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


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,

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”?


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,

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.”



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


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,

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


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

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…


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,

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!


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

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.


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.


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


Festina lente

From the Roman historian Suetonius, we learn that festina lente became Octavian’s motto. Octavian, making Athenodorus’ influence clear, “thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness.” His favorite sayings were: “More haste, less speed”; “Better a safe commander than a bold”; and “That is done quickly enough which is done well enough.” The first one is rendered simply enough in Latin that it’s worth saying again: Festina lente. Make haste, slowly.

~ From

I’m taking up the phrase Festina Lente, (make haste, slowly,) in place of “unrestrained moderation.”

There are countless examples of this idea throughout history. The archetype is, I think, “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” Perhaps, “festina lente,” though, is the archetype? …or maybe the original Greek? Anyway.

I’m trying to keep it in mind as a touch phrase for those moments—say, when I’m literally knee deep in tree trimmings stumbling around my yard, exhausted and I should quit soon before I get hurt… “festina lente.”


The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

If success is a catalyst for failure because it leads to the “undisciplined pursuit of more,” then one simple antidote is the disciplined pursuit of less. Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.

~ From The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

This is insightful, useful, wise and directly actionable.


Getting Less Done

My touch-phrase for 2019 was, “no.” In terms of self-imposed stress and crippling depression, 2019 was the worst year ever; I’ve more than 10 years of journals and I’ve checked. 2018 was bad, but 2019—the year I set out specifically to reduce the problems—was definitely and significantly worse than 2018.

I remain convinced that it is not possible to optimize one’s way out of burn-out. If I have 500 things I want to get done and I’m burnt-out, the solution is to reduce the number of things, not get better at getting things done. I’m speaking from personal experience, not from theory.

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

In 2019, the “no” touch-phrase was meant to guide me to developing the habit of saying no to things coming towards me. A huge amount of ideas and opportunities come at me, and I’ve gotten much better at saying, “no.” (I’m not quite ready to say I’ve gotten “good” at it; but I’ve definitely gotten better.) I’ve gotten better at evaluating Big Asks from the world, and saying, “no.” A textbook example of that is people/groups which reach out to me, asking for my input or participation.

“No, I do not have the time to do that well.”

“No, I cannot to do that the way it deserves to be done.”

…and so on. Note particularly the absence of the societal lubrication, (a.k.a., the usual lie,) “I’m sorry, but…” Because, I’m not sorry. I’m defending myself, and I’ve reached the point where if my candid, timely, and honest response feels like a wack on the head… Bummer. Life’s hard; get a helmet.

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

In a previous post (on my personal blog) I mentioned the idea of leverage; positing that I should focus on asking myself, “how much leverage does this opportunity afford me?” This still doesn’t feel quite the right fit for 2020 because leverage per se isn’t a value I’m interested in maximizing.

So that leaves me where?

2020 has to be the year of getting less done.

GLD — Get less done.

Maybe that’s the touch-phrase for 2020?


Meta: I had posted this in the Movers Mindset Forum early in 2020. But, for some reason I cannot fathom—perhaps it was simply an oversight—I didn’t post this here on the ‘ol blog in very-early 2020 when it was written. ;)

Bad planning

It’s a long to-do list that doesn’t translate into action. A spreadsheet where you gather information in order to forget about it. A long chain of thought culminating in an epiphany that goes nowhere. An argument about an issue that you never work on directly.

Bad planning like a belief in telepathy. It makes you feel like your private thoughts can change the world. The quintessential example? A college humanities essay that gets read by the student, the professor, and nobody else, but which the student remains proud of for the rest of their life.

~ “AllAmericanBreakfast” from,

Planning, todo list management, goal setting… for me it all comes down to beginning with the end. What does “done” look like? What would a solution to this problem look like if I had a magic wand? When this is done what effect will it have [on me or the world]? Far too many people struggle with lists, and with getting things done—also with Getting Things Done. The real challenge is to figure out if the idea you just had pop into your head… is that a how to do something, or a what [as in, a goal] to do? If you have a how you really need to figure out that what. Because otherwise…

How are you going to figure out why you are doing anything that you are doing?


