A few weeks ago, I went from sharing general information on the Lights Spreadsheet by week to going to a specific theme.
If you're tuning in new here, it's something I do to stay on track with habits. It works as a great way to both control behavior and a warning for when things are getting off-track. The colors offer a surprising motivational boost: the desire to get one's "green light" and avoid "getting a red light" seem to come universally to people who adopt it.
Now, for a decision I made when I first started:
There are no notes or narratives contained on my habit-tracking spreadsheet.
From Ducker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship, emphasis added —
“…hamburger stands have been around in the United States since the nineteenth century; after World War II they sprang up on big-city street corners. But in the McDonald’s hamburger chain — one of the success stories of the last twenty-five years — management was always being applied to what had always been a hit-or-miss, mom-and-pop operation.
McDonald’s first designed the end product; then it redesigned the entire process for making it; then it redesigned or in many cases invented the tools so that every piece of meat, every fried potato would be identical, turned out in a precisely timed and fully automated process.
Finally, McDonald’s studied what “value” meant to the customer, defined it as as quality and predictability of product, speed of service, absolute cleanliness, and friendliness, then set standards for all of these, trained for them, and geared compensation to them.”
Interesting. Defining value explicitly, and then managing intensely for that.
The Dutch Golden Age, which lasted just three generations, was 400 years ago. And still, there after-tremors of it are being felt today. The buildings, the canals, the engineering, all the amazing works, the contents of Rijksmuseum — these are the fruits of those generations.
When asking myself why Amsterdam is such a beautiful and well-run city, that was where my explanation stopped. And indeed, this was my answer when asked why any place of grandeur and splendor is grand and splendid.
If a place goes through a Golden Age and accumulates great works of culture, engineering, building, puts up universities and establishes a great tradition of scholarship, and so on — there are permanent gains to that. You could call it capital accumulation.
This was my old explanation. A Golden Age or Imperial Period meant capital accumulation.
The Turks have changed my opinion on this.
"Isolated tactical problems are very rare, and if you are seeing any situation as "how do I respond to this email" or "what do I say in this meeting," chances are, are you misframing a broader problem and heading towards [a disaster.]" — from Venkat Rao's Be Slightly Evil
I see this commonly. Very commonly. My mix of work is with team members on nonprofit projects, collaborators on creative projects, clients on commercial work, and generally being the go-to person in my social circle whenever there's something complex and important that is hard to figure out.
So I see it across the spectrum. Employee-manager, manager-employee, company-customer, company-client, company-supplier, supplier-buyer, interdepartmental rivalries at larger companies, and so on.
I have a rule: Once the same problem happens three times, we must start looking for an upstream solution.
I was flat for a few days last week, flat in a human sense.
Couldn't explain it.
Was working hard, but I like working hard. Was performing my core duties and habits well, good enough... but that joyful spark, that animating force, that bright animation to greater heights?
It was gone.
Where had it gone?
It is very insightful to spend even a short amount of time hitting somewhere close to maximum productivity and effectiveness.
You can't really see or feel opportunity cost when you're kind of screwing around, half-working, not getting much, done, etc. You're not getting as much done as you could, that's true, but the suspects for what's dragging on you are not about the other productive endeavors, but about all the distractions.
As soon as you're near peak production for even a few days in a row, you start to see the interplay of how we all have a single well of time each day, 24 hours deep, and it gets drained systematically as the minutes pass.
There is much to be said about this point, about opportunity cost, about focus, about achievement, about whatever else — but we won't say that now.
Rather, let's talk about the days when the water in your well of time is hard to drink, and not so much is happening.
Question from a reader. Important one. Perhaps you'll relate —
Work aside I find myself having a hard time leaving college life and college friends. My work ethic isn't as high as I expected it to be. I find myself just wanting to meet new people and hangout with friends.
What about you? Did you find yourself with a similar mindset when you were 23? Oh, in one of your blog posts you mentioned going into gathering resources mode. What does that look like?
I can't explain this, but try it if you're generally one of those Type A hard-driving mastery-oriented maximizing always-work-a-lot types.
(I'm one of those.)
Ok, try this.
Next time you have a day where you did okay earlier but later in the day things are kind of just dragging along, do this:
1. Recognize it.2. Decide to just chill and do whatever for the rest of the day.3. Mentally say something like, "I'm just going to chill and a have good time for the rest of the day. Not going to do anything in particular, just enjoy myself."
The tools on this table probably cost me about $10, and it's almost as valuable as my Mac Air.
$0.75: Turkish tea.
$2.00: Sturdy plastic folder with current biggest projects in it.
$1.00: Old scratchbook.
Behold — scratchbooks.
I've started intentionally buying lower quality notebooks with an intention to scribble on them, make it imperfect, and rip the sheets out of them once once complete.
Compare that to the very fine drawing paper in the bottom right corner of the photo. If I have an important document I want to endure, I'll copy into that, and put the sheet into my sheaf of project plans in that yellow folder.
But, scratchbooks? These are intentionally meant not to be enduring, and defining that upfront is creatively liberating. Knowing that the sheets will be ripped to shreds in the end, I move faster, don't watch my handwriting, don't obsess over details, write stupid stuff, and — perhaps not coincidentally — I'm more creative in them.