Reasons for not writing

    One of the reasons I continue with Thought Shrapnel is because it’s an easy way to ‘blog’ when I don’t feel like writing something from scratch.

    I came up with seven reasons that I use to justify why I’m not writing. In a confusing twist of perspective, I’m also going to try and talk myself out of them by explaining to you, dear Reader, why they are bullshit.
    The seven reasons?
    1. I don't have time
    2. I don't have anything interesting to say
    3. I gotta fix [X] on my site first
    4. Others have already written about this
    5. The moment for this has passed
    6. I can’t get it to sound right
    7. Nobody’s going to read it anyway
    Source: 7 Reasons why I don't write | Max Böck

    Sixteen hours on, eight hours off.

    I do like posts about people’s routines and, in fact, I contributed to a website which became a book of them! This particular one is by Warren Ellis, who seems to live quite a solitary existence, at least when he’s writing.

    Being alone can bring an intensity to one’s work, I’ve found, which may or may not be relevant or welcome given on what you do for a living. Given Ellis is a writer of graphic novels, novellas, and screenplays, it’s absolutely fitting, I guess.

    I work until I get hungry. I’ll watch something – a tv episode, part of a film – while eating lunch, which is either cold meats and flatbreads or salmon with vegetables or something with eggs. I keep it simple and repeatable. Also I have constant access to eggs, as mentioned above. At some point in the afternoon I’ll have an apple with walnuts and cheese. Eight espressos a day, two litres of water. I mention the food because the one thing productivity notes tend to forget is that thinking burns calories, and the first things to kill thinking are thirst and having no calories available to burn.
    Source: Morning Routine And Work Day, January 2022 | Warren Ellis

    Good writing is good writing

    I’ve seen all of the Star Wars films at least once. I’m not big into sci-fi or fantasy, but on the recommendation of seemingly everyone (including my son) I’ve started watching Andor on Disney+.

    I’m not even half-way through but it really is excellent, with no ridiculously CGI, just a believable world and an excellent storyline.

    Andor largely eschews many Star Wars staples, such as wacky creatures and funny droids, focusing instead on the realities of power and violence. Fantasy author Erin Lindsey, who worked for many years as a UN aid worker, found the show’s depiction of politics to be completely believable. “I think there are clearly people on the writing team who are students of spy novels like [those by] John le Carré and who are students of politics and students of history, who are really looking at how revolution has happened here on Earth and what that looks like,” she says.

    Despite its high quality, Andor‘s ratings have lagged behind Star Wars shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Mandalorian. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley hopes that Andor will attract a larger audience in season 2. “It’s so good,” he says. “It deserves higher ratings than it’s gotten so far. And I definitely want to see more shows like this. This is the kind of show—especially the kind of Star Wars show—that I’ve been pining after for all these years. So please let’s all just give it as much support as we can.”

    Source: ‘Andor’ Is a Master Class in Good Writing | WIRED

    One sentence per line

    This is spectacularly simple advice from Derek Sivers. I immediately used the approach after reading this article for a script I was writing for a screencast and it really helped!

    My advice to anyone who writes: Try writing one sentence per line. I’ve been doing it for twenty years, and it improved my writing more than anything else.

    New sentence? Hit [Enter]. New line.

    Not publishing one sentence per line, no. Write like this for your eyes only. HTML or Markdown combine separate lines into one paragraph.

    Source: writing one sentence per line | Derek Sivers

    Subscriber count as power level against algorithmic demons

    I’ve done a lot of writing for work this week and needed to hear some of the things in this post by Justin Murphy. Great stuff.

    Mustering the discipline to write on a regular basis is a battle against yourself, against your own feeling that it doesn't matter.

    Finding the will to click the publish button is a battle against yourself, against your own feeling that it’s not worth it.

    You feel nervous about what your readers will think, but that makes no sense. They subscribed to you because they want to know what you think; you have zero reason to care what they think. If you really care what your readers think, then go subscribe to them. You are not subscribed to your readers because you do not care what they think. Now act like it.

    Source: Writing is a Single-Player Game | Other Life

    What makes writing more readable?

    I had the pleasure of interviewing Georgia Bullen, Executive Director of Simply Secure yesterday. I noticed that her website links to an active RSS feed from her Instapaper account, which I immediately added to my feed reader.

    My first gleaning from that feed came today, when I came across this clever website which not just explains, but shows how to make writing more readable. Highly recommended.

