jasraj's journal

hi, i'm jas 👋, an author 📖 building a community for writers with ADHD ✍️🧠

Swimming against the tide, and the challenges that have come with choosing an indie-shaped path. 👣

One of the most difficult things I've had to contend with as I've chosen a path of “doing my own thing” are the comments, judgements, or just plain differences I've felt with most of the people in the world. Or, at least, my world.

From my family and friends, to the people I'd encounter in cafes, on the bus, at social gatherings ... when out in the world, “doing your own thing” just isn't what's normal.

Not only is there the judgement that comes from taking the solo path, but an underlying expectation that you must know what you're doing (surely you must know what you're doing to be so reckless...), and thus at least be “making it” (i.e. somewhere between making a reasonable, sustainable income to making a lot of money from your business).

And therein lies the great challenge I've experienced. Navigating “the messy middle” that is my own doubts and gaps in knowledge and just experience, all the while having to keep up appearances to the outside world, and sort of pretend that all is well even when sometimes... well, it's not easy.

There was a time when I was worried about what every person knew would think about me doing my own thing, and would be there watching y every move and waiting to see whether I'd “make it” or fall flat on my face.

Now that I've made some money from 3 businesses I've started* (not counting the many more ideas I've had, which I've pursued to differing extents), mixed in with the real-world experience I've gotten, I feel different.

[*I don’t count the little money I’ve made from Medium and selling copies of my book “money from a business” – as I consider this my writing, and not a business]

There was a time when I used to dread going to large social gatherings for the fear of being asked “So, what do you do?” It was worse when my parents were around at things like weddings, when curious-to-nosey-to-prideful parents would ask my own: “So, what does your son do?” My parents, as supportive as they have been on my journey, of course feel their own stuff when it comes to sharing what I'm up to... and the changing answer I've given them, or the judgements they feel from others – as well as from themselves – hasn't always been easy for them.

I continue to answer the “So, what do you do?” question in different ways, depending on who's asking the question and the setting we are in. I work in marketing” is an easy answer, and one which is true. I’ve realised that not everyone can handle “the whole truth” or they simply don't deserve to hear it.

This sounds harsh, but I’ll try to offer an explanation here. If you tell me you work in corporate law or consulting, I take your word for it and no further enquiry ensues. If I introduce myself as ‘a writer’ (or someone who ‘writes things’), all sorts of questions have then been asked of me. Some of the responses I’ve gotten include: “Oh, what do you write?”, “You're not famous, are you?” or “Where can I read your stuff?” Even when this comes from a good place, sometimes (depending on the person), I'd rather not offer up too much to a stranger I've just met.

And then I had an interesting experience this weekend.

I was at dinner with my uncle, his partner, and his friends, all of whom I had met before, a couple of them with their partners who I hadn't met.

It helped that I had met most of these people before, but the couple of times I was asked about my work during the evening, I felt comfortable owning and sharing what I do. This was not the case five years ago, so this is new, and a market of my growth in character and confidence. I was – I am – proud of myself.

And the very next day, heading to a cafe for some Sunday writing and reflection... I found myself in one of the most interesting conversations I've had in a long time, with anyone let alone two cafe strangers. With the two of them, I was happy to show up as myself without question. We covered a great deal of intimate ground over the course of twenty minutes (possibly longer, but it the time simply flew).

Whilst I still prefer connecting in small groups, my dinner on Saturday evening was a lovely experience, and one which told me I have grown into myself – and with the confidence to own and share where I am in my journey – and that's something worth celebrating.

I'm currently reading Rob Walling's book, Start Small, Stay Small, in which he writes, when it comes to the solo pursuit that is a business:

“Surprisingly, anything is much easier the second time. And the third. And by the fourth time you can’t even feel the hair on the back of your neck, or the sweat in your palms because it’s no longer there. The terror goes away surprisingly quickly.”

It would appear that there's something to be said for that. I think, over time, my own terror has diminished, and thus I’m able to show up from a more confident and comfortable place. And that’s quite a satisfying realisation.

It turns out that being Jasraj is, in fact, the most normal thing in the world 👌

Yesterday, I caught up with a good friend of mine I first met on the internet on a platform called micro.blog.

I remember the first time I came across Laurence, aka Cerulean, on the platform.

This guy is as wonderfully weird and quirky as me, I thought, as I read the things he was writing about and sharing, and stumbled across his delightfully-wacky email address, and just everything I was seeing come from this quick-witted human being.

