4000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Every weekday, I drive my kids to their pre-school/daycare. And almost every day, I see cars and parents rushing their kids to the door of the school, checking their Apple Watches because they have a meeting at 8:30, and trying to rush their kids to wash their hands, stand on the mat and sanitize their shoes, wait for their temperature to be taken, etc. And every time I see someone like that, I always think to myself—like I’m having a conversation with them— “What’s the rush? We’re all going to the same place.”

In the introduction to this book by Oliver Burkeman writes that “productivity is a trap,” In many ways, this is an anti-productivity book. It’s not filled with tips and tricks to squeeze more time out of your day to do the things that matter. First it starts with the simple fact that you should do the things that matter most to you first and then come with the understanding that you’ll never finish all of the items. That getting things done is actually impossible.

“ Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster. Nobody in the history of humanity has ever achieved ‘work-life balance,’ whatever that might be, and you certainly won’t get there by copying the ‘six things successful people do before 7:00 a.m.’ The day will never arrive when you finally have everything under control—when the flood of emails has been contained; when your to-do list have stopped getting longer; when you’re meeting all your obligations at work and in your home life…let’s start by admitting to defeat: none of this is ever going to happen.”

While you might think that this is the most obvious thing you’ve ever heard, there are many lessons to learn here. I think that’s what we’re seeing with this great resignation, not Sarah Jaffe’s cringingly prominent book Work Won’t Love You Back. Of course, it doesn’t, work couldn’t care less about you, or me. And I think the Great Resignation is that a lot of Americans are realizing this and saying, fuck this. My time is worth more than being “productive.” There, I summarized that book and this whole moment in time to three sentences. Now go do whatever you want.

What captured this perfectly for me was when Burkeman often talks about his four-year-old son. That the kid is pure presence. On page 131, I had a series of Yes notations.

They are linked to watching his son’s fist close around his finger, his head turn in response to a noise, without obsessing over whether this “showed he was meeting his ‘developmental milestones’ or not, or what I ought to be doing to ensure that he did.”

Worse, Burkeman realizes that his obsession with using time well meant using his child as a tool for calming his anxiety by treating him like an employee with some future sense of security and peace of mind. To treat the child as if all childhood is nothing but a training ground for adulthood. He also points out that the baby trainers are wrong that the baby should not fall asleep on your chest, but it’s a beautiful experience in the present moment and that has to be weighed appropriately. The future cannot always take precedence…. Russian Philosopher Alexander Herzen writes that, “because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up, but a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment…Life’s bounty is its flow. Later is too late.” Like a pool, river, or lake. Like Dory said, just keep swimming.

Basically, the entire book is an extensive exercise in Stoicism’s memento mori idea, specifically Seneca’s On The Shortness of Life. But probably the most meaningful exercise from this book is actually doing the calculation of how many days you have in life. With four thousand weeks to your 80th birthday I figured out exactly how many days I have left until my 80th birthday, should I be lucky enough to live that long. I have 1,988 weeks until my 80th birthday or 13,917 days. Whatever happens in those days is something I have some control over, but mostly I don’t. Time doesn’t care, the universe doesn’t care, and neither does my work. This culminates in Chapter 13 on Cosmic Insignificance Theory:

“When things all seem too much, what better solace than the reminder that they are, provided you’re willing to zoom out a bit, indistinguishable from nothing at all? The anxieties that clutter the average life—relationship troubles, status rivalries, money worries—shrink instantly down to irrelevance. So do pandemics and presidencies, for that matter: the cosmos carries on regardless, calm and imperturbable. Or to quote the title of a book I once reviewed: /The Universe doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You/. To remember how little you matter, on a cosmic timescale, can feel like putting down a heavy burden that most of us didn’t realize we were carrying in the first place.”