    Technology alone isn’t the answer. Even the most thoughtful algorithms and robust data sets lack context. Ultimately, the effectiveness of plain language translations comes down to engagement with your audience. Engagement that doesn’t make assumptions about what the audience understands, but will instead ask them to find out. Engagement that’s willing to work directly with people with disabilities or limited access to education, and not through intermediaries. As disabled advocates and organizations led by disabled people have been saying all along: “Nothing about us without us.”
    ...and the plain language version:
    Source: What makes writing more readable? | pudding.cool

    Momentum over details

    I subscribed to Laura Olin’s newsletter recently, and the first issue I received mentioned how the late Dave Graeber “liked to… write propped up in the bathtub or lying on the floor; that way, it didn’t feel like work”.

    She also links to another newsletter issue by Kate McKean, which I quote below, about just getting on with things, keeping the momentum going, and not getting stuck with details. It reminds me of my collaborations this week (in a good way!)

    Angular momentum

    Which leads me to my newest revelation: just write it down now! You can fix it later! Truly and honestly, you can fix it later. Do you know how many TKs are in my book right now? (TK is copyediting shorthand for I’ll fill it in later) Instead of trying figure out what day of the week it is in my book, it literally says “TK weekday.” I was in the middle of a scene when I realized one of the characters in it couldn’t physically be there at that time, so I deleted his name and wrote “TK some other guy” and kept going! I liked the scene! I’ll figure out that TK later! Or I will cut it! The words exist now, which means they can be edited, refined, deleted, kept. You’re going to edit your book five thousand times; you won’t notice one more. And for those of you who worry that’s going to add time to an already long and arduous process, well, I say that if it gets you to The End faster, even if you have to go back to all those TK’s, you’re that much better off.
    Source: How to Like What You Write | Kate McKean

    Image: CC BY-NC-ND Alan Bloom

    Aimless wandering in search of the unknown catalyst

    It might not be too much of a stretch to describe Edward Snowden as a hero of mine. I’m not sure what he’s still doing in Russia, but the moral conviction it took to do what he did is staggering.

    He writes in exile through a newsletter which is well worth subscribing to. In his most recent missive, he talks about lacking what he calls “origination energy”. On a much smaller level and more insignificant level, I lack this too — especially at this time of year.

    So as the young people say, I feel seen.

    Edward Snowden poster

    For a long time now, I’ve wanted to write to you, but found myself unable. Not from illness—although that came and went—but because I refuse to put something in your inbox that I feel isn’t worth your time.

    The endless stream of events that the world provides to remark upon has the tendency to take on an almost physical weight, and robs me of what I can only describe as origination energy: the creative spark that empowers us not simply to do something, but to do something new. Without it, even the best of what I can produce feels derivative and workmanlike—good enough for government, perhaps, but not good enough for you.

    I suspect you may know a similar struggle—you can tell me how you fight it below, if you like—but my only means for overcoming it is an aimless wandering in search of the unknown catalyst that might help me to refill my emptied well. Where once I might have had a good chance of walking away inspired by the empathy I felt while watching a sad, sad film, achieving such inspiration feels harder now, somehow. I have to search farther, and wander longer, across centuries of painting and music until at last, when passing by a dumpster, yesterday’s internet comment might suddenly pop into my head and blossom there, as if a poem. The thing—the artifact itself—doesn’t matter, so much as what it does for me—it enlivens me.

    This, to me, is art.

    Source: Cultural Revolutions | Edward Snowden

    Image CC BY-NC-ND: Antonio Marín Segovia

    Blissed, Blessed, Pissed, and Dissed

    Austin Kleon summarises Bill O’Hanlon’s idea around there being ‘four energies’ that writers can dig into. They may need translating for a British audience (‘pissed’ means something different over here…) but I like it as an organising idea.

    Related: Buster Benson’s ‘Seven Modes (for seven heads)’ from his seminal post Live like a hydra.

    The energies are split between “what you love and what upsets you”:
    • “Blissed” energy comes from what you’re on fire for and can’t stop doing.
    • “Blessed” means you’ve been gifted something that you feel compelled to share.
    • “Pissed” means you’re pissed off or angry about something.
    • “Dissed” means you feel “dissatisfied or disrespected.”
    O’Hanlon goes on to say many of his early books were “written from a combination of pissed and blissed.”
    Source: The Four Energies | Austin Kleon

    Life is a great bundle of little things

    As I'm catching up with news from various sources and bookmarking articles to come back and share via Thought Shrapnel, I also come across interesting tools and resources.

