worked wonders — I was calmer, more present and far less anxious.

Since then, I noticed I’ve regressed a bit. In 2020, I want to double down on those changes. Unless I do so, I won’t have the time & energy to work on my other goals (like writing). Here are some examples of the changes that have worked well for me:

  • No phone in bedroom (most important of all)

  • Disable phone at night (e.g. 9pm to 9am) — you can use Airplane Mode, DND, Downtime, etc. to do this

  • Set aggressive limits for app usage (especially social media) — use ScreenTime/similar to monitor and progressively reduce your daily usage

  • Daily journaling — especially helpful to clear your mind before bed

  • Daily meditation — excellent way to start your day with calmness

I’m actually pulling together some of these into a longer post about different techniques, why they work / don’t work etc. Let me know if you’re interested!

Writing With Pictures

If you know me, you know I love to draw. I made some great progress in last couple of years (you can see some sketches on my Tumblr). I studied many areas of study in classical illustration — figure drawing, perspective, lighting and shading, gesture drawing, and some character design. I started to draw lots of fun characters (including the Quick Brown Fox himself!), and even published a few comics.

image

…Sadly, I haven’t kept up with drawing as much as I’d like. After reflecting on it, I realized that I had set a goal to draw comics, but a goal of drawing itself isn’t enough. I needed to have something to say with the comics.

Drawing was my medium, but I still hadn’t found my message.

Still, I love drawing and want to keep doing it (more than the occasional sketch). I did some brainstorming, and discovered an opportunity for me to combine two of my interests and goals — writing and drawing: I want to start drawing illustrations & comics as part of my blog posts! This will give me clear motivation and direction for what I’m drawing, while also bolstering the quality and impact of the writing.

I recognize that there will be significant resistance to doing this. I already encounter the usual resistance to writing, and now I’d be adding on the additional resistance of drawing something too. Double resistance! It’s a tough ask, but I want to challenge myself and see where I come out. If you have any ideas or recommendations, I’d love to hear them! I really hope I can use drawing to bring more life to my writing in 2020.

Building Habits

One major lesson I’ve learned: If I want to achieve a long-term goal, I have to build a set of habits that work towards it. For most of the goals I’ve noted above, I’ve established habits that facilitate growth/movement in each of them. I’ve started using the Lights Spreadsheet from Ultraworking to track my habits, and so far it’s working really well. I’m tracking things like daily meditation and journaling, weekly writing and drawing, as well as regular exercise.

Another thing I’m working on is waking up earlier (yes, I track that too!) — an early start gives me the time I need to hit those morning goals, but boy do I struggle with it. I’m definitely not a “morning person”. Even so, I realized if I want to make progress on the things I care about, I just have to suck it up and do it. Oh, and sleep a little earlier too…

BTW, if you’re looking for a hands-on guide on building good habits, check out Atomic Habits by James Clear.


That’s all for this edition! I hope you enjoyed these insights into my goals for 2020. I’d love to hear about any reflections you had about 2019, or planning you’ve done for the coming year — you can share them by replying directly to this email.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at the next Quick Brown Fox!

—Salman

🦊 Quick Brown Fox #2

Hey folks,

Welcome to the second edition of Quick Brown Fox! I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday break, and getting some time to rest. I’m writing to you now while visiting the beautiful red rocks of Arizona — they truly are a sight to behold:

Can you believe we’re only a few days away from the end of the decade? Time flies! I’m hoping to take some time over the next couple of weeks to reflect on where I am with my own personal goals, and what I can do to push them forward. I’ve seen a few peers do this in a very structured manner (i.e. a personal annual review) — I think a good balance would involve reflecting on what we want, while forgiving ourselves for not being perfect and hitting every single goal. Ultimately, the key is to focus on direction, not just speed.

Overall, I’m happy with my progress on building a more regular writing habit — the best part has been connecting with and learning from folks who resonate with my writing. I’ve also found it’s an excellent tool for organizing my thoughts on a given topic. For more on this, check out this Twitter thread in which I summarized my takeaways of the biggest benefits of writing online.

P.S. If you missed the previous newsletter, be sure to check it out. I shared my posts on visiting Tokyo, the crisis of traffic congestion in America, navigating career transitions, and more.


I wrote two posts I’d like to share with you today, both related to books:

1. Favorite Books of 2019

I wrote about the best books I’ve read this year. I always enjoy the process of reflecting on the books I’ve read over the year. It’s a great way to do a gut check on whether the time I’m spending reading books is yielding the right results (whether that comes in the form of learning or joy). This year, I decided to expand beyond my usual five and include a selection of both fiction and non-fiction reads. Read The Post →

2. Altering Your Reality

The top book in my list, The Courage To Be Disliked, is the most impactful book I’ve read in a long, long time. It has had a profound effect on my life. The authors wrote this book to share the ideas of a psychotherapist named Alfred Adler, whose teachings provide a framework for how to think about the foundational issues of human relationships, self management, and finding meaning and purpose. I found the book so compelling that I ended up reading it twice in quick succession, and wrote a post about my takeaways: Read The Post →


Although I’ve been getting good momentum with writing posts lately, I recently ran into a wall with a big post I’m working on. Suddenly, the novelty and excitement of writing seemed to lose a bit of its shimmer, and I started to question myself.

In that moment, I was reminded of this incredible visual by John Saddington, highlighting the ebbs and flows of the creative process:

It always serves as an excellent reminder to embrace the journey, and recognize that it may take a lot of patience and perseverance to see your vision come to fruition.


