If I had a clone

I only wish for more hours in the day and a clone to do adulting chores while I enjoy [insert speaker’s preferences here] without interruption.

Who hasn’t expressed such a sentiment at one time or another? I certainly have, and it’s a pleasant diversion to imagine being unloaded of all the small stuff that seems to weigh me down. There’s plenty that can be said—and which I and others have already said—about the importance of the smaller things and “adulting chores”. But today I’m going in a different direction.

When that sentiment comes to mind, I use it as a thought experiment: If I had a clone, that would then obviously be me. It would be literally this same me that I am today. This same me, who doesn’t want to do those small things and adulting-chores. How do I expect to be able to convince the clone to do all the stuff I don’t want to do? If I could convince the clone, I’d be able to convince myself. So I set about thinking about how to convince the clone.

Because then I’d be happy to get that stuff done, wouldn’t I?

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Pseudo-Depth

The bottom line is that if you’re intrigued by depth, give real depth a try, by which I mean giving yourself at least two or three hours with zero distractions. Let the hard task sink in and marinate. Push through the initial barrier of boredom and get to a point where your brain can do what it’s probably increasingly craving in our distracted world: to think deeply.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2015/12/12/deep-habits-the-danger-of-pseudo-depth/

My mind loves to wander off. It often wanders off to familiar ideas. Ever have a small burr on a finger nail? You fiddle with it slightly, scuffing it with another nail. Some thoughts feel like that in my mind. Not a problem exactly—not bad enough that I’m going to get up for the nail file. But, none the less, there is this idea yet again. My fascination with rock climbing is one such idea. Why, exactly, does climbing fascinate me? I’ve spend many a CPU cycle recursively interrogating this question.

Upon reading Newport’s post, I find it has pointed me in a direction I’d not previously seen: Is it the deep focus found within the pursuit of rock climbing which draws me to it?

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Time spent organizing my time

Something organized people don’t often talk about is how much time they spend organizing their time.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2015/11/03/spend-more-time-managing-your-time/

Guilty as charged, Your Honor! So today, something a little lighter than usual—I think?—with a few snapshots of how much time I spend organizing my time.

It is an exceedingly rare morning that I don’t spend about half an hour planning out the day. This little block of time begins with “surfacing:” Ducking into all the many online mediums where I am present, and—this is very hard—not engaging, but skimming over things to see what rises to a level of getting my attention today. Many productivity sources and guides suggest doing this at night, at the end of your day, but that does not work for me.

Every Monday I take an “administrative day”—the entire day. I stuff the day full of all the random things of life. Any errands to run, laundry, lawn mowing if I can, bookkeeping (literal banking and accounting and such). I do my best to resist doing any real work. I do anything like changing the bed linen, or high dusting the house, or stacking firewood, or changing a flat tire on my bike, …anything that I would consider “not important” …except of course if I never got around to doing it, then it’s a critical disaster …that’s “administrative day” stuff. This isn’t exactly time spent on organizing, but still.

I use sophisticated planning/project-tracking software, called OmniFocus, to manage a lot of stuff. (Things from recurring daily things, to true projects that have many steps and milestones and due dates.) Every two weeks—on an Admin Day!—I spend about an hour just going through every nook and cranny of my OmniFocus. (If you’ve read Getting Things Done, this is part of the review process.) I tend to ruthlessly delete stuff in an effort to combat my incessant tendency to take new things on.

At least once a month—again, on an Admin Day—I do the same sort of “look through every nook and cranny” review of the Basecamp system that is used for one of the companies I’m part of. Sometimes I can do that in 5 minutes, sometimes I’ll spend hours on it.