    Here are some of them that I thought were interesting enough to share.

    ArchiveWeb.page is "the latest tool from Webrecorder to turn your browser into a full-featured interactive web archiving system!"

    Bookfeed.io is "a simple tool that allows you to specify a list of authors, and generates an RSS feed with each author’s most recently released book."

    Loudreader is "the world's only ebook reader that can open .azw3 [and] .mobi files in a browser!"

    NES.css is "a NES style (8bit-like) CSS framework." (also see Simple.css)

    novelWriter is "a markdown-like text editor designed for writing novels and larger projects of many smaller plain text documents."

    Open Peeps is a hand-drawn illustration library. "You can use Open Peeps in product illustration, marketing imagery, comics, product states, user flows, personas, storyboarding, invitations for your quinceañera...or anything else not on this list."

    Pattern Generator provides you with a way to "create unique, seamless, royalty-free patterns".

    Same Energy is "a visual search engine. You can use it to find beautiful art, photography, decoration ideas, or anything else."

    Screenstab allows you to "cut down on time and effort by auto-generating appealing graphics for marketing materials, social media posts, illustrations & presentation slides."


    Quotation-as-title by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Image by Jessica Lee.

    Seeing through is rarely seeing into

    Friday fumings

    My bet is that you've spent most of this week reading news about the global pandemic. Me too. That's why I decided to ensure it's not mentioned at all in this week's link roundup!

    Let me know what resonates with you... 😷


    Finding comfort in the chaos: How Cory Doctorow learned to write from literally anywhere

    My writing epiphany — which arrived decades into my writing career — was that even though there were days when the writing felt unbearably awful, and some when it felt like I was mainlining some kind of powdered genius and sweating it out through my fingertips, there was no relation between the way I felt about the words I was writing and their objective quality, assessed in the cold light of day at a safe distance from the day I wrote them. The biggest predictor of how I felt about my writing was how I felt about me. If I was stressed, underslept, insecure, sad, hungry or hungover, my writing felt terrible. If I was brimming over with joy, the writing felt brilliant.

    Cory Doctorow (CBC)

    Such great advice in here from the prolific Cory Doctorow. Not only is he a great writer, he's a great speaker, too. I think both come from practice and clarity of thought.


    Slower News

    Trends, micro-trends & edge cases.

    This is a site that specialises in important and interesting news that is updated regularly, but not on an hour-by-hour (or even daily) basis. A wonderful antidote to staring at your social media feed for updates!


    SCARF: The 5 key ingredients for psychological safety in your team

    There’s actually a mountain of compelling evidence that the single most important ingredient for healthy, high-performing teams is simple: it’s trust. When Google famously crunched the data on hundreds of high-performing teams, they were surprised to find that one variable mattered more than any other: “emotional safety.” Also known as: “psychological security.” Also known as: trust.

    Matt Thompson

    I used to work with Matt at Mozilla, and he's a pretty great person to work alongside. He's got a book coming out this year, and Laura (another former Mozilla colleague, but also a current co-op colleague!) drew my attention to this.


    I Illustrated National Parks In America Based On Their Worst Review And I Hope They Will Make You Laugh (16 Pics)

    I'm an illustrator and I have always had a personal goal to draw all 62 US National Parks, but I wanted to find a unique twist for the project. When I found that there are one-star reviews for every single park, the idea for Subpar Parks was born. For each park, I hand-letter a line from the one-star reviews alongside my illustration of each park as my way of putting a fun and beautiful twist on the negativity.

    Amber Share (Bored Panda)

    I love this, especially as the illustrations are so beautiful and the comments so banal.


    What Does a Screen Do?

    We know, for instance, that smartphone use is associated with depression in teens. Smartphone use certainly could be the culprit, but it’s also possible the story is more complicated; perhaps the causal relationship works the other way around, and depression drives teenagers to spend more time on their devices. Or, perhaps other details about their life—say, their family background or level of physical activity—affect both their mental health and their screen time. In short: Human behavior is messy, and measuring that behavior is even messier.

    Jane C. Hu (Slate)

    This, via Ian O'Byrne, is a useful read for anyone who deals with kids, especially teenagers.


