You’ll know it when you experience it

Yet while the application and discussion of burnout has greatly expanded, what burnout is, exactly, and what causes it has remained stubbornly difficult to pin down. There is no clinical definition of burnout, no universally agreed upon yardstick for what constitutes it, no official diagnostic checklist as to its symptoms.

~ Brett McKay from,

McKay draws our attention to a feature of burnout that spans all the various types of people, epochs, living situations, employment and work where we see burnout: Sameness. Monotony. Repetition without variety. This is clearly a feature of what causes me to burnout. I don’t think it’s sufficient to cause me to burnout, but it’s definitely necessary.

If I can change this feature, for whatever-it-is that I’m approaching burnout with, I can avert the catastrophe. When burnout approaches, I’ve tried planning, thinking that wrangling with the process to reduce the cognitive load might help. I’ve thought that better planning—break this huge long thing into manageable steps—would give me space and energy to recharge. But this never works. The long slog which I can clearly see, after I do a bunch of planning, simply makes the onset of burnout accelerate.

Instead, if I figure out how to bring novelty into the mix, that seems to always work. (I say “seems” because, although I cannot think of case where it did not work, I’m a pragmatist.) Often this works if I simply find the aspect of whatever-it-is which represents the biggest amount of work, and delete that. Whatever-it-is was going to slump to non-existence anyway, when I burnout, so I may as well cut to the chase. I find that having stripped away something that I thought was essential, whatever-it-was turns out to contain a little nugget of, “huhn, that’s interesting.”


When thus prepared

And when you are thus prepared and thus trained to distinguish what is not your own from your own, what is subject to hindrance from what is not, to regard the latter as your concern and the form as not, and carefully keep your desire directed toward the latter, and your aversion directed towards the former, will there any longer be anyone for you to fear?

~ Epictetus


When do you stop?

I’m away at a parkour event this weekend, lots of walking and playing and jumping. One session was a discussion of fear, and of consequences. And one particular question for discussion was, “When do you stop?” People raised lots of ideas—good ideas, wise ideas… lots of things I was in agreement about.

But I was also thinking, “Wait. Why do I have to decide that?”

I know I’ve certainly faced decisions about stopping. Work, play, relationships, sports, parkour practices (ask me about the time I climbed across a train station outside of Paris,) … yes, deciding if, when and why to stop is an obvious question.

If I think about two paths—perhaps diverging in the woods, if you like that imagery—an hour’s hike along the path of one choice, I might decide I’m going the wrong way. There’s one of those when-to-stop decisions. But the mistake was an hour before, where the paths diverged.

This business venture: what if I had truly been committed, and had planned clearly the way we’d know when to stop? The question is gone. This relationship: could it be planned, or could two people be so honest, that the question doesn’t appear? This parkour jump, at the end of an exhausting day of training: why am I standing here, right now? If I’d planned better, could I have gotten all the same benefit, but a few minutes before right-now, I’d have moved to something else?

Might it be possible to still have challenge, commitment, growth, love, spontaneity, and humor… without ever having to decide, “should I stop this now?”



Most of us are content to live in a world where time is simply what a clock reads. The interdisciplinary artist Alicia Eggert is not. Through co-opting clocks and forms of commercial signage (billboards, neon signs, inflatable nylon of the kind that animates the air dancers in the parking lots of auto dealerships), Eggert makes conceptual art that invites us to experience the dimensions of time through the language we use to talk about it.

~ Ahmed Kabil from,

Thinking about the nature of time always feels like trying to find the other edge of the Mobius strip. At first, I’m mildly excited to be reminded of such a simple thing. It’s such an interesting thing to think about. I go around and around trying to grasp different time scales, and the entire expanse of time. But soon I realize that I’m really only thinking in circles. Is there a takeaway beyond, “being mindful is good”?

Or does simply performing the awareness of time and the circular thinking, somehow reset—or recenter, or realign?—my thinking? Reset my thinking in the same way that one resets the drum-brakes on your car, by backing-up and then braking firmly causes the drum brakes to adjust their grip on the brake cable.