At the least organized end of the spectrum, (yes, my time spent managing my time comes in a spectrum of how organized it is,) I often—maybe twice per month this happens—will go off, (as in “off the deep end,”) and outline some project that I’m considering doing. I’ll whip out my favorite outliner, OmniOutliner, and do a brain dump of some project. This can take from 5 minutes to an hour or more depending on what I’m thinking about. Quite often, I’ll then simply set aside some awesome idea that I don’t have the time to execute, or the resources to have it done under my direction. I used to think this was wasted time, but it is the only way I can get things off my mind: When it pops up later, I either think, “I already did all the thinking,” or I go back to the outline and tinker some more. (What remains, forever, is just to squash the recurring lizard-brain fear of missing out by not executing the project.)

So let’s see, how much time is all of that combined? I’m awake 16 hours a day, but realistically, only half that time could ever be used to some specific end. So 8 hours a day of “self-directable life”. 1 out of 7 days is an Admin Day… 1/7 ~ 0.1428… The rest of that stuff might—maaaaaaybe, but probably not—eat a second day’s worth of each week . . . 2/7 ~ 0.2857…

So in response to how much time do I spend managing my time? I’ll say:

15 to 30% of my entire available life.

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Start where you are

If you’re trying to get to the beautiful lake or beach and you’re caught in the weeds, ignoring the weeds and their constraints will produce nothing but desperation and angst. You first need to know what weeds you’re in, and how to get unhooked from them.

~ David Allen from, https://gettingthingsdone.com/2018/06/starting-with-where-you-are-not-where-you-should-be/

Of course this insight is blindingly obvious once you see it.

…and I distinctly remember what it was like when I hadn’t yet seen it. I can’t quite put my finger on an exact year, but I remember a feeling—or rather a few feelings and things which kept happening to me:

I was often late.
I was often tired.
I was often bored
…and then suddenly realized I’d forgotten to do something that I had felt was important.
Chaos.
Disorder.

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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, https://gettingthingsdone.com/2018/05/gtd-and-stress/

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.

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Open loops

Jot down every loop that opens; whether it comes via email, or a phone call, or a Zoom meeting, or Slack. Because these loops might emerge rapidly, use a minimalist tool with incredibly low friction. I recommended a simple plain text file on your computer in which you can record incoming obligations at the speed of typing (a strategy I elaborate in this vintage post).

Then, at the beginning of each day, before the next onslaught begins, process these tasks into your permanent system. In doing so, as David Allen recommends, clarify them: what exactly is the “next action” this task requires? Stare at this collection before getting started with your work.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/07/23/on-confronting-the-productivity-dragon-take-2/

This two part process is the backbone of how I get things done. When I find I have too many ideas rattling in my head it’s time to do a bunch of “capture.” One’s mind is for having ideas not for holding them. I prefer to write things down rather than using a digital device. Yes, my phone [at least] is very often at hand—but I’m a digital import, not a native, so thumb-typing is torture.

Everyone agrees that capturing everything—whether digital or analog, notes, meeting minutes, thoughts, doodles, lists, everything… Capturing everything is important and useful.

But almost everyone has not fully apprehended that second part: Process that collection from yesterday. Every day review all the “captured” stuff and brutally assess it. Can I just ignore it/cross it off as done? Can I put that onto some other list (groceries, errands, etc.)? Why did I capture this? …is it a dream, a flaming urgency, something I want to think more about?

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Intention

Here’s my uneducated hypothesis: the childhood politics of trying can leave adults with the habit of sometimes engaging in tasks without a real intention to complete them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/07/dont-try-intend/

My attention has been drawn to “intention.” I’ve now read and heard, from several sources I consider fonts of great information, that intention is the key to having your efforts yield what you actually want. I’ve started trying to figure out what actually is my intention in conversations, blog posts (meta!) emails, coaching, etc.. I’m definitely onboard the intention bandwagon.

There’s a fine hair to split—in my opinion—regarding what exactly does setting, (and then remembering and staying true to,) one’s intention accomplish? Let that sink in for a second. When we talk about intention, we’re talking about something I decide in my mind before I take action. What exactly is that historical decision supposed to do? I don’t think it creates motivation, nor does it sustain motivation I get from somewhere else.