So, like last week, when my two-year-old daughter had a sinus infection, I was on my way to drive her to school and drop her off because she could go to school. She says to me in the back seat, “Daddy, I don’t want to go to school.” Then, as if the universe heard her, I had a meeting canceled and I thought: yeah, why not? I canceled the rest of my commitments. Pushed a few items on my to-do list forward a day or a week (this post was one of them) and said, “Okay.” Then we went to a playground. We played in the leaves in the backyard, I gave her medication. We got a steamer at a local coffee shop and a donut. We took a nap and we watched some Bluey together on the couch. This might not have happened if this pandemic had not happened, and I didn’t read this book.

How I Take Smart Notes

The first time I started hearing about the Zettelkasten method was on Cal Newport’s podcast.

It seemed like it was more trouble than I wanted to engage in.

After reading this post, How to Take Smart Notes: 10 principles to revolutionize your note-taking and writing, I saw this as a system that filled in some of the blanks in stuff I was already doing.

But after hearing more about it through Austin Kleon, talking about reading Sonke Ahrens’s book, How to Take Smart Notes, I started reading it on Kindle.

I realized that I already cobbled this method together. About 70 percent of it. I use it through the Bear notes application and work through the process in my journals and pocket notebooks.

So to give you a summary of what I do, I’m going to explain the basics of my note-taking habit and how I marry that to this method. I won’t talk about what I ditched.

There are four kinds of notes, according to Ahrens:

  1. Fleeting notes: where I take notes on the fly that are informal, short, and quick. I use my pocket notebook for these since I carry it around in my wallet. It’s typically a Field Notes notebooks. It’s just filled with questions, observations, and things I notice. I sometimes post these on Twitter about once a week.
  2. Literature Notes: These are the ones that I use the most. They are notes that I take in physical books in the form of marginalia, and that usually goes to Instagram once a week. When I finish a book, I’ll collect all the pages that I fold over. I write a summary or review in the back of the book about what I learned or what I noticed that attracted my eye. For example: this post on Benjamin Percy’s The Ninth Metal.
  3. Permanent Note: from the literature note, I’ll make a permanent note in Bear and save it as a doc in my Dropbox, then I’ll edit it a few times and post it to my blog.
  4. Reference Notes: These are digital things I read on Kindle that will get a short summary in Bear (like a paragraph), and I’ll usually talk about it in my newsletter.

Really what this process solved for me is what I do with books or articles I read online or on Kindle. Kindle’s highlighting and note feature is about as good as that device is ever going to get and I don’t care for it. So the method I worked around concerning literature notes with Kindle is using notecards to write out the particular things I highlighted or noticed, then that goes into Bear. I tag it with a specific theme, the author, or a concept connected to it.

I know the magic of this method is when a bunch of unrelated permanent notes reaches a critical mass that’s when you have new connections to make. But that’s not really been the case for me yet. I’ve found that paraphrasing what I read, looking it over, is enough. For example, I’ll tag everything that I wrote over a season. Let’s say this summer, so I’ll use the 2021/summer tag and get a bird’s eye view of every note that I put in throughout a season. I wrote 137 notes over the course of the summer, that’s roughly two notes a day all summer, and I came up with one essay idea, and one short story idea.

When I look at the weekly newsletters I write that include my reference notes, notes I take on books, and references to other articles I get a picture of what I write about and how that interests me. This is not something I had before the summer. Sure, I had a general idea, but not the hard evidence of what it is that I notice and read about, and therefore come up with things that no one is writing about.

For example, writing about practicing Stoicism when you’re neurodiverse is something that is barely written about. Massimo Pigliucci has one article on it. There’s an article by Anna Joy Tanksley on practicing Stoicism as an Aspergian. There’s a great article by Sophia on employing the dichotomy of control to neurodiversity and practicing Stoicism helped with ADHD. But mostly, men don’t cover it at all.

Ryan Holiday doesn’t cover it, and William Irvine mentions the limits of Stoicism on his website. Donald Robertson–a cognitive behavioral therapist doesn’t touch it at all other than saying you should get a diagnosis. Instead he focuses primarily on the negative emotions that are all too frequent when you’re neurodiverse, like being quick to anger, anxiety, and depression. So that gave me the idea that’s something I’m going to specialize in, because none of the people currently writing about Stoicism are neurodiverse, so perhaps, they don’t feel like that’s something can write about, because it is not their personal experience.

