Brutal Simplicity

Brutal Simplicity

SUMMARY: Am I trying to balance too many competing factors in my life to be effectively productive? This makes life more complex, and that makes finding an optimal solution a burden.

Perhaps simplification can be achieved through the marriage of the triage mentality with a numerical method-inspired approach. Throw in a few “good enough” selection principles, and poof! Cut the number of decisions to make, and simplify the tests so you can tell if you’re getting closer or not.

It’s been an irritatingly mixed bag of productivity this week. While I did get one major project done, I didn’t maintain a streak of continuing accomplishment. It seems like I should have been able to. I wanted it. Two factors, however, contributed to my lack of movement: outside commitments and uncertainty about what to do first. Even more irritating is that I know there are simple and effective means for dealing with those factors: for the former, ignore them; for the latter, start anywhere. The system breaks down, though, when there is a lack of conviction. Without conviction, there is no willpower, and without willpower you won’t have the discipline to follow through by yourself; instead you’ll need some form of coercion smartly applied to your doubting backside.

Despite this mixed bag of productivity, I am struck that something did get done on purpose. Figuring out what did work seems to be the theme of the week.

  • In my recent post on salience in habits, I commented on the nature of crunch time, which is the single-minded methodology of getting the work done for a deadline by completely ignoring quality of life. Here, the working principle is the work must get done no matter what, and this is one source of conviction.

  • In yesterday’s post on adrenaline and motivation, I essentially hypothesized that willpower might be enhanced by getting physically worked-up about the task at hand, betting that the neurotransmitters responsible for focus and action in times of stress would create a greater impetus to act immediately. The method I tried to get there, though, was entirely based on generating conviction that action was called for, by putting my own self-worth on the line under the threat of not living up to my own ideals.


p>In both posts, my most sacred personal principles and values are the foundation of change in action; by putting them directly in the line of fire so I was forced to change my behavior to protect them. This is an exhausting way to motivate myself, and I can see now that my month-long crusade to reboot good habits stems from a desire to be smarter about self-starting.

So how do I do that?

Clarity Under Fire

There’s a concept in handling medical emergencies called triage, which is the sorting of injured people into categories so that scarce resources can be allocated optimally. What is “optimal” depends on the situation. For example, in an extreme wartime situation, triage may be applied to prioritize treatment for maintaining battle-ready soldiers: medical resources go first to lightly wounded soldiers who can immediately get back to the battlefield. Whatever resources are left go to the more serious injured who are likely to live. Soldiers who are going to die regardless of treatment or require resource-intensive treatment are last on the list. Ordinarily, one would expect a different approach, that medical resources would be applied to those who most immediately need it to preserve the most lives, and thus the idea of preserving fighting strength over desperate individual need appears brutal and even unethical. Consider a scenario, though, of a city under siege (think “Lord of the Rings”). If you are defending the city, and the stakes are losing it entirely to a merciless invader, your priorities will shift. It’s a decision that takes guts and conviction that despite a belief in the preciousness of life, other priorities take precedence.

In that example, survival is the clarifying principle that enables us to prioritize one choice over another. My life here in the ‘burbs is far more peaceful, and the choices that are thrown at me are not life-threatening. Instead, my options are mostly about the cost of survival, achieving “success”, and maintaining a high quality of life. And like every other human on the planet, I want to optimize my efforts for the greatest positive growth in all these areas. Here’s the problem: I have no way of determining which methods are most optimal. Sure, I could ask someone, if I thought they knew. Or I might follow a prescribed career path, buy the right kind of shampoo, find that great accountant. However, as a procrastinator-perfectionist, I tend to not see any of those common choices as being “the way” to success…they’re too common. Another symptom of my particular blend of procrastination-perfectionism is having a highly-developed imagination coupled with practical knowledge of creative methodology; in essence, I believe everything is possible and I have a good idea how it could be done. I want a guarantee, and I want that big prize called “an awesome life”, but I do not have the clarifying principle. This is that big question that we all ask ourselves: What is the Secret of Life? What is the winning formula? For those of us who chase that rainbow under the flag of being more productive, it seems to get farther away the more we run right at it.

Perhaps an oblique approach is called for.

