Responsibility

In an increasingly interconnected world, finding focus and enabling time to do work is becoming harder and harder. Demands are outstripping our capacity at an alarming rate. It’s time to start thinking about how we work.

~ From https://fs.blog/2013/05/the-single-most-important-change-you-can-make-in-your-working-habits/

It’s not “time,” it’s far past time. But the key point of the article, (which is itself simply a pull-quote hyper-summary of a book I’ve not read,) is:

Personal responsibility.

That’s it. That’s the magic sauce. Where I’ve found success has only ever been where I took personal responsibility. And I’ve chosen my language carefully in that sentence. There are places where I took personal responsibility and still did not find success; in some cases I’ve found outright failure. But in absolutely no case was I ever successful without taking personal responsibility.

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Genius working alone

The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise the revolution, whether in politics or the arts or the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail. The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius — a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in general circulation. “A genius working alone,” he says, “is invariably ignored as a lunatic.”

~ Kurt Vonnegut, from Bluebeard

Meta: Copy-paste-and-search if you want to read the entire, surrounding passage. As a creator of content myself, I decline to copy and paste the much longer passage as many others have.

This passage from Vonnegut is brilliant, but it makes me a little nervous. Am I the genius? …or more likely, the lunatic? Perhaps I’m one of the other two specialists. Or worse, I’m not any of the three.

Suddenly

I remember why I keep bourbon on hand.

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Nothing Fails Like Success

There are internet companies (like Basecamp, or like Automattic, makers of WordPress.com, where I work) that charge money for their products and services, and use that money to grow their business. I wish more internet companies could follow that model, but it’s hard to retrofit a legitimate business model to a product that started its life as free.

~ Jeffrey Zeldman from, https://alistapart.com/article/nothing-fails-like-success/

ahahahahahahahahhahaahahhaaa! Sometimes I like to share stuff just because it makes me happy. (The stuff; not the sharing of said stuff, I mean.) I regularly talk about how this web site is a vehicle for my reflection—I’m quite often literally thinking through things. Writing, (tappity-tap-tapping on the keyboard here,) and writing, (scratchity-scritch-skratching with a pen on paper,) are two of the ways I figure out if the dross I regularly find in my head actually corresponds to reality.

When I read sentences like the ones I quoted above, I leap (sometimes literally) to my feet knocking over my chair in the process. It does my weary—deeply deeply weary it be—heart good just to read sentences like this. And I hope—not in the sense that I little value your ability to think and “hope” you’ll finally get what I’m saying; no. I only hope that sometimes, some of the things I share make you happier.

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Numbered precisely

If men could see their future years numbered as precisely as their past, what a flutter there would be among those who saw that their remaining years were few, how sparing of them would they be! With a fixed amount, however small, it is easy to economize; but when you cannot know when what you have will be gone you must husband your store very carefully.

~ Seneca

Gaming the System

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

~ From https://fs.blog/2013/02/gaming-the-system/

A long time ago, a social studies teacher had been giving the same multiple-choice, high school, final exam, every year, for [as I recall the story] decades. The catch was two-fold: First, each year he cut the exam into strips separating each question. Yes, by hand, with scissors. He then shuffled the strips, scotch taped them onto a new sheet which did have sequential numbers on it already, and then ran it through the mimeograph machine. There was no way to create a “cheat sheet” for this exam based on previous years (even if we could have gotten a previous test.) Second, the test was insanely long; hundreds and hundreds of questions long. In fact, it was—intentionally—impossibly long.

When he graded the exams, he noted the total number of questions each student attempted. To be clear: He’d note the number of the last question you answered. So if one skipped around, you’re doomed since you definitely get wrong, the ones you didn’t even try to answer. So the incentive is to start at the beginning and just work straight through; recall, they’re totally shuffled. He then computed the average number attempted, and that average was used as the total possible points on the test. If you scored above the possible points (unlikely, but possible,) the points got added to your semester’s total points. (So if you score +2 on the final, the first extra point, brought up your 9/10 quiz score to 10/10. That second extra point brought a homework up from 5/7 to 6/7.)

Have you spotted how you game this system?

Bonus question: I regret what we did, (there were 3 of us.) But, can you tell me why I regret it?

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Seneca on Social Media

Over a billion people currently use Facebook — many at the cost of anxiety, lost honor, personal freedom, and certainly time. If asked why, however, many would reply, “why not?” The service is free, conventional wisdom tells us, so no matter how minor the benefits (which tend to orbit around a generalized fear of missing out), they’re still more substantial than the cost. But as Seneca points out, this assessment is misguided because it ignores the human toll of social media.

~ Cal Newport, from https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2016/03/11/seneca-on-social-media/

I generally try to suppress my urge to pounce on opportunities to talk about the well-known downsides of social networks. But a Seneca-CalNewport two-for-one is simply irrestible catnip for me. Here, Newport is referring to the value of one’s own time. That’s the human “toll” that so many people—as far as I can see at least—don’t factor in.

I think I am ready to give up fighting the fight; I’m done [or at least, I really should get a grip, and learn to be done] beating the drum about the evils of social networks. Know what I’m going to do instead? Double-down on creating things on the open web and let people decide what they want to do.

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Getting Less Done

My touch-phrase for 2019 was, “no.” In terms of self-imposed stress and crippling depression, 2019 was the worst year ever; I’ve more than 10 years of journals and I’ve checked. 2018 was bad, but 2019—the year I set out specifically to reduce the problems—was definitely and significantly worse than 2018.

I remain convinced that it is not possible to optimize one’s way out of burn-out. If I have 500 things I want to get done and I’m burnt-out, the solution is to reduce the number of things, not get better at getting things done. I’m speaking from personal experience, not from theory.

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

In 2019, the “no” touch-phrase was meant to guide me to developing the habit of saying no to things coming towards me. A huge amount of ideas and opportunities come at me, and I’ve gotten much better at saying, “no.” (I’m not quite ready to say I’ve gotten “good” at it; but I’ve definitely gotten better.) I’ve gotten better at evaluating Big Asks from the world, and saying, “no.” A textbook example of that is people/groups which reach out to me, asking for my input or participation.

“No, I do not have the time to do that well.”

“No, I cannot to do that the way it deserves to be done.”

…and so on. Note particularly the absence of the societal lubrication, (a.k.a., the usual lie,) “I’m sorry, but…” Because, I’m not sorry. I’m defending myself, and I’ve reached the point where if my candid, timely, and honest response feels like a wack on the head… Bummer. Life’s hard; get a helmet.

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

In a previous post (on my personal blog) I mentioned the idea of leverage; positing that I should focus on asking myself, “how much leverage does this opportunity afford me?” This still doesn’t feel quite the right fit for 2020 because leverage per se isn’t a value I’m interested in maximizing.

So that leaves me where?

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

GLD — Get less done.

Maybe that’s the touch-phrase for 2020?

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Meta: I had posted this in the Movers Mindset Forum early in 2020. But, for some reason I cannot fathom—perhaps it was simply an oversight—I didn’t post this here on the ‘ol blog in very-early 2020 when it was written. ;)

The Honeybee Conjecture

More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Terentius Varro, a roman citizen, proposed an answer, which ever since has been called “The Honeybee Conjecture.” He thought that if we better understood, there would be an elegant reason for what we see. “The Honeybee Conjecture” is an example of mathematics unlocking a mystery of nature.

~ From https://fs.blog/2013/05/what-is-it-about-bees-and-hexagons/

Every once in a while, you will have the chance to be alive when a multi-thousand-year old mystery is solved. Humans are awesome. Mathematics for the win. *drops mic*

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