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?



I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.

~ Haruki Murakami



Having priorities isn’t enough for me to end up sane. I’ve overcome the naive urge to line up everything into a single-file queue; That’s not how life actually works. Leaning into parallel-ism is the way. Social engagements bubble up on their own, and I lean into those whenever I can. Maintenance and administrivia need to be regimented and so I’ve process-ified everything so the important but not-urgent things get attended to. One must have the mental space—the ability to sit with one’s thoughts—to really think about life.

At the individual level, it is not enough to work on good ideas. You must only work on the best ideas. It is not enough to ask “is this good” you must also ask “is there something better?” As painful as ruthless prioritization is, it is not as painful as failing to do it.

~ Andrew Bosworth from,

Unfortunately, prioritization stands upon the idea that “best” or “better” have meaning. I have no interest in being particularly disciplined at anything. (Setting aside various comments people make about how much I get done.) I have no interest in doing what’s “best”. I have a moral compass I’m comfortable with, and I enjoy creating things (like great conversations).


Becoming a Supple Leopard

…is both the title of a book, and a thing I’d very much like to do. What’s stopping me?

It’s not genetics, because that only sets the boundary parameters. Sure, I’ll never literally be a leopard. But the set of genes I’ve been dealt seem pretty choice. Bonus, I can even change my genetic expression. So genetics is not what’s holding me back.

There are two things holding me back: My mindset and knowledge.

Mindset — I like to think of it like this: See this body? This is the body which results from all my choices and my mindset up to this moment. I don’t want a different body so that I can do this or that. (Well, I do but that’s exactly the problem.) Instead, I need to make better decisions. Here are a few ways that I use to steer my life…

  • “I’m not currently able to do that. To do that, I would first need to work on this, strengthen this, and learn this other skill.” (Never simply, “I can’t do that.“)
  • That isn’t a priority for me now.” (Never simply, “I don’t have time for that.“) Saying, “Sleep isn’t a priority,” or “Healthy eating isn’t a priority,” sorts my mindset out quickly.
  • “I am the sort of person who…” …is barefoot, until I have a reason to add things to my feet. …goes to bed early and regularly. …enjoys spending time preparing healthy meals. …is willing to say that isn’t a priority so that I can have a larger yes for things which are important to me.

Knowledge — There are many things which are a priority for me. Learning everything about each of the fields of human biology, physiology, kinesiology, nutrition, etc. is not a priority. I’ve made great strides in figuring out solutions to many of my problems, but it’s too enormous of a knowledge space for me to learn everything in every field.

Years ago (h/t Jesse!) I first saw a copy of Kelly Starrett’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard. It was an impressive book, and was well recommended. But I was still at a place in my journey where I wanted to carve my own path, and went on my way trying to figure everything out on my own. But no more!

Recently (h/t Andrew!) I was gifted a big, beautiful 2nd edition of the book. Which dovetails nicely with my no longer wanting to figure everything out on my own. So I’ve been diving into Starrett’s Becoming a Supple Leopard.

The third and most notable problem with our current thinking is that it continues to be based on a model that prioritizes task completion above everything else. It’s a sort of one-or-zero, task-done-or-not, weight-lifted-or-not, distance-swum-or-not mentality. This is like saying, “I deadlifted 500 pounds, but I herniated a disc,” or, “I finished a marathon, but I wore a hole in my knee.” Imagine this sort of ethic spilling over into the other aspects of your life: “Hey, I made you some toast! But I burned down the house.”

~ Kelly Starrett from, Becoming a Supple Leopard

I’m still reading the entire book-worth of information in the first part of the book. Plus, the middle parts are an encyclopedic compendium of gargantuan proportions with hundreds of mobility exercises. I skimmed through all of it, and resigned myself to never being able to try, let alone learn, all of them in a systematic fashion. Instead, in the back of the book there is a 14-day system for cherry-picking things to do, and that is the thing I’m digging into. In fact, I expect I’ll simply repeat the 14-day thing (changing what specific activities I’m picking) until I become bored or a supple leopard.

To make that a little easier, I made this PDF so I could print and write directly on it:


What scales

efficiency scales but isn’t memorable

inefficiency is memorable but doesn’t scale

~ “Gaping Void” from,

This post over on Gaping Void is a great tour of their illustration style. There are several fun and interesting take-aways from a podcast episode from a different favorite site of mine, Farnam Street.

