Monthly Archives: May 2008

Gumption traps and how to get motivated, part 1

Persig talks about Gumption Traps in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There are lots of them, and some of them are actually really useful. Some of the obvious ones are fear and fatigue and basic bodily needs. Others are as simple as the initial barrier to action. Some are concerned with paradigm.
For this first segment I’m going to tell you what you already know: it’s easier to be motivated if you’re physically ready to be motivated. If you’re healthy, well rested and well fed, you will find it a lot easier to be motivated. Did you watch Fast Food Nation? His motivation wend steadily downhill the more unfit he got. That’s not a scientific study, but it stands to reason that if you are healthy, you will feel better about doing things.
Being well-fed is a huge issue, and no doubt we’ll get into that more as time goes by. Suffice it to say that a well balanced diet that doesn’t have a high glycimic index is probably a good place to start. I tend to go the opposite way form most Americans in that I eat too little, not too much. I get involved in a task, and I forget to eat then I feel cranky and nothing sounds good besides candy. I seldom buy candy, so then I just eat a little of something I have around to get me feeling better (cereal, beans and rice, etc.) and then repeat the whole thing. I imagine if I substituted junk food for healthy food, I would end up with too many calories and I would get fat like everyone else.
The better way to go (which I do when I’m organized) is to cook and take meals with you when you go to work or wherever. Cooking at home tends to reduce all kinds of junk food inroad into your life. Also it’s cheaper. Taking a thermos of coffee, an apple, a jar of beans and rice and a sandwich to work costs about $1. That’s enough to get me through the day. If I don’t bottom out, those foods taste pretty good. There was a great TED talk about this recently.

Speaking of coffee, I’m a huge caffeine addict. I’ll post specifically about coffee soon. But in the mean time I’ll share something interesting: I’m so addicted to caffeine, that I confuse feeling ‘thirsty’ for feeling like I need my caffeine fix. They both feel the same to me. “They” say you should drink 2 cups of water for each cup of coffee, but that’s been debunked elsewhere . If it were true, I would be a desiccated husk, as I drink a 10:1 coffee to water ratio on most days. But it does catch up with me eventually, and I need a good glass of water. Failing to do so makes me feel very tired.

More tomorrow on exercise!


Some more ideas on how to Get Things Done: the Moleskine

I like to organize my time using low-tech tools. I got off on the “Chandler Project” software for a while. I talked about that in a previous post. It was my one excursion from paper-based organizing, and it was OK, but ultimately frustrating.
The hardest side effect of moving to a digital organization scheme was that I tended to ‘orbit’ my computer to make sure I was not forgetting something. I like computers, so that was quite natural, but it added more distractions (there’s a reminder? Ooh – I wonder what’s on the internets!).
My preferred organizer is actually a combination of my own interpretation of Covey’s planner and my favorite Moleskine. The Moleskine is really my favorite part. They come in packs of three, the paper really takes the ink, and it means I always have a place to write any idea. I print out a weekly day planner in a size that will fit, folded, in the middle. I keep a page set aside for the week’s ‘bucket’ in which I write all the reminders that come to mind. Just in case my phone runs out of batteries, I have a lit of important numbers. Between that, a little pen, a pocket knife and and key chain light, I’m amazingly well prepared without carrying around much at all. The Moleskine even has a little pocket for receipts and such.


GTD, consumerism, meaningful pursuits and their effect on motivation

I read a great post not long ago about how we could all slow down and do something meaningful. Then we wouldn’t need GTD tricks to get things done. We would want to get them done. I would like to call that desire to get things done, ‘gumption,’ in the spirit of Robert M. Persig and the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Clay Collins’ post was great in part because it recognized the plain and simple truth that we are often stuck not on some organizational issue, but a motivational issue. The GTD mentality can get you out of the overwhelmed inaction gumption trap, but there are plenty of other gumption traps.

The biggest, I think, is doing something that is not really important. If you find yourself thinking that you don’t care if a thing gets done or not, then no amount of external force, tricks, emotional speeches or anything else will make it seem like it is worth doing for long. Yet, somehow, for some of us, not doing this unimportant thing causes anxiety. That’s an amusing situational irony if I’ve ever found one.

On the other hand, if the project is meaningful, then it will be a lot easier.

Determining what is meaningful may be a pretty hard task in itself. It might take a lot of time and emotional energy. And being stuck in the grind is not the best place to start. But how can you get out of the grind without some greater passion to pull you away? That is the dark underbelly of consumerism. Don’t think. Buy. Unhappy? Buy more. That make you less happy and in debt? More depressed? Too overwhelmed to think of a better way of life? Perfect. Keep buying. It’s the addict cycle. The easiest cure for withdrawal symptoms is to not withdraw.