    13 reads to save for later: An open organization roundup

    For months, writers have been showering us with multiple, ongoing series of articles, all focused on different dimensions of open organizational theory and practice. That's led to to a real embarrassment of riches—so many great pieces, so little time to catch them all.

    So let's take moment to reflect. If you missed one (or several) now's your chance to catch up.

    Bryan Behrenshausen (Opensource.com)

    I've already shared some of the articles in this roundup, but I encourage you to check out the rest, and subscribe to opensource.com. It's a great source of information and guidance.


    It Doesn’t Matter If Anyone Exists or Not

    Capitalism has always transformed people into latent resources, whether as labor to exploit for making products or as consumers to devour those products. But now, online services make ordinary people enact both roles: Twitter or Instagram followers for conversion into scrap income for an influencer side hustle; Facebook likes transformed into News Feed-delivery refinements; Tinder swipes that avoid the nuisance of the casual encounters that previously fueled urban delight. Every profile pic becomes a passerby—no need for an encounter, even.

    Ian Bogost (The Atlantic)

    An amazing piece of writing, in which Ian Bogost not only surveys previous experiences with 'strangers' but applies it to the internet. As he points out, there is a huge convenience factor in not knowing who made your sandwich. I've pointed out before that capitalism is all about scale, and at the end of the day, caring doesn't scale, and scaling doesn't care.


    You don't want quality time, you want garbage time

    We desire quality moments and to make quality memories. It's tempting to think that we can create quality time just by designating it so, such as via a vacation. That generally ends up backfiring due to our raised expectations being let down by reality. If we expect that our vacation is going to be perfect, any single mistake ruins the experience

    In contrast, you are likely to get a positive surprise when you have low expectations, which is likely the case during a "normal day". It’s hard to match perfection, and easy to beat normal. Because of this, it's more likely quality moments come out of chance

    If you can't engineer quality time, and it's more a matter of random events, it follows that you want to increase how often such events happen. You can't increase the probability, but you can increase the duration for such events to occur. Put another way, you want to increase quantity of time, and not engineer quality time.

    Leon Lin (Avoid boring people)

    There's a lot of other interesting-but-irrelevant things in this newsletter, so scroll to the bottom for the juicy bit. I've quoted the most pertinent point, which I definitely agree with. There's wisdom in Gramsci's quotation about having "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will".


    The Prodigal Techbro

    The prodigal tech bro doesn’t want structural change. He is reassurance, not revolution. He’s invested in the status quo, if we can only restore the founders’ purity of intent. Sure, we got some things wrong, he says, but that’s because we were over-optimistic / moved too fast / have a growth mindset. Just put the engineers back in charge / refocus on the original mission / get marketing out of the c-suite. Government “needs to step up”, but just enough to level the playing field / tweak the incentives. Because the prodigal techbro is a moderate, centrist, regular guy. Dammit, he’s a Democrat. Those others who said years ago what he’s telling you right now? They’re troublemakers, disgruntled outsiders obsessed with scandal and grievance. He gets why you ignored them. Hey, he did, too. He knows you want to fix this stuff. But it’s complicated. It needs nuance. He knows you’ll listen to him. Dude, he’s just like you…

    Maria Farrell (The Conversationalist)

    Now that we're experiencing something of a 'techlash' it's unsurprising that those who created surveillance capitalism have had a 'road to Damascus' experience. That doesn't mean, as Maria Farrell points out, that we should all of a sudden consider them to be moral authorities.


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    Friday fluidity

    I wasn't sure whether to share links about the Coronavirus this week, but obviously, like everyone else, I've been reading about it.

    Next week, my wife and I are heading to Belgium as I'm speaking at an event, and then we're spending the weekend in Bruges. I think we'll be OK. But even if we do contract the virus, the chances of us dying, or even being seriously ill, are vanishingly small. It's all very well being pragmatic, but you can't live your life in fear.

    Anyway, if you've heard enough about potential global pandemics, feel free to skip straight onto the second and third sections, where I share some really interesting links about organisations, productivtiy, security, and more!


    How I track the coronavirus

    I’ve been tracking it carefully for weeks, and have built up an online search strategy. I’d like to share a description of it here, partly in case it’s useful for readers, and also to request additions in case it’s missing anything.

    Bryan Alexander

    What I like about this post by Bryan is that he's sharing both his methods and go-to resources, without simultaneously sharing his conclusions. That's the mark of an open mind, and that's why I support him on Patreon.


