Quotation-as-title by Elizabeth Bransco. Image from top-linked post.
Thanks to Seneca for today’s quotation, taken from his still-all-too-relevant On the Shortness of Life. We’re constantly being told that we need to ‘hustle’ to make it in today’s society. However, as Dan Lyons points out in a book I’m currently reading called Lab Rats: how Silicon Valley made work miserable for the rest of us, we’re actually being ‘immiserated’ for the benefit of Venture Capitalists.
The central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: “System 1” is fast, instinctive and emotional; “System 2” is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking, starting with Kahneman’s own research on loss aversion. From framing choices to people’s tendency to replace a difficult question with one which is easy to answer, the book highlights several decades of academic research to suggest that people place too much confidence in human judgement.WIkipedia
Cal Newport, in a book of the same name, calls ‘System 2’ something else: Deep Work. Seneca, Kahneman, and Newport, are all basically saying the same thing but with different emphasis. We need to allow ourselves time for the slower and deliberative work that makes us uniquely human.
That kind of work doesn’t happen when you’re being constantly interrupted, nor when you’re in an environment that isn’t comfortable, nor when you’re fearful that your job may not exist next week. A post for the Nuclino blog entitled Slack Is Not Where ‘Deep Work’ Happens uses a potentially-apocryphal tale to illustrate the point:
On one morning in 1797, the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was composing his famous poem Kubla Khan, which came to him in an opium-induced dream the night before. Upon waking, he set about writing until he was interrupted by an unknown person from Porlock. The interruption caused him to forget the rest of the lines, and Kubla Khan, only 54 lines long, was never completed.Nuclino blog
What we’re actually doing by forcing everyone to use synchronous tools like Slack is a form of journalistic rhythm — but without everyone being synced-up:
If you haven’t read Deep Work, never fear, because there’s an epic article by Fadeke Adegbuyi for doist entitled The Complete Guide to Deep Work which is particularly useful:
This is an actionable guide based directly on Newport’s strategies in Deep Work. While we fully recommend reading the book in its entirety, this guide distills all of the research and recommendations into a single actionable resource that you can reference again and again as you build your deep work practice. You’ll learn how to integrate deep work into your life in order to execute at a higher level and discover the rewards that come with regularly losing yourself in meaningful work.Fadeke Adegbuyi
Lots of articles and podcast episodes say they’re ‘actionable’ or provide ‘tactics’ for success. I have to say this one delivers. I’d still read Newport’s book, though.
Interestingly, despite all of the ridiculousness spouted by VC’s, people are pretty clear about how they can do their best work. After a Dropbox survey of 500 US-based workers in the knowledge economy, Ben Taylor outlines four ‘lessons’ they’ve learned:
- More workers want to slow down to get things right — “In reality, 61% of workers said they wanted to “slow down to get things right” while only 41%* wanted to “go fast to achieve more.” The divide was even starker among older workers.”
- Workers strongly value uninterrupted focus at work, but most will make an exception to help others — “The results suggest we need to be more thoughtful about when we break our concentration, or ask others to do so. When people know they are helping others in a meaningful way, they tend to be okay with some distraction. But the busywork of meetings, alerts, and emails can quickly disrupt a person’s flow—one of the most important values we polled.”
- Most workers have slightly more trust in people closest to the work, rather than people in upper management — “Among all respondents, 53% trusted people “closest to the work,” while only 45% trusted “upper management.” You might assume that younger workers would be the most likely to trust peers over management, but in fact, the opposite was true.”
- Workers are torn between idealism and pragmatism — “It’s tempting to assume that addressing just one piece—like taking a stand on societal issues—will necessarily get in the way of the work itself. But our research suggests we can begin to solve the two in tandem, as more equality, inclusion, and diversity tends to come hand-in-hand with a healthier mindset about work.”
I think we need to reclaim workplace culture from the hustlers, shallow thinkers, and those focused on short-term profit. Let’s reflect on how things actually work in practice. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb says about being ‘antifragile’, let’s “look for habits and rules that have been around for a long time”.