Also, see other branching from when.


Who. What. When.

An embarrassment of riches swamps me. I have so arranged things that everywhere I turn I find inspiring ideas, growth-catalyzing goals, and outlandish opportunities.

This morning I tenderly cracked open a new-to-me book, (Community: The Structure of Belonging by P Block, 2nd ed., 2018,) and inserted a bright blue, ribbon bookmark. I turned past the first page, then past the second page, and read the dedication:

To Maggie — In appreciation for your commitment, intelligence, love, and integrity that make what I do possible. You are a placeholder for all who give their talents and love in support of others. Your question “Who will do what by when?” changes the world.

~ Peter Block, ibid.


I have never had that particular formulation in mind. But I’ve had that sentiment as a driving force for decades. Thank you “Maggie” and Peter Block for making something so long fuzzy for me, perfectly clear.

Yes, indeed! Who will do what by when?


When in doubt

We once spent 7 years remodeling our house while living in it. *shudder* Note to self: Don’t ever do that again. In such a journey, you must learn to navigate a precarious balance between perfection, and omgbecky just get it done! Reflooring the entire house? …maybe lean toward the former. Gutting the only bathroom to subfloor and bare stud walls? …maybe lean toward the later. (Ask me in person and I’ll tell you some stories.) But there is a huge swath of work that falls in the middle area.

“When in doubt, rip it out,” became my matra in those years. Yes, we could fix, cover, repair, patch, shift, or ignore whatever-it-was. And we’d then forever live with the fixed, covered, repaired, patched, shifted, or… well, you can’t ignore it forever. So any time there was doubt, we ripped it out. Dug it up. Tore it down. And then—as time, energy, and money—were available we did it the right way. Or at least, the way we wanted it.

This principle works spendidly too for things other than one’s physical domicile. “What would be the right way, or at least the way I’d want it to be?” will lead you on a journey of exploration.

What’s the right way to repair the crown wash atop our chimney?

How should I convey all these features, benefits and doo-dads to new community members?

How should I organize this book I’m writing?

What would whatever-this-is be like if I did it the Right Way(tm)? …why is that the Right Way(tm) and what if I did it differently?

…but this is actually a post about my slipbox. I’ve not posted recently about it, and it continues to grow. Mostly I continue collecting quotes. But the main part of the slipbox is growing slowly as well. The topmost-level numbers are major divisions, conceptually. “4” is a hierarchy of analects. (I’ll pause while you search.) And “2” is for books.

Any time I want to refer to a book, I add a reference like, “(2b2)” on a card. I had setup the 2nd-level-letters to be MDS leading digits. So that’s a reference to the 2nd book in the 2b section. The point isn’t to understand the structure, when I see a reference… I can just go find the slip. I’m simpy explaining how it was setup. When I set it up, I thought a structural organization would be the way I’d like it.

I was thinking I’d put notes about the books elsewhere in the slipbox. Turns out I’d rather keep a few notes directly “under” the slip for the book itself. But that means I can’t easily find Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow—great book by the way. I have to go find its MDS number and then go into that slipbox section. So yesterday I pulled all the slips out of the “2” section and redesigned the entire thing.

“When in doubt, rip it out.”

The section is now simply organized by title. That book is now under “2to1″ —”to” from the title, first book under “to”. But the first rule of a slipbox is that you cannot change the address of a card. Other cards likely refer to it. And my blog posts have slip addresses on them. And I have digital documents with slip addresses in the names.

So I spent hours hunting and searching through everything, updating blog posts, updating filenames of digital files, updating notations on slips, … hunting down the physical books and updating the notes I keep in the books. It was a big undertaking.

If you’ve been following along with my slipbox journey, you’ve seen me write about how the slipbox enables having a conversation… with the ideas in the slipbox. It sounds wacky, I know. But my experience yesterday showed me it’s true. Every idea, every slip, were mine originally—I put them all in there. But I had an entire day’s worth of new ideas, connections, rereading parts of books, making new notes, … it was totally worth every minute, (yesterday and to date creating the slipbox.)


