Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to be Obsessed

So, the way to happiness is to slice everything into smaller and smaller chunks. That way, you'll get a lot of things done. And that means you'll be be a productive member of society, for which you will be rewarded with lots of money. And with that money, you can buy lots of material goods. And we all know that amassing material goods results in happiness. Right?

OK, so maybe your goal in Getting Things Done isn't to Acquire Material Goods but is, instead, to Overthrow Capitalist Society. The slice-n-dice technique will still get you there. It is just that your "to do" list might be a little different:

  1. Read chapter 3 from the Anti-Capitalist Manifesto
  2. Prepare snacks for Thursday's meeting of the Anarchist Club
But, with all this work to cut your work into two minute transactions, when exactly are you going to figure out whether you want to conquer capitalism or kill it? When do you do your thinking? How, in fact, do you become you if you're filling every beat with an action?

Merlin Mann's answer is obsession. A total and compulsive preoccupation with a single thing. He says, there should be no need to prioritize, to select between alternative things you could be doing now. You should always be doing the one thing that you need to be doing. You should always be thinking about your obsession. You should be obsessing about your passion.

This is a simple answer to a complex problem. And, when you have an overriding compulsion to do one thing, it works well. But does everyone have this? Perhaps, but certainly not all the time. We need to simulate obsession.

How to be Obsessed
What is it like being obsessed? If I remember right, when you are obsessed with something (someone):
  • You can't help thinking about it
  • Everything reminds you of it - songs on the radio, strangers on the street, doing the washing up
  • You speak of your obsession all the time
  • You form a circle of friends who are similarly obsessed
Clearly, then, you can make your self obsessed with something by the following the above path on purpose. Book time on your calendar to think about something. Look for links between the object of your obsession and your everyday experiences - what you're doing, where you are, what your are seeing and hearing. Find opportunities to talk (and perhaps even write blog posts) about your obsession. Seek out people who are similarly interested (intoxicated).

Maybe you pick something to simulate obsession with every month? Give it a whirl and let me know how it goes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Pomodoro Sketch

Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique?

Actually, this is a technique that has a lot of different names and variations. But, simply put, it is this:

  1. Pick something to do
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Do the thing you've chosen to do
  4. Stop when the timer goes off
  5. Make a note of what you were doing when you stopped (I call these "BREADCRUMBS" as they help me find where I was when I stopped)
  6. Set the timer for 5 minutes and take a break - take a sip of water, stretch, etc.
  7. Go back to step 1

Simple, eh? But it is actually quite effective, I've found. Timeboxing things (to 25 minutes in this case) has gotten me to the "just start" point, that is often my personal bugbear. Also, knowing that I only have 25 minutes to work on something means I don't feel like putting something off. But that's often enough to get something done, particularly when it is a sketch, not an oil painting. (Another technique of mine to just do something is to avoid feeling it needs to be perfect - "it is just a sketch" I tell myself).

The variations I've used include:

Squeeze all your organizing or timesucking activities into your break
Things like shuffling your to do list or checking your email or looking at your feed reader or checking your twitter feed or checking your friends's facebook updatges. All of these are more (or less) useful that you want to do them sometime. However, timeboxing them to be no more than 5 minutes can really help to ensure that you're not spending too much time on your meta work (organizing or organizing your organizing or staying current). However, checking and processing your email can help relieve your anxiety about staying connected and free you up mentally to concentrate on getting something done.

I try to pick my three Most Important Things to focus on. Generally, this means I end up with four MITs. Sometimes, I will need to make progress on all of them, but not have too much time to do so. For those special moments of stress, I spend roughly 28 minutes, in which I do 5 minutes of work on MIT#1, then take a 2 minute break, five minutes on MIT #2 and so on.

2*30 sprint
Somtimes, I have an hour but a zillion things to do. In particular, a side effect of concentrating on my three or four (or five) MITs is that all the other things I have on my TTD list are not getting done. So, the "sprint" technique is to set the timer for 2 minutes and simply get through 30 items, spending no more than 2 minutes on them. It is amazing, but you can often get enough done in 2 minutes to count as progress. Do it often enough and you will chip away at stuff and eventually finish some things, only to have those items be replaced by other other stuff to do.

The hardest thing about this technique is...finding a good timer. No, really. On my Mac, I've used Mineteur, integrated with Growl. I've not really found a good equivalent on Windows. Suggestions? On my ipod touch, there is a countdown clock thing. Which is OK but I need a visual alert, not an audible one.

None of the above is original to me or that revolutionary. It is all about filling each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run. And, like everything else, these "techniques" of slicing and dicing need to be balanced by the ability to step back and think, not just do. And it isn't bad to do the odd oil painting once in a while.

More about the other end of the spectrum another time, perhaps.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Hidden Talent

Tonight, plinky asks "What is your hidden talent?"

A good question. My youngest daughter was looking over my shoulder and suggested "guitar!" Maybe. Certainly, I have tried to teach myself guitar. A couple of times... Why? Well, a couple of years ago, I went to a Free At Noon concert hosted by WXPN. It was a Neil Finn concert. They were holding a draw to win a free electric guitar, signed by the man himself. So, I entered. And they drew the name was Stephen! However, he wasn't there any more (apparently not a big Neil Finn fan).

They drew a second name out of the hat was me! I rushed up on stage and claimed my prize. Naturally, I decided to learn how to play. (Truth to be told, I had learnt a couple of chords many years before during my Uni days). For a little while, I learnt, mainly by watching teach yourself guitar videos on YouTube. I got as far as barre chords...and that's where it ended. I have meant to pick it up again, but haven't yet. Maybe that will be my next 100 Day Experiment?

Well, I would say that - as far as a hidden talent goes - guitar playing is pretty hidden. Fun, though.