Also check out:
- Health effects of job insecurity (IZA) — “Workers’ health is not just a matter for employees and employers, but also for public policy. Governments should count the health cost of restrictive policies that generate unemployment and insecurity, while promoting employability through skills training.”
- Will your organization change itself to death? (opensource.com) — “Sometimes, an organization returns to the same state after sensing a stimulus. Think about a kid’s balancing doll: You can push it and it’ll wobble around, but it always returns to its upright state… Resilient organizations undergo change, but they do so in the service of maintaining equilibrium.”
- Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus (HBR) — “The problem is that excessive focus exhausts the focus circuits in your brain. It can drain your energy and make you lose self-control. This energy drain can also make you more impulsive and less helpful. As a result, decisions are poorly thought-out, and you become less collaborative.”
If you’ve never read Michel de Montaigne’s Essays then you’re missing a treat. He’s thought of as the prototypical ‘blogger’ and most of what he’s written has survived the vicissitudes of changes in opinion over the last 450 years. The quotation for today’s article comes from him.
As Austin Kleon notes in the post that accompanies the image that also illustrates this post, idleness is not the same as laziness:
I’m… a practitioner of intentional idleness: blocking off time in which I can do absolutely nothing. (Like Terry Gilliam, I would like to be known as an “Arch Idler.”) “Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing,” I wrote in Steal Like An Artist. (See Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing, Robert Louis Stevenson’s An Apology for Idlers, Tom Hodgkinson’s “The Idle Parent,” Tim Kreider’s “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” etc. )Austin Kleon
There’s a great post on The Art of Manliness by Brett and Kate McKay about practising productive procrastination, and how positive it can be. They break down the types of tasks that we perform on an average down into three groups:
Tier 1: tasks that are the most cognitively demanding — hard decisions, challenging writing, boring reading, tough analysis, etc.
Tier 2: tasks that take effort, but not as much — administrative work, making appointments, answering emails, etc.
Tier 3: tasks that still require a bit of effort, but in terms of cognitive load are nearly mindless — cleaning, organizing, filing, paying bills, etc.Brett and Kate McKay
As I’ve said many times before, I can only really do four hours of really deep work (the ‘Tier 1’ tasks) per day. Of course, the demands of any job and most life admin, mostly form into Tier 2, with a bit of Tier 3 for good measure.
The thrust of their mantra to ‘practise productive procrastination’ is that, if you’re not feeling up to a Tier 1 task, you should do a Tier 2 or Tier 3 task. Apparently, and I have to say I’m obviously not their target audience here, most people instead of doing a Tier 1 task instead do nothing useful and instead do things like checking Facebook, gossiping, and playing games.
The trouble is that with new workplace tools we can almost be encouraged into low-level tasks, as an article by Rani Molla for Recode explains:
On average, employees at large companies are each sending more than 200 Slack messages per week, according to Time Is Ltd., a productivity-analytics company that taps into workplace programs — including Slack, calendar apps, and the Office Suite — in order to give companies recommendations on how to be more productive. Power users sending out more than 1,000 messages per day are “not an exception.”
Keeping up with these conversations can seem like a full-time job. After a while, the software goes from helping you work to making it impossible to get work done.Rani Molla
Constant interruptions aren’t good for deep work, nor are open plan offices. However, I remember working in an office that had both. There was a self-policed time shortly after lunch (never officially sanctioned or promoted) where, for an hour or two, people really got ‘in the zone’. It was great.
What we need, is a way to block out our calendars for unstructured, but deep work, and be trusted to do so. I actually think that most workplaces and most bosses would actually be OK with this. Perhaps we just need to get on with it?
Also check out:
- How to tell when procrastinating is actually anxiety (Quartz) — “People anxious about a significant goal will often engage in unproductive behaviors (email, social media, trivial errands—anything other than getting down to business) to avoid that discomfort, only to feel more distressed as time passes and no progress on the goal has been made.”
- Why you shouldn’t blame willpower for your lack of self-control (Fast Company) — “Here’s the truth: The Feeling Brain is driving our Consciousness Car. Because, ultimately, our emotion drives action. That’s because action is emotion.”
