What are the magic adulthood powers?
This means doing the thing that you’re supposed to do, and tuning out everything else. A problem I’ve always had is doing tonnes of different things all at once, and then ultimately never getting anything done at all. In the short run it can seem like it’s a way of optimising for things – when you don’t know what the most important thing is, you do a bunch of things and hope that you learn something along the way.
By that I mean – along the way you learn what’s the most important thing, maybe there are some surprises, maybe there are some shortcuts, you don’t know and so you open a few things. It’s like listening to music while watching a video on Facebook with subtitles on and talking to a couple of friends all at the same time – you can’t do this for any meaningful work. You need to focus. And focus is something that you need to train.
You need to pick something. If you have a bunch of things to do, the worst thing to do is to dither between all of them and then do nothing. You have to quickly devise a system of deciding what to do, and then start doing it. This is a sort of fractal thing. OODA loops, I suppose. You want to observe what you have ahead of you – how big is the landscape or context that you’re operating in? If it’s small (relative to you and your ability and so on), you might want to just get started straight away and reevaluate after some amount of time. If it’s massive, you may want to do a quick scan to figure out if it’s worth figuring out in greater detail, if you know what I mean.
It’s like… I mean, think about how sometimes your computer is a bit dumb when it comes to say, deleting tonnes of stuff. My wife tried deleting some Time Machine stuff a while ago and the computer just kept counting files until it was in the 500,000 files range. That’s silly, isn’t it? At that point the computer should realise that it’s probably smarter to batch the problem. Yeah. So you have to figure out if the thing you’re doing requires batching. I suppose this is where the various sorting algorithms come into play. Once you cross certain sizes, it starts making sense to figure out if there’s a superior sorting algorithm. But you never want to spend too much time on a sorting algorithm either, because the one thing you know is that you don’t have infinite time. You’re going to die eventually.
Here’s a funny meta moment – why am I here, in this document, writing this? I’m in the middle of a bigger project where I’m trying to tidy up my evernote. Most of it has been touch and go – add a comment, add a note, delete or transfer to an appropriate context. A sort of global sort. And then I found this note, which had 4 points: mono tasking, prioritising, saying no, putting yourself first. And I thought hey, let’s develop this. And so I started writing. And after making a bit of progress on the first point, I jumped to point number 4. Build that a little, then jumped to point 2, and here I am. There’s a sort of sorting algorithm taking place right now, as I decide what to write, how to spend my time. I’m going to publish this one as a word vomit.
# Saying no
I wonder if this is distributed differently for different people. I never really learned to say no. As a child, you don’t really get to say no to your family and to your teachers and whatnot. I think very young children get to do it with their parents, but I don’t remember that phase of my life. After that your life isn’t really yours for a while – you have to go to school, you have to do as you’re told. Elliott Hulse has a great video about this that bears watching.
This ends once you’re an adult, but I still don’t fully appreciate it. I don’t appreciate that I can say no to my wife, to my colleagues, to my boss. I mean, there’s always a cost to the no, as there was even when you’re a kid. But saying no is the single fastest way to cut things out of your life and make your life simpler. I’m saying no to staying up all night. I’m saying no to staying up past this word vomit. I’m going to publish this once I finish these few sentences, and then I’m going to wrap up and start winding down for bed because Sleep is my #1 priority.
# Putting yourself first
It’s hard to know how you’re doing. You have to really listen to your body. I’ve always been surprised by people who seem to know when exactly they’re tired, when exactly they’re hungry, when exactly they’re beginning to get burned out and so on. I’ve always felt like a fraud on all of these things. When I’m running, how do I know if the discomfort I’m feeling is the natural discomfort of doing something physical, or if it’s something that’s going to cause me pain? Yeah, excruciating pain is obvious, but what about a dull ache? At what point does a dull ache go too far? I’ve heard from people who say that it’s all in the mind and that the body can take a lot more punishment than you think. I completed a 21km half-marathon without training once. I had to walk about half of it, but I still passed the finishing line – there were several actual runners in their proper marathon running gear and whatnot who had to drop out and be transported to the finish by a van. Maybe they wanted a good time, pushed themselves too hard, and then decided that finishing wasn’t a priority? I don’t know, I wonder.
Anyway so I’m learning that it’s important to put yourself first – particularly your health. Your physical health, your mental health, your well-being. The thing is I used to spend all my time playing video games and random nonsense, surfing the web and so on. Was that healthy or unhealthy? Smoking is obviously unhealthy but sometimes it seems like a useful tool for managing my psychology. You could say that that’s just the addiction talking, but people do that sort of thing with all kinds of things. It’s clear that ultimately most people are just full of shit, and the only people you can really trust about this sort of thing are the high-performance folks – and even then you have to ask if it’s the sort of high-performance you want. Kobe Bryant said that being the #1 basketballer was his #1 thing, and as a result he had to sacrifice relationships with other people. He’s an okay friend, but he’s not to going to remember birthdays and things like that.
This goes back to priorities. What’s most important to you? And this is something you have to figure out for yourself. You can’t outsource this to a parent or a spouse or a teacher or a boss. You have to figure out what’s most important to you, decide that it’s something you’re going to be able to live with – e.g. if family comes first then you’re going to have to live with that decision when you make some choices that maybe means not being #1 at work. You can’t do it and then whine about it later on.
I wonder how much people avoid making decisions so that they can reserve the right to bitch and whine about it later on, at the bar, with all the other sympathetic people who want to bitch and whine too. Must be a disturbing number of people. See: any comments section. Anyway, sleep is #1 for me so it’s time for bed.
Before I go though – what are some of the other magic adulting powers?
7 Habits come to mind –
- being proactive,
- making plans ahead of time, preparing in advance.
- Doing the homework when it’s painful and boring (buying life insurance, doing the savings stuff, figuring out compound interest and investments). Identifying good people and
- investing in good relationships
- Taking time off
- Sharpening your saw / working on your big picture system
- cause-and-effect / desired-end-state thinking
- working backwards from your desired end-state
- taking care of your body/mind