The value of attentiveness

Run through the list of those you knew yourself. Those who worked in vain, who failed to do what they should have—what they should have remained fixed on and found satisfaction in. A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.

~ Marcus Aurelius

§13 – Time for reflection

(Part 13 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

My title refers both to my doing of such, and is a suggestion that you should as well. It’s been a long time since I added a post to this beloved series, Changes and Results. But, today just happens to be—meaning I’ve been waiting for many months for this date :) —exactly nine years from my first daily journal entry.

What would you wish to be doing, then, when death finds you? For my part, I would wish it to be something that befits a human being, some beneficient, public-spririted, noble action. But if I cannot be found doing such great things as these I should like at least to be doing that which cannot be impeded and is given to me do, namely, correcting myself, improving the faculty that deals with impressions, toiling to achieve tranquillity, and rendering to the several relationships of life their due; and, if I am so fortunate, advancing to the third area of study, that which deals with the attainment of secure judgements.

~ Epictetus, 4.10.12-3

Each morning I spend significant time in reflection. Without going too deeply into specifics, I don’t get up at precisely the same time, and I do take the occasional day off from my morning reflection. But beginning my day by reflecting—not on my yesterday, nor recent events per se, but generally reflecting on my self—is second in importance to me only to getting a good night’s sleep.

My process is, well, mine. I use software synced across multiple computers and mobile devices and so on… I also have physical books, and journals, and paper and pen… I’ve some 3×5 cards, physical boxes, etc.… The specific “how” is unimportant. You’ll find your own methods. But, simply to give you some ideas, here’s an outline of my morning reflection as of late 2020:

  • Reading previous journal entries — I have marks in my journals making it simple for me to open historical entries; Each morning I read my entry (if any) from 9, 6, 3 and 1 year ago.
  • Today’s Daily Stoic entry — Stoic with a capital-S, which is not closely related to the English word “stoic.”
  • An item prompting specific self-reflection — From a series of self-reflection prompts I’ve accumulated over the years.
  • An item of inspiration — These come from a second series of prompts which I’ve developed, and are meant to get me to keep my shit in order. The quote at the top of this post from Epictetus is one of these prompts. They’re not sunny platitudes, but rather they are I’m-not-kidding-around-here-serious prompts to get me focused in what I’ve assessed to be the right direction.
  • Reading — I have a stack of books which are specifically Philosophical. Not simply non-fiction, but works by Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Stoicism and Philosophy in general. Some mornings I’ll study just one page from one of these books. Some mornings I’ll spend over an hour in this reading.
  • Journalling — After thus limbering up my brain and exposing it to that carefully curated collection of ideas, I pick up my pen and open my journal.

Exactly how much time does that take? It varies, but usually hours. This morning, I stopped short to do this writing. I was about 2 hours into this morning’s reflection when I switched to working on this post. Unusually, this morning I have a hard stop for something that has a specific time. (I’ve cleared from my entire life anyone’s ability to interrupt me, summon me, demand my attention, etc..) If you are aghast at this arrangement of my life… If you are thinking, “I could never do that,” I can only say:

How can you afford not to?

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Breathing Room

To abstain from all information about the world at this current moment would be a betrayal of your civic duty. On the other hand, to monitor every developing story in real time, like a breaking news producer, is a betrayal of your sanity.

~ Cal Newport from,
https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/08/25/focus-week-give-your-brain-some-breathing-room/

This tension is not only real, it’s necessary. You need to have this tension; it’s a critical component of how you assess the world by choosing what to filter in and what to filter out. The difficult part, of course, is if you don’t intentionally manage this balance.

How many things just pop in front of you each day? Are you happy with that amount?

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Achieving greatness

So you want to achieve greatness. You’ve decided that ho-hum mediocrity is not for you. Alrighty then. Well, if you’re going to do that, you have to make a choice: whether to take The Big Road or The Little Road.

~ Hugh MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2020/09/18/go-big-go-small-just-go/

It turns out that this rhymes with my vision and mission. (Please start here if you just thought, “what vision and mission?”) I was deep in the workshop trying to find my vision and mission, when this post from MacLeod drifted through my sphere of awareness. I think if I hadn’t already been in the middle of doing the hard work of orienteering, this post would have tipped me into starting the hard work.