On Routines and Ground Level Productivity

The little notebook is the EXT Notebook, the Journal underneath, and my Time Block Planner in the foreground.

A quote that floored me recently was from Marcus Aurelius on procrastination: 

“In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.” 

And this is why I’ve mostly let go of attempting a full Getting Things Done install because honestly–it’s more work than I need. My final, rooted, ground-level productivity comes from a combination of people: Austin Kleon, Ryder Carroll, Elizabeth Eames, Cal Newport, David Allen, and the screenwriter John Rogers

From Kleon, I use two notebooks: I have an EXT notebook that I carry around with me and log notes and tasks and time block out workdays. EXT is screenwriting for EXTERIOR shot. The second notebook is my journal. I log in how much sleep I got the night before, what I did for exercise, and what I’m doing with each of my Deep Life buckets. Then I start rapid logging what I did that day. I’ll do a Reflection that night or the next morning to get clear of yesterday’s business and move onto the present moment. 

For my personal and family work, I have an Inbox, which I got from Elizabeth Eames’ book Life Admin, and from Allen’s GTD method, but less so since he’s mostly concerned with business and not family life. All the family stuff goes in there, like bills, agendas for family meetings, and things Meggan needs me to handle. 

From Allen, I set a 2-5 minute rule. If a task takes a maximum of five minutes to complete, I’ll do it right then and there. I also use his Horizons of Focus to provide a framework for each step in the Deep Life. 

If I can’t do it right then and there in five minutes, and it’s a project, I’ll control it by breaking it into 25-minute blocks (or Pomodoros). If it requires more than one step, I’ll put it in my EXT notebook to do it later. If the task or one-off project is uncompleted at the end of the day, I will file it into my Todoist. I’ll give it a scheduled date that I can dedicate to doing it, or I’ll tag it “someday” if there is no date. Usually, though, I’ll file it as a reference in my Bear notes app if there’s no action to do with it. For example, the stack of Book Notes I have to do that I haven’t made time to do yet, or figure out how I’m going to manage to do it in a reasonable amount of time. 

Finally, I’ll control it all by time-blocking out my workday, add a due date, or file it in Bear, and batch related tasks together like errands. I’ll review it all weekly, monthly, and seasonally. 

Now this doesn’t sound significantly idle. Well, no. Hodgkinson says that it’s critical for the Idler to be effective at doing the things they must do (like cleaning the house, dishes, manage day-to-day activities) to spend more time idling. Allen even calls himself a pretty lazy guy, and that’s why he developed the GTD system. 

That said, I’m going to take a nap and read. 

Below is what my crazy workflow looks like:

My crazy workflow. Sorry.

Getting Things Done.

Making a December plan.

I’ve re-read David Allen’s Getting Things Done because adjusting to life with an challenging pre-schooler, adding another family member, and how seismic and difficult it’s been to transition from work to home with frequent extended breaks for family reasons, I felt I needed to install a system that would allow me to pick up where I left off at work and know where things are at, and that’s been embracing GTD. It’s a good system for jobs that require a lot of task-related work that are seemingly never closed and doesn’t allow for a lot of deep work and a lot of paper-pushing.

In the past, I’ve relied on the Bullet Journal Method, but from changing my work from academic to business, I have to keep track of a lot more in my life that can’t be paired down into three simple things: reading, writing, and teaching. With my current job I had to adopt and develop a new system to make sure I’m staying current on all the impromptu stuff that comes up. It’s to say the least a lot different from the education work. It’s Human Resources, and while it is still knowledge work, it’s a ton of open loops in my job. Most of the work is task-related, in other words, it’s a lot of 2-5 minute steps that end up putting taking a half hour to put together one worker’s comp claim. It never closes up because then I have to wait for that staff-member to either go to their follow up appointment and send out new restrictions. Some weeks I get one worker’s comp claim and some days are so nuts I get six and I have to keep track of all of them. That’s a lot different then going to a class, teaching the class, collecting papers, reading those papers, and grading them to be turned back in a week. Which was way more manageable. So I had to develop a bigger external brain then the one I previously worked with in the form of the Bullet Journal.