We exchanged numbers, and – true story – during an exchange about “minimal phones” – I dropped my smartphone… what was to be the beginning of the end of my iPhone.

The first time we met up we spent a good couple of hours walking and talking in a West London park. We shared our stories and put the world to rights.

There’ve been other meets and chats since, our most recent yesterday with Laurence driving down to my neck of the woods, as part of a couple of days in London for his putting together his most recent album. I was even treated to a sample play of a couple of the tracks. I say treated because it was no less than an honour. Like any writer who graces me with their writing, whilst it is being birthed, a musician or any artist who does the same… words cannot describe.

It is the deepest of privileges that fills my human heart. Truly, something that can only be felt and not done justice with even the most eloquent words on page.

And, of course, we shared more stories and put the world to rights. He gave me some very sensible advice too as I navigate a new path and find myself in the throws of passionate emotions and – admittedly – reckless irrationality.

The magic of the internet, the best thing about the internet, no doubt, is being able to connect with people through their words (or, in Laurence’s case, through music *and* words. And he makes videos too – each medium carefully crafted with Laurence’s essence – so he really does offer different ways to intricately connect with him) and develop a heartfelt friendship.

My life is all the richer for the people I have in my life I can speak honestly and meaningfully with. Those connections are deep and rewarding in both written/artful form, as well as in ‘meeting in real life’ form.

Thank you, internet. 💛

With everything else I see going awry with the digital space, this is truly the one thing about the worldwideweb I will hold onto and cherish deeply.

I remember the first time I typed out websites into my browser… “double-you, double-you, double-you, dot….”. Wondrous. Magical. Beautiful.

ps. I was previously offered the gift of talking ‘Smalltown Dreamer’, Laurence aka Cerulean’s debut album, and discovering more of his story (in his backyard) –> a small portion.

I started the day with a workout, before settling down to my coffee shop working.

I also tried somewhere different for lunch, one of those casual cafes places with wraps and baguettes and such. I noticed a lot more masks around today, there's those daily updates now being a thing of the past, there's been a surge in COVID cases which has led to things like staff shortages; British Airways cancelled dozens of flights yesterday, adding to the already-manic Easter-holiday-crowds at the airports.

I worked from home this afternoon. I decided to look for a free Pomodoro app for my laptop I could use offline, and found this one. It's neat because it automatically switches from “work” (25 mins) to “break” (5 mins) sessions, so you don’t have to keep pressing ‘start’; the latter accompanied by a gentle metronome to invite you to really take that break. I just checked and you can adjust timings and the # of rounds, too. Simple and effective.

Truth be told, I'm still trying to get better at the whole focus thing. It's a little trying to rein in and gently tame one of those wild horses with a rope (the rope starts out real long to let the horse roam freely, and is gradually shortened to – quite literally – rein it in. I recall one of the free videos on the Headspace app depicting this.

I think this might be a little easier once the new site is up-and-running (getting there), I've found a system for my marketing (getting there), and so my work is somewhat more business-as-usual.

As well as the tomato timer, I was also accompanied by ambient beats and then Kanye West later in the afternoon. I've been listening to his music a lot lately, and discovered some new stuff of his I hadn't heard whilst I was at the gym this morning and listening to a YouTube mix.

His song 'Hurricane' keeps playing in my head. It’s so catchy. Mm-mm-MMM-mm-mm.

TLDR: I find Notion both mind-blowing and… mindblowing.

I went down a big rabbit hole yesterday, the sort of rabbit hole that Pomodoro timers can help me with.

It all started when I came across someone's beautiful blog site. I've recently been refamiliarising myself with Wordpress, and I can't help but feel this safe and solid option feels old and outdated.

This blog I stumbled across was modern, with clean UX, and full of heart. I loved it. It turned out it had been built with a modern Notion-website builders, with his particular product focused on using notion as a blogging CMS.

I'll be honest, the product itself is great. It’s in beta but I had never seen anything like it; there was this dashboard that neatly and intricately links to your notion database.

The founder is a developer based in India working on this full-time, and so a solopreneur I knew I would love to support if I could. I gave it a good shot, I really did, and Bhanu was very helpful in walking me through getting me set up. I get the impression that he's building a neat product he cares about that he wants to last.

