Getting control of mornings

Staring this month, I’m making another large change to how I’m structuring my mornings. For as long as I can remember I’ve woken up about 5:30. There’s variability, but it’s a rare morning if I’m not actually awake, vertical and puttering towards my desk by 6:00. Unfortunately, for what might be two years now, what I’ve been doing upon reaching my desk has been an every-morning battle between my intention, and what I had actually set myself up for.

My intention was: Do self-focusing, restorative things. Meditate, some movement [yoga, mobility, etc.], maybe a quiet podcast, then do my reflection reading, and write in my journal. Then “surface, ” which means waking up a computer and checking in on a variety of places—multiple email programs, web sites, etc., to get a pulse for what today looks like. Checking the calendar to verify appointments, calls, etc.. And then, at 6:30 exactly, Tracy and I would have a quick morning meeting to compare our days. We’d discuss the day’s activities, meals, chores, our respective meetings, etc.. Each morning I make up a very crude, quick listing of things for the day, in a very small notebook that I carry around. But what actually happened was that, because I use a program to track everything, and I need to look some stuff up to fill out my little notebook to start my day, I’d end up starting by just peeking into one or two things… and bam! It’s 6:30 meeting time. Dammit.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I must begin the morning without any devices. (Pretty sure that’s safe to do without checking with my doctor, since it was fine for the first 25 years of my life, right?)

Have our evening meeting, figure out the basic layout of tomorrow, and jot my notes in my little notebook. In the morning, get up, gather my coffee, and start my day with the little notebook. No phone for podcasts, nor music… just me and my notebook. We shall see.


That’s not what I had assumed

Khan’s first powerful victories came from the reorganization of his military units, splitting his soldiers into groups of ten. This he stole from neighboring Turkic tribes, and unknowingly converted the Mongols to the decimal system. Soon enough, their expanding empire brought them into contact with another “technology” they’d never experienced before: walled cities. In the Tangut raids, Khan first learned the ins and outs of war against fortified cities and the strategies critical to laying siege, and quickly became an expert. Later, with help from Chinese engineers, he taught his soldiers how to build siege machines that could knock down city walls. In his campaigns against the Jurched, Khan learned the importance of winning hearts and minds. By working with the scholars and royal family of the lands he conquered, Khan was able to hold on to and manage these territories in ways that most empires could not. Afterward, in every country or city he held, Khan would call for the smartest astrologers, scribes, doctors, thinkers, and advisers—anyone who could aid his troops and their efforts. His troops traveled with interrogators and translators for precisely this purpose.

~ From

My understanding had been that Khan was a slew of things—vicious, ruthless, indefatigable, insatiable—which I’m certain I’d picked up through osmosis from countless small direct portrayals and indirect mentions I encountered randomly. I try not to rely on entertainment to be educating, but I hadn’t looked into this larger-than-life historical figure, and had wound up ill-informed.

This piece from Farnam Street goes on to talk about humility. I don’t think anyone would have used that word to describe Khan. But it does make sense! What would someone who is humble do? (Click through. Click through!) They’d be continuously learning and always open to new ideas. They’d be searching for people who can teach them things. Sure, Khan went a step or three further to burn, pillage, etc. But he also did that continuous-improvement thing.


Possibly worthy of a tattoo

As usual, I was reading a “this day in…” journal entry of mine, from a too-recent year. I found one of my unfortunately-too-frequent pages of pissed-off scribbling. And just smack-at-the-bottom was this:

If something is important, DO IT NOW,

Clearly that’s a kissing-cousin to the Eisenhower “method”. Partly, I like to sprinkle in Wikipedia links to see how easily you are distracted. But more so in this case, because it isn’t even Eisenhower’s idea.

Where might I tattoo this? I was thinking directly on my corneas would be a good place; The first half on one, the second half on the other. It would be like those “floaters” you find in your eye. It would be a true, subliminal message. (Grammar geeks: It would also be a truly subliminal message.)

I can think of no situation where that guidance would fail me, because the sub-text is: What, right now, is actually the important thing to do? Maybe taking a nap, or eating popcorn with a movie, really is important [for my mental health]. Or maybe the important thing is to up-end my day and go all-in helping someone do something.

Maybe the tatoo should be: IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Pop quiz: Grab a writing instrument and write, in cursive, the word, “scribbling.” For an extra 5 points, write in cursive—on the first try, without looking it up—the capitals: H, K, Q and G.


Tracking without judging

What has worked better is tracking behavior without particularly striving to change it. Rather than drawing a “good enough” line and striving to meet it, you commit only to tracking the relevant numbers -– dollars spent, calories consumed, miles walked, pages read. What you discover is that simply knowing this data changes what you want to do, so that you’re not constantly fighting with yourself. You don’t need to depend on winning endless should/shouldn’t battles in order to change.

~ David Cain from,

I believe this is true with one important caveat: The value you are tracking must be close to the actions. Allow me to explain…

If you track your weight, this will have little effect: When I pick up a cupcake, the scale is nowhere near—if I could think, “don’t eat the cupcake because weight loss,” then I wouldn’t be tracking my weight trying to affect my weight loss. But, “if I read for a few minutes now I can then mark off—right now—that I did some reading today. So, tracking, “ate more veggies,” works… or, “did something active,”…

Anyway, that’s been my experience. ymmv :)


What do you do while on the bench?

She didn’t recognize there was a bench in her life — and because she didn’t recognize the bench, she didn’t focus on the game playing out around her. In baseball there’s a location shift, from a player being on the field to a player being on the bench in the dugout.

~ Callie Oettinger from,

I don’t personally think of my life as if I’m sitting on “the bench” waiting to be tapped to go out and play in the game—but it’s a good enough metaphor, so I’m running with it today.

The question is simply: What do you do while you are sitting on the bench?

There are many other ways this has been phrased…

What are you doing, each day, to build an asset that will be useful to you later?

Or if you are in a creative arena…

What’s on your web site that shows me the work you’ve done?
What’s in your portfolio?
Who can’t stop talking about you?


P.S.: This question is part of my personal list of daily reminders.


If you’re the sort of person for whom success in life means stepping outside the comfort zone that your parents and high school counselor charted out for you, if you’re willing to explore spaces of consciousness and relationships that other people warn you about, if you compare yourself only to who you were yesterday and not to who someone else is today…

~ Jacobian from,

Wait. Wat?! Some people think self-improvement isn’t real?

I mean, if you are not using your rational faculties to improve yourself… Honestly, that’s redundant; How could one improve oneself without using rationality? I suppose one could just make random changes, (which seems to be what a lot of people do,) but as soon as you observe and reflect, then you are engaging your rationality. To be human is to be all the things the animals are, and to have the ability to be—to various degrees at various times—rational.

There’s a reason I really like the three words: Observation. Reflection. Efficacy.



I’m on a streak about my problems and weaknesses, and today I have another one: Incessant, incremental improvement. I need to learn that sometimes it’s best to leave well-enough alone. My drive for continuous improvement causes me problems in two ways.

First, not every conceived improvement turns out to be so in the end. It’s more like a random walk experiment; One step forward, one step forward, one step forward, two steps back! The setbacks stick in my craw and I get fixated on the thing I was tinkering with. I had good enough, better, ok wow, awesome… and the setback to ‘better’ just feels unbearable. My favorite though is the setback to now it’s totally broken.

Second, I expend huge amounts of mental effort and time looking for incremental improvements. I can take this quest to batshit-crazy levels. Sometimes I manage to see or experience something and not start thinking of ways to change it. Sometimes. It’s rare. There’s no peace nor serenity when your mind is always ticking looking for improvements.

As usual, more questions and observations than answers today.