Creating an administrative day

Once I reached a point where most of the administrative and maintenance things were under control, I found that I had a steady stream of small things to do every day. Certainly, having things organized saves time, but things still need to be done—I can’t organize and optimize everything to zero-time required. The next step was to grab a trick from time-blocking: Set aside a chunk of time to focus on those administrative and maintenance tasks in one long go.

I’m not going to bother you with which day of the week I picked. The point is simply that I have a day—the entire day—set aside to do all the things that must be done. Laundry, occasionally changing the house air filters, stacking firewood, scheduled appointments (if I can get them on that day), banking and bookkeeping, special errands and shopping trips for home repair items, and on and on. The point is that I’ve moved all the things which feel like they aren’t directly related to my goals and aspirations—although obviously they are directly related, they just don’t feel related—to one place; one big block of time; the admin day.


Wrangling life’s admin tasks

Just as with job-related admin, “life admin” represents some of our least favorite, and most procrastinated on, to-dos. And yet completing them is essential to keeping our lives organized, functioning, and moving ahead.

~ Brett McKay from

A couple years ago I simply threw my hands up in the air and picked one day of the week which I’ve literally labeled as my “admin” day. On that day each week, I tackle everything related to life admin. It’s awesome; Stuff gets done.

But even better than that: It frees me on the other six days of the week. During the other six days each week, whole swaths of things are trivially lobbed onto the pile for the next admin day.

Try this: Pick a day of the week to be admin day, and start lobbing stuff to that day. Laundry, housecleaning… hell, I don’t even open postal mail until admin day. Pay bills, schedule things, shopping, errands…


Friction and process

Picasso observed that, “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Inspiration has to find you in the midst of your practice.

Let’s say that I enjoy painting. When I find myself painting, I usually find myself happy. I love the feeling of setting down my brush after having worked out some little problem in a painting. And so, I decide I’m going to paint regularly.

Or let’s say I enjoy sailing. I love the adventure, or the wind in my face. And so, I decide I’m going to sail regularly.

Or, running, writing, movement, music … your choice.

But without concrete plans, and clear processes, I will never actually do the practice. Friction, followed closely by excuses, will sap my momentum. If I’m to be a runner, my shoes, clothes, music or whatever I need— Those things must be in place. For any practice there are some things which you will feel must be in place.

The processes that I’m imagining, which remove friction and enable my practice, have a steady state. For my process, what does “done” look like? It looks like me sailing so often I can’t even remember not sailing all the time. Or it looks like me running and jumping and playing so often that my body is a comfortable place for my mind.

Matthew Frederick, the author of 101 Things I learned in Architecture School, makes this point:

True style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely—even accidentally—out of a holistic process.

This point about a holistic process—the idea that mastery isn’t some higgledy-piggledy mish-mash of throwing things together—is an idea I’ve held dearly for a long time. Every single time that I’ve decided to take a process, and repeat it in search of understanding, the learning and personal growth has paid off beyond my wildest dreams.

I’m a process process process person. The second time I have to do something, I’m trying to figure out how to either never have to do that again, or how to automate it. (And failing those two, it goes into my admin day.) Random activity, powered by inspiration works to get one thing done. But inspiration doesn’t work in the long run, and it won’t carry me through my practice.

Instead, I want to know what can I intentionally do to set up my life, so that I later find myself simply being the sort of person who does my chosen practice? I want to eliminate every possible bit of friction that may sap my momentum.

There’s a phrase in cooking, mise en place, meaning to have everything in its proper place before starting. The classic example of failure in this regard is to be half-way through making something only to realize you’re missing an ingredient and having to throw away the food. Merlin Mann, who’s little known beyond knowledge workers, has done the most to improve processes for knowledge workers and creative people. I’m not sure if he’s ever said it explicitly, but a huge part of what he did was to elevate knowledge workers and creatives by cultivating a mise en place mindset.

And don’t confuse “process” or a “mise en place” mindset with goals. Forget goals. Focus on the process, and focus on eliminating friction.

To quote Seth Godin:

The specific outcome is not the primary driver of our practice. […] We can begin with this: If we failed, would it be worth the journey? Do you trust yourself enough to commit to engaging with a project regardless of the chances of success? The first step is to separate the process from the outcome. Not because we don’t care about the outcome. But because we do.

And I’ll give my last words to Vincent Thibault, author of one of my favorite books:

That is how we are still conditioned socially as adults: Do, achieve, produce results, instead of be, feel, enjoy the process. Quantitative over qualitative. We are obsessed by performance and “tangible” results. But that is one of the great teaching of Parkour and Art du Déplacement: That the path is just as enjoyable as the destination; That sometimes it is even more important, and that oftentimes it is the destination.