    Coronavirus and World After Capital

    The danger we are now finding ourselves in can be directly traced to our reliance on the market mechanism for allocating attention. A global pandemic is an example of the kind of tail risk for which prices cannot exist. This is a key theme of my book World After Capital and I have been using pandemics as an alternative example to the climate crisis (another, while we are at it, are asteroid strikes).

    Albert Wenger (Continuations)

    I really must sit down and read World After Capital. In this short post, the author (a Venture Capitalist) explains why we need to allocate attention to what he calls 'tail risks'.


    You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus

    Many countries have responded with containment attempts, despite the dubious efficacy and inherent harms of China’s historically unprecedented crackdown. Certain containment measures will be appropriate, but widely banning travel, closing down cities, and hoarding resources are not realistic solutions for an outbreak that lasts years. All of these measures come with risks of their own. Ultimately some pandemic responses will require opening borders, not closing them. At some point the expectation that any area will escape effects of COVID-19 must be abandoned: The disease must be seen as everyone’s problem.

    James Hamblin (The Atlantic)

    Will you get a cold at some point in your life? Yes, probably most winters in some form. Will you catch 'flu at some point in your life. Yes, probably, at some point. Will you get the Coronavirus. Almost certainly, but it's not going to kill you unless your very young, very old, or very weak.


    Image by Ivan Bandura
    Photo by Ivan Bandura

    Work Operating Systems? No, We Need Work Ecosystems.

    The principal limitation of the work OS concept is that companies do not operate independently: they are increasingly connected to other organizations. The model of work OS is too inwardly focused, when the real leverage may come from the interactions across company boundaries, or by lessening the barriers to cross-company cooperation. (In a sense, this is just the fullest expression of the ideal of cross-team and cross-department cooperation: if it’s good at the smallest scale, it is great at the largest scale.)

    Stowe Boyd (GigaOM)

    This post is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I absolutely agree with the end game that Boyd describes here. Second, our co-op has just started using Monday.com and have found it... fine, and doing what we need, but I can't wait for some organisation to go beyond the 'work OS'.


    Career Moats 101

    A career moat is an individual’s ability to maintain competitive advantages over your competition (say, in the job market) in order to protect your long term prospects, your employability, and your ability to generate sufficient financial returns to support the life you want to live. Just like a medieval castle, the moat serves to protect those inside the fortress and their riches from outsiders.

    cedric chin (Commonplace)

    I came across links to two different posts on the same blog this week, which made me investigate it further. The central thesis of the blog is that we should aim to build 'career moats', which is certainly an interesting way of thinking about things, and this link has some practical advice.


    Daily life with the offline laptop

    Having access to the Internet is a gift, I can access anything or anyone. But this comes with a few drawbacks. I can waste my time on anything, which is not particularly helpful. There are so many content that I only scratch things, knowing it will still be there when I need it, and jump to something else. The amount of data is impressive, one human can’t absorb that much, we have to deal with it.

    Solène Rapenne

    I love this idea of having a machine that remains offline and which you use for music and writing. Especially the writing. In fact, I was talking to someone earlier this week about using my old 1080p monitor in portrait mode with a Raspberry Pi to create a 'writing machine'. I might just do it...


    Photo by Lauren McConachie

    Spilling over: How working openly with anxiety affects my team

    At a fundamental level, I believe work is never done, that there is always another challenge to explore, other ways to have a larger impact. Leaders need to inspire and motivate us to embrace that reality as an exciting opportunity rather than an endless drudge or a source of continual worry.

    Sam Knuth (Opensource.com)

    This is a great article. As a leader and someone who's only admitted to myself recently that I am, indeed an 'anxious person', I see similarities with my experiences here.


    5 tricks to make the internet less distracting, so you can get stuff done

    Maybe you want to be more productive at work. Maybe you want to spend more time being creative or learning new skills. Or maybe you just wish you spent more time communicating with the people you love and less time scrolling through websites that bring you brief moments of joy just frequently enough that you’re willing to tolerate the broader feeling of anxiety/jealousy/outrage.

    The internet can be an amazing tool for pursuing these goals, but it’s not necessarily designed to push you toward it. You’ve got to work to create the environment for yourself. Here are some ways you can do just that.