I do feel the notion ecosystem is young and has lots of potential. Notion-as-a-website is attracting its own little crowd, with the likes of super.so, simple.ink (I had a brief exchange with Daniel there over the chat, with his brother he’s building out a whole suite of products serving the notion community) and fruitionsuite.com offering ways to help you publish your notion as a site (the latter letting you do so completely free).

And yet, I'm not sure what it is, but I just can't get my brain around notion. Or, rather, notion literally makes my brain go crazy.

I was reading recently about expansive thinking, and I'm recently realising that my brain is one of those creative brains that gets really excited.

Whereas I've seen other creatives use notion effectively (folks like Yihui whose beautiful notion-built blog + site it was that I stumbled across, to Porter's own neat task-organising (+ mind clearing) notion template; in fact, you can find dozens of notion templates out there, on a notion.so itself but also on blogs, gumroad, etc as more folks adapt and tinker and develop use cases (and unique templates) that others can also use, too. It feels like this great big open-source community, and there are already of passionate notion-ites out there.

It's just that for me, personally, I can't seem to find a way to use notion that serves me. I think it's something to do with the never ending possibilities that I find overwhelming. I was intrigued – and amazed – at the idea of using notion as a blog, and “upload” posts as pages on there, ones which could even be scheduled, and be labelled with tags, and so forth.

For me I think there's also the idea of my blog being on this public database, which I might accidentally delete at any time. In theory, you can backup and export your notion database for safety, but it also feels a little to alien to me at this moment in time to upload my posts onto a database.

It would also take me a good few hours to “work notion out”, where time would better be spent on building out a blog that is pretty-enough for me (the more possibilities there are, the more my crazy mind wants to tinker...), and lets me frictionlessly upload posts in the mist conventional way.

In other words, a place a little more familiar, and simply requires pasting text from my editor (Notes app on Ipad for this post), before pasting, formatting and hitting publish on my blog. Being a professional site I'll want to use headlines, meta descriptions etc effectively, but that's pretty much it for me.

And so there goes another step into the world of possibilities that is notion, for Jas.

As for this post, it's being typed out on my iPad, will be emailed to myself, and will then be pasted and uploaded onto my Write.as blog.

Getting the words from my brain to my blog as smoothly as possible.

That seems the way for me to go, whether it’s my personal blog or my professional one.

It was grey here today so I decided to make a slightly longer journey to what is usually my “afternoon” coffee shop; the one I normally go to is pretty dark inside, even when you sit near the windows, and being Monday I figured it could be pretty busy.

I did some reading whilst on the bus (Mindwandering, by Moshe Bar) and read a particularly poignant extract on “associative thinking” which really resonated:

I got to the “quieter, brighter” coffee shop and, of course, when I got there there was a child making a lot of noise and what looked like a grandparent trying to keep him occupied with some kind of kiddie's TV out loud. You have to laugh a little at the irony.

After getting some writing done, I got started on my new site.

It's the first time I've been back on Wordpress for a while, and I had flashbacks of my time starting various previous blogs on there; taking ages thinking of a name, and choosing a theme, and getting it set up.

This time, I'm trying to embrace a more laid-back approach. I already have a name for the blog, and I took a few minutes to consider themes but I landed on one. I’m still experimenting with the layout, and the sections I’ve written are very early drafts.

But here's what it looks like so far in its (very) embryonic stage:

I then met my dad for lunch, he cycled to me and we walked to Nando's, his Fiido electric bike in tow. With the battery it's a pretty heavy thing to carry down escalators… once we reached the bottom he let me try carrying it, I'd guess it must be around 20kg. At Nando’s we shared a whole chicken between us, though dad gave me ¾ of it. With two portions of spicy rice, I was pretty full.

This afternoon I spoke for over an hour with a blogger I reached out to online whose blog and writing I loved. We talked about all sorts, from the jobs we've had, about our lives as modern-day writers, travel, publishing, and so forth.

After dinner, I felt pretty full and sluggish and fancied a trip to the gym. I've not done an evening workout in months, possibly over a year. Monday evening is really busy at the gym, though it got a little less so as I worked out. It's almost a whole new owe at the gym; there's like a whole different evening-crowd to the daytime-crowd I'm more familiar with. I had a few minutes in the sauna, too.

I'm writing this out in the kitchen whilst my parents watch an episode of Masterchef, and I'm planning on watching the second part of a new Muhammad Ali documentary I started watching last night, before I head to bed.