Random please

I’m a process process process person. The second time I have to do something, I’m trying to figure out how to either never have to do that again, or how to automate it. (And failing those two, it goes into my admin day.) But being process oriented also means I like to build tools to enable doing things that weren’t previously possible.

Recently, I installed a little bit of code on my site that will bounce one to a random post. This means I can now have a link, which takes me to a random quote. I collect all the quotes because I want to read them. A big portion of the enjoyment comes from their discovery. So any time I can mange to re-discover a quote, by stumbling over it some how, that’s a bonus. So now, each morning, I bounce myself to a re-discovery…

Which is great to bookmark— Except, if you click that, you land on a quote; and making a bookmark is then of that specific quote. Instead you have to manually create a new bookmark—so that’s your homework for today, go figure out how to do that in your fave web browser. In that new bookmark, you can copy-and-paste that URL as the address for the bookmark. Then, any time you go to that bookmark, my web site will bounce you to a random quote.


Time spent organizing my time

Something organized people don’t often talk about is how much time they spend organizing their time.

~ Cal Newport from,

Guilty as charged, Your Honor! So today, something a little lighter than usual—I think?—with a few snapshots of how much time I spend organizing my time.

It is an exceedingly rare morning that I don’t spend about half an hour planning out the day. This little block of time begins with “surfacing:” Ducking into all the many online mediums where I am present, and—this is very hard—not engaging, but skimming over things to see what rises to a level of getting my attention today. Many productivity sources and guides suggest doing this at night, at the end of your day, but that does not work for me.

Every Monday I take an “administrative day”—the entire day. I stuff the day full of all the random things of life. Any errands to run, laundry, lawn mowing if I can, bookkeeping (literal banking and accounting and such). I do my best to resist doing any real work. I do anything like changing the bed linen, or high dusting the house, or stacking firewood, or changing a flat tire on my bike, …anything that I would consider “not important” …except of course if I never got around to doing it, then it’s a critical disaster …that’s “administrative day” stuff. This isn’t exactly time spent on organizing, but still.

I use sophisticated planning/project-tracking software, called OmniFocus, to manage a lot of stuff. (Things from recurring daily things, to true projects that have many steps and milestones and due dates.) Every two weeks—on an Admin Day!—I spend about an hour just going through every nook and cranny of my OmniFocus. (If you’ve read Getting Things Done, this is part of the review process.) I tend to ruthlessly delete stuff in an effort to combat my incessant tendency to take new things on.

At least once a month—again, on an Admin Day—I do the same sort of “look through every nook and cranny” review of the Basecamp system that is used for one of the companies I’m part of. Sometimes I can do that in 5 minutes, sometimes I’ll spend hours on it.

At the least organized end of the spectrum, (yes, my time spent managing my time comes in a spectrum of how organized it is,) I often—maybe twice per month this happens—will go off, (as in “off the deep end,”) and outline some project that I’m considering doing. I’ll whip out my favorite outliner, OmniOutliner, and do a brain dump of some project. This can take from 5 minutes to an hour or more depending on what I’m thinking about. Quite often, I’ll then simply set aside some awesome idea that I don’t have the time to execute, or the resources to have it done under my direction. I used to think this was wasted time, but it is the only way I can get things off my mind: When it pops up later, I either think, “I already did all the thinking,” or I go back to the outline and tinker some more. (What remains, forever, is just to squash the recurring lizard-brain fear of missing out by not executing the project.)

So let’s see, how much time is all of that combined? I’m awake 16 hours a day, but realistically, only half that time could ever be used to some specific end. So 8 hours a day of “self-directable life”. 1 out of 7 days is an Admin Day… 1/7 ~ 0.1428… The rest of that stuff might—maaaaaaybe, but probably not—eat a second day’s worth of each week . . . 2/7 ~ 0.2857…

So in response to how much time do I spend managing my time? I’ll say:

15 to 30% of my entire available life.


Caution: Tulpa

I’ve recently made a startling discovery: Maybe there really is a tulpa in my head.

First, I’ve said for many years that my brain is broken. (Yes, I am aware I have terrible self-talk.) Here’s why I call it broken: I am literally unable to NOT see problems. I notice an endless onslaught of things that, in my opinion, could be improved. I don’t mean, “that sucks, I wish it could be better.” No, I mean, “that sucks and it’s obvious this way would be better and if you’d just let me get started . . . ” Adderall might help, I suppose.

Everyone loves that I get stuff done, and try to make things better. But unless you have this same problem, I’d imagine it’s hard to understand how this is debilitating. I am aware that this is recursive—I see my own brain as a broken process that I feel I should repair. All I can say is that you should be happy, and thank your fave diety if that’s your thing, that you don’t understand. Because to understand is to have the problem, and you do. not. want. this. problem.