    Justin Pot (Fast Company)

    It's now over five years since I wrote Curate or Be Curated. The article, and the warning it contains, stands the test of time, I think. The 'tricks' shared in this Fast Company article, shared by Ian O'Byrne are a helpful place to start.


    How to Dox Yourself on the Internet

    To help our Times colleagues think like doxxers, we developed a formal program that consists of a series of repeatable steps that can be taken to clean up an online footprint. Our goal with this program is to empower people to control the information they share, and to provide them with tools and resources to have a better awareness around the information they intentionally and unintentionally share online.
    We are now publicly releasing the content of this program for anyone to access. We think it is important for freelancers, activists, other newsrooms or people who want to take control of their own security online.

    The NYT Open Team

    This is a great idea. 'Doxxing' is the digging-up and sharing of personal information (e.g. home addresses) for the purposes of harrassment. This approach, where you try to 'dox' yourself so that you can take protective steps, is a great idea.


    Header image by Adli Wahid who says "Rest in Peace Posters of Dr Li Wenliang, who warned authorities about the coronovirus outbreak seen at Hosier Lane in Melbourne, Australia. Hosier Lane is known for its street art. "

    If you change nothing, nothing will change

    What would you do if you knew you had 24 hours left to live? I suppose it would depend on context. Is this catastrophe going to affect everyone, or only you? I'm not sure I'd know what to do in the former case, but once I'd said my goodbyes to my family, I'm pretty sure I know what I'd do in the latter.

    Yep, I would go somewhere by myself and write.

    To me, the reason both reading and writing can feel so freeing is that they allow you to mentally escape your physical constraints. It almost doesn't matter what's happening to your body or anything around you while you lose yourself in someone else's words, or you create your own.


    I came across an interesting blog recently. It had a single post, entitled Consume less, create more. In it, the author, 'Tom', explains that the 1,600 words he's shared were written over the course of a month after he realised that he was spending his life consuming instead of creating.

    A lot of ink has been spilled about the perils of modern technology. How it distracts us, how it promotes unhealthy comparisons with others, how it makes us fat, how it limits social interaction, how it spies on us. And all of these things are probably true, to some extent.

    But the real tragedy of modern technology is that it’s turned us into consumers. Our voracious consumption of media parallels our consumption of fossil fuels, corn syrup, and plastic straws. And although we’re starting to worry about our consumption of those physical goods, we seem less concerned about our consumption of information.

    We treat information as necessarily good, and comfort ourselves with the feeling that whatever article or newsletter we waste our time with is actually good for us. We equate reading with self improvement, even though we forget most of what we’ve read, and what we remember isn’t useful.

    TJCX

    I feel that at this juncture in history, we've perfected surveillance-via-smartphone as the perfect tool to maximise FOMO. For those growing up in the goldfish bowl of the modern world, this may feel as normal as the 'water' in which they are 'swimming'. But for the rest of us, it can still feel... odd.

    This is going to sound pretty amazing, but I don't think there's been many days in my adult life when I've been able to go somewhere without anyone else knowing. As a kid? Absolutely. I can vividly remember, for example, cycling to a corn field and finding a place to lie down and look at the sky, knowing that no-one could see me. It was time spent with myself, unmediated and unfiltered.

    This didn't used to be unusual. People had private inner lives that were manifested in private actions. In a recent column in The Guardian, Grace Dent expanded on this.

    Yes life after iPhones is marvellous, but in the 90s I ran wild across London, up to all kinds of no good, staying out for days, keeping my own counsel entirely. My parents up north would not speak to me for weeks. Sometimes, life back in the days when we had one shit Nokia and a landline between five friends seems blissful. One was permitted lost weekends and periods of secret skulduggery or just to lie about reading a paperback without the sense six people were owed a text message. Yes, things took longer, and one needed to make plans and keep them, but being off the grid was normal. Today, not replying... is a truly radical act.

    Grace Dent

    "Not replying... is a truly radical act". Wow. Let that sink in for a moment.


    Given all this, it's no wonder in our always-on culture that we have so much 'life admin' to concern ourselves with. Previous generations may have had 'pay the bills' on their to-do list, but it wasn't nudged down the to-do list by 'inform a person I kind of know on Twitter that they have incorrect view on Brexit'.

    All of these things build upon incrementally until they eventually become unsustainable. It's death by a thousand cuts. As I've quoted many times before before, Jocelyn K. Glei's question is always worth asking: who are you without the doing?