It’s started with, really, Cal Newport’s system. He uses Workflowy as his main external brain paired with his calendar, he pairs it down into a Week Schedule, and then he makes a plan for every day of the week in his notebook. That’s basically what I’ve done with this job. I then use my work notebook to list out the remaining open loops, make a plan for them for the next day, and update my calendar to make sure I stay constant.

Analogue Days

Installed new kitchen lights on an Analogue Day

I run around the circle of my suburban Southern Indiana subdivision, chased by the same exterior lamposts that are required to be uniform by the housing authority, The Whisperer in Darkness plays in my ears matching the slight pushing of the wind and I hear talk of the Elder Beings and John Dee and the Babylon Working. The Department of Works and all of that.

It is just after 5am.

I’ve been really enjoying Julian Simpson’s adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and its sequel, The Whisperer in Darkness. More so, I’ve been all over Simpson’s excellent newsletter and blog, INFODUMP. In this article he talks about analogue day:

Analogue Day. This is a new thing we’re doing at home and I want to take credit for inventing it but I probably didn’t. Or maybe I did! Quote me in your correspondence and we’ll make it The Simpson Method. Anyway, it’s exactly what it sounds like; turn off the computer and the iPad and put the phone in another room as far as that is possible. One day a week where you write longhand, read actual physical books and magazines, talk to people and all that touchy feely stuff. When you make things up for a living, you are constantly drawing on a well of ideas and inspiration and that well is finite. You need to refill it regularly. And you don’t do that online. Or if you do, you can do it the other six days of the week. Analogue Day is about changing pace and changing input, grabbing a book off the shelf rather than scrolling Facebook, listening to stuff, watching stuff (I don’t ban myself from movies and TV on analogue day, but there’s no dicking around online whilst half-watching something). One day a week and it REALLY pays dividends creatively. Personally, I have a bunch of magazine subscriptions that build into a pile on the table throughout the week so I take this day to go through them. Then I might scan the bookshelves for something I’d forgotten I had and start reading it. It’s all about new things and unexpected creative prompts and I’ve found it to be enormously helpful and also, which seems to be anathema to the productivity nerds, fun.

It is basically a moratorium on screens. I tried this to a certain extent, but I’m still mostly failing at it. Saturdays are the days for that and basically the idea is to use whatever technology I am using for a singular purpose. Smart phones as Steve Jobs originally intended it: for communication, and audio. Reading physical books (which I do basically every day), working on something household-related which can be as simple as taking down the Christmas tree or like last couple of weeks, installing new light fixtures in the house.

I haven’t been perfect about this. I still take a lot of photos on my phone and spend entirely too much time on Instagram. What it boils down to is I just need to delete the social media apps on my phone and use it specifically for communication and audio, because my son likes audio books before bed time and I’m not about to shake up because that’s the critical piece that’s taken three months to whittle bed time from an hour and a half to a half hour. But I have gotten quite good about there being no screens or multi-tasking devices from 5pm to 8pm all week, but in 2020 I’m going to limit my phone time to business hours and after bedtime. The phone time will be for at most an hour, and only to talk to people. On the weekends, no screen time other than communication and audio.

That said, if you’re interested in something like this, you should check out Cal Newport’s Analog January Challenge.

Never ask for permission only forgiveness.

Toni Morrison, this season’s guardian spirit, cut up from a post by Austin Kleon.

I remember Nancy Wheeler, played by Natalie Dyer on Stranger Things Season 3, saying to her boyfriend (Charlie Hutton) as they went off to pursue a lead to a story that the editor of the Hawkins, Indiana newspaper told her not to pursue. “I only ask for forgiveness, but never permission.”

My wife has said something similar to me for years now. “Never ask permission, but beg for forgiveness.”

I realize that the saying is a super-hetero-white male-privilege thing to say coming from me, but there are a lot of things that I do need permission to do, and there are plenty that I don’t. Writing when it’s a good time for me to do so is one of those things.