Second, I’ve also said for many years that, “the remainder cannot go into the computer.” I’m referring to a endless source of struggle in programming and systems administration; Computers are exact, and the real world—with its real people, real problems, and things which really are subjective shades of gray—is not. So programmers and systems administrators factor, in the mathematical sense of finding factors which when multiplied give you the original, reality into the computers. And when factoring reality, there is always a remainder. That remainder shows up when you find your software does something weird. That could be a mistake, but I tell you from experience, it is more often some edge case. Some people had to make choices when they factored.

The result of that second point is that I’ve spent the majority of my life factoring, (and “normalizing” for your math geeks who know about vector spaces,) problems into computers. And then trying to live with the remainders that didn’t go into the computer. The remainders are all in my head. Or on post-it notes on my wall, (back in the day.) Or the remainder is some scheduled item reminding me to check the Foobazzle process to ensure the comboflux has not gone frobnitz. To do that I had to intentionally be pragmatic and logical. And the really scary part is I also learned that the best way to do all of that was to talk to myself—sometimes literally, bat-shit crazy, out loud, but usually very loudly inside my own mind—to discover the smallest, least-worst, remainder that I could manage to live with.

What if those two things were sufficient to create a Tulpa. (I am serious.)

I think there’s a Tulpa in here! (My title is the sign on the front gate.) It is absolutely pragmatic. It knows an alarming amount of detail about things I’ve built, (or maintained, or fixed.) It is cold and calculating. It is terrified that it will forget about one of those details, 2347 will happen, and everyone will run out of ammunition defending their canned goods from the roaming bands of marauders. I definitely don’t “have” the Tulpa. It’s more like discovering there’s an extra person living in your house. Although, I don’t hold hope of banishing this Tulpa, Yoda does make a good point if I’m going to try. So, I should definitely give it a name.

Maybe, Sark?

That is an intriguing idea indeed! Sark, what do you think?


End of another era

I’ve been dutifully tending equipment in this bay for 15 years… little bit sad that I won’t ever drive here again. On the other hand, 10 years ago I nearly died in a car crash (not my fault) coming here in the middle of the night. There’s an invisible army of system admin who work around the world, every hour of every day. We make every aspect of your modern world function. I’m proud to be one of them, doing my little part.


The third wave of IT engineering

Just as human society still envelops everything from pre-agricultural tribes, farming communities, and factory sweat-shops to information-based commerce, in different parts of the globe, so IT today straddles all three `waves’ of development from manual chaos to goal-oriented self-repair in different organizations.

~ ~ Mark Burgess from, from,


Find evidence for a comparison of President Obama to Stalin

Upon reading my title, were you…

a) incredulous; you disagree with the premise.
b) happy; you agree with the premise.
c) curious; you already understand what this blog post is about.
d) other; because this author isn’t omniscient, (and you can stop reading now.)

This post is about logic, discourse and discussion; Not in a dry, academic sense, but in the sense that, “lack of logic, discourse and discussion is the root problem in America today.” It’s just a bonus that I have a wickedly inflammatory example to use as a framework for this post to keep things interesting and lively.


The catalyst for this post was a news item which I stumbled upon via Facebook:
‘Obama socialism’ homework angers students at Cobb County high school

find_evidence_for_a_comparisonKnowing that the news outlet will eventually move/remove that story, at right is an image of the homework assignment in question. The original news story indicated this was from a social studies class at the high school level.

After seeing the news item posted on Facebook by a friend, I shared the link to the CBS Atlanta affiliate’s story. Two of my friends — and I mean “friends” in the real world sense of people with whom I would break bread, or to whom I would give money — joined me in the comment thread. (Names withheld here of course.) My first “wait what?” comment is the one I included with my sharing of the news item; These comments are unedited, just as they appeared on Facebook.

Craig: wait what?

I don’t see any problem. Did the verb ‘compare’ get a new definition? The first definition from is…

“to examine (two or more objects, ideas, people, etc.) in order to note similarities and differences: to compare two pieces of cloth; to compare the governments of two nations.” (It’s even apropos!)

So, upon comparing the two items in question, students might draw various conclusions; The items are similar, or different, to varying degrees.

mmmmmmmmm, semantics and pragmatism for the win.

Person A: I don’t know exactly what the teacher said when setting the tone for this assignment but in the article “find evidence for a comparison” is a leading statement. Otherwise as you suggested, you just compare. “Compare (and contrast) the change in Russia during the time of Stalin and Lenin, with the change in the United States during the time of Obama.” The notion that the time period in question for the United States is marked by a shift from capitalism to socialism is plain heresay. I don’t know enough about the evolution of Russia to suggest whether that shift is also heresay. The leading and heresay reaks of a “teacher” agenda.

