Intentional action

Elsewhere I’ve talked about the Karpman drama triangle. About learning it’s not even actually fun to be the hero who rushes in. Rushing—doing something quickly sacrificing doing it correctly—is never the right choice.

The most exciting thing about professional project management is that it trades away excitement for systems thinking and intentional action. We make heroes out of people who show up with the last-minute save, but the real work is in not needing the last minute.

~ Seth Godin from,

Of course, we can delete the word “professional” from the above and it points to something we might choose to work on: If I’m late… If I’m rushing… If I’m “too busy”… Where exactly does that come from? Once I started look at my life this way, and started asking such questions, it didn’t take long to realize the problem was within myself. We choose to take on too many things. We choose to stretch for more connections, activities and things. The details differ. But it’s the same for each of us.


The good, the bad, and the ugly

I’m deep into NO!vember and of course the biggest reduction in overload is the practice of not adding more things. But I’m finding some snowball effect too: As I see the pile evaporating… as I’m not adding more things… I’m feeling more inspired and motivated to pick off one or two problem things.

One thing I will say about these lists: they are written as a way of fortune and future-telling and anticipating what a technology might do. But you often don’t know the answers to a lot of the questions until you adopt the technology.

~ Austin Kleon from,

Kleon’s post is a significant collection of things (people who’ve dug into technology, lists of questions as way to evaluate technology, and more) for evaluating technology. But this point he makes at the very end is critical: Sometimes, you just can’t tell until you try it.

I hate that about technology. In fact, I use it as a key test of my own. If I cant’ tell without trying it, then it’s not worth my time trying.


Could 1 be none?

There’s a mantra meant to remind one about being prepared: 2 is 1, 1 is none. If something is important, one should have a spare (the thinking goes.) Instead, I like to ask myself: Could 1 be none? So rather than doubling up the complexity by having 2 of something… And rather than just having one of something and hoping it doesn’t break (or even having a plan for when it breaks)… Could I just get rid of that one thing?

The larger the scale the more management becomes a stochastic job. It is impossible to know that everyone is doing the right thing all the time. We have to approximate it by randomly sampling the breadth of it. This is why dogfooding is so important. This is why skip-level 1:1s are so important.

~ Andrew Bosworth from,

I’m not a manager of people. But I am a manager of a lot of things, responsibilities, resources and goals. Your life may be similar. I’ve found that problems don’t fix themselves, and so I’ve a habit of immediately fixing problems. Or, at least adding it to the lists of things to get to. Quite often, when I start fixing (whatever that means in the situation) I realize the problem runs deeper. Quite often, when I find I’m ignoring, resisting, loathing, or outright complaining, about a problem… there’s something deeper going on. I start turning 2 into 1… And then could 1 be none?


What would make it amazing?

This process starts with identifying the things you want in your day, as if you were curating a small but thoughtful collection. What handful of things would make your day amazing?

~ Leo Babauta from,

Sometimes I’ve not the least interest, let alone hope, of getting to “amazing.” Sometimes my days are all spiders, paper-cuts, stubbed toes, and sepsis. And then I think: well, actually, what would it take to get to “amazing?” The answer is invariably two-fold: I would need to cut loose from something-or-other, and doing that would burn a bridge, (money, relationships, etc.) Then I waiver. Usually, I decide not to strike the match. But sometimes… I just want to strike the match and watch my world burn.



Rewriting [is] very painful. You know it’s finished when you can’t do anything more to it, though it’s never exactly the way you want it… The hardest thing in the world is simplicity. And the most fearful thing, too. You have to strip yourself of all your disguises, some of which you didn’t know you had. You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.

~ James Baldwin


Create a space

Today I’d like to share an idea for getting things in order: just as I recommend for decluttering your house, create a place for everything that matters to you.

~ Leo Babauta from,

When you first hear this idea—for physical things and for the things “in” your life—it sounds insanely hard. If you manage to push through that initial resistance you find out that the problem isn’t the things in, or “in”, your life. The problem is that you let them in. And then you realize, that you didn’t actually let them in, you invited them in.

For me, solving the problem is not about my ruthlessly removing things. (And to be clear, thoughts this post I’m talking about physical things that are around me, people around me, ideas around me… everything.) Solving the problem is not about my ruthlessly trying to keep things away. No. The real problem is to identify and then resolve the urge. The urge to want more. The urge to collect. The urge to—I think—try to fill some sense of need.


I over-complicate things

Hanlon’s Razor teaches us not to assume the worst intention in the actions of others. Understanding Hanlon’s Razor helps us see the world in a more positive light, stop negative assumptions, and improve relationships.

~ Shane Parrish from,

And there’s a rather long, (by Internet blog standards,) article after that opening paragraph. I read it. It resonates with me. It has heuristics and suggestions, points and counterpoints. There are some memorable quotes, including some famous Army General’s way of using the razor to categorize officers based on their combinations of traits.

But, being well aware of my title, I could just take the entire article and train of thoughts and teaching and simplify it to a pithy two-sentence reminder:

Don’t assume the worst intention in the actions of others. Instead, see the world in a more positive light.


Let’s grab a kayak

Let’s grab a kayak to Quincy or Nyack
Let’s get away from it all

~ Lyrics by Tom Adair

The secret to life, of course, is to first get away from it all, then grab that kayak. Because wherever I go, there I find myself. The things that one wants to “get away from” are all things over which you exclusively have control. That stack of papers that should be filed… This mountain of debt… That broken air conditioning… Even really hard things like mortgages, needy pets, frenemies, toxic family members… you are in control of how you act and how you assess those things.

