Time management

As addicting as it is, desire is the enemy to proper time management. Poor sleeping habits, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and just plain dissatisfaction are all byproducts of a poorly managed life.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://dailystoic.com/5-stoic-lessons-on-time-management/

Time management is the only thing—the only major skill critical for leading a good life… Time management is the only thing which no one ever attempted to teach me explicitly. Everything else was covered to some degree: science, religion, morality, philosophy, work ethic, hygiene, sexuality, language, geography, personal finance, and more, depending on how you want to subdivide all the stuff in my head.

Time management isn’t the most critical thing to know. Language and critical thinking are the top two, because with those two and sufficient time you can bootstrap everything else. However, things would be far better for everyone, if the third item on the list of must-have skills to be Human was a basic grasp of Time Management.

For me, I was trying to fix my sleep when it became obvious that I needed to arrange my day around sleeping. That lead immediately to an entirely new need for time management. “I need to be at work by 8,” is not Time Management (with capitals.) I then took a circuitous route discovering the needs and methods of Time Management.

But where do I wish I had actually started? That’s an excellent question. Right around 18 years old, I wish someone had handed me a copy of this tiny book: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by A Bennet.

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Practice practice practice

Depending on your own personal history, there isn’t necessarily a lot at stake in how you conduct yourself at a cash register. What I’m trying to get at with my idiosyncratic cashier-focused story is this: there’s a vast difference between the habit of getting by, and the habit of getting better, and you may, without realizing it, be free to choose between them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/02/getting-by-and-getting-better/

I’ve not gone down the exact same rabbit hole as Cain. However, being intentional with my work on the podcast interviews is amazing—it’s the same iterative path of discovery as he’s describing.

I’ve done well over 100 interviews—indoors, outdoors, quiet spaces, noisy spaces, while healthy, while sick-ish, with shy people, with insanely energetic people, during the day, at night, across sunsets with natural light, English-speakers and English-as-second-language speakers, old-ish, young-ish, men, women, couples, teams, while working alone and with an assistant, sleep-deprived and well-rested, with the occasional tech problem, in comfy chairs with tea, in an unpadded folding chair for 12 interviews in a row, well-fed and ravenous, . . .

None of that matters.

The conversations are always amazing. Time after time, once we get into the flow state, it turns out that people are interesting— most of the time surprisingly interesting. The more I work at this, the more I’m coming to believe that the art of communication, and in particular conversation, is the single most important skill for a human to possess.

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Single-serving sized visits with books

Imagine you have a book problem. (Don’t judge me, please.) You’ve read countless books. You’ve given away countless books in an attempt to get the foundation of your house to stop settling to one side. You’ve gone through your to-read book shelves and culled as many as you can bear over to the normal shelves, resigned to being okay with never reading them.

…and you still have hundreds of books that you really want to read.

There are two common ways that people recommend reading books: One-at-a-time, (whether thoroughly and carefully cover-to-cover or by breezing through them more quickly,) and multiple-at-a-time. In both ways however, you intend to pick some book and to completely, (whatever that means to you,) read the book.

I want to explain a third way: Single-serving sized visits.

Begin by allocating a set amount of time. Something like 45 minutes seems to work well for me, but it can be any amount that you can do in one sitting. Extra bonus points if you can make this a recurring thing you do regularly.

You will need post-it notes and a writing instrument. You will not need a bookmark.

You’re going to pay a short visit, (say 45 minutes,) to your book collection by picking one book. Take the book (and your post-its and your writing instrument) and head for your reading spot. (You do have a designated reading spot, right? :)

Spend 45 minutes reading the book however you wish. Skim it. Read the prologue. Dig deep into chapter 4. Start reading at page 88. Turn it upside down and read it [upside down] backwards. Whatever. If you really don’t like the book, you can walk out on the date and put the book on your read pile.

As you read it insert post-its…

  1. …on the upper edge of pages whenever you find a reference to any other book. It doesn’t have to be a book you have, or have read, or even want to read. Just start leaving “top” post-its referring to books. Write the name, (and author, etc., as much or as little as you like—”I have this”, “I want this book”, whatever) on each note.
  2. …on the outer edge of pages whenever you find something interesting. A quote, an idea, killer prose, whatever. Write a note explaining the reason you like what you’re noting, maybe try to position the post-it, and include a little arrow that points to the part—Or just a blank post-it, and write directly in your book if that’s your style.

After the allotted time, your visit is over. Put the book back, either in the to-read area, or maybe in the read-these area. (If you bother to distinguish.)

Over time, you will slowly get to know more and more of your books. You won’t feel like you need to read the books—you already know you can’t possibly finish them all. At least this way you’re going to have hundreds of great little visits with these ideas you’ve collected.

