I hope you've all been well. Have you been?
A while back, I said something about restarting my weekly letters. It kind of didn't happen. I did a fair bit of reading on Charles Darwin and started watching Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man and dived headfirst into many other interesting endeavours.
One of them was enrolling for Japanese Grammar classes over zoom.
Here's a word I know:
A problem is that I tend to jump into too many endeavours at once. Happily, all problems are solvable.
Yesterday I received an email from Derek Sivers. I had started buying his book "Your Music and People" a while back but didn't follow through. The email reminded me that I had left it unfinished (I probably had very little money at the time). A friend of mine recommended it to me; it's about reaching your audience and marketing effectively (Derek defines marketing as being considerate). Although the focus was music, it applied to my writing.
The book was fascinating and insightful, a delightful experience. Derek delivers it in the form of a massive collection of bite-sized chapters, each with a single idea or principle to follow and a story to illustrate why. I would recommend the audiobook, which the man himself reads. The transitions between chapters involve a drum beat, a cymbal clash and shimmering that feels profound.
A tidbit that grabbed me were his thoughts on following up. The great secret, or so he believes, is that even though following up can be a nuisance in personal life, it's the opposite in business. If a person doesn't respond to your call, and you keep calling and messaging them, you're a pest. But if a person doesn't answer your email or inquiry and you follow up periodically, you are tenacious and likely to catch their attention.
The reason this stuck out to me is that it seemed verifiably genuine. The reason I was listening in the first place was that Derek had followed up and reminded me. It felt strange though, I'd attempted to buy the book ages ago, and he followed up only now.
So I replied to his email and asked him. As it turned out, he had just released the book's physical copies and wanted everyone who ordered to have first dibs.
I decided to ask him a question that's been on my mind. To have a routine, or not to have a routine? To have a schedule or not have a schedule? Should we set rigid guidelines for how we live or let our lives flow spontaneously - or is it something in between?
When we make a schedule or strict routine and follow it strictly, we are guessing what would be the best use of time for our future selves and binding them to our guess. However, the benefit seems to be it frees our future selves from the time and energy of working out what to do next.
My answer was to treat schedules and routines as suggestions; if we are passionate and absorbed in an endeavour, we should give ourselves to it and have the routines only as a fallback.
Derek's answer was straight to the point.
"Cool. No routine at all, no. I tend to obsess on one thing until done."
Sounds terrific to me, to be honest. Even now, when typing this letter, parts of my mind are wondering about other things I could be doing; freelancing work, organising my notes, cleaning the house, working on Conversation Culture or studying Japanese. Even when I'm not doing them, all the different facets of my life feel like minimised windows on the desktop of my life.
When you don't have any other things competing for your time and energy, you can let go and give the activity your all. Less minimised windows mean more CPU can go to the current task at hand.
Related is an episode of Sam Harris' podcast that talked about the lie that is multitasking. From the point of view of attention, there isn't such a thing. What is happening is that you are switching between tasks rapidly. Every time your mind switches from one task to another, you break out of your flow, and it takes time to build that momentum.
Minimised windows. Competing tasks. To build on the computer analogy, sometimes we need to clear our cache and reboot our minds.
At this point, I don't think I could dive into a single activity as Derek does, but I can still commit to engaging in fewer activities. I can strive to simplify my life.
Right here, right now
This is the Now page of Derek's website.
He only has one project. He is finishing his new book.
Now that's organised.
A page with everything you are doing now seems like an excellent way to limit the number of projects you pick up - so I've decided to copy him.
Just now, I've added my own now page to the website.
Please have a look.
In short, I am:
- Organising everything I know into a set of linked notes
- Learning Japanese while learning about learning Japanese
- Running Conversation Culture an initiative to improve the quality of our conversations on controversial ideas
- Doing freelance writing and web development work
That might seem like a lot, but the fact that it is only four makes it manageable. You might also notice that writing my letters and articles isn't on that list, strange isn't it?
Well, I want to keep that list to four, and I believe that getting on top of my linked notes will supercharge my writing process. When I am finished organising all my notes, I will replace that item with content creation, and it will be number 1 on the list.
I might not write to you in a while, I might write again surprisingly soon.
For the time being, I want to get organised.
Be right back,