1pm in a gently-bustling bookshop cafe.

It's sunny and about 14 degrees out, after a chilly start to the morning (minus 4 at daybreak).

I enjoyed a lie in, before a workout and spa session, and now here I am with decaf flat white latte and putting fingers to keys.

Focused activity is the plan this afternoon.

After exploring the idea of travel the last few days, it's looking like I'm being asked to stay put in the UK for the next couple of months. It seems the weather in Europe is unpredictable of late, with wet a particularly wet March in Portugal and particularly strong winds in the reliably balmy Crete.

I explored the idea of putting my own little co-living space together, and I'll keep that option open for June-time instead. I'll need to tell tweak the landing page accordingly. Truth be told, I'd like to release my paperback book and get the foundations in place for my new site and business, and it makes sense to hunker down and do that here in England. I think it makes the most sense. Travel plans, at least for now, on pause.

I've also been leaning into focus this week, and in particular focused and productive mornings. Whilst I will never be someone who structures every hour of my day (I shudder at the thought), I also feel that structure and focus allow for freedom. For example, a focused 4-6 hours of work on any given day, allows one to rest and relax and be wonderfully free, resting in the knowledge of a good day's work. I'd like to build my focus muscle with a morning 3 hours of focused work, 1 hour spent on a meaningful activity; for this month, that is blog posts, working through the early stages of the Fizzle roadmap, and building out a new site for The Indie Writer.

I've mentioned that focused work gives me freedom for later on, but I also believe it gives freedom in the present moment, too. To be focused is to be present. And so perhaps a live well lived is living a life of focus and simplicity.

With the first quarter of 2022 behind us, I'll be endeavouring for more of both of those things over the coming ninety days.

I think I’m going to become good friends with the pomodoro timer this month. 🍅

I started the day with a morning workout, and it started lightly snowing on the way to the gym. Later this afternoon, there was a short burst of what looked like hail and then snow. In spring…

I got to work on my book’s formatting, with a pomodoro timer tool I found online, before then realising that Atticus has its own in-built timer. Result. Pretty handy for getting the head-down and focusing, which is what I’m trying to get better at lately. I actually formatted right to the end of the book (I just need to fix up the back matter pages tomorrow), and I just need to make a few tweaks and I should be good to go.

Tomorrow I’ll be sending the final page-count to my cover designer, so she can send me a cover file with the correct “width” for the book’s spine, and I’m planning on starting my new Wordpress site for The Indie Writer. One of my goals is to have a new site drafted by the time I next meet with my mastermind group. Speaking of which…

Last night was my mastermind group’s second meet which went really well. Here’s me at the bar getting a little work done and waiting for my two mastermind pals to arrive:

It’s been a while since I was in a mastermind, and I’ve not been in an in-person one for 6 years, and so I’m really relishing it.

I’d made good progress since the first meet, we had some great discourse, and I’m feeling good about the goals I’ve set between now and our next meet in two weeks’ time. We’re also thinking about doing a “book club” between the three of us which I’m also feeling excited about. I’m looking forward to our next meet already.

The afternoon’s activity was less focused and taken up with more research on my forthcoming travel trip, but I did get some writing done.

I recently came across Alex West’s blog, and was reading a post of his where he breaks down what he would like each of his days to look like.

I am fascinated by the concept of lifestyle design, and the simplicity and effectiveness it brings with it. He describes how he works from 8am to 1pm each day, before having lunch and having afternoons to do as he pleased, before a workout in the early evening.

I loved this idea of “getting a good day’s work done” before lunchtime.

It continues to be a challenge for me to focus and get things done. In fact, aside from vague memories I have of diligently working from 5-7/7.30pm each night on my school homework (after my daily glass of milk, snack, and 30mins of after-school telly), and the extrinsic motivator of not getting told off and getting good grades (I took pride in very neat handwriting, too), I don’t recall working with such focus since.

I dropped out of university after that and then I landed in recruitment, where my bad focus habits probably developed as I struggled to balance the changing, day-to-day tasks of a recruiter, and balancing the people-time with focused-work time. I spent very little of my day focusing, perhaps the very first thing and the very last thing.

At the same time, I do like a degree of freedom and flexibility, but I like to know what I’m working on to keep me on track.

