What to focus upon

The practice is simply this: pause to consider what you’d like to focus on.

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

I’m great at focusing, but am weaker at intentionally choosing what I’m focusing on. I’ve no idea when I realized I was weaker at the latter point. While it’s clear I have a lot of habits and behaviors which work well to help me deal with the weakness, I cannot recall if those developed simply by trial and error.

One habit which works well to avoid disaster is dump it out of my brain into an outline. An emergency spillway prevents complete failure of a dam, but if water ever goes over the emergency spillway, something is terribly wrong. That’s me and brain-dump outlining. I flip my 40-minute sand timer and start a fresh outline, saving it to my computer desktop. (Aside: There is never anything on my computer desktop.) As I’m outlining, panic often nips at my heels. Eventually, I get most everything down. I find long strings of knock-down-doable domino tasks. And I usually find at least one Big Question buried in there.

And then I close the document. It’s cathartic. It’s as if, having written it down, it’s in some sense done.

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Clarity

Problem identification is always a sound investment of time, money, and energy. It feels uncomfortable to spend time and resources trying to figure out exactly what the problem is—we want to jump to fixing way too fast. Most of use are plagued with action bias and really struggle to stay in problem identification. I’ve found that getting clear about what’s wrong and why it’s a problem is the best investment you can make at home or work.

~ Brené Brown

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Macro versus micro

This is super important. Everybody’s impatient at a macro [level], and just so patient at a micro [level], wasting your days worrying about years. I’m not worried about my years, because I’m squeezing [everything] out of my seconds, let alone my days. It’s going to work out.

~ Gary Vaynerchuk

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Concentrate

Concentrate every minute … on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.

~ Marcus Aurelius, Med.2.5

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Favorable conditions

We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.

~ C.S. Lewis

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Disabusing myself

The truth is that there is no relationship between importance and urgency. Those are two attributes entirely separate from one another. So I’ve taken steps to disabuse myself.

~ David Sparks from, https://www.macsparky.com/blog/2021/7/important-and-urgent

I love the word disabusing. It makes it so clear: I am the source of my problems. Most of the urgency comes from my own false sense of urgency. Sure, some things are urgent—hey, dial 911. But I really wish I had learned this lesson long long ago.

One might even say that I have been abusing myself for quiet some time.

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Working with the garage door up

I’m not certain, but this probably will only make sense if you are a certain age, and grew up in a house with a garage. It doesn’t need to have been “dad’s garage,” nor a space dedicated to fixing things, nor even sheltered an automobile. No, it only matters that you grew up in a house with a garage.

There’s magic in having an indoor space with a concrete floor. A floor that clearly has taken a beating, and is ready for more abuse. A space with a slightly different sort of door dividing it from the soft and people-oriented rest of the house. A space where things were maybe a little less organized, but definitely were more out in plain sight. Maybe there was some sort of workbench? Maybe some tools. Maybe a lot of tools? Regardless, pretty much all the “where should we put this?” stuff wound up in the garage. Painting something? Garage. Taking something part? Not on the carpet! …in the garage. Fixing your bike? New wheels on your skate board? You get the idea. You either know what I’m talking about, or you don’t.

Did you do, whatever you did, with the garage door open, or closed? Weather permitting, throwing open that garage door was an invitation to the world—but hopefully, only the nice neighbors—to saunter up and at least watch. Turns out, that’s literally “showing your work.” A huge part of what I’m doing these days is working where I can be seen. There’s collateral recognition of course, but mostly it’s just scratching an itch to toss things on a workbench and throw open the ‘ol garage door.

If you know what I’m talking about, you can even hear that door opening.

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Merlin Mann

Some time around 2005—if memory serves, which it probably doesn’t—I discovered the work and blogging of Merlin Mann. Back then, he was neck-deep in a project called 43 Folders: Time, Attention, and Creative Work. It’s self-described as, “[a] website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.” The first post there is dated 2004, and the last is gloriously frozen in place from 2011.

There are so many things to mention about that project. Ahhhhhhh, the halcyon days when we all thought “website” was a cool word. (I’m now in the “web site” encampment.) Mann is the guy who, for better [my opinion] or worse [many others’ option], brought “inbox zero” to everyone’s awareness. He also spent years experimenting with processes, and I went on a magical, multi-year journey experimenting with something called the “hipster PDA.” If forced to choose, I’d say Mann is the guy who most greatly influenced my process thinking.

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.)

Well Mann is the guy who—in my opinion—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.

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Fan-boy mode, on

Neither our economy nor the demands of a life well-lived dictate that everyone should aspire to be sitting alone at a desk in rural Narashino, crafting literature to the light of the rising sun. My growing concern, however, is that such real commitment to thought has become too rare.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2021/06/16/haruki-murakami-and-the-scarcity-of-serious-thought/

I’ve read every post on Newport’s blog. I have both Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and Digital Minimalism is in my “priority” subset of my wishlist of books. (Yes, I am aware that I have problems.) But I’ll out myself: I’ve not read either of the two Newport books that I already have, and see no point brining the third into the mix until I do. But whining about my privileged-problem of having too many books, isn’t my theme here. Rather, I want to think about why is it “that such real commitment to thought has become too rare.” Because I totally agree that such is so.

(That’s all. I’m thinking about it, and now so are you.)

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