Synthetic Simplicity

In the absence of knowing what the absolute right answer is for any given life’s dream, it may be enough to pick answers arbitrarily and devise a set of metrics that allow you to assess them. This is what most people seem to do, actually: whatever fell in their lap, whatever job came first, wherever they were born, whatever they seemed to be good at…this sets in motion a cascade of life events that are fairly predictable. Procrastinator-perfectionists are aware, however, that the life path is highly malleable. With the right training, the right opportunities, impeccable timing, and a bit of random luck, one can make the jump from one life path to another. I’ve attempted this myself several times, moving from writing to engineering to video game development to graphic design to project management to freelancing and now: to blogging, consulting, and product creation. And yet, each time I have wondered if I’m getting closer to finding the key to the riddle of my particular life’s meaning. I am of a particular type for which this question is very important, and recognizing that not everyone is wired like that is a big relief. To quote Han Solo, “It’s not my fault!”

When people are trained in triage techniques (or so I have read on Wikipedia), the emphasis is actually not on optimizing for results. Instead, the emphasis is on speed of decision. That is all about execution. When there’s hundreds of wounded people coming through the doors, you have to handle them quickly. You are probably going to be wrong some of the time, but this is acceptable because the alternative is total meltdown of the system. The working of imperfection into the system is hard to swallow but kind of brilliant too. Perhaps I too can create a persona that accepts this kind of trade-off. I’m reminded of that business expression when dealing with demanding clients: Speed, Quality, Low Price. You get to pick two. This is similar to the spirit of triage, recognizing that there are trade-offs between choices if you want something done efficiently with reasonable effort. I tried to think of an equivalent triad for life balance:

  • Meeting external expectations.
  • Fulfilling your immediate desires.
  • Building your own assets.

As with the old contractor principle, people rarely just pick two when they are just getting started. For good-hearted new freelancers, the goal is to deliver on all three promises to make the client happy. It’s only when freelancers realizes that they’re tired, burned out, and still not making any money that it’s time to start saying no. Timothy Ferriss wrote in The Four Hour Work Week about how dropping just a couple of his most troublesome business relationships lead to a huge relief in stress with little meaningful effect on revenue. He gave up on the idea that he had to put up with everything from everyone, and made a choice based on what was important to him. This flies in the face of ideal customer service, where everyone is served to their satisfaction. However, it is a sane approach, given limited resources and patience. If you really want to serve everyone to their satisfaction, you build that expense into the business model the way Zappo’s does.

This suggests a new algorithm: Make a couple of choices, dammit, and stick to them. This is an expansion of the Just Start Anywhere principle that I am so fond of quoting and so poor at following. I don’t have the optimal solution ahead of time, I at least have speed and clarity, which metaphorically is like using Newton-Raphson to find a local maxima of productivity. Newton-Raphson is a numerical (“mathy”) technique for finding the roots of a function (“the answers in the problem area”). It’s used for really hairy functions that are difficult to solve analytically (“don’t respond to simpler techniques”). Essentially, you code the function into a computer, and it starts guessing what the answer is over and over. Each guess is evaluated to map the likely location of the answers (the function starts returning “flat” areas where a root exists). I’m thinking that instead of trying to solve my life puzzle analytically, I could use this guess-approximation approach instead. In fact, most people probably ALREADY do this; it’s just us procrastinator-perfectionists that think that we should know the answer already.

Here are the components:

  • Speed comes from having a reduced set of principles that you designate as “good”. Such a principle is easy to use as a check for everything you’re doing: is this task supporting the principle?
  • Clarity comes from using simple YES or NO criteria. If the task or project at hand is not a definite YES, then just bag it. This is where the ability to say no comes into play.
  • Testing comes from evaluating whether the accrued tasks are indeed pointing to a “solution”; that is, does it “seem to be working”. If you’re an analytical person, you may be measuring hard numbers like “number of programs written this month”. If you’re a qualitative, experiential person, you may ask if what you’re doing is making you “happier”. A combination of both approaches would seem prudent to me: count the things that are tangibly making a difference, then ask if having more of those things do seem to be creating more opportunity.

Then, stick to the plan. Have the guts to say no to anything that isn’t on in the schedule. If you seem to have limited energy, you might want to be mindful of those “life steps” I postulated above:

  • Meeting external expectations.
  • Fulfilling your immediate desires.
  • Building your own assets. <- this is the one that relates to the plan.