I like the idea of working from 9am to 1pm, with 3x 1hr of focused work, interspersed with 15 minute ‘breaks’.

So something like:

15 mins 1hr of focused activity 15 mins 1hr of focused activity 15 mins 1hr of focused activity 15 mins

= 4 hours in total

I’d use the first 15 mins of the day to think/plan on the day ahead, and the remaining ones for a mixture of emails/social media/stretching my legs or just sitting and zoning out.

I have realised just how relaxed weak my ‘focus’ muscle has gotten. Generally, I am very easily distracted. By technology, by people, by myself… I got some good focused work done this morning, before doing a little more travel planning. I’m noticing that I’ve been on screens late at night and also sleeping late (the two are connected for sure), and I know this also affects my ability to focus.

I’m also highly sensitive, with a creative sort of brain (I’ve noticed some ADHD/bipolar traits in myself, and a previous psychiatrist initially thought I may have the latter).

However, I do believe that we can all learn to focus better, and the same goes for myself. So I’m wanting to stick with this ‘block of focused work’ in the morning, with the view to getting a good day’s work done before lunchtime.

As I’m now looking to book my 3rd trip away as a digital nomad (I prefer to call myself a “slowmad”, actually), I quite like the idea of productive mornings with the option to have free time for myself or exploring in the afternoons.

It’s interesting to note that I’ve not worked with such focus since my school days, and the extrinsic motivators of my teachers and my parents. It goes to show how the value of having some accountability, which I’m hoping my mastermind group will help provide.

Today has been a bit of a blur, largely because I've spent lots of time on my laptop, and also because I've not done quite enough daily movement. I've done around 20 minutes of walking but, ideally, I need a good hour of exercise each day, whether that's walking, the gym, or a yoga class. An hour of movement is a great thing for Jas.

I logged back into Reddit today, it took me 3 (possibly even 4) guesses of the correct email address to reset my password and log back in after a couple of years away. In the /blogging subreddit I immediately found someone talking about starting a blog as a sort of diary/journal, and posting things with the view to perhaps writing a memoir. I resonated strongly with everything in that post, and I sent a thoughtful response back. I had a look around other posts, too, and wrote a couple more replies.

I also did a catch-up and coworking with a friend who co-runs the monthly Church hub group I've been going to. He happened to be in my neighbourhood visiting some ex-colleagues, and I took the opportunity to buy him a latte, tell him about my travel plans, and explain why I'm stepping away from the Hub group from now; #1: logistically, it's a little too much for a Wednesday evening right now with the travel factored in (it ends up being late getting up, I then don’t sleep until late, and it throws me and my productivity for the rest of the week), #2: I'm planning on travelling shortly and #3, I explained, I've had a wonderful time exploring my faith through the group but it feels that things have come to a natural end. Whilst I wish there was a better word than 'spiritual', I feel that I'm exactly that... spiritually curious. I've enjoyed being a part of the group and exploring my faith and relationship with God, and I know I'll continue to do so.

Which brings me onto my travel plans. I've decided I want to visit Spain or Portugal for a couple of months, and I've been looking at their respective mainlands and islands. Today I've been diving deep into Valencia, the expat community there (I even rejoined Facebook to join a couple of groups), and various accommodation options. There seems to be lots of availability in May, but accommodation April is looking harder to come by.

I may end up doing a month somewhere else before coming to Valencia... Or deciding to stay for the second month in whichever place I end up in for that first month. I'm excited by the possibilities and sense of adventure, but I'd also quite like to have something secured so my plans feel a little more rooted in reality. 

Here’s to having my feet firmly on the ground somewhere soon, and somewhere sunny ✈️

I slept easily and well last night, before I woke to the news about the Oscars ‘incident’ involving Will Smith and Chris Rock last night. It happened in the early hours of the morning, and was now being covered by the UK media – it was all over the morning news. I watched the moment the incident happened and, more than anything, it was unfortunate and made me feel uncomfortable.

I try not to ‘take in’ too much in the mornings, and rather remain centred and away from screens and from the news. I remember in my commuting days I often used to devour the Metro newspaper (a free morning newspaper) on the way to work, and then the Evening Standard (a free evening newspaper) on the way back.

I went to the gym this morning and now just getting settled down to my coffee shop writing and focused work. I’m sat at a different table in here this morning, peach-iced-tea-with-lemonade in tow. It’s a refreshing beverage after my morning workout.

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