The point (from Shah, in the podcast) about what scales and what doesn’t has always fascinated me. If I try to imagine how to build something (whatever it is) in a way that it will scale up to “huge” it never works out well. Planning for scale up front, involves huge amounts of time, and then huge amounts of building. Instead, I like to think of technology (or any system) as a force multiplier; can I, by my own linear work, do something whose affect can be multiplied through technology?


What does done look like?

And then they got home, and there were piles of tasks, emails and messages waiting for them. The urgency of those piles threw them off their best intentions.

The urgency of piles throws off all of our best laid plans.

~ Leo Babauta from,

If I could have one wish this holiday season (maybe I should start marking silly pop-culture references in a different typeface) it would be that you’d just go read everything he’s written. If I could have two wishes, it’d be for you to click on his name which takes you to a listing of all of my posts related to him, and then for you to continue onward to read each of his things I’ve linked. But, to dig specifically into his topic of piles, I’ll try to make a point about working all the way to done.

Some things are never going to be done in the sense of disappearing from your life; our household will always have a gentle snow of tax-related paperwork accumulating through the year. That’s technically a pile. But that pile has a home (out of sight) and related things always, immediately go on that pile, where they sit until tax season. That pile has no tension associated with it. Laundry is the same way; of course there’s always some dirty laundry in a “pile” (both a physical pile and in baskets which have homes.) But again, no tension. That’s where dirty laundry belongs.

What causes tension is when your expectations (I want things a certain way—like a tidy, uncluttered home) conflict with reality (the mail, taxes and laundry are strewn about.) The key is to realize that the second 90% of anything is the unglamorous part we’d prefer to skip. We want to jump ahead to the first 90% of the next thing.

What do I mean by the second 90%? Filling up the gas tank as you approach your destinationis part of the journey. What does done look like driving somewhere? The car’s normal state is to have some reasonable amount of gas in it. Drive it (the first 90%… the fun part involving getting somewhere) and get gas (the second 90%… the un-fun part including leaving early enough to have time to stop for gas.) What does done look like mowing the lawn? I need the time and energy to clean the mower at the end. What does done look like doing laundry? I have time and energy to do the ironing, folding and putting-away parts. And yes, big project that involve multiple sessions of working? Each session has it’s own done to reach.

Do this for everything. Every. Thing. Ask: What does done look like? Do I have enough time and energy to actually get to done? …or am I just excited by that first 90% and I’m going to quit there?

You’ll quickly realize you cannot get everything (literally everything) to a “done” that corresponds to your expectations. The hardest part starts once you realize that you’ve over-stuffed your life. The real problem is that you really don’t have the time and energy to do the second 90% of every thing. The real solution then is to make the hard choices to undo the mistakes that un-simplified one’s life.

And by “you” I mean “me.”


You’re doing it wrong

That morning, my mind spun as I tried in vain to re-create the various perceptions and emotions that had been written into Google’s servers and were now abandoned to the ether. I felt a sudden sense of mourning that I still have not gotten over. And yet, to my surprise, I felt something else alongside it: a conflicting sense of relief and even levity. I would never have voluntarily deleted all of those emails, but I also can’t deny, not entirely, that there is something cathartic about sloughing off those thousands of accumulated disappointments and rebukes, those passionate and pathetic fights and dramas, even those insights and stirrings—all of those complicated yet ephemeral layers of former selves that no longer contain me. I began to accept that I would need to imagine my way back into those previous mental states if they were truly worth revisiting—and that if I could not, then the loss was necessarily manageable. I closed my laptop, wandered outside into the specific corner of France that my former selves’ cumulative choices had led me to inhabit, and was overtaken by a sense of hope.

~ Thomas Chatterton Williams from,

Disclosure: I quoted the entire last paragraph. Yes, that takes the zing out of the article—but I fear few of you, dear readers, will click through for something… this again, Craig?! …related to my opinions about email.

If you have folders (and sub-folders, and sub-sub-folders) of email, or especially if your Inbox is not empty: You are doing it wrong. Don’t save the email. Instead figure out why you feel the urge to save the email. Then fix that urge.

The real underlying problem is that systems thinking is not something everyone is accustomed to. And lest you fear that Wikipedia article, it’s really very helpful. Does this sound like something worth understanding?

Systems thinking is a way of making sense of the complexity of the world by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its parts. It has been used as a way of exploring and developing effective action in complex contexts.


