Which Step?

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A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Which step?

Which step is the first step?

Where does the journey begin?

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Fingertips touching.
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It’s not uncommon for people to pick a theme or a word for the new year. I’ve been seeing a few over the past few days as we enter 2023.

It’s not something I’ve ever done. I tend not to do the New Year’s resolution thing. To quote a friend: “I long ago realized I didn’t have to wait for an arbitrary date to make changes in my life”.

However, this year a few things have come together in a moment of serendipity that’s making me think a theme might be in order.

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Please Answer the Question!


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I need to rant a little.

As you might expect, my “day job“, and a lot of my not-so-day-job, involves answering questions. It varies, of course. Some questions are simple yes/no, some are translating consumer terminology into more accurate terms and returning a “search result” from one of my websites to help, and so on.

Mostly it’s pretty simple Q&A.

Sometimes it’s less simple.

Sometimes it’s iterative. And sometimes that’s very, very frustrating.

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Every Day is an Experiment

Words to grow by

Every Day is an Experiment
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“Every day is an experiment” (also “everything is an experiment”) is a mantra, of sorts, I adopted some years ago. It’s a mental model I find both freeing and empowering.

Treating the world, or life, with the idea that everything you do is an experiment of some sort to be learned from is also an exceptionally powerful path for growth.

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The Best Life Advice Came from Microsoft

And they took it away


It was in our faces the entire time. Right there in the lower left.

Perhaps the most important piece of life advice ever was provided by Microsoft, and we didn’t even realize it.

And then they took it away. We still call it a “Start” button, but the text admonition has disappeared.

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Skeptical to the End

Pearly Gates
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Deity: Hello. Welcome. <spreads celestial “hands”>

me: uh … hi. Where am I?

Deity: What’s the last thing you remember?

me: Going to bed, I think. Yeah, that and a weird dream after I fell asleep. And then, all of a sudden, here.

Deity: uh huh.

me: Am I … ?

Deity: Are you …?

me: Am I … dead?

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Like Riding a Bike

Leo, on a bike.
Leo on a bike, in 2022. (Image: Marieke Schreur)

The Breukelen cemetery is one of the few locations on the planet that has lasting meaning for me. It’s a place to which I make a pilgrimage each time I’m in The Netherlands.

This year’s pilgrimage had an additional agenda.

It was 35 miles round trip by bike.

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Breukelen Cemetary
Breukelen Cemetary (Image: leonotenboom.com)

I don’t have that many particularly significant places on this planet. Those that would be are the “places” that are less about locations than they are about who happens to be there (i.e. “wherever my wife is”, “my close relative or friend’s current home”, and so on). These kinds of places can change as people move.

The more traditionally meaningful places have all fallen by the wayside. Significance has faded over time. The places themselves have fallen in to disrepair or become virtually unrecognizable. In perhaps my most personally significant case, they’ve disappeared completely.

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English as My Second Language

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I originally wrote this in 2017 as part of a 60 days of gratitude exercise, forgot that I had, and wrote a completely new version in 2022. Whoops. This is now an amalgamation of the two, updated during a recent trip to The Netherlands, of course.

English is not my first language.

I love to tell people that for two reasons: it’s absolutely true, and most would never guess.

Naturally, there’s a story.

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Getting it Done

Blacksmith, working hard.
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(Long one, today. I didn’t plan on it, but here we are. Smile)

I’ve been asked a couple of time how I manage to do so much. If I look at what I produce each week, it adds up:

  • Ask Leo! Articles, Videos, direct answers, and Newsletter
  • Not All news is Bad
  • 7 Takeaways
  • HeroicStories
  • My personal blog and 65 Thoughts
  • My volunteer work
  • An assortment of other things

Even considering all that I don’t accomplish every week even if I’m supposed to (my wife has that list), it’s still quite a lot.

The answer to the question turned out to be longer than I expected. I have a combination of frameworks, routines, habits, tools, and mindset that are probably pretty unique to me. While I pay attention to a lot of “productivity porn”, as it’s sometimes called, I think I’ve ended up with a blend of approaches that work fairly well for me.

I don’t expect they’ll work for everyone. But let’s look at how I do what I do hoping you might find a nugget or two that resonates and can help you get s**t done.

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The Value of Time

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One of the thoughts brewing in recent months, particularly because of my writing exercise, is the value of time.

I know, I know, it’s old hat, a cliché even, that time is our most precious resource. Except, it’s true. Nothing’s driven that home more than:

  • getting older
  • realizing my time left is finite
  • thinking and writing about that

All this is leading me to be significantly more aware of where and how I spend my time.

Or, rather, where and how I choose to spend my time.

That it’s a choice is, perhaps, the most important point.

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Wisdom and Legacy

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When we’re young, it seems we conflate wisdom with knowledge. The more you know, the wiser you must be. Thus, the quest is to know as much as you can.

As we age, we slowly begin to realize that wisdom is also about understanding what you don’t know. In a sense, I suppose, that’s more knowledge. The quest becomes to be more self-aware about what you do and do not know. Perhaps you then use that as a guide to increase your knowledge, or to understand your limitations and, with that understanding, make better decisions.

At some point, though, wisdom is none of that.

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My Writing Process

65 Thoughts Spreadsheet
(Screenshot: leo.notenboom.org)

With 65 daily essays, and a bit of a breather, under my belt, I thought it might be useful to review my reasoning and process.

Having a deadline forces me to produce. My weekly newsletter forces the Ask Leo! wheels to produce or update content each week. I started Not All News Is Bad as a daily newsletter to force myself to find something good in the world every day.

Honestly, 65 Thoughts was the same thing. I wanted to write more, and I wanted what I produce to be a little more meaningful. Setting a cadence of having to publish something every day for 65 days in a row did the trick.

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On Being 65

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And here we are.

65 years. 65 trips around the sun.

What does it all mean?

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On Love

In a world where you can be anything - be kind.
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Many poets, songwriters, and philosophers have settled on “Love” as The Answer. But what does that mean?

I think many people discard the very thought because of the phrasing. The conflate it with romantic love, or sexual attraction, and have no room to consider it as something much greater than either.

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On Parents

The day after I was born.
The day after I was born. (photo: taken by a family friend; via Leo Notenboom)

The best advice I’ve ever heard about how to get ahead in life is to choose your parents wisely.

If only it were that easy.

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On Hope

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These are divisive times. It feels like political and religious partisanship has never been as pronounced as it is today.

And yet, I have hope.

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On Goals

Which path should I take?
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I have a love/hate relationship with goals and goal setting.

I recognize their importance and potential. But, I suck at setting them.

Goals are one of the first things you encounter when doing any kind of personal, entrepreneurial, or business growth or training. What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you want to accomplish?

I. Have. No. Idea.

I never did, really. But things have worked out alright, anyway.

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On Consequences

The Mallet of Consequences
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Having the freedom to do something does not exempt you from the consequences of doing it.

Having the right to do something doesn’t exempt you either.

Individuals and groups often argue for the freedom or right to do something without wanting to concern themselves with the consequences. They might even think that having the right somehow gives them a pass.


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