So while reading Cal Newport’s write about about John Grisham’s work schedule:

Grisham primarily writes his novels during the winter months on his farm in Oxford, Mississippi. During this period he works five days a week, starting at 7 am and typically ending by 10 am.

Grisham writes in a period outbuilding on his property that used to house an antebellum summer kitchen. He and his wife refurbished the kitchen to maintain its period details (with the main exception being that they added electricity and air conditioning). Crucially, as Grisham explains: “[the building has] no phone, faxes, or internet. I don’t want the distraction. I don’t work online. I keep it offline.”

Grisham maintains strict rituals for his writing. He starts work on a novel on the same day each year, and starts writing each day at the same time. He works on the same computer. He drinks the same type of coffee out of the same cup. “My office routine rarely varies,” he explains. “It’s pretty structured.”

Grisham starts a new novel on January 1st and is usually done with the bulk of the writing by the end of March. He aims to be completely done with the manuscript by July. This leaves a nice half year period to recharge and work on new ideas.

What I like about Grisham’s deep work habits — beyond the obvious romanticism of writing in a refurbished period farmhouse outbuilding — is that the novels that support his astoundingly successful and lucrative writing career require only 15 hours a week, 6 months out of the year.

Then this led to the website Writing Routines—it’s like Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals but for writers—and upon subscribing to their newsletter (I no longer check RSS feeds and only subscribe to website’s newsletters to get the most interesting stuff in a daily or weekly email) and it sent me this pdf of important routines.

It started with Grisham’s routine, then went to Nathan Englander: “Turn off your cell-phone. Put in ear plugs. You’ve got to unplug.”

Then Edit by Hand: “Write on a yellow legal pad, that fetish of American writers. I like the slowness of writing by hand. After the second or third draft it goes into the computer…I continue to revise by hand on a succession of hard copy drafts from the computer.” – Susan Sontag.

Exercise, from famous Hoosier writer Kurt Vonnegut: “I wake at 5:30, I work until 8, eat breakfast at home, work until 10 and walk a few blocks into town, do errands, swim.” Then he goes and teaches.

“I pull down the blinds, I put my headset on and play the same soundtrack of 20 songs over and over and don’t heart them. It shuts everything else out. So I don’t hear myself as I’m writing and laughing and thinking to myself. I’m not even aware I’m making noise. I’m having a physical reaction to a very engaging experience.” – Michael Lewis.

And I realize that I must be insane with the waking up at 4am to write for an hour and a half, getting Squibbish off to school and going and doing a new job that until June I had no background in. Then coming home and doing dinner and bed time and having a pregnant wife, and given my symptoms that makes paying attention to anything at all after 8pm a nightmare. So, fuck it—I need at least seven hours of sleep a night and I change my pattern. I adapt to the above routines of all these writers.

I get 10 hours a week of writing or 3 pages a day. If I get 3 pages of writing done a day, Monday through Friday, for six months that’s about 390 pages from winter through July 4th weekend.

Then I tried it out. In two months, or fifty-one business days, I wrote 55 pages of a novella. Meaning if I keep that up from January through July, I could have a first draft of a novel in four months.

That’s some math I can get behind, and get some sleep. I’m going to need it.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

A leisurely time writing at Needmore Coffee

The introduction to this book struck me, but like a lot of Newport’s work the first half is like beating a dead horse from an argument standpoint—because that’s his training as an academic. But the second half is filled with helpful suggestions. The introduction, however, is argumentative gold. He uses early modern and modern sources and ancient. There were a lot of notes:

If you can’t read my notes, here’s what it says. “I call it digital minimalism, and it applies the belief that less can be more to our relationship with digital tools.” Obviously, the less can be more aspect of things is exactly what I’m talking about.

He goes onto quote Henry David Thoreau (“simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.”) and Marcus Aurelius. “You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life?” 

Newport argues that the key to living well in our connected world is to spend less time using technology. When I read that line, I left the Political Science advising office at IU Bloomington and as I walked the mile to my car I counted how many IU students were walking and staring at their screens, or listening to earbuds rather than talking with each other. In the book I left a count in the margin after the above line—28 students versus 8 that were either talking with peers and two just being in the world. Looking around. Most of the latter were probably freshmen. Still in wonder at the place they found themselves. 