You’re saving that email because it has a photo attached. Saving this other email because it has the order confirmation for that thing you just ordered—should be fine, but every once in a while you need that email when the thing doesn’t show up, or you need to return it, or you can’t log into their online system. Saving this other email because it has the details for that thing we’re going to. And this email has a link to something your friend said to read. That email is a newsletter you really want to maybe read later some day maybe. And so on. I’m not saying it’s easy to imagine systems for all of that stuff— but it is possible. Pick one of those emails, and have an honest think about why you’re saving it.



R e p e t i t i o n

The popular history of spaced repetition is full of myths and falsehoods. This text is to tell you the true story. The problem with spaced repetition is that it became too popular for its own effective replication. Like a fast mutating virus it keeps jumping from application to application, and tells its own story while accumulating errors on the way.

~ Piotr Wozniak from,

If you’ve never heard of Super Memo, and you click over there, it’s likely to distract you for an hour. This article is both the origin story for Super Memo and for spaced repetition. I’ve read at least one other thing (I’ve not read this article in full, but I have read at least one other one), that is a comprehensive deep dive. Today, I’m sharing this in the hopes that you’ll glance over at it, skim around and realize that, since you will then be acquainted with Wozniak, I am not the most systems-crazy person you know of.



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


So many paths

In early January, I started regular co-working sessions with a friend, Sumana Harihareswara. She read that post from 2013 about wanting to write more, and emailed me to see if I wanted to form an accountability team to work on our writing together. She’s making progress on her book, and I’m writing more here: we’ve been able to get a lot more done together than trying to work solo and power through.

~ Jacob Kaplan-Moss from,

There are many paths to the top of Mt Getting Stuff Done. If you find yourself currently off the beaten path, this article is a nice trail map. It mentions cadence in the sense of “don’t break the chain” or “routine is your friend.” I want to talk about a recent epiphany I’ve had about a different way to look at cadence.

There are several things I’m currently doing which require ongoing, incremental effort. And for a long time, each of them to varying degrees, just wasn’t getting done to my satisfaction. I had repeatedly set goals, blocked out time, etc. Recently—unrelated to my points here about cadence—I’ve been making superlative progress on these things. (Because, reasons.) And I find that now I can see the cadence is much faster than it needs to be to reach my long-term goal. When these things weren’t getting done at all, I had an idea of the amount of work that was required to make meaningful progress. Now I can see that I can actually slow down. I’ve known, for these projects, just a teeny-tiny amount of work, would work. But I didn’t really believe it, until I had a cadence, and truly apprehended how teeny-tiny I could actually scale my efforts and still make meaningful progress.


Chesterton’s Fence

As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition.

~ Shane Parrish from,

I’m going to ‘fess up and say that I don’t recall ever hearing of “Chesterton’s Fence.” If you too just went, “who’s what?” then do check out that article.

That said, I’m nervously thinking everything about it—his fence, that article—seems obvious to me. Not simple, but obvious. Any time I find myself with such thinking, rather than stand on my megalomaniac soap box and yell at “those kids”, I instead begin searching for a clear reason for why I know, what I am claiming seems obvious.

In this case, the knowledge comes from learning systems thinking. Somewhere along my way I learned to think about everything as systems of things. I’m always trying to see how this thing is related to, dependent on, and causative of, some other things. Somewhere along my way I found Chesterton’s fence, (but the fence system didn’t include long-term planning for owner identification and so the fence I apparently found wasn’t labeled.)


A random proof

Here’s how I do things.


  • I have a book that has 2,000 pages. (Curiously, it is exactly 2,000 pages.)
  • Life is finite, (and probably also “short.”)
  • It’s unlikely I can get through it front-to-back; I’d like to read as many pages as I can.
  • I’m a systems guy; I want to figure something out once and then never think about that same problem again.
  • I have a personal task management system; It can easily remind me to do things however I’d prefer.

I WISH, that I had an easy way to get a random page number. This strikes me as very easy to build. Therefore, because it is easy, because Internet, and because humans are awesome…

THEN, such a thing must already exist.

THEREFORE, I guessed, “!random”, would exist in my favorite search engine—here, you’re welcome—and quickly found my way to this:

QED (Quite easily done, yes; But, no.)

All that remains is to skim their simple API docs, and then type this simple URL:

This enables me to create a repeating task which has that URL. I click the link, and flip to that page. You’re thinking, “holy shit no.” And I’m thinking, “tiny building blocks, well placed, get shit done.”