What’s it like to study at Oxford?

From a friend:

At school people would beat me at pool, but at least I was smarter than them. Here, people still beat me at pool, but now they’re smarter than me too.

That’s what it’s like for most people at Oxford. You used to be one of the best — now you feel extremely average.

That requires readjustment. Some find it difficult — but for most it’s a relief. You have to look beyond academic ability to find other, less traditional talents.

The search continues…

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Training

There’s a purity and a beauty in training for a specific goal.

Motivation.

Timing.

Focus.

I have a Post-It on my computer with the targets I have set for the game I’m working on.

I have a couple more personal goals that I’m not yet ready to share here.

I’m running my first marathon in two weeks.

A specific goal.

Motivation.

Timing.

Focus.

You trim your sails to make it so.

Firing Einstein: Unoptimise Your Life

We should definitely fire that Einstein guy. And Newton, slacking off under that tree over there. And as for Archimedes – man, what a waster. Get out of the bath and back to work, ffs.

Inefficiency is the serpent in the garden of our techo-paradise. There’s a crusade against it. Its soldiers ask us: how do we minimise waste, increase output, prioritise correctly?

But necessity is not the true mother of invention – it’s the wicked step-mother, hassling and stressing you out. To invent, you require a little inefficiency.

The Romans had a concept called otium. Senators did it. It means spending time mixing business and pleasure. Cicero, Horace, Livy and Seneca would withdraw to their villas to practice a mixture of relaxing, writing letters to friends, patrons and clients, conducting research, composing works of art and science.

This was unoptimised time. Unoptimised time that produced some of the greatest works of the ancient world. Cicero was an archetypal orator, Horace wrote beautiful poetry, Livy was one of the fathers of history, Seneca wrote the beautiful On The Shortness Of Life (just finished reading it; highly recommended).

For St Augustine, otium was a requirement for creativity. It means making the time and space to think. It’s hard to find, and hard to justify to others. But it will get results.

Unoptimise your life.

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Picture by Jill Heyer, via Unsplash

Read next:

I Quit 200 Hours Too Late

To-do lists

A Couple Of Zeroes

This chart shows why you should consider sponsoring my first marathon

The chart shows a strong correlation between my pace and how I’m feeling while running. Feeling better = running faster. 

The chart covers the last 15 runs before I did my first and only half marathon. Now I’m training for my first ever full marathon. And it hurts! So I need your help.

I’m raising money for Mind, the mental health charity. Several of my closest friends have been affected by mental illness, and I believe Mind helps people like them to live happier and fuller lives.

I’d like to ask you to donate because the more money I raise for Mind, the better I’ll feel – and as the chart shows, the better I feel, the faster I’ll run!

It’s really really going to hurt to do this, so please please help me get through it faster :)

The marathon (Manchester, 6 April) is now just two months away. Please sponsor me, and help Mind help those with mental illness.

Thank you very much.

~ Todd

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

I tracked every penny I spent for one year. Here’s what I learnt.

I tracked every penny I spent in 2013. I did it because I was curious about how much I spent on different items – rent vs food, eating in vs eating out, booze vs sports and so on.

My spending is of course specific to me and my situation – 30yo, living in London, no mortgage and no kids. But I expect that several of the things I learnt are applicable to many others, so I wanted to share what I found.

1. You manage what you measure – I was more conscious of every single spending decision, and as a result would usually choose the cheaper option when it was comparable and available

2. The impact of the act of tracking itself wasn’t 20%, but it probably was c.2%. Tracking changed small decisions, not big ones. The cheaper lunch option got picked over the more expensive lunch option, even when it was less appealing – because tracking made me more aware of my choices.

3. Rent is a net worth killer. >25% of total spending for me last year.

4. Alcohol + eating out quickly add up. Cut this in half to save a lot of money. Not too difficult since spending is concentrated into a small number of relatively expensive occasions. So one night extra at home per week would make a noticeable difference.