Newport ends his introduction with a quote from Henry David Thoreau from Walden: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation…They honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices. (Newport XVIII)” This applies not just to my digital life, but my personal one as well—my horrible, debilitating pattern.

Most of the first half is pretty standard academic arguments, but the biggest part that struck me was in the Digital Declutter chapter. It asks: 

“How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?” 

He follows with the Minimalist Technology Screen. 

So I asked myself in the margins of these pages how will I use these digital tools like Twitter, Instagram, this website, and my newsletter. What won’t I use and who will I follow? It came down to this: 

1. Twitter is to share my blog posts and links and stories that I find interesting, basically just fodder for the newsletter. It’ll mostly be a collection of links. I’ll only use it four times a year and if something occurs to me to share it on there I’ll use Twitter for that. Like getting a short story published. I’ll follow writers and creators that I’ve actually read and enjoy. That’s about 75 people. That’s it. I’ll only look at it in the evenings, about 8pm. 

2. I’ll use Instagram as a kind of visual diary for the same amount of time as Twitter. Both apps will be on my phone for one week and totally blocked from use from 4am to 8pm during the blogging opening of each season. Both apps will be removed after the week is over. 

3. My website will be about all that I learned the previous season and the newsletter, a kind of seasonal review of what I learned. Like a Sunday New York Times—the season in review. And after the season’s blogging opening, I’ll use the newsletter for basically what I used to use Twitter and Tumblr for but instead, more like a letter from me to you and less time spent online and more time spent writing things that matter to me. 

Finally, I came up with a philosophy:

Marginalia translated: my phone is for taking photos, talking to friends, hearing interesting stories (podcasts) and making notes about my own writing in Bear. So why do I need an ipad?

Later in the book, Newport talks about Zadie Smith who uses the app Freedom so I thought, while reading this book, that I would try it. “Zadie Smith, who thanked Freedom by name in the acknowledgements of her critically acclaimed 2012 bestseller, NW, crediting the software for “creating the time” needed for her to finish the manuscript. Smith is not alone. Freedom’s internal research reveals that its users gain, on average, 2.5 hours of productive time per day.” (226)

I started using it, and I block the websites that distract me. Especially Newport, Austin Kleon, and Warren Ellis’s websites. I could wander around in those websites all day and not get anything done. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc of course. Including Google News and other websites. I don’t know how much time it saves me from being distracted, but it does help me be more deliberate with my time and if I can’t distract myself with websites, well, it keeps me writing because otherwise—symptomatically—I’ll get distracted easily. It’s called Attention Deficit Disorder for a good reason.  

And here’s the biggest thing that I continue to take from Newport: boredom is okay. As someone who suffers from ADD, being bored is hard for me. I often say I’m never bored and it’s true, but that’s also symptomatic. So, the biggest takeaway is to cultivate solitude. I take long walks more, or runs. I don’t bring my phone and sometimes I don’t bring a notebook. And I ask a question before my walk and by the end of the walk I write out whatever thoughts came to mind, but I don’t stop the walk for those reasons to note what I see, because, I realize—the notebook is a crutch. Not every thought I have is worth something. They are just thoughts. They grow faster than weeds and most are just as useful. Depending on the day, I get that more than anything else. 

There’s a lot more I learned from this book and rather than list them, I’ll just give you a photo of my notes at the end of the book. 

The pigs were requested by Squibbish. “Draw pig!”

What Would Cal Ripken Do?

Cal Ripken’s Many Batting Stances

You’re probably like what? What does this have anything to do with writing and being  a parent? 

Cal Ripken and Don Mattingly were my favorite baseball players growing up. What I liked about them is they were dependable, reliable, and highly competent in their jobs. That means they were adaptable and that’s something I aspire to be. They kept their heads down and did their work and showed up every day to do their work. So I often ask when I’m faced with a problem, I ask: “What would Cal Ripken do?”