Over time, you’ll find more and more top post-its as you build mental links to other books. You’ll find all those side post-its marking ideas you like. You can also pick up a book and see what you think of it— I’ve never touched this book. [It has no post-its.] I clearly love this book. [It furry with notes.] When you want to recommend a book, you are likely to have post-its that have the good bits you’ll want them to see first. The top post-its are going to suggest other books in your collection you might want to visit next.

…and on and on.

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Put a price tag on it

Yet that insidious voice keeps whispering. “But this is an opportunity, man! You gotta network. Get out there! Everybody promotes their stuff. Be a pro. Seize the moment, dude!”

One way to look at it is through the prism of money. If someone wants you to do something and the remuneration is “exposure” or “opportunity” … you have answered your own question.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2013/01/opportunities-are-bullshit/

It’s important to learn to avoid the siren-call of such “opportunities.” I’m scare-quoting because, as Pressfield points out, they’re not actually opportunities. They are in fact a siren-call attempting to lure your ship onto the rocks. They’re a siren call because the message is exactly what you want to hear: “Your work is good. Your work is valuable. We want you to succeed.”

Actual opportunity sounds different. The message is just off to the side from what you wanted to hear: “What you’re doing is interesting. It makes me think of this thing I’m doing over here. It occurs to me that we might work together on it.” You’re left thinking about some interesting tangential idea. Instead of thinking, (as with the siren-call,) “is this going to be worth it,” you’re thinking, “that’s interesting, I’d like to be involved in that.” Certainly, true opportunities may come with money, but in your own thinking that’s an interesting nice-to-have; but it’s secondary. Take opportunities where the opportunity itself interests you. Don’t take “opportunities” where the potential, down-the-road benefit interests you.

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Banish distraction

You and I impose order onto our days not to make ourselves stiff or rigid or wooden but in order render impotent the pull of the superficial and the random and the current. We fix our attention not on the petty opportunities and emergencies of the day but on our inner Polaris, even if it’s something as humble as a kiosk business we’re trying to launch or a free app we’re aiming to design. We banish distraction so that we can address our call, our Unconscious, the summons of our Muse.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2013/03/a-natural-life/

Some days the call—the summons of the Muse—is pleasant and I skip through my tasks. Some days it is not. No matter how many times I study the lesson, it’s still hard for me to believe in what can be accomplished through small daily advances.

Increasingly, (compared to, say, 20 years ago,) my body doesn’t cooperate, and some days my mind doesn’t cooperate. But on balance, I can say I’m making progress on the things which are important to me. I don’t expect to finish anything—you should see the book collection, for example—and that’s fine by me.

Chop wood; carry water. (Read a book. Watch a great movie. Jump on stuff. Go for a walk. Mix and season to taste…)

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Do the work

She didn’t give me a chance because I was an “insider” or because I had the fire of an “outsider.” She gave me a chance because I did the work. When she was in on the weekends, she saw me there too. When she asked me to read something, she got a report on her desk the next day. If she took the time to solicit ideas from the window seats, I spoke up. I made an ass out of myself more times than I’d like to admit but I watched, read, and learned.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2013/04/insideoutside/

In all my years I’ve never worked a “real” job; I never had one of those corporate wage-slave jobs you may have heard of from the 80’s and 90’s. I had two, generic-type, hourly-wage-type jobs; one involving insane physical labor as a grounds-keeper on a golf course. I worked while in college, but only for the extra spending money, so I had the luxury of working jobs I wanted. Lots of people at those jobs helped me out, and lots of people have given me breaks along the way. Why?

Because I did the work.

I cut the edging of sand traps in the blazing heat, by hand, with a machete. I mopped floors, loaded and drove a delivery truck. Mowed grass, mucked horse stalls, loaded tons of paper into laser printers, read a room full of manuals, typed and then edited an entire book chapter full of complex math. Some things I did for money, some for favors, and some for fun. I put my back into it, literally and figuratively.

So now—on a Wednesday morning, relaxing before a fire, deciding what I will do today—I’m also thinking: Who do I know that could use a tip? Who could do wonders with an opportunity? Who could accomplish a lot if I just helped them get in motion?

Yes, each of us should seize the day, chart our own course, and begin now under our own power. But those of us in positions where we are able, we should be helping, nudging, pushing and guiding wherever our efforts can have outsized benefit.

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Excellence

… excellence is not a law of physics. Excellence is a moral act.

You create excellence by deciding to do so, nothing more. It doesn’t matter if you went to the wrong school, or were born on the wrong side of the tracks, or working the wrong job.