The Chandler project, Getting things done (GTD), efficient code in the PC and in your life

I started using the Chandler Project a while back and I really liked it. It gives you tickler alarms for things you need to do plus a space for notes. So instead of a calendar where once the date is past, the event is gone, it’s a recurring reminder. It’s like a Jack Russel Terrrier, always jumping around and wanting attention. And every little thing can get recorded in its entries so when the reminder goes off, the appropriate info is at your fingertips. It’s based around the GTD model, which sounded interesting.

Alas, the software is still too slow for me. It’s open source and free, so I can’t complain. And the design is slick, so I hope they continue to refine it. But I can’t wait 8 seconds between when I click and when it responds. I could rifle through a paper cabinet in that amount of time. If you have a fast machine, it’s worth checking out.
But it did get me interested in the GTD mentality. That seemed interesting. I have not read the books yet, but they seem to me to be pretty common sense. There’s a lot there about how to ‘climb the ladder’ efficiently, but I’m not sure it goes as deeply into making sure that the ladder is against the right wall .
Here are a couple of the take-home usefuls from my experience with chandler:
1. Make a home for all tasks and make it a habit to put stuff in there. Be it an inbox, a moleskine notebook, a hipster or a PDA, there needs to be a central trusted place where tasks go. If you are spending mental cycles keeping track of what is going on tomorrow, next week, and this year, you can’t be fully involved in the task at hand. Call this the “bucket”.
2. Weekly, but not much more frequently than weekly, go through and decide what the priorities and goals of the next little while should be about. Don’t waste time on thing that are just urgent, make sure that they are also important. Consider the big picture. Go through the incubator.
3. Make a routine of de-cluttering your bucket. Whenever you hit a lull, (i.e. after a meeting, after a class, whatever) go through the bucket. Delegate those you can delegate. Perform the 2-min tasks that are important. Delete things that are not important. Schedule the important things that have a particular day/time into some device that will beep at you when it’s time. Finally, collapse all projects (open loops) into one, immediate, manageable task (plus a note to determine the next one after that). If there are other things concerning that project that are not next but need to be noted, file them with the rest of the notes on that task. If there’s something long-term that is not a task, file it in an incubator file. Everything that is not a next task on some open loop (project) should be gone. That’s brainspace you don’t need to be taking up.
4. Go to the top of the bucket again. Do that thing.

5. Repeat
Sometimes you won’t feel like doing that thing. We’ll address that tomorrow.

jerks, leadership, and the consequences of living, or relationships and trust – Part 2

Continued from Personal interactions, management, relationships and trust – Part 1

“Do you know what makes people decent?Fear.”It’s a line from a speech in Dogma, that Kevin Smith movie that inspired protests from lots of religious people who didn’t watch it.The point of the speech is that people only behave well when they are afraid of the consequences of behaving poorly.I wrote a post a while back on the ways that people can motivate other people, and fear underlies all of them.

I had an experience today that made me think that some people have been privileged in their interactions with other people.They have always been given the benefit of the doubt.They have always been treated fairly.So when something annoys them, they have no fear of the consequences of speaking up.Because they don’t know that there could be consequences.

I am absolutely aware that any request I make, no matter how innocuous, has an impact on the relationship.If I am annoyed at something and I ask for it to stop, I have implied that I find someone annoying.That will have consequences.Maybe they will be consequences that I will see, or maybe they won’t be visible, but they are out there. No way around it.

Take this example.The neighbor comes up to the door and says, ‘would you turn your music down?’

The normal person gets a little annoyed.It’s his own radio his own apartment, he should be able to do what he wants… and it is embarrassing to realize that he has intruded on someone else’s space.He wants to keep the peace, though, so he mutters something about not realizing it was so loud or something and he turns it down.

What does the jerk do in the same circumstance?He pitches a fit like a whiny child.And many a time, he will get what he wants.What he wants is to live uninterrupted.And the neighbor goes home, fumes, but doesn’t want to get in a fight, so he puts up with the loud music.And the jerk’s life is uninterrupted without any visual consequences. But this relationship is going downhill.This is not going to become a friendship.

I’ll admit that I find myself really tempted to give the jerk something to fear: a visible consequence.The only reason he acts this way is because it has never blown up in his face. He wants to live life uninterrupted, but he doesn’t deserve it.He’s not entitled to it.Maybe a painful interruption would be good for him.But that’s not high level interaction.Sure, maybe his behavior would improve if he ran into someone who was as big a jerk as he was.Maybe if someone really hurt him for not being polite, he would think twice about being impolite from then on.But probably not, and I don’t want to be the jerk whose job it is to find out.