Minutia

Sometimes it’s nice to come to a complete stop and notice the details. This photo was taken a bit off the more usual paths in Muir Woods in California.

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Bashing against the resistance

… Resistance is natural, just a sensation in the body that is a response to change, discomfort, uncertainty. Our minds have a hard time dealing with these things, because we like routine, comfort, certainty.

Here’s the thing: the resistance isn’t always at a constant, full-on intensity. Resistance ebbs and flows. 

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/resistances/

Steven Pressfield also writes a lot about resistance. (For example, see his book, The War of Art.) The approach he advocates is one of showing up and doing the work. He has a lot of good advice around preparing for the inevitable arrival of resistance, and even goes so far as to consider it a necessary evil; it’s a thing within each of us that cannot be avoided and which must be faced in the process of heading the call of the work.

Maybe.

Me? I’m just exhausted from should’ing on myself.

These days, I’m definitely in a Leo-zen phase where I’d like the path of least resistance. My personal challenge is not that I’m going to get sucked into video games and sit around all day. My personal challenge is that I’m going to bash myself on the task-of-the-day one time too many… or a thousand times too many. For me, the path of least resistance is obviously still a path towards the goal; I still have goals and I cannot help but choose paths towards those goals. I’ve permanently ingrained the habit: Here’s an idea. Here’s the goal. Here’re the first 10 next-actions. I’ve got that. Can’t avoid it. I could never not do that.

But do I take those next-actions now… like, right now? Perhaps it would better to relax doing nothing for a bit, and take those next-actions tomorrow? …or maybe even next week?

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How to communicate

You can not not communicate. Not discussing the elephant in the room is communicating. Few things are as important to study, practice, and perfect as clear communication.

~ Jason Fried from, https://basecamp.com/guides/how-we-communicate

This article explains how Basecamp—the organization itself—communicates. If you are a human being, who ever encounters other human beings, the initial list is a great primer on how to communicate. The whole article makes me feel warm and fuzzy. As if, somehow, the world would take a big step in the right direction if more people would read this one thing.

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A bottom-up approach

When you’re feeling overwhelmed about how much you have to do (and who isn’t, really?), it’s difficult to focus on ensuring your life and work is moving in the direction you want to go. That’s why it’s important to get control of your daily tasks before working on your big-picture life planning.

GTD is a “bottom-up” approach to productivity. The goal is to establish a sense of comfort and control over the work that’s on your plate right now, so you can free up some mental energy and space to think about the big stuff.

~ Josh Kaufman from, https://gettingthingsdone.com/2010/07/10-big-ideas-from-gtd/

I have a few posts tagged Getting things done if you want to learn more. But this little article—it’s almost a listicle—has a nice list of 10 key points about the Getting Things Done system.

You know those questions, “If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?” I used to say something trite like, “I wouldn’t because all my mistakes made me who I am.” I’m changing my tune: I wish someone had BEATEN me over the head with a copy of the GTD book the day it was published in 2001. I was long out of college, and well on the road to who I am now—granted I was still going downhill. But if I had found this stuff in 2001… There’s a reason this is one of the books I keep extra copies of on hand to give to people.

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Ernie Pyle

What I love about Ernie Pyle (and Bill Mauldin) is that they were indefatigable champions for the man on the ground. The WWII infantryman was part of a breed we don’t have any more—the citizen-soldier. Like the Greek farmer-hoplite who took down his spear and breastplate from above the fireplace and marched off to defend his city, the American citizen-soldier had no fondness for war, yearned only to get it over with and get home—but he answered the call and delivered, as Ernie Pyle did and as he describes so eloquently in the passage below.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2011/08/the-god-damned-infantry-by-ernie-pyle/

[presented without comment]

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Why, on balance, I don’t use Slack

Someone asked me if I knew where the Slack was for such-and-so project. I said I didn’t know, but that I knew one did exist. I felt compelled to explain that I walked away from Slack entirely, but I couldn’t explain why succinctly. Next time this happens I can just link here. :)


What’s wrong with real-time chat?

I believe attention is one of your most precious resources. If something else controls my attention, that something else controls what I’m capable of. I also believe your full attention is required to do great work. So when something like a pile of group chats, and the expectations that come along with them, systematically steals that resource from me, I consider it a potential enemy. “Right now” is a resource worth conserving, not wasting.

~ Jason Fried from, https://m.signalvnoise.com/is-group-chat-making-you-sweat/

Slack is a stream of real-time communication. I don’t work that way. Yes, one can tune and configure just how/when/how-much the Stream from Slack interrupts and notifies you. But I prefer zero unexpected interruptions.

Here are three articles against Slack:

Productivity is best achieved through focus and flow, and anything that takes you away from your focus goes against productivity. So, Slack — which is built as an internal, real-time, “always on,” multi-channel system with notifications — is distracting by design.

~ Dvir Ben-Aroya from, https://medium.com/swlh/why-slack-will-never-replace-email-873a20856716

…in your 20’s you work by brute force, in your 30’s you find ways to work more efficiently, in your 40’s you see the horizon and think on more of a magnitude scale.

~ Kiki Jewell from, https://medium.com/@kikiorgg/why-slack-sucks-for-older-people-and-young-people-have-something-to-learn-8866a25e9951

With Slack I can either be there, being pinged regularly with company wide updates, updates for a channel that was relevant three hours ago but not now, questions from other users they could otherwise figure out but decide are easier to ask me; or select Do Not Disturb mode.

