Strategy

Most of us in life are tacticians, not strategists. We become so enmeshed in the conflicts we face that we can think only of how to get what we want in the battle we are currently facing. To think strategically is difficult and unnatural. You may imagine you are being strategic, but in all likelihood you are merely being tactical. To have the power that only strategy can bring, you must be able to elevate yourself above the battlefield, to focus on your long-term objectives, to craft an entire campaign, to get out of the reactive mode that so many battles in life lock you into.

~ Robert Greene

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This is the trick

Sanderson argues you should instead experiment to figure out what combination of motivation, and circumstances, and accountability work best for your particular personality. He responds well to tracking a daily word count in a spreadsheet. Others, he notes, thrive under the social pressures of a writing group, while others lean on deadlines to induce work. The key is recognizing that the urge to avoid hard things is human, and should be expected. It’s part of the process.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2022/02/25/brandon-sandersons-advice-for-doing-hard-things/

I’m filing this under “things I wish I had learned 30 years ago”. Some things I really track, and some things I just do whenever I feel like. One way or another though, it’s important that I be honest with myself. “Do I really want to do this?” …or do I just like the idea of being able to say “I did that”?

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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, https://www.artofmanliness.com/career-wealth/career/a-counterintuitive-cure-for-burnout/

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.”

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Priorities

Lack of time is lack of priorities. If I’m “busy,” it is because I’ve made choices that put me in that position, so I’ve forbidden myself to reply to, “how are you?” with “busy.” I have no right to complain. Instead, if I’m too busy, it’s a cue to reexamine my systems and rules.

~ Tim Ferriss

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Not grinding away

Critically, as Gribbin’s explains, during this period Galileo was also occupied in part by his success in “leading a full and happy life,” in which “he studied literature and poetry, attended the theatre regularly, and continued to play the lute to a high standard.” He was not, in other words, locked up, grinding away in relentless pursuit of results. Yet results are what he did ultimately produce.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2021/07/21/on-pace-and-productivity/

Everything wears down, wears out, and wears away. The light that burns twice as bright, lasts half as long. There are cautionary tales about the hedonic treadmill. The tortoise and the hare. The ant versus the oxen; I’ve always liked that aphorism from Lao Tzu.

Let’s grant that the ant walks a great distance, removes debris from the colony, and collects food for 10 ants. Meanwhile, the ox accomplishes nothing. But when he awakes refreshed from his nap, he can plow a field in a few hours. For comparison, how long will it take the ant to plow the field?

I’ve always liked that aphorism from Lao Tzu: It reminds me to always be the dozing Ox.

I am frequently asking myself two questions:

What would world-class look like?

Is this thing I just did world-class?

I may fall short— honestly I think I always fall short of executing world-class. That does not mean I stop asking those questions. That does not mean I stop trying. The mantra is not, “do more!” It’s not, “hurry up!” I am not alone in this thinking:

The constructive evaluation of activities, asset allocations, communications, policies, and procedures against purposes and intended outcomes has become increasingly critical for every organization I know of. The challenges to our companies continue to mount, with pressures coming these days from globalization, competition, technology, shifting markets, erratic economic swings, and raised standards of performance and production, making outcome/action thinking a required twenty-first-century behavior.

“What do you want to have happen in this meeting?” “What is the purpose of this form?” “What would the ideal person for this job be able to do?” “What do we want to accomplish with this software?” These and a multitude of other, similar questions are still sorely lacking in many quarters. There’s plenty of talk in the big meetings that sounds good, but learning to ask, “Why are we doing this?” and “What will it look like when it’s done successfully?” and to apply the answers at the day-to-day, operational level—that will create profound results.

~ David Allen, p272, Getting Things Done circa 1989

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Wrangling life’s admin tasks

Just as with job-related admin, “life admin” represents some of our least favorite, and most procrastinated on, to-dos. And yet completing them is essential to keeping our lives organized, functioning, and moving ahead.

~ Brett McKay from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-better-manage-your-life-admin/

A couple years ago I simply threw my hands up in the air and picked one day of the week which I’ve literally labeled as my “admin” day. On that day each week, I tackle everything related to life admin. It’s awesome; Stuff gets done.

But even better than that: It frees me on the other six days of the week. During the other six days each week, whole swaths of things are trivially lobbed onto the pile for the next admin day.

Try this: Pick a day of the week to be admin day, and start lobbing stuff to that day. Laundry, housecleaning… hell, I don’t even open postal mail until admin day. Pay bills, schedule things, shopping, errands…

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Ready. Aim. Aim.

If you’re holding back and looking for a reason why, and that reason is replaced by another reason, then… you might be stalling.

~ Seth Godin from, https://seths.blog/2020/11/are-you-stalling/

I’m sure I must have been stalling at some point in my life, but ain’t nobody got time for that now. Sometimes my stalling manifested as frenetic deck-chair arranging when I was actually stalling on the rudder improvement project. Sometimes it manifested as deep, pensive stretches of prodigious cogitation. Now I’m all like: Manifest destiny!

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Horizons of focus

Your priorities are determined from the top down—i.e. your purpose and values will drive your vision of the purpose being fulfilled, which will create goals and objectives, which will frame areas of focus and accountability. All of those will generate projects which will require actions to get them done.

~ David Allen, from https://gettingthingsdone.com/2018/12/the-gtd-horizons-of-focus-for-determining-your-priorities/

Thinking about one’s purpose is…

Okay, I generally try to dial down my vocabulary in blog posts. Not because I think you, Dear Reader, are dumb; I dial it down because I tend toward prolixity, pontification, posturing, and preaching. Things I’d be better a person if I did less of. But today, I feel irresistibly compelled to trot out vertiginous

Thinking about one’s purpose is vertiginous. When I sit still—physically and mentally still—as I do quite often, and climb the stairs to the highest view of the farthest horizon, the vertigo is physical. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? …or the hopefully smaller and more tractable: What is my purpose? I have no clear answer to any of those. But I have 100% absolutely for-sure take-it-to-the-bank found something that enables me to continue looking for answers…

Simply sit with the feeling and gaze at that horizon.

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What can be accomplished in a day

As usual, I’m forced to face the reality that what I want to get done, will never fit into my today. On one hand, it would be serene to have nothing that I wanted to do; it would be serene to simply “be” through the course of one day. On the other hand, there are things I would deeply enjoy doing which also generate benefit for myself, those around me, and the world at large. This creates tension.

The point of life isn’t to resolve that tension, but rather to live within the tension.

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One you can finish

The worker must be stronger than his project; loads larger than the bearer must necessarily crush him. Certain careers, moreover, are not so demanding in themselves as they are prolific in begetting a mass of other activities. Enterprises which give rise to new and multifarious activities should be avoided; you must not commit yourself to a task from which there is no free egress. Put your hand to one you can finish or at least hope to finish; leave alone those that expand as you work at them and do not stop where you intended they should.

~ Seneca, On Tranquility

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