Wherever I go

Your freedom will not come from trying to ignore all the “stuff” or by trying to complete everything—it requires truly detaching from it.

~ David Allen from,

Detaching from all the stuff is a linchpin behavior for me. Wherever I go, there I find myself; if I want to not be swept away by all the stuff on my mind I have found exactly four things which work:

  1. Sleeping — This however is cheating. This is being unconscious and is simply a form of escape. Depending on what’s on my mind, and how poorly I’ve physically set myself up, (alcohol, caffeine, food, etc.,) sleep may even not be an option.
  2. Distraction — Visual entertainment switches off my brain. Movies, streaming TV, etc.. 100% waste of my life… but it’s an escape which does work.
  3. Focus — I can sweep away the crush of things on my mind if I’m sufficiently focused. Rock climbing, (not just the time literally climbing, but the entire day and experience of it,) is great for this. Lots of other activities indoor, (reading in various mediums and writing,) and outdoor, (walking and biking for example.) This is in fact, still a form of escape from the things on my mind.
  4. Capture and process — This is the only thing I’ve found which works for me. To be clear, a single idea had in a flash might require two full waking-hours days of capture and processing for me to fully flesh out the idea. If there’s even the slightest nook or cranny left unexplored, my broken mind will snag on that like a nick in a fingernail. Harmless, but very very repetitive redundant and repetitive.

I really hope you have no idea what I’m talking about here. If you do, I offer my sincere condolences.


Closed loops

The point of life is not to get things done. But life is better if you are able—at your own pace, if and when you want—to get things done.

Aside: In addition, other people will like you if you are also consistent and reliable.

The point of reviewing what I’ve captured is two-fold. Get everything done, (some of which I may have freshly captured yesterday.) But also to not do things. Yes, it’s delightful to finish something; it’s delightful to close a loop. But it’s also delightful to simply not do something. I have countless ideas, and the vast majority of them get captured… and then summarily deleted to be not done.


I try to forget my ideas

Keeping track of project ideas, in my experience, is usually a waste of time. I used to fear that if I didn’t capture and review my sparks of brilliance I’d forget them and an opportunity for impact would be lost.

The reality, however, is that most people (myself included) have waymore ideas for things to work on than they have time to work. Forgetting ideas is not your problem. Having too many ideas competing for your attention to execute any one well is a more pressing concern.

~ Cal Newport from,

In the beginning I didn’t try to do anything with my ideas. Even though—my mom may disagree—I had mastered bathing and dressing, I was still under the false-impression that my mind was for holding ideas. It’s not good at that. Actually it’s terrible at that.

It took me a few decades to figure out— …honestly, I never did figure it out. Rather, I started reading a bunch of stuff about how to get my arse organized, and started to write things down. College helped. 43 Folders helped, a lot. Reading Getting Things Done made the final pieces click into place.

Whereupon I entered the Second Epoch of Craig. At this time I dutifully studied, and earned my title, Wizard of Process and Organization, with a specialization in Internet Dark Arts. Do not meddle in the ways of Process and Organization Wizards; we are quick to anger and you are tasty with ketchup. As you can tell, I completely lost my marbles in the process. Near the end of this Second Epoch I reach the epitome of my list-building, (and project management setups, and universe-domination plans.) I was completely drowning in over-planned, over-committed, over-stressed, over-organization.

Cue, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and the dawning of the Third Epoch of Craig. Wherein I straight-up deleted most of my lists of ideas and plans. The really important stuff continues to live in my level-37 wizard process-management systems. I know they’re working when I forget they’re working and yet things magically appear when I need them to.

Ideas are worthless. It’s execution, (plus luck, and timing,) that makes them valuable. I’ve a few ideas that I cannot get out of my head. Those are the ones I’m working on in an attempt to make them go away. But it’s a good day any time I can manage to just forget about some idea having blissfully done nothing with it.