    Realistically, most of our days are likely to involve some use of digital communication tools. We can't always be throwing off our shackles to live the life of a flâneur. To facilitate space to create, therefore, it's important to draw some red lines. This is what Michael Bernstein talks about in Sorry, we can't join your Slack.

    Saying yes to joining client Slack channels would mean that down the line we’d feel more exhausted but less accomplished. We’d have more superficial “friends,” but wouldn’t know how to deal with products much better than we did now. We’d be on the hook all the time, and have less of an opportunity to consider our responses.

    Michael Bernstein

    In other words, being more available and more 'social' takes time away from more important pursuits. After all, time is the ultimate zero-sum game.


    Ultimately, I guess it's about learning to see the world differently. There very well be a 'new normal' that we've begun to internalise but, for now at least, we have a choice to use to our advantage that 'flexibility' we hear so much about.

    This is why self-reflection is so important, as Wanda Thibodeaux explains in an article for Inc.

    In sum, elimination of stress and the acceptance of peace comes not necessarily from changing the world, but rather from clearing away all the learned clutter that prevents us from changing our view of the world. Even the biggest systemic "realities" (e.g., work "HAS" to happen from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) are up for reinterpretation and rewriting, and arguably, inner calm and innovation both stem from the same challenge of perceptions.

    Wanda Thibodeaux

    To do this, you have to have to already have decided the purpose for which you're using your tools, including the ones provided by your smartphone.

    Need more specific advice on that? I suggest you go and read this really handy post by Ryan Holiday: A Radical Guide to Spending Less Time on Your Phone. The advice to be focused on which apps you need on your phone is excellent; I deleted over 100!

    You may also find this post useful that I wrote over on my blog a few months ago about how changing the 'launcher' on your phone can change your life.


    If you make some changes after reading this, I'd be interested in hearing how you get on. Let me know in the comments section below!


    Quotation-as-title from Rajkummar Rao.

    The importance of marginalia

    Austin Kleon makes a simple, but important point, about how to become a writer:

    I believe that the first step towards becoming a writer is becoming a reader, but the next step is becoming a reader with a pencil. When you underline and circle and jot down your questions and argue in the margins, you’re existing in this interesting middle ground between reader and writer:
    Kleon has previously recommended Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren's How to Read a Book, which I bought last time he mentioned it. Ironically enough, it's sitting on my bookshelf, unread. Anyway, he quotes Adler and Van Doren as saying:
    Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it. Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author. Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author….Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements…It is the highest respect you can pay him.
    I read a lot of non-fiction books on my e-reader*, so the equivalent of that for me is Thought Shrapnel, I guess...

    Source: Austin Kleon

    * Note: I left my old e-reader on the flight home from our holiday. I took the opportunity to upgrade to the bq Cervantes 4, which I bought from Amazon Spain.

    Different sorts of time

    Growing up, I always thought I’d write for a living. Initially, I wanted to be a journalist, but as it turns out, thinking and writing is about 75% of what I do on a weekly basis.

    I’m always interested in how people who write full-time structure the process. This, from Jon McGregor, struck a chord with me:

    There are other sorts of time, besides the writing time. There is thinking time, reading time, research time and sketching out ideas time. There is working on the first page over and over again until you find the tone you’re looking for time. There is spending just five minutes catching up on email time. There is spending five minutes more on Twitter because, in a way, that is part of the research process time. There is writing time, somewhere in there. There is making the coffee and clearing away the coffee and thinking about lunch and making the lunch and clearing away the lunch time. There is stretching the legs time. There is going for a long walk because all the great writers always talk about walking time being the best thinking time, and then there is getting back from that walk and realising what the hell the time is now time. There’s looking back over what you’ve written so far and deciding it is all a load of awkwardly phrased bobbins time; there is wondering what kind of a way this is to make a living at all time. There is finding the tail-end of an idea that might just work and trying to get that down on the page before you run out of time time. There is answering emails that just can’t be put off any longer time. There is moving to another table and setting a timer and refusing to look up from the page until you’ve written for 40 minutes solid time. There is reading that back and crossing it out time. And then there is running out of the door and trying to get to the school gates at anything like a decent time time.
    I've written before, elsewhere, about how difficult it is for knowledge workers such as writers to quantify what counts as 'work'. Does a walk in the park while thinking about what you're going to write count? What about when you're in the shower planning something out?

    It’s complicated.

    Source: The Guardian