~ Christopher Batts from, https://medium.com/@chrisjbatts/actually-slack-really-sucks-625802f1420a

…and to be fair, one talking about some situations where it might be useful:

At one extreme are interruptions where your attention is demanded on the spot. These sorts of interruptions include a phone call or someone walking into your office. At the other extreme are interruptions that occur only on your time, email for example. Ideally all communication would occur over email (and not just to limit interruptions), but we do not live in an ideal world.

Slack and other similar tools fill the space between someone standing in your office and email.

~ Michael Atwood from, https://medium.com/@mdatwood/slack-does-not-suck-ea166d8a2fb1

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An online advertising bubble?

The story that emerged from these conversations is about much more than just online advertising. It’s about a market of a quarter of a trillion dollars governed by irrationality. It’s about knowables, about how even the biggest data sets don’t always provide insight. It’s about organisations and why they are so hard to change. And it’s about us, and how easy we are to manipulate.

~ Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn from, https://thecorrespondent.com/100/the-new-dot-com-bubble-is-here-its-called-online-advertising/13228924500-22d5fd24

For years I’ve been beating the drum about how we individually need to take control of how we use social networks and the Internet in general. There’s still time for us to turn away from the dystopian future where everything has become an algorithm optimized for profit for profit’s sake.

I’ve long known that we are individually fighting an uneven battle. The companies running the social networks are using technology and psychology to manipulate us via our basic human instincts and our basic human cognition. (Each of us, thanks to our biology, has big, ergonomic, grab-handles enabling others to manipulate us.) I think it’s possible that we can each practice using our rational minds and make good decisions; It’s possible, but all evidence shows it is not likely. Meanwhile, I continue to fight the good fight. Those of you reading, seem to be similarly interested.

This article planted a new idea in my mind: The dystopian future is made possible only because someone is paying. We, individually, are not paying. (Reminder: We are the product being sold to the advertisers.) Every single pixel on every single social network is powered by advertising revenue.

What happens if the companies paying to advertise online realize that advertising online doesn’t work the way they think it does?

Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat? …perhaps.

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Enough already of having the dial at 11

This is the fear, when people start being kind to themselves — that they’ll be too soft, they won’t get stuff done, they’ll let themselves off the hook too easily, they’ll just lie around doing nothing.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/kind-done/

There was a time, not too long ago, when I felt this way. I had the work-ethic, grit, stick-to-it-iveness, determination, bull-headed, finish-all-the-things dial twisted to 11 and covered in duct tape.

I believe I have learned the lesson. We’ll see what 2020 brings.

I’ll know I have it sorted when it only feels like an “idea” to tackle some new thing, help someone do something, implement some idea, accept a new challenge… When it feels only like an idea, rather than an urge like an addict has urges.

…because ideas I can say ‘no’ to.

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It’s only five sentences!

As Vonnegut said, if you can’t write well, you probably don’t think as well as you think you do. There was something about a particular project that wasn’t clicking for people. I couldn’t describe what was wrong—why I couldn’t communicate clearly. The more I talked to key confidantes, the more I tried to explain it, and the more I listened, the more convinced I became that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I didn’t have something straight in my thinking. So I asked for a meeting of minds to craft a clear explanation. To write it clearly, I believed I would need to clarify my thinking.

Four people sat down to write a better description of a project. It took over four hours to write five sentences. They’re not particularly complicated sentences. The affect—the change in my perspective, the things I now see have been done wrong and need changing… The affect is vertiginous. I’ve begun sharing the sentences with key confidantes. I’m letting them set and I’m picking them up at intervals to see if their power persists.

Forget about my five sentences.

What’s something you could solve, improve, or take to a new level if you sat down and crafted five perfect sentences?

Could you do it in four sentences? …how about three? …two? …what about one?

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Solvitur Ambulando: It is solved by walking

A few years ago, I read an article, Walking, by Steve Kamb about walking to Mordor and I set out to walk the round-trip 3,871 miles.

It’s 1,779 miles to get from Hobbiton to Mt. Doom. Then riding the eagles back to Minas Tirith cuts the return walk to Bag End down to 1625 miles. Plus 467 more miles, roundtrip to Grey Havens. Brings my total goal to 3,871 miles. This is roughly the entire length of the Nile river, or the distance from the surface to the center of the Earth. (Mid 2019 I’m a few hundred miles from Mt. Doom.)

https://constantine.name/2019/06/23/§10-walking-to-mordor/

As best I can tell, in 2014, I had already started walking the ~4-mile round-trip to my office, and I was using walking in general to improve my fitness for some specific parkour events I was planning to attend. When I found this challenge, I looked back through all my journals and estimated how far I’d already walked. In November 2016, when I took up the Mordor challenge, I noted that I had already walked 124 times for a total of 496 miles.

As I mentioned, walk number 500 turned out to be just 8 miles short of Mt Doom. But really, I’ve only been estimating my mileage based on measuring some common walking routes and counting the walks. So this is an amazing confluence of walk-number and mileage. So at this point, I’m going to stop keeping track of the mileage. (I do still keep track of general activity each day, so I still note “walk” when I do so.)

Take-aways?

Well, I think it’s amazing how far you can get—figuratively and literally—with small daily progress. Also, I think it’s very good for me mentally, given where I am at the end of 2019, to stop tracking this goal. It makes for one less thing on my mind.

I’m hoping that walking is now a way of life. I will note that I think absolutely nothing of walking a few miles. I’ve walked miles with a 40-pound backpack, (in minimalist sneakers.) I’ve walked 2 miles carrying 20 pounds of vegetables farmer-carry-style. I’ve fixed my back. I’ve fixed my feet.

Walk on!

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