You go into the situation and you go the extra mile. Your decision. You own it. You own the potential downsides as well.

~ Huch MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2020/02/03/why-excellence-is-a-moral-act/

I have a hard time distinguishing when I’m in the pursuit of excellence from when I’m in the paralysis of perfection. In my mind I can see so many options, permutations and problems, and my thinking wants to race down every path. Which path leads to excellence? Which path leads only to perfection? I spent a lot of time—let’s say the ’90s and ’00s—checking every available path to see where they led.

But I don’t want to do that any more. Here are things I’m doing, and of course I’ll do them with excellence. And over there? Over there are the rest of the paths throughout the entire universe which I’m perfectly fine leaving to others. The universe did just fine before I was here, and it will continue to be fine after.

You know that great Robert Frost poem about two paths diverging in a wood? Turns out that it does not matter which path you choose… until you’ve gone so far down that path that you cannot return and go the other way. Only then have you actually chosen.

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I would dazzle you with brilliance

I like this life just the way it is,
And the castles all around me have been melting now for years 
And it kills my brain to think of all the time I wasted here: 
All the efforts, sweat and broken hearts, the screaming and the tears.

~ Danny Elfman from, Change on the album ‘Boingo’

Coherent words fail me, but I’ll try to convey this…

I came of age—cut my teeth so to speak—as Elfman… The Mystic Knights of the Oingo BoingoOingo Boingo… and eventually just Boingo… blew the doors off what I thought music could be. Some of their later stuff is on par with Pink Floyd. Your mileage may vary; haters gonna’ hate and all that.

Visions— not memories, but visceral visions— Visions strike me when I listen to this music, (not just Change but a lot of it.) Riding in cars and trucks as a teenager… Going to bicycle races (both to race and to watch)… Lots of hard work with a boom-box or headphones… I once drove fence posts, by hand, around a small field powered by Oingo Boingo… I once saw them perform in a tiny hall, god-only-knows-where, in Manhattan, maybe in ’91 or ’92… I still have an Oingo Boingo shirt from, it might be, 1990?, that was given to me as a gift… I even have the double VHS of their final concert—and I know of noone with a VHS player any more…

Oh, God, here’s that question now! The one that makes me go insane!
I’d gladly tear my heart out if you never change!
Never change!
Never change!
Never change!
Never! Never! Never! Never!
Change…

~ Danny Elfman

Great music. Great memories.

Who do you want to be today? Who do you want to be?

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Nobody cares

But won’t other people think I’m weird if I don’t drink? Will they think I’m a goody-two-shoes? A self-righteous killjoy?” Maybe. But I’ve found that those types are bores. So they’re not worth your time anyway. The GOOD news is that the vast majority of people don’t give a rat’s rear-end if you drink or not, if you order a salad or fries, or if your suit fits and your shoes are shined. They don’t care. We’re all wrapped up in our own little worlds that most people don’t even notice. You could walk into a fancy cocktail lounge in a gorilla suit, order a club soda with lime, and no one would notice you or your drink. And if they DO notice? I’ve actually experienced quite a lot of envy from them. Genuinely not wanting a drink is a bit of a superpower. That, and I get funnier and more handsome the drunker they get. Ta-da.

~ Joe Weber from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/why-im-thankful-i-had-a-drinking-problem-a-few-life-lessons-from-beating-the-bottle/

I haven’t linked to anything from Art of Manliness in ages. First, it’s not “manliness” the way you’re [probably] thinking—it’s about what does it really mean to be a man. 10-plus years ago, AoM in general was where I found a bunch of interesting articles that made me start rethinking, well, everything. So it’s fun to link to AoM just for nostalgia’s sake, even if this is a guest post. I digress.

The article is superficially about abstaining from alcohol, and more specifically about the author’s journey back from the brink of alcoholism. It’s got great anecdotes and advice. If you drink, (at all,) you’ll likely enjoy it. But more generally, abstinence is a super-tool for gaining control over anything. I’ve been using fasting and other restrictions to slowly gain control over my relationship with food. If there’s something you think you overindulge in, try flexing your abstinence muscles a bit. Works wonders.

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Stillness

I don’t agree with those who plunge headlong into the middle of the flood and who, accepting a turbulent life, struggle daily in great spirit with difficult circumstances. The wise person will endure that, but won’t choose it—choosing to be at peace, rather than at war.

~ Seneca

This is about choice, not about ability.

I am able to rush around accepting challenges, to fix things which are broken, to help people who seem in need, to build neat things out of bits of technology, to arrange little social events with friends or family rarely seen, to seek out new experiences, to try to do all the things…

But I’m slowly learning to choose not to. I’m slowly learning to choose peace.

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