Have you truly and honestly examined the things in your life which are weighing on your mind?

You have? Great! That’s the easy part.

The hard part? Let go. Toss things out of your life. Realize the hearse has no luggage rack. 15,000 years from now nothing you did or worried about will matter at all. You have exactly this one lifetime. Apprehend why each thing is in your life and appreciate it, right now. Build things up. Help people. Create. …we humans are creatures meant for social interaction, of course. But no regrets. No could’a should’a would’a.


Sedimentation and erosion

I have this image of our home as a bunch of related-rates problems: There’s inflow and outflow. Energy: In through my electric meter, out through lighting, waste heat and heating/cooling, water heater, etc.. Climate control: Heat flow in from heating/cooling system, the wood stove, the sun, versus losses through the attic, windows, doors, etc.. Mass: The balance of the rates of the flow of all the stuff.

Ever stop to think of that? Think of your home as a sealed balloon which has two, (or more of course,) doors, (garage doors count,) through which everything passes. Everything—no exceptions—passes in first, and then out second. Everything–every single thing, including the people–is only inside temporarily. The people come and go most frequently, (some pets might exceed some people I suppose,) and some things might remain inside for decades. But still, inside only temporarily.

You know that at some point you, (and everyone else if you share your home,) will go out for the last time. You might carry some things with you on your last exit, or you might arrange for someone else to come in, (and go out and in and out and in and out one last time,) to remove things after you go out for the last time. And of course eventually the entire structure will be removed and certainly at that point, everything you brought in—everything that was temporarily still inside—will go out at that point.

Where does everything you carry in from the market and grocery store go? Where does the furniture go? The books? The nick-naks? The packages and packing material from purchases? The clothes? The postal mail? The firewood you carry in is vastly more massive than the ashes you carry out; where does all that mass go?

Based on how the things around me make me feel, I know I have too much stuff. When I think of our stuff this way—as just a mass of stuff that’s temporarily inside our home—it’s much easier to keep my life under control. Too much stuff? …all I need to do is make sure more goes out than comes in, on average, and the problem will subside.

…and I can have fun with it. If something breaks, is worn out, or I’m done with it, that’s the outbound mass for today! Can I recycle this random thing? Can I FreeCycle this random thing? I no longer feel bad about sending things out, (wether that means landfill, recycle, giveaway, whatever… as appropriate.) Instead, I now find I feel bad about bringing things in. Each time I consider buying something, I think: Do I want to bring that into my life?

The feeling that you’re always behind on work

For example, if I’ve slowed down, I might take a look at my todo list for today … and realize that it’s a complete fantasy. I’m not going to get all of that done. Let’s move one thing to tomorrow, one task to a “Later This Week” list, and one to “Later This Month” (or even, “Do Next Year”).

~ Leo Babauta from,

I also suggest setting up a shortcut for doing this: I use the Delete key to move as many items as possible to my special “Do Never” list.

The real mistake is saying “yes” to too many things. I had to learn to be honest enough to say “no.” Curiously, the “no” feels harder because I don’t want to disappoint people. I used to do anything to satisfy people and to get my little dose of approbation. In fact, saying “no” is far easier than saying “yes.” Every choice changes your future options. Each “no” closes off just one thing, but it preserves space in your life. Each “yes” invites in one thing, but by allocating that space in my life, I’ve closed off a huge number of other things that I might have chosen. “No” is the small, easy choice that gives me the most flexibility. “Yes” is the huge, life-altering committment that closes off an infinity of other options.


Letting go of possessions

In theory, we can let go of every single possession. Sure, for practical purposes, we’ll need at least one outfit and shelter and a way to eat and use the bathroom. And even more practically, we’ll need a house and things to wear for a job and so on. But letting go of a possession that you don’t absolutely need for practical purposes is theoretically possible. So what stops us?

~ Leo Babauta from,

This skill—and it is totally a skill that I had to practice and practice and practice—is one I USED to struggle with. Years ago, it was definitely fear that was holding me back from letting go of possessions.

Today is it 100% the guilt that I do not want to incur by throwing things into a land-fill. I have a cubic yard of books… not worth a dime, and I’ve already spent a ton shipping hundred of books all over the world racking up points in—you want these books? I have TWO Davis Mark 15 marine sextants, …want one? I have a great chain saw that’s probably worth a couple hundred if I had a few hours to waste [I do not] dealing with idiots on Craig’s List. …want an old Jeep that’s fun to play with off road? …how about a perfectly working ink-jet printer? …a swage-fitting tool? …how about a one-hundred-year-old, fully restored billiard table?

I’m serious. Hit reply, or join the mailing list and hit reply tomorrow…


Royal road to simplicity

No character can be simple unless it is based on truth — unless it is lived in harmony with one’s own conscience and ideals. Simplicity is the pure white light of a life lived from within. It is destroyed by any attempt to live in harmony with public opinion. Public opinion is a conscience owned by a syndicate — where the individual is merely a stockholder. But the individual has a conscience of which he is sole proprietor. Adjusting his life to his own ideals is the royal road to simplicity. Affectation is the confession of inferiority; It is an unnecessary proclamation that one is not living the life he pretends to live.

~ William G. Jordan