Craig: how does “find evidence” change the meaning of the word “compare”? …it certainly means one may not simply state opinion when comparing. But does “find evidence” bias “compare”? If the question had said “contrast” the teo, that’d be leading since contrast means highlight the diffs. But “compare” is very clearly NOT an antonym of contrast. “compare” is neutral.

Person A: I don’t disagree with your posted definition of compare. That is clear. “Find evidence for comparison” clearly suggest (to me) that the author does believe that compare is an antonym of contrast. You simply compare. if you “find evidence to compare” this suggest to me that you are looking for parallels, how are the two things similar or the same, in other words find evidence that these two things are similiar. If you simply compare two things it will be evident if they are similar or dissimilar. semantics perhaps.

Person B: What I believed to be in poor taste, and the reason I posted the article, is that there is a pretty clear motive in comparing someone like Stalin, a clearly awful figure in human history, with the current president. It is, to me, a pretty obvious dig on someone that the teacher in question just doesn’t like. If this were a purely intellectual exercise, sure. Why not. But invoking the name of ‘Stalin’ never brings up a discussion of what socialism is and what it does and doesn’t do *first*, it brings up themes of genocide and corrupt government.

Craig: I find this discussion to be very interesting. There’s something at the center here; Something which I can’t quite identify… perhaps it’s the projection of, what one assumes one knows about the teacher, onto the instructions. Why do that? I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense (as a student following the assignment, or a person generally in life) to just follow the instructions guided by your own person context?

So you see these instructions. You think about the teacher’s sub-text — whatever you think about the teacher, they’re wrong in their bias, they’re right, they’re intending satire, whatever. Then you proceed on the assignment. Why must one (who is given the assignment) “react”, when one could “converse/discuss/discover” based on the direction given.

If this story had been about a kid failing (or getting a zero etc) for showing evidence why the President is different, THEN I’d have an issue.

Person C:  I’m on board with Craig on this. The language of the assignment was pointed, but whether it is inflammatory is based on the views of the reader. In the end, the assignment may have left an impression of what the teacher’s viewpoint may be, but it does not direct the student to provide a conclusion that conforms to that viewpoint. It may just be a happy accident, but this assignment provides the opportunity for the offended students to confront a differing or even opposing viewpoint and argue rationally against it rather than hiding the fact that viewpoint exists. I have to say that the idea that the principal pressured the teacher to withdraw the assignment and then disavow the teacher as a “fill-in” was a cop-out…better to work with the teacher to reword the assignment to preserve the intent– including providing a potentially inflammatory topic–and make sure the students understand they are to express their opinions on the matter and argue their points freely.

Craig:  I still agree with my initial thoughts. But, I’m changing my position…

I don’t believe *high school* students possess the same strength of individual thinking that I have. (Which is not meant to be derogatory. I’m simply trying to peel away my bias in assessing the issue.) So the teacher holds an increased responsibility to present work/questions/assignments in a way that ensures the primary goal of the work/Q/A is education.

The core of the assignment is clearly legit: “find evidence for a comparison of A to B”. But the context and connotation brought by the actual examples is too strong. If the teacher had added just the slightest nudge, something like, “You may find evidence for your comparison to support the similarities or differences of these two cases,” then I’d stand to my original position. Or, if the class had been a debate class, or college level social studies, then too it would be fine. However, as it was written, in a high school social studies class: It’s too biased.

(I also agree with the comment that the administration handled it wrong. But that’s an entirely different cup of tea.)

Logic, Discourse, Discussion

I hope you were struck by the dissection of ideas; the point and counterpoint; the sifting of wheat from chaff. That comment thread hosted some enlightened sparring! (*serious* Yes, I’ve awesome friends.) I’d venture that my friends put some honest thought into their conception of the word “compare”; Is it, in fact, NOT an antonym of “contrast”? …and would high school students be capable of thinking around their teacher’s bias in the manner Craig claims they should? …what is the burden of responsibility of the teacher? …of a high school teacher? …in a social studies context?

Never mind that I actually changed my mind as a result of the discussion. (Although, the fact that I did is apropos of something I mentioned before.)

Here’s my point

If you present your ideas in a logical fashion, perhaps with a flourish of passion or a touch of panache, while honestly thinking, “I hope they change their mind, but I’m open to changing my own.” … then bravo! You are a member of a society. Thank you for putting your shoulder behind our great American society.

If you open your mouth and spew hatred, vitriole, or can only speak in emotional platitudes. Congratulations! You are a part of the problem.