5. Related: food shopping should always be substantially bigger than eating out. This is a balance worth getting right because you can’t go without eating.

6. Bills are a big chunk: 10% of total spend for me. So I’m going to see where we can switch and save. E.g. today I’m changing phone contracts and will save £20/month, nice.

7. Charity direct debits might feel like a drain because you don’t directly see the benefits, but they’re a tiny % of total spend. If anything, I’m considering increasing them once I’ve identified other savings.

8. When you have the data, there is A LOT you can do with it. I’m not going to publish my graphs since I don’t want to make my my spending patterns public beyond the basics above, which I hope are helpful indicators. But I can use the mass of data I’ve got to see how one category relates to another, and how my spend changed over the course of the year. These trends are quite revealing, and you can only see them once you have a sufficiently large and set of data.

9. Forcing functions work well. Automated transfers for savings, rent, and bills on the 1st of the month mean that you always have a clear picture of what remains after savings + fixed costs are covered.

10. Tracking your spending in this amount of detail is an almighty pain in the ass. It would be easier if one could live without spending cash, since some banks already automatically categorise card purchases. Read the tips below if you’re thinking of tracking your own spending.

Tools: I used the aptly-named Money app from Jumsoft: http://www.jumsoft.com/money/. It’s pretty quick to input new items, and most importantly it enables you to create .csv reports and email them to yourself for further analysis. Once I’d exported all the .csvs by email, it only took me 20 mins to put all the tables and charts together in Excel.

Methodology: I paid for everything possible on card so that I would have a paper receipt and could batch-input spending later. I probably did miss a few cash items along the way, but I’d be surprised if the final figures were >1% inaccurate as I was pretty diligent about the whole thing. I omitted all costs from our wedding, since that’s a one-off and I wanted to learn things that I can use in 2014.

Three top tips if you’re going to track your spending:
1. Set a clear start and end date – I’m surprised at myself for continuing for a full year, but when the first thing I bought in 2014 came with a huge sigh of relief because I didn’t have to note the bloody thing down in my tracking app
2. Get into the habit of adding items directly after purchase, and don’t rely on your memory for adding cash purchases later – as soon as your tracked spend deviates too much from your actual spend, you’ll give up and learn nothing
3. Be clear in advance about what categories you are interested in. The biggest mistake I made was not separating ‘Lunch’ from ‘Eating Out’ in the spend categories. I could do it retrospectively by assuming everything <£10 was Lunch (burritos etc), and everything >£10 was Eating Out (restaurants etc), but to do so would mean recategorising every lunch item individually for the whole year – no thanks.

So, what to track next? Well, I got a Fitbit for Christmas…

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Read this next:

I just shot my project in the head

How to be superhuman

How I lost £1,500 when I was 23

If you enjoyed this – do follow @toddmgreen on Twitter. Cheers!

One year at King / LAUNCH: Farm Heroes Saga mobile!

Today’s my first anniversary at King – hooray!

And to celebrate (or something) we just launched Farm Heroes Saga on mobile. You can play it now on iOS or Android.

It’s my second launch with the company – Pepper Panic Saga opened up on Facebook in November. AppData estimates Pepper’s current DAU as 1.8m.

My job is to analyse and optimise the games – understanding what’s happening and why, and working with the producers, data scientists and the rest of the team to keep making it better.

It was a fun first year. And what better way to start a new one by launching a game?

Top 5 posts of 2013 on toddmgreen.com

This year I’ve published 29 posts, had 7,000 pageviews, and removed 33 posts from the site in a fit of revitalising pique.

Here are the top five posts of 2013, in order of #pageviews*:

Here’s What I Learnt From My First Teaching Job (389 views)

21st-century job hunting (163 views)

Doing A Forever Thing (106 views)

How To Write Bad Blog Posts (77 views)

Roll The Dice (62 views)

* Pageview counts are deflated by around 25%, since the stats tracking was broken for three months.

