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. ;)

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 :)


You know what you should do?

Years ago, I would often say, “you know what you should do?” followed by some suggestion. When I started reading various things in the, “having skin in the game,” vein, I realized how useless—annoying even—my suggestion were. (For example, to a café owner, “you know what you should have on the menu?” is not going to be useful.) Over time I came to understand that it’s only in areas where one has deep knowledge are suggestions going to have any chance of being useful. (Don’t confuse that with observations—”the door to your bathroom is broken,” is definitely useful to that café owner.) By paying close attention to when I heard myself say, “you know what you should do,” I slowly learned to keep such comments to myself.

Aside: I wedged in a new behavior, as a sort of software interrupt. When I feel the urge to say such things, instead I find a compliment, swap out that text, and then resume speaking. If you’ve ever heard me seemingly-randomly whip out a compliment—to a waiter, to a shop keeper, a manager—that’s often, (but not always,) what just happened.

Unfortunately, although I made great strides in reducing the advice-giving all I’ve actually done is narrowed the area where I give advice. In too many instances I’m still trying to exert my influence. Then when things invariably, (since it’s not my thing it’s someone else’s that I’m giving advice about,) don’t turn out as I wanted I get frustrated. Go figure.

Note to self: Continue to root out the urge to exert influence.



All outcomes are manifestations of forces that are at work to produce them, so whenever looking at specific outcomes, think about the forces that are behind them. Constantly ask yourself, “What is this symptomatic of?”

~ Ray Dalio from,

This is pretty much the zero-th rule of being a rational agent. (But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bear repeating.) The post from the Farnam Street blog is simply a long list of quotes from Dalio. It’s a great list, and it’s assembled in the context of leadership skills. This one, (quoted above,) in particular speaks to me; speaks to me like a drill sergeant. “What is your dysfunction?!” Anyway.

Once I started practicing being rational—yes, emotions are real, they are important, they get their due… But once I started intentionally practicing using rationality as a tool I made huge strides in self-improvement.


Learn something worthwhile

Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.

~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.7

Serious work

Well, then, are we teachers the only idle dreamers? No; it is you young men who are much more so. For, indeed, we old men, when we see young ones at play, are keen to join in that play ourselves. Far more so, then, if I saw them wide awake and keen to join us in our studies, should I be eager myself to join with them in serious work.

~ Epictetus

Unrestrained moderation

I’m finding myself draw to this phrase. It’s clearly messing with me; At first brush it might seem to be an oxymoron. However it depends on which definition of “moderation” I choose. If moderation is something I have—say, I am moderate in my opinions—then that moderation simply is. That moderation is neither short nor tall, slow nor fast, and neither restrained nor unrestrained.

But if moderation is thought of as an action—something I am doing continuously, like running or living or talking—then it can clearly be done to different degrees. My running can be slow or fast. (Technically, my running is uniformly slow, but bear with me for this simile.) My living can be conservative or outlandish. And so my moderation can be restrained or unrestrained. Currently, my moderation dial is turned to about, 2; Picture me knocking on the control panel asking, “Hello? Is this on?” I need to twist that moderation up to 11.


Stop drifting

Stop drifting. You’re not going to re-read your Brief Comments, your Deeds of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the commonplace books you saved for your old age. Sprint for the finish. Write off your hopes, and if your well-being matters to you, be your own savior while you can.

~ Marcus Aurelius from, Meditations 3.14

Normally I would simply let a quote from Aurelius stand on its own. If you’re not familiar with Meditations—Aurelius didn’t choose that title for what he wrote, it was added to his work much later—it was a collection of writings he meant only for himself; this is the emperor of the Roman empire remonstrating himself.

Here’s a second helping of remonstration: Explore. Dream. Discover.

I write this blog for myself. (And no, I’m not laboring under the delusion that I’m creating a work for the ages like Aurelius’s, Meditations.) But I am simply pleased if you, Dear Reader, find my ramblings interesting. I am genuinely delighted if anything I write stimulates your thinking. I am downright ecstatic if any of my questions catalyze your changing the course of your life.

Do you read regularly, and what have you chosen to read with the aim of changing the course of your life?


blog by a Stoic

Stoicism has long surged in times of difficulty—the decline and fall of Rome, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil War, depressions, and periods of strife because it is a philosophy designed for difficult times. It says, in effect, you don’t control these alarming events going on in the world, but you do control how you respond. And in fact is a framework for responding with courage and virtue, and with the good emotions that accompany and sustain them: joy, caution and well-wishing. None of these inspiring figures were guilty of emotionless acquiescence.

~ Ryan Holiday from,

I’m certainly not going to transform my blog to be entirely about Stoicism. Not because others have already done so—others have, and have done it better than I could—but rather, simply because this blog doesn’t actually have a specific purpose. It’s simply one long stream of consciousness where I’m leaving a breadcrumb trail of my thoughts. That being said…

Stoicism is turning out to be a powerful toolset; an excellent fulcrum for leveraging change in my personal life. Over several years, I’ve become increasingly interested in it, and have read slowly, but steadily. Very recently, I started a morning practice I’ve labeled “philosophical reading.” It’s simply some time set aside in my mornings to read and reflect on philosophy.


What do I control?

Nothing has all of the ingredients for the emotional breakdown recipe quite like a pandemic-induced global shutdown. Lack of face-to-face socializing and general social isolation? Check. Financial uncertainty and mass unemployment? Check. Lack of regular exercise, sunlight, and access to basic necessities? Check. High uncertainty of one’s safety and security in the near future? Check. Tons of free-time to refresh news feeds five thousand times per day? Double check.

~ Mark Manson from,

If ever there was a yawning opportunity to backslide on all the things I’ve changed in recent years—setting aside time for reflection, reading, boundaries with television and food, habits of movement and exercise, how I use the Internet (it no longer uses me,) writing, recording podcasts, … If ever there was a yawning opportunity to backslide, this current shift is it.

I still have people I care about. I make decisions about my health. I make choices using my mind by applying reason. I balance conflicting demands for my time and resources. Certainly, most of the day-to-day details of life writ large are different. But all the things which begin this paragraph remain unchanged for me.

WAIT. Why did I start with pointing out there’s a yawning opportunity to backslide, if I’m saying nothing has changed?

…because the rest of world has relaxed what it expects from me.

Think about that. If I veered and: stayed up late binge-watching Netflix, didn’t get up at the time I normally do, didn’t shower and shave when I have video calls, didn’t act professionally, etc., people would let it slide. Right? The world is facing a global crisis, so it’s ok to relax the standards.

Instead, I’m raising my standards for myself. Now, just when everyone else would be happy to give me more slack, I’m renewing my efforts; Do I really want to do this (whatever-it-is), or is there a better way I can spend my time right now? What relationships do I nurture, and which do I sever? What have I been reading? What have I been creating; does what I create build the world up or tear it down?