Quitting at quitting time

The best thing you and I can do at the end of the writing day is to stash our work gloves in our locker, hang our leather apron on a hook, and head for the workshop door. If we’ve truly put in our hours today, we know it. We have done enough. It won’t help to keep at it like a dog worrying a bone.

~ Steven Pressfield from,

…and similarly:

I’ve recently learned that “inertia” as a word, was first applied to the cosmos during a fairly recent philosophical shift in thinking. People like Copernicus were looking at the cosmos and used “inertia” to point out the universe’s inherent, not-alive property; as in, the cosmos possesses inertia, the property of being inert. Newton’s idea of inertia, in the sense that slow moving dump trucks have a lot of inertia, aligns with the idea that the inert cosmos resists. It resists starting and it resists stopping. Newton’s equation, “F=ma” is a result of inertia; If (F)orce is zero on the left, then (a)cceleration is zero on the right. If acceleration is zero, then velocity remains constant.

Aside: “velocity” is speed, “how fast?” and direction, together as one property. Turning a corner in a car, at the same speed, is a change in velocity. To do so requires force from the steering tires of the car. The steering wheel is simply a well designed control for applying lateral force to the front of your car to control your velocity without changing your speed.

Where was I? …oh, right! Inertia. The cosmos. Back to it…

The inert cosmos resists starting and stopping. But I am not inert! I long ago recognized that when I was not moving—figuratively speaking, moving by being engaged making progress toward some goal… When I was not moving, then I needed to do something to get moving. I needed to start, and realizing that I was bad at starting, I needed to practice starting. Okay, did that.

Unfortunately, I have created a new problem: I don’t know how to stop. It turns out one really needs to also be able to start and to stop. Now that I’ve mastered starting, I can finally begin to learn to stop.

<sarcasm>And surprise!</sarcasm> F=ma. Starting and stopping are equally difficult.


Start before you are ready

It’s Einstein’s principle of relativity: all points in the universe are created equal. “There’s no need,” Patricia teaches, “to find the right starting place.”

~ Steven Pressfield from,

After considerable consideration, I remain unsure what to think of, “start before you are ready.” I agree with it, in the sense of one’s needing to avoid the opposite behavior: Never actually starting because one is busy preparing procrastinating. If Pressfield’s admonishment to, “start before you are ready,” gets you around procrastination, terrific!

However, I have a different problem: Taking on too much. At this point in my insanity, I’m desperately trying to insert an emphatic “wait, no, don’t!” in front of any urge to start any project. But my thinking becomes circular. What if all the things I’m doing—which I’m trying to avoid starting… What if all the things I’m doing are actually just me procrastinating. What if there’s some other thing that I do need to “start before I am ready,” but I just don’t see what that is yet?

Are you starting? Are you procrastinating? …how do you tell the difference?



I’ve touched on the importance of focus frequently. Today I just wanted to remind myself of two ways that I often lose focus.

First, shiny-distraction syndrome gives me the urge to try all the things, do all the things, build all the things, fix all the things, improve all the things… This does not end well for me. I’ve been getting much better at sitting with, (as Leo Babauta would say,) the urge to chase the shiny thing. Like a dog being trained to resist an urge; OH A SQUIRREL! …no, sit! …wait …wait (the squirrel moves out of sight) …good boy!

Unfortunately the second way I lose focus is pernicious; I’ll call it shifting-sands syndrome. This happens when I decide to take something on—maybe it’s something small, maybe it’s big, whatever, it’s something I feel moves me towards some goal. “Ok, yes, this is a good thing to work on. This is definitely not shiny-distraction syndrome. I’m in. Let’s do it.”

And then someone else moves the goal posts.

I fall for this all the time. It’s like the sunk-cost fallacy. “I was going to do 42 units of life-energy-work, what’s 2 more?” Hey Craig! I’ll tell you what 2 more is: 2 more is 44 units. Stop and think! Don’t make the decision based on, “it’s only 2 more.” Rather, I need to start over: What’s the task/thing/etc., how much work is it (now 44 units, not just 42), do I want to do it, is it worth it, and so on.