Pageview counts are also a poor representation of readership generally, since all my posts appear on the homepage, which had >2.5k pageviews (6.5x more than the most popular page for an individual post). But I can’t measure how those pageviews are divided up between posts, and when promoting posts I always use the direct link – so even though the stats above are incorrect as a measure of actual reads/readers, they’re still usable in comparing posts with one another.

Also NB that three of these five top posts were published in January. That’s no surprise really, since the earlier a post was published, the more time it has had to gather pageviews.

So, what does this all mean?

Well, I had fewer pageviews this year than last, but I didn’t post at all from Feb-June this year. But really, the numbers can come or go. What’s important depends on what I’m trying to achieve.

For me, this blog is a place to explore ideas, write up particular thoughts, and from time to time to post updates about what I’m working on. I’m continually surprised by the number of people who mention that they’ve stumbled across the site. And every so often it produces an interaction someone totally new whom I didn’t know before.

It’s also a helpful place for me to write up stuff that is more easily explained in a blog post than in person – e.g. the VC School post, which contains 20+ links that I had promised to send to a couple of colleagues, but which I couldn’t remember without some point of reference. That post is the point of reference.

Finally, this blog creates unexpected connections. One of my fondest memories from recent years is a conversation with a close friend who told me he had read How To Be Superhuman, a post about shyness. He told me that he had always been very shy inside, and that the way I had written about perceptions of shyness had really touched him.

And actually, out of all the above, that last one is the main reason why I write this blog. I don’t know who’s reading, and the stats can’t tell me why. But that’s fine.

Some things can’t be measured. Some things cannot be known.

But if you believe in them, then you try to make them happen more often.

Thanks for reading. And see you in 2014.

~ Todd

VC School

Best ways to learn about something new, in order:

  1. Start doing it
  2. Help someone do it
  3. Listen to someone who knows about it

For #3 I have recently built myself a VC School.

I downloaded Digg (now an excellent RSS reader) and connected it to my ten favourite VC blogs. Now, online and offline (important in London since half my commute is on the tube), I have a constant stream of high-quality posts available on my phone.

Posts I read today:

  • Web vs. native apps for consumer startups
  • Sticking with struggling investments
  • Dealing with recruiting mistakes
  • Bitcoin prospects
  • Snapchat/no revenues debate

Why VCs in particular? Three reasons:

  1. Connections: they know lots of entrepreneurs with new ideas
  2. Incentivised to be open: their aim in blogging is partly to attract interesting new cos, so they have good reason to share what they know
  3. Long-term perspective: unlike tech news (mostly ephemeral and therefore dull), VCs want to invest in ideas that have long-term relevance

So I’m finding Digg + VCs’ RSS feeds a great way to learn. It’s also an efficient way to discover new products, since they’re always plugging their portfolio companies. Combo bonus.

Sounds interesting? Here are the blog feeds, in alphabetical order:

Bill Gurley, Above The Crowd – blogRSS
Paul Graham, Essays – blogRSS
Chris Dixon – blogRSS
Mark Suster, Both Sides of the Table – blogRSS
Fred Destin – blogRSS
Fred Wilson, A VC – blogRSS
Andreessen-Horowitz – blogRSS
Semil Shah – blogRSS
Tom Tunguz, ex post facto – blogRSS
Dave McClure, 500 Hats – blogRSS 

Enjoy.

LAUNCH: Pepper Panic Saga

This week, the game I’ve been working on since joining King launched worldwide: Pepper Panic Saga.

It’s available on Facebook: https://apps.facebook.com/pepperpanicsaga/

Enjoy!

 

Chop

In the spirit of renewal, I’ve cut down this blog from 133 to <100 posts.

Gone are those which were either:

  1. Wrong, in the sense that I no longer agree with what I’d written,
  2. Too awkward to think of others reading, or
  3. Just a bit crap

I may cut more as the new shape of this blog emerges. But for now, this is post #99.