The thing about Ripken and Mattingly is they were constantly changing their batting stances to try something new at the plate. They were creators. At the crux of every creator is trying something new.

Don Mattingly

My answer comes in the form of the Victim/Creator Roadmap. Usually this issue manifests as a hike.

I start out at Deficiency Trailhead which is where my Victim thinking starts, it all stems from poor self-esteem. But the trail I’m on is the Creator’s Trail. Where I’m crossing over rocks, fallen trees, and lots of other wildlife. In the forest around me is my victim thinking. Trying to drag me into the woods and get me lost. In there I have to face my fear, my hatred of myself, and, finally, my deficiencies as a human in a cave where I’m facing off against a campfire that is actually a Balrog.

So what do I do to stay on the Creator’s Trail? I try something new by taking action, and seeing what that action stimulates. Usually a couple of solutions present themselves and I have to make a choice in the moment. Whether that’s the right solution or not is part of the risk of being a creator, but most of all I don’t blame others and take responsibility for my choices.

This last part is what will lead me to the Ideal Life Summit, where I’ll look out over the countryside and say that hike was super-hard but look at this view. Man, that was worth it. That’s why anyone hikes.

The key here is to understand what a victim does: they almost never achieve goals because they repeat the same behavior over and over. They make excuses, blame others, and complain over and over again. That’s why they never achieve anything because they don’t take accountability for their lives.

The key to shifting the focus is understanding that you have to be adaptable and that ultimately you’re not in control of your mind, your body, or other people, but you are in charge of how you react to those three things. You can always change how you react to things and that you must adapt to be a creator.

And finally, perhaps most of all, I heed Michael Crichton’s advice to graduates at Stanford: “Don’t be attached to results.” I’m a very results oriented so this is perhaps the hardest part, but it’s getting better. 

That’s it for this season. Talk to you all again this summer. See you down the trail.

Do Not Multifocus.

This comes from Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

I’m paraphrasing: That when you’re multi focusing you’re trying to focus on two things at the same time and humans are terrible at that. We’re not even good at multitasking. I’m probably worse than most.

Multi-tasking shallow activities is something we can do. Like we can drive a car and listen to the radio at the same time, but–I don’t know about you–but I can’t read a book and watch tv. That’s why I shut down the internet when I’m writing or working on something. I can listen to music in the background while I write, but I can’t listen to music when I’m editing.

You can do this in a variety of ways. There are Chrome extensions WasteNoTime, Self Control, and Freedom. I’ve tried them all and I have to say Freedom works great because it works across your phone, your laptop, and tablet. Where the others don’t. Sure, Freedom costs, but I think taking hold of your attention and ability to focus on what matters is worth the 15 bucks a year to spend on Freedom. That’s kind of a key Essentialist trait.

How I make the best use of my time.

Gerard Way in his home office, thinking thoughts about comics and music.

The critical part of all of this is, really, to make use of the time you do have. It’s always changing, so you have to be adaptable. For me, I know making the best use of my time to write is to get up early. For you it might be in the afternoon, during lunch, or at night when everyone has gone to bed.

My brain is basically useless after 8pm. It wants nothing more than escapist television or fiction.

So really these productivity rules are just guidelines that I use to make the best use of my time, which is fleeting between a day job, a growing family, and a writing life. So how do I make the best use of my time, knowing all of these things?

I stop working at 5pm, Monday to Friday. 

I got this idea from Cal Newport who calls it a work shutdown. What I do is I go through my scrapbook (the pocket notebook I take with me everywhere) and log into my Journal all the interesting thoughts and ideas and articles I read over the course of the day. In this shut down I do these things: 

  • Review incomplete tasks
  • Form a plan to complete the high priority ones
  • Capture and schedule in the appropriate place (usually Google Calendar and the Journal).
  • Then I write down what I learned and are grateful for that day. 
  • Say “Good night, work.” 
  • I do a similar thing with the PM Reflection, which is more abstract and closes the loop generated by Morning Pages and the 5 Minute Journal. 
  • Then I’ll meditate and read, go to bed by 9pm.