Know when to punt

25 days ago I started a wee challenge: Trying to train every day for 100 days straight. I’d done this challenge in 2017 to mixed results. Physically it was mixed; training every day is too much and I ended up defining some recovery days as “training.” Mentally it was also mixed; I wasn’t trying to build a new habit, so the “daily” part didn’t work towards that, and it became a serious drag forcing myself to train every day.

When I finished the 2017 challenge I knew it sucked and definitely didn’t want to make that a thing I did often, nor even yearly. When 2020 rolled around—my physical activity was exactly as usual, with me outside doing various things just as much as 2019—but I started thinking about doing some more rock climbing (outdoors, on real mountains.) That prompted me to think about getting into better shape. For me, that’s primarily removing fat. For the first couple months I concentrated on diet, which means focusing on when and how much I’m eating.

After I peeled off 10 pounds of blubber, that’s when I had the idea to take on a fresh 100-days-of-training challenge. It was exactly what I remembered it was like: It sucks. In years past I would have just embraced the suck and pushed through the thing. Note that I would have constantly considered myself to be failing. Entirely missing a day here and there, realizing I need a rest day and defining recovery as training, and just generally nagging myself with, “I should go train.” Instead I simply punted on the whole thing and deleted it entirely.

…aaah, yes, the power of “no” when you have a bigger “why” burning inside you.

When’s the last time you punted on something?


Knowing when to stop

This editing continues until the painting is finished. The criterion for what constitutes a “finished” work is reaching the stage at which you are no longer sure whether applying additional changes makes it better or worse. So there is a real possibility of making things worse than they were by not stopping at the right moment. Incidentally, this is the main argument for taking frequent breaks from your work, even at the risk of interrupting a flow state. Doing so allows you to take a more detached, if not completely objective, look at the current state of your work and thus avoid making costly mistakes.

~ Peter Oshkai from,

This is a brilliant way to tell when to stop.

I also believe that stopping while in the flow state is a good way to set oneself up for the next working session. I call it “parking on the hill”—which is a reference to strategically parking one’s car, nose downhill, on a hill so that it can be jump-started using the manual transmission. When stopping a work session, it’s obvious how to pre-position all the physical materials, the space, etc.. But stopping mid-flow also means, in my opinion, your mind is “parked on a hill” as well.


Hey remember that time when…

Do you remember how you felt, and what you said, when you were trying to put forward the best version of yourself to win someone’s amorous attention? Really think about that for a minute.

Now, presuming you are lucky enough to be in a relationship at the moment—perform the following exercise:

Sit down with that person and start bragging about all of your shared stories as if they were things you did before you met them…

“One time, I went to the Grand Canyon in the winter and saw the most awesome snow squall blow up the valley!”

…then they counter with, “Neat! I once was strolling up a side street in Paris and I stumbled over a famous bakery that I’d read a book about—the Madelienes were to die for!”

“Wow! I once saw the sunset from the top of the Tokyo tower and then ate the best sushi…”

“I was in Trafalgar Square for Guy Fawkes night and then I went and listened to a Vespers concert in a church…”

“omg that reminds me I saw the Salisbury Cathedral and had this conversation with a random person who was crazy-passionate about how they built the cathedral…”

“…huh, I once hiked miles into the forest, to the top of a mountain in Kamakura Japan—oh, the mist and the wind and the trees where amazing.”

“wow! I spent a week in the French Alps with a couple of the people who created Parkour—except that’s not what they call it…”

“Really? I once rented a car and drove all over the Cottswalds in England…”

“Neat! I took a road trip to Boston and walked the entire Freedom Trail and had a picnic lunch at Bunker Hill in the shade.”

…and so on and so on.

Let me know how it works out.


When it’s permanent

Anyone who must in some sense bet on ideas rather than merely commenting on them has similar incentives. Which means anyone who wants such incentives can have them, by turning their comments into bets: if you write about a topic in some fairly durable and public form, you’ll find you worry much more about getting things right than most people would in a casual conversation.