So my question for today is: If you don’t feel like you have a clear vision and mission, what would you have to expose yourself to which would be likely to make you tip into being compelled to find them?

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Value giveaway

Fewer are aware that the PC wasn’t IBM’s only internal-politics-driven value giveaway; one of the most important software applications on those mainframes was IBM’s Information Management System (IMS). This was a hierarchical database, and let me pause for a necessary caveat: for those that don’t understand databases, I’ll try to simplify the following explanation as much as possible, and for those that do, I’m sorry for bastardizing this overview!

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2016/oracles-cloudy-future/

And, today this web site is a tech blog.

I’ve read, (technically I am in the process of reading,) everything Thompson has written. I skimmed through this long article since it wasn’t news to me. However, if you take about 10 minutes to read this, you’ll know more about Databases and the Big Kids who made the things which became the things you now use every day, than pretty much everyone else on the planet.

/techblog

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Surprised by old age

Their minds are still childish when they are surprised by old age, which they reach without preparation and without weapons, for they have stumbled upon it suddenly and unexpectedly without realizing that it was stealing upon them day by day.

~ Seneca

Good enough

I maintain that, while the number of bugs and problems users experience is linear, their understandable frustration is exponential. It’s no wonder they have learned to tolerate poor-quality work.

~  Nick Heer from, https://pxlnv.com/linklog/tech-is-confusing/

I maintain that this is a symptom of the rise of “good enough.” The rise of, “just ship it and fail faster,” has created a culture where “shipping it” is valued over doing something well. The only thing harder than the first 90% of a project is the second 90% of the project. To create something that is a delight to use requires an enormous effort.

Our culture is currently being reshaped by companies who are training us via the fast dopamine hit. In that arena, creating things is a vicious competition. It feels as if there is no time to do something well and bring it to market. In the time it takes to do it well (for example, create 85 episodes of a podcast, write 2,500 blog posts, fill a bookshelf with journals) you will expend an enormous amount of time, energy and money. Sometimes, what you create will be so perfectly in time with the culture that the capriciousness of the market will reward you. Sometimes it will not.

But you must do the hard work. Not because you will necessarily be rewarded, but because other people need to see you doing the hard work. That will encourage and inspire them to try something harder than their current efforts. And that ratchets the culture up, rather than down.

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How the words get here

I’m process oriented. I want to figure something out once, and then move on to having other interesting thoughts or experiences. That leads me to a sort of, “do one, cross off two,” mentality; I try to do more work up front—do the more complicated things first—in an attempt to reap a larger gain in the long run. I’m a tool builder you could say.

But my power of process, can also be a problem. There is, of course, an XKCD for this lesson: https://xkcd.com/974/. I digress.

Today, I wanted to share a bit of the process that I use to distill the things I find, and to focus my thinking. (I’m not going to go into how I find things, nor how I ensure a fresh “stream” of those things is brought to my attention.)

I have a WordPress-based blog using my own domain name. I also have a separate email account with a non-obvious address. It’s in my address book at “blog – Postie to Blog” [as you can see in the screenshot].

Whenever I see, read, or find something that inspires an interesting train of thought, I fire off an email to this special address. I simply brain dump my thinking. I insert bare URLs into the email. I put a “>” in front of blobs of text I want to show quoted. But I don’t bother with any formatting; it’s all just basic text.

I use the Postie plugin for my WordPress site. It’s an email client which periodically looks in my special mailbox and creates draft posts on my site. It deletes the emails as it creates the drafts.

When I want to work on blog posts, I go into my WordPress site and look at my drafts. I clean up the draft—fixing anything that I couldn’t stand having out on the internet. I dress up the links, organize the quoted parts, season it with my personal style, etc.. Very rarely, I’ll simply delete a draft. This has the advantage of giving me a chance to review my ideas for posts at some distance from when I initially captured it. Most of the time, I can see ways to drastically improve the post, but I don’t bother preferring instead to post the snapshot I had originally captured. I schedule the post for whatever day I want it to go out on. I’m writing this blog for my own benefit—it’s part of my process of reflection. So it’s not usually important when any particular post goes public.

Finally, I have a Mail Chimp account that has a recurring Campaign. It follows the RSS feed from my site, and emails whatever it finds to be new at 11am every day.

Why? Well, that’s probably best left for another day.

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