- Why did I start Working Part-Time instead of Full-Time and the Benefits of a 4 Days Workweek (Give me the chills) — “Truth is: Having less time you automatically forces you to find new solutions and this has happened to me too.”
I remember the early days of Twitter. It was great, as there were many different clients, both native apps and web-based ones. There was lots of innovation in the ecosystem and, in fact, the ‘pull-to-refresh’ feature that’s now baked into every social app on a touchscreen device was first created for a third-party Twitter client.
Twitter then, of course, once it had reached critical mass and mainstream adoption, killed off that third party ecosystem to ‘own the experience’. It looks like Slack, the messaging app for teams, is doing something similar by turning off support for IRC and XMPP gateways:
As Slack has evolved over the years, we’ve built features and capabilities — like Shared Channels, Threads, and emoji reactions (to name a few) — that the IRC and XMPP gateways aren’t able to handle. Our priority is to provide a secure and high-quality experience across all platforms, and so the time has come to close the gateways.
A number of people weren’t happy about this, notably those who rely on the superior accessibility features available through IRC and XMPP. A software developer and consultant by the name of JC Brand takes Slack to task:
We all know the real reason Slack has closed off their gateways. Their business model dictates that they should.
Slack’s business model is to record everything said in a workspace and then to sell you access to their record of your conversations.
They’re a typical walled garden, information silo or Siren Server
So they have to close everything off, to make sure that people can’t extract their conversations out of the silo.
We saw it with Google, who built Gtalk on XMPP and even federated with other XMPP servers, only to later stop federation and XMPP support in favour of trying to herd the digital cattle into the Google+ enclosure.
Facebook, who also built their chat app on XMPP at first allowed 3rd party XMPP clients to connect and then later dropped interoperability.
Twitter, although not using or supporting XMPP, had a vibrant 3rd party client ecosystem which they killed off once they felt big enough.
Slack, like so many others before them, pretend to care about interoperability, opening up just so slightly, so that they can lure in people with the promise of “openness”, before eventually closing the gate once they’ve achieved sufficient size and lock-in.
I’m definitely on the side of open source people/projects here, but it’s worth noting that the author uses the post to promote the solution he’s been developing. And why not?
There’s a comment below the post which makes, I think, a good point:
I’m betting this decision wasn’t made by the same folks who were at Slack (or Facebook, Google, etc) and thought adding support for the open protocols was a good thing. I bet the decision is a product of time over any attempt to trick anyone. Over time people change roles, leave, and slowly new leadership emerges. Outside pressures (market growth, investors) require a change in priority and the org shifts away from supporting things that had low adoption and ongoing maintenance cost.
So I don’t think it’s as malicious as the author implies (Bait and Switch) as that requires some nefarious planning and foresight. I think it’s more likely to be business/product evolution, which still sucks for adopters and the free net, but not as maleficent. Just, unfortunately, the nature of early tech businesses maturing into Just Another Business.
How many failed ‘social’ and ‘chat’ products has Google racked up now? Despite that, their new Slack competitor, Hangouts Chat looks promising:
To be clear, Hangouts Chat is a totally separate and distinct service from Hangouts proper, which still lives in your Google mail inbox. And while we’ll forgive you for rolling your eyes at yet another chat service from Google (the number of different apps the company has built is legendary at the point), Hangouts Chat does offer something potentially valuable to companies using G Suite — assuming they’re not on Slack already.
Given Google’s focus on AI across basically all of its products, it’s no surprise that Hangouts Chat will use machine learning to try and figure out what users might need. Specifically, Google says AI will help book meeting rooms, find files “and more.” Specifically, a link between Chat and Calendar will learn how to suggest locations to book by analyzing attendees’ “building and floor location, previous booking history, audio/video equipment needs and room capacity requirements.” It’s hard to say how well this will work — but anyone working in a semi-large company also knows that booking a meeting room likely can’t get any worse than it is right now.
I’m looking forward to giving this a try, particularly if they’ve learned from some of the problems that come with Slack. Also, with GDPR being enforced soon, I’m more OK with sharing more of my data with Google. I even bought a Chromebox this week…