A few links that you might enjoy:

  • Noah Rosenberg wrote a fascinating thread on Twitter, painting a vivid picture of a potential future of computing.

  • Podcast Notes posted a list of all the essential resources from Naval Ravikant this year. Lots of insightful stuff to peruse — I particularly loved his podcast with Joe Rogan, and his book recommendations.

  • I always wondered how they did the “realistic focus” on background scenes in Disney animated movies. Turns out Disney invented a special camera called a multi-plane camera. Here’s a great (short) video from Walt Disney himself demonstrating the process.


Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this edition, and thank you for being a subscriber and joining me on this journey of learning. As always, feel free to reply to this email directly with thoughts and questions — I’d love to hear from you.

Wishing you all a happy new year, and see you in 2020!

🦊 Quick Brown Fox #1

Hey there!

Welcome to the first edition of Quick Brown Fox — a newsletter by me, Salman Ansari. I’ll be sharing my latest posts, books I’m reading, as well as other interesting resources I think you’ll love. I recently joined a course on writing online led by David Perell, and it has really helped me kick-start the writing habit again (including launching this newsletter!). My primary goal with writing is to improve my own thinking — I firmly believe that writing (regardless of audience) helps us organize our thoughts and process information better.

That said, I also want to learn through interacting with you. As you read this edition (and hopefully future ones!), I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions, related resources you’ve found inspiring, as well as any feedback around how I can make these letters even better — just reply directly to this email.

P.S. You might have been a subscriber of my past newsletter, Laugh & Learn. If that’s the case, hello again old friend! I’m really excited to share lots of new insights and learnings with you. If it’s not your cup of tea, no worries — you can unsubscribe at any time. That said, since you’re here already, take a gander at today’s edition!


As I started putting this first edition together, I ran into this incredible quote:

“It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.” —Hugh Laurie

It really hit home with me. There’s never a perfect time to share a thought, write a post, or (gasp!) send a newsletter. All I can do is share what I know now, and hope to learn from others and grow in the process.


I wrote three new posts I want to share today — on Tokyo, traffic, and transitions:

1. Tokyo

I visited Tokyo for the first time a couple months ago. Even though I’d been eagerly looking forward to visiting Japan for many years, it still somehow exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to go back! The public transportation alone would have been enough, but the unique personality of every neighborhood and the incredible food left me in awe. I wrote about some of my takeaways from the visit, as well as some recommendations on neighborhoods. Read The Post →

2. American Traffic Crisis: The Cost of Cars

For many months now, I’ve been studying the urban transit space. It began with a fascination with the NYC subway (back when I lived there), but quickly evolved into an urgency to understand mass transit solutions given the impending dangers of climate change. This post is the first in a series of posts I plan to write on the topic, and it focuses on understanding the current state of traffic congestion in America. The short version is that we have a serious traffic problem, and I plan to address some of the solutions (such as public mass transit, and newer alternative transportation options that have emerged) in future posts. Read The Post →

3. The Mountain of Transition

I’ve worn a lot of different hats over the years — engineer, manager, teacher, founder, coach, and others in between. I’m often asked why I don’t just settle into a role and stick with it. It’s a good question. Switching roles can be overwhelming, challenging, and even depressing at times. Still, it is a practice I can’t recommend highly enough. Read The Post →


A couple of books I read that stood out recently:

  • The Courage To Be Disliked: This book has had a profound impact on me, and is easily my favorite book of the year. The book discusses teachings from an Austrian psychotherapist named Alfred Adler (he worked during the time of Freud and Jung, but is much lesser known). It touches on a lot of different topics around individual psychology, but the biggest one is about how relationships are the foundation of meaning and happiness. It really challenges traditional mindsets and worldviews, and is delivered in an entertaining format of a philosopher debating with a young student who pushes him and questions virtually everything he teaches. I’m planning to write a book summary post on why it was so impactful to me personally, so if you’re interested, stay tuned for the next newsletter!

  • The War of Art: This is an incredible (and short) book on creativity, and it touches on some of the hardest aspects of writing (as well as other creative pursuits). A key concept it introduces is the idea of Resistance, which is a force that works against your long term goals (progress, output, productivity) by pushing you into short term relief activities. I’ve found it helpful to keep this in mind whenever I start to feel discouraged / intimidated by the task at hand — it really helps to put a name to that force.

The end of the year is coming up (and the end of the decade!) — I’ll be doing another post in January about my favorite books of 2019. If you haven’t seen my past lists, check them out for some reading inspiration:


I’ll leave you with something incredible I ran into this week:

The Deep Sea by Neal Agarwal

It is truly magical, and reminds me of what many of us imagined the internet could be when we first encountered it. It also reminds me that I need to re-watch BBC’s Planet Earth — the sheer depth and beauty of the ocean is still beyond comprehension.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first edition of Quick Brown Fox, and hope to see you at the next one! What did you think? Anything that stood out, or sparked your curiosity? Let me know by replying to this email. I’d love to hear from you!

—Salman

The relentless pursuit of learning

Welcome to the Quick Brown Fox newsletter by me, Salman Ansari!

I spent over a decade founding startups, building web and mobile apps, and leading teams. My last experience as a founder left me burnt out, and I needed a break.

Over a span of six months, I deeply studied a variety of topics ranging from psychology, to history, to transportation and climate change. I came out with a refreshed attitude on life, and an insatiable thirst for learning.

This newsletter is my attempt to share some of those learnings, while also motivating me to continue the learning journey. I hope you’ll join me!

Stay tuned! In the meantime, tell your friends!

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