I think it is simply a compass. Once I’m neck-deep in the swamp of doing the thing and the alligators are sliding from the banks into the glassy water… it gets hard to remember why I was draining the swamp. (Feel free to craft your own metaphor if you don’t like my alligator-laden negativi-tea.) A glance at my compass— A glance at my intention instantly reminds me: Alligators be damned, I was intending to … and by George I shall so endeavor!

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Some thoughts on file organization

Within the team that creates the Movers Mindset podcast, we assign numbers to our projects. We use “R42” for our 42nd recording project, then R43, and so on. This enables us to start naming things from day one, in a way that we don’t have to change later. If you’re putting your files in a folder, what would you name it, that you could be sure wouldn’t change?

We also use our podcast’s initials on file names, “MM.” When we see files whose name contains, MM-R42… we know what it belongs too. It’s part of the Recording-42 project for Movers Mindset.

We also exclusively use people’s family names on files. So a raw WAV file from an interview is 20200423-MM-SMITH-TR1.wav … April 23, 2020 recording for Movers Mindset, of someone named “Smith”, and this is track one [a recording from one microphone.] 20200423-MM-SMITH-TR2.wav is track two, and so on. No matter where you toss that file, it’s going to make sense.

Eventually, a recording project might lead to one (or more!) episodes of our podcast. They get assigned episode numbers, EP56, EP57, etc. Then we have filenames like MM-EP57… and it’s always clear what that is.

Sometimes we have a dozen files to keep track of in a podcast episode and we end up with
20200423-MM-SMITH-TR1.wav
20200423-MM-SMITH-TR2.wav
MM-EP56-INTRO.wav (introduction recorded after interview)
MM-EP56-OUTRO.wav (outro recorded in post production)
MM-GCORD.wav (a little music ‘button’ used when joining bits of interview)
…the final episode is then MM-EP56-SMITH.mp3

Since I’ve typed this much, here’s another thing we do: We use consistently numbered folders to store the files. Every project has a folder, 2020.04.23 Bob Smith R42/EP56 — we create 2020.04.23 Bob Smith R42 in our archives when we do the raw recording, and at the very end we add the /EP56 to make it easier to find things. In side each project we create five folders 1 assets, 2 recording, 3 episode, 4 publication, and 5 social — the leading number ensure they sort in nice order in various displays. 1 contains anything the guest gives us (photos, writing) or any photos we take during recording. 2 is the raw original recordings, 3 is everything to make a podcast episode (intro, outro, whatever we have to assemble, AND the finished MP3), 4 is anything we create as part of publishing the episode (transcript, articles, highlights ) and 5 is anything that’s ok for social media and sharing. And then we have a multi-terabyte file server with a “few” files on it:

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I am the elephant

Ever since I first read these words, they stuck with me as useful for understanding the working world in particular. The whole edifice that we now call “productivity advice” distills, I realized, to instructions for cajoling the elephant. If you’re not firm, it’ll do what it wants to do.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2014/12/07/deep-habits-never-plan-to-get-some-work-done/

Plan? Do? Chaos? I get so swept up in systems that sometimes I just bridle and rebel. I think the problem comes up when I have too many systems that don’t have an end goal. My systems are supposed to make the space for me to get real things done. But if all I have is ongoing systems of the busy-work that’s supposed to make space, then I rebel. Because I also need real projects. I want to spend as much of my time as possible getting real things done. Real things for which I have real reasons for wanting to do them. And those real things require real planning.

Generally, I don’t have a problem with over-planning; I can do a tremendous amount of planning, but experience shows that I always do better if I resist the urge to begin… start now! Take action! It’s always better if I resist action, instead doing a brain-dump session and then setting the whole thing aside. When I return later, more ideas flow and more planning ensues. Maybe a third session. Maybe even a fourth.

Meanwhile, the elephant dozes as I plan surreptitiously.

Ever notice that the “doze” in bulldozer is the exact opposite of the elephant’s? Eventually, the planning reveals a beautiful domino setup, and it’s time to awaken the elephant who easily bulldozes them one by one.

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