No, my real hidden talent is - wrapping presents. Yes! Amazingly enough, this is one of the few non-computer-related things that my entire family delegates to me. I don't know why, but I do seem to be pretty good at it. I don't think I wrapped many (any?) presents as a child. But I do remember watching a shop assistant wrap something in a department store as a young lad. And I recall taking careful note of how she did it. It still influences my technique, to this day.

There you have it: I'm a secret wrapper.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Statusphere is a Gift Culture

Over the last couple of years, I've played with various aspects of the Statusphere. Recently, I've settled down to a pretty steady pattern of using just Twitter and Facebook. As others have noticed that I use either one, they often ask me "What is Twitter for?" or "Why do people use Facebook?" At the time, I have generally mumbled something incoherent about "fun". In an effort, to work it out for myself, I've come up with a couple of theories. My current favourite is: it is best to view the Statusphere as a Gift Culture.

In a previous post (Coining the Statusphere), I explained that by "Statusphere" I mean all the ways of letting others know what's on your mind in a succinct manner. That includes Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed.

In another post (A Gift Culture), I talked about the idea of Gift Economies / Cultures in which the biggest gift-giver is the biggest winner. I contrasted this notion of winning by giving with the popular conception of winning in market economies: winning by hoarding. (This is a over-simplification, a generalization and a severe distortion of what market economic theorists would say. I mean, I don't even cite a single bit of proof for this winning-by-hoarding idea as being a "popular conception". Feel free to supply all this on your own blog).

I see all the sharing of links to youtube videoes and sending each other sleeping puppies on Facebook as being gift giving. Crucially, it is done in public (or, at least, in front of an audience). And the audience can comment - or at least "like" - the gift. These two gestures - clicking "like" or making a comment - combined by IRL feedback of "I love your Facebook updates!" translate into accrued goodness. It rewards the gift giver.

Similarly, the "retweet" phenomenon on Twitter (in which someone repeats someone else's tweet and gives them credit) is a way of rewarding a gift to the Twitterverse. And there are plenty of gifts on Twitter. For example, the idea of "live tweeting" an event, in which someone relays the key points of the conference they are attending so that others my participate vicariously. Or sharing links to photos or audio. Or the crazes like #followfriday in which you recommend your favourite twitters to others. All gifts to the twitterverse.

A variation on this notion of gift giving is how you can ask questions and get group responses. On both Twitter and Facebook, I see people ask questions and get amazingly good answers. I've even asked some questions myself. The answers are the gift in my theory.

So, there you have it. If you don't *get* Twitter or Facebook, then try to see them as gift-giving competitions. The more you give, the more you get.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Gift Culture

A gift culture is one in which the person who gives the biggest gift is the winner.

The notion of a "gift culture" or a "gift economy" is often associated with "primitive" societies that haven't yet evolved to capitalist style economies. For example, you might have a society in which people vie with each other in order to bestow the most lavish gifts on the king. (In capitalist economies, of course, the person who has accumulated the most things is the winner).

So, you may be thinking, how could a gift economy work? If you're giving everything away, then you end up with nothing for you, right? Well, the trick is that the gift giving is reciprocal. For example, in the society in which everyone competes to donate the biggest and best gifts to the king, the king turns around and shares all the gifts with the donors. Or, if I give you a gift, you give me a different gift in return.

I've often thought that the concept of giving gifts is a pretty decent alternative explanation for why people work, even in notionally capitalist societies. Though financial rewards play a role, many people are clearly not entirely motivated by how much money they are making. Otherwise, in ancient times - like two years ago - everyone would have become an investment banker. But the idea of gift giving seems to me to explain at least some types of professional work.

But I think that this idea of a gift economy is an even more compelling explanation for another modern phenomenon. I'll explain tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coining The Statusphere

So, today, I want to introduce a new concept: the statusphere.

How do I know it is new? Because I just googled for a definition and turned up nothing. And, as of right this second, googling for any web documents for "statusphere" turns up the wrong definition first ( although the second hit is correct ( The third hit is for but that is a site that hasn't launched (as of now) so maybe it is what I mean and maybe it is not.

So, what is this neologism? By statusphere, I mean things like twitter, facebook, friendfeed and all the other ways of communicating what you're doing, what's on your mind and so on. This idea of setting you status for others to see dates back a long time (at least as far back as AIM and the other instant messengers of yore). However, I think that these various services, despite their differences, are sufficiently similar that they deserve their own collective noun. So, taking a lead from "blogosphere" (the totality of all blogs in their myriad forms) we get "statusphere" (the totality of all ways of communicating your status). (The term "blogosphere" is itself a modeled on "logosphere"- the world of words/the community of discourse. Or maybe it sounds enough like "atmosphere"?).

"Statusphere" has the added bonus of sounding a bit like "stratosphere". Paving the way for weak Facebook statuses like "I took month-long vacations in the statusphere and you know it's really hard to hold your breath."

OK. So, a "new" concept today. Tomorrow, a very old concept.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An Experiment

I am going to try an experiment.

I just heard about the "100 days project": the idea is to do the same thing for 100 days in a row.

Actually, this is not a single project, as it turns out, but a series of identically named efforts, each of which seems to relate a different set of people. For example, photographers
or teachers or a summer long effort to brings writers, poets and other wordsmiths together to create something. Some 100 days projects are (were) timed to coincide with Barak Obama's first 100 days in office.

So, I will do a 100 days experiment to try and write a blog post every single day. My theory in this is that it is important to "just do it", rather than it being important exactly what I do. Who knows? Maybe I will start to get the hang of it.

And, as I've said before, you have to start somewhere. Maybe (maybe) my blog posts over the 100 days will get a little less meta. We shall see.

Friday, January 2, 2009