~ Paul Graham from,

I’ve previously talked about several reasons why I blog, but this article by Graham reminds me of another: An incentive to be honest.

What I write here is going to hang around for a while. (At least, that’s my plan.) I’m enticed to think a tad more deeply about things before I share them, select a quote or add my commentary. I’m only writing for myself, sure, but I’d like to look back years hence and find on balance that what I wrote was reasonable and useful.

How about you?


When no one can take your time

When nobody can take anyone else’s time through a system, people end up with more time to themselves. When you have more time to yourself, you end up doing better work and more work. You can get a lot more stuff done in a given day than maybe you could in another organization that has six times as many people but 20 times as many meetings, 30 times less time during the day to yourself. So we try to avoid anything that breaks days into smaller and smaller chunks.

~ Jason Fried from,

There’s a critical bit of culture however which must be in place it to work: People have to know their responsibilities and have to “pull” work towards themselves. Everyone has to know their own area and has to take responsibility. This is very different from the usual [that is, dysfunctional,] workspace where everyone shows up, and their boss—or worse, everyone—tells them what to do. In the team where people take responsibility and take work, everyone has to understand the mission. Everyone has to understand the vision of what they are trying to co-create. Everyone hast to empathize with their teammates.


When is the last time you did nothing?

Blaise Pascal famously said that all human miseries arise from our inability to do this. But I think it’s really just an unwillingness. He’s right about the arising miseries though—not knowing how to deliberately do nothing is a crippling disease that leads to bizarre, self-defeating phenomena like workaholism, cigarette smoking, rude smartphone behavior (see below) and eventually war and pestilence.

~ David Cain, from

Not to be confused with, “doing something that doesn’t advance you towards a goal.” That’s still doing something. A lot of people spend a lot time doing all sorts of that busy-nothing; I see you on the street, in your car, at the cafe, the glow of the TV in your homes, and I can tell by the words that I overhear that all that stuff is important to you. There’s a good book, What Makes Your Brain Happy: And Why You Should Do the Opposite, which I offer for your consideration.

No, I’m asking about “doing nothing” as in sitting, or perhaps lying down, and being fully aware of the reality around you. For many years, I ran in terror from doing nothing. I ran to my todo lists or my goals or my habits designed to improve my life or my TV or my fiction books…

I started by intentionally setting out—if even for a few minutes—to do nothing. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at it these days. What I’m currently practicing is learning that doing nothing is the good stuff I should not feel guilty about.

Why not go do nothing right now?


When to quit

The next time you’re feeling stymied and frustrated, look at the clock. When is your best time to create, to analyze, to think? Is it early or late? Are you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?

~ Angie Flynn-MacIver, from

I often feel my entire existence is a vicious cycle of plan, plan, over-plan… until I rebel against the self-imposed structures and tear down all the walls and systems. But one thing is ever present: I never know when to quit.

I should amend that. Until very recently, I never knew when to quit. That does not mean I now always know when to quit, and it certainly does not mean that I do quit when I should. But every once in a great while, it occurs to me that now would be the perfect time to stop.

Way too often I feel I don’t have the time to do something at the right time and try to just jam the square peg in. One more task before dinner. One more thing to organize before this. One more thing. One more thing. One more thing.


When the power goes out for good

The power going out in my apartment was refreshing for that few moments only because I knew it was coming back. There was never any question about that. It’s incredible, the confidence I have in the power coming back on. I have more confidence in the power coming back on than I do in my promise to myself to go running three mornings a week.

~ David Cain from,

Wow, that truth stings.


Only when you breath your last

Lectures and learned seminars and sayings culled from the teachings of philosophers and educated conversation do not reveal the mind’s real strength. For speech is bold even where the speaker is timorous. What you have achieved will be revealed only when you breathe your last.

~ Seneca


When it gets hard

The road to success is through commitment, and through the strength to drive through that commitment when it gets hard. And it is gonna get hard and you’re gonna wanna quit sometimes, but it’ll be colored by who you are, and more who you want to be.

~ Will Smith