We’ve been here before.

Today's reading soundtrack

Music For Lovers, Music Versus Time by F.S. Blumm & Nils Frahm (youtube | spotify | apple music).

The Notes & Newsletter

With these writings I'm aiming for thoughtful analysis on the experience and the schools of thought I’ve come across in my effort to maintain my health, a connected empathetic heart, and a satisfied creative mind as an adult. Perhaps this is a method to paddle myself away from becoming a hermit-like misanthrope, but in each one of these letters, I want you to learn something at the same time that I do. Or at least explore some interesting territory together.

So let's get going.

Use The Difficulty

And choose it, too.

It's not hard to imagine why an unwavering routine is beneficial for running a business, or reaching a fitness goal like a marathon. The same is true, really, of doing anything that requires a long-term consistent effort. I don’t think anyone reading this statement would disagree.

What folks may disagree with - which I’ll attempt to give credit to - is the idea that working with overlapping long-term goals provides a boon to our progress, rather than resulting in overwhelming mess. Well, it should anyway - it really comes down to how we manage ourselves. Mismanaging anything can result in a lot of tangled wires.

So while it may sound like a Bad Time, and sometimes it sure is, hear me out: layers of thoughtfully compounded difficulties builds lifelong adaptive strength in prioritization and follow through. Simply by having the stack, we level up what we're able to achieve, and figure out which pairings of goals work well and which are a detriment to each other.

However, it should never be about doing more every day. It’s about using our time as effectively as we can to do what matters. It's about the quality of that time we use. In my experience, the same levels of stress emerge regardless of the distance I travel, or the volume of work I attempt to produce. The body and mind regulate that input, and ideally sustain what it needs for the output. And the truth is, what is needed is never the same as “all of it”.

Try this experiment:

  • Run a distance that feels very easy to do. Remember what it felt like as you approached achieving your objective distance.
  • Now choose a goal that seems a tad bit more difficult. Note how you feel in the moment as you pass the shortest distance of this exercise.
  • Choose one final run that is going to be a push for you, but not impossible. Likewise, note how you feel as you pass by the shortest chosen distance.
  • Space these runs out as far as you need to make sure you’re starting each with the same nutrition, energy, and strength as the one prior

Now ask yourself, when you ran your farthest, how easy did it feel to meet that minimum distance compared to the first "easy" run? The effect, usually, is that the short distance is experienced as being more difficult when it is the goal itself. But when the goal was bigger, passing the short distance was physically and mentally easier to do.

If you aren't a runner: I didn't include a specified distance on purpose. I want you to choose what works for your own comparison. Or to try it with swimming, rowing, or perhaps jump rope. In my experience, cardio exercise is the most common place to witness this mental effect.

If you give this a go, let me know how it went!

Manage Idle Stress

Spamming the reward button stops bringing reward.

In the world of business, “idle” stress levels are what I’m concerned with, rather than the acute stress of a particular deadline. At work, it is especially common to have a great deal of things we are directed as being important to do, but how often over the course of our careers do we find ourselves able to achieve all of it?

I say the best method for managing ongoing stress here is to let the backlog grow. Messes will be made regardless of how much we get done, but it's important to have control of where they are made. What we don't want is the stress to cause fissures, then cracks, along critical foundations we rely on to perform. The customer experience is one such critical foundation lots of us rely on. Without it, we might not have a foundation to stand on.

The things we don’t achieve more oft turn out unimportant by contrast to what was completed. A manager may want to see all of their reports performing at their full capacity at all times. That’s a nice idea, however 100% of each individuals capacity is going to look different than what was envisioned, and it's going to be different from day to day. People are evoliving and changing in real time. It’s not their total work completed that demonstrates their full capacity; rather, it's their raw impact. If we can’t accept that, what will we do about our own variations in our output?

The answer, I think, is nothing. We're not going to do anything about the irreconcilable nature of points accrued through tickets closed and measurable organizational impact. It’s both natural and the ideal not to. We are not the machine, and we automatically create new mental pathways while conducting our work to provide us with a vision of value that’s used to guide and maximize the impact potential of our work. And the impact of our work is what matters, not some score measure ticket closing velocity.

While this writeup won’t go deep into it, I believe AI would be hard pressed to do this aspect of human creativity well. It’ll get it all the tasks done and be mindful of the constraints and checks we give it, racking up all those coveted points, but it cannot sense value in the human experience the way us humans can. It won’t be brought back to a memory of being a young child learning to play the piano, or the experience listening to the radio with their family for the first time, and draw that visceral connection to the work at hand. It will not be reminded of something pivotal over the course of the work. We, however, will and we will a lot. That’s a value we can always count on ourselves to bring.

I believe that's the part of ourselves that we need to embrace to keep us in touch with what matters, and to let go of the things that don't (or at least put them in the backlog instead).

The Nitpick

Was Marshall McLuhan a misanthrope?

To be honest, after reading their famous book and going over my quotes I’ve saved from it: I have no idea. I do think you should read between the lines of their work, though. They’ve published plenty of great perspectives to use in working with technology and considering its evolution, but while reading I could never fully trust them to be on the side of humanity. Consider this benign seeming statement.

Francis Bacon never tired of contrasting cool and hot prose. Writing in “methods” or complete packages, he contrasted with writing in aphorisms, or single observations such as “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.” The passive consumer wants packages, but those, he suggested, who are concerned in pursuing knowledge and in seeking causes will resort to aphorisms, just because they are incomplete and require participation in depth.

I agree that some of us sometimes - or even often - prefer a packaged meal over inventing our own, though in the way this quote communicates the idea I can’t help but feel like there’s a little bit of classist elitism going on. Perhaps originating with Bacon, but this isn't their quote. The way this is written creates a category of reader as being a passive consumer and then romanticizes those pursing knowledge, rather than putting onus on the writer for using the appropriate prose for the given topic or situation. Putting emphasis on the medium would have been a better choice here in my opinion, rather than the consumer.

Aphorisms help with the feeling that we’re exploring this together. The concrete package is the news, a cook book, the encyclopedia, a CPR guidance poster. It can be both about the pursuit of knowledge and the concrete nature of the understanding that is sought.

Again, was Marshall McLuhen a misanthrope? The people've been asking. So let's consider this old quote from The Guardian:

Far from sharing sympathy for countercultural forms of life, or the forms of media they embraced, McLuhan made a point of withholding judgment, refraining from moral evaluation of the processes he was describing and explaining. If anything, it was the conservative side of McLuhan that sometimes shone through his stance as a scientific observer. He never condemned the Vietnam war, suggesting instead that it was more of a media event than an actual happening. He discussed the possibility of using media as a form of control, "using TV in South Africa … to cool down the tribal temperature raised by radio", with no acknowledgement of the Orwellian implications.

Although he did land in Ned's List of Laudable Lefties, so perhaps that's enough for us who love complete packages.

If you like what you're reading, here's your chance to get more of it. I'll never send more than once per week, however notes get published here daily.

Until next time.

Steven