PICK ANY TWO. It’ll be hard if you are of the mindset that everything is important. I feel your pain…you should see my stack of task cards! Think triage. If it really bugs you discarding those other tasks, you can try using my pickle jar trick to at least feel some relief at knowing they’re not entirely gone.

As for how to find that reduced set of principles to live your life by? You probably already know what it is because you’ve been procrastinating from doing it for the past few years. If it’s really that important to you, carve out the time to do it, or be satisfied in discarding it and focusing on something else. If you’re still not sure, then I guess you’re stuck or could use someone to help you define it (i.e. seek an external motivator).

Note: I’m not saying this is THE ANSWER…but it’s an interesting enough theory to put out there for consideration. I’m imagining a form that goes with this, of course :-)


  1. Jo Ann 15 years ago

    Totally random comment, thought it before but thought I’d say it now:

    You “BOLD” better than anyone I know! You always seem to pick -only- the correct words for proper emphasis. Or maybe we have a similar cadence?

  2. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Jo Ann: LOL, that’s awesome :-) My bolding strategy is to emphasize “insight words and phrases” that, in a rapid skim, help shape people’s surface interest in the article. I also try not to bold too much, to maintain an aesthetic visual balance. I’m glad it seems to match your cadence :-)

  3. JoshuaC 15 years ago

    I’m telling you, you have to read the book “the power of less”. I know I suggested it in the other comment, but it would help you with some of these problems too.  Check it out!

  4. pavs 15 years ago

    Step 1: Decide what you want to do.

    Step 2: Do it!

    I have the above 2 line written in large bold letters in my home-office wall. I think most of us spend so much time analyzing every aspect of what we want to do that we spend more time analyzing it than doing it (if at all).

    Having solid preparations is a good idea (sometimes). Just don’t over do it.

  5. Stephen Smith 15 years ago

    David, we really need to get together over a cup of coffee soon. Great insights here. For myself I have been working this week on *finishing* things. For example, I wrote down all of my to-dos on cards, arranged them according to my strategic intent (thanks for my new fave phrase, BTW) and worked on one doggone thing at a time until it was done. Then did the next one.

    Made some fantastic progress, the weekly review is going to be a joy tomorrow!

  6. Gary C 15 years ago

    Wow Dave, really enjoyed the read, resonated with me in a number of ways.  I’d also recommend the book “A Visionary Life” for some perspective here to help in keeping one’s life in balance. 

    One can certainly be talented or even an endeavoring intellectual type multitasker, but at some point all of us are simply humans, and the law of diminishing returns applies to each of us.  I once read that at times we have to remember that we are human “beings” and not human “doings”, something to think about.

    Due to that rather inconvenient law of diminishing returns though, there is just a hard stop on the curve where we begin to sense we’re not getting 10lbs out of the proverbial 5lb bag any more, at least not out of every bag out there we work in/from.

    Its expected though.  The more we expand our skills, social/peer circles, accomplishments, etc., the natural laws of the universe take over and just spread us extra thin at times, and nomatter how fit we get, or how early we get to bed, or what we eat, or what we like or want to do at a given time etc., we just run out of time in many unexpected ways we don’t even expect.

    To me, there really just comes a time when making strategic (rather than tactical) choices become essential (just for keeping anxiety levels in check), and limiting those other choices in such a way (upon reflection) that they will achieve various term goals that are seen in such a way to enrich one’s life to its fullest (and most realistic) potential. 

    While I believe strategic choices can be based upon the concept of “passion” as we’ve once discussed, “passion” can also counterintuitively distract one from achieving strategic goals which provide the more holistic dividends in the scheme of things.  The more things that pop and fizz going on in your life the more exciting things seem, but we all have to keep ourselves in check when that happens, for our own good I think.

    So, I wouldn’t beat yourself up in an effort to get things done, or dwell upon weaknesses which only brings down one’s energy level, its simply a matter of perspective and focus.  So by leveraging in your mind instead what you know you are good at, to feel good about that, it feeds the motivation, and continuous improvement action just gets caught up in the wave. Focusing on the negative for some quasi attempt at boosting motivation has limited value as I see it.

    What I would suggest, as its helped me incredibly over the years now, especially to anyone whom is sort of self-employed, I strongly believe that 1-2x/year there needs to be a serious chunk of time put aside for doing almost nothing, not really vacation time, just pure clear thinking time.

    Thats why each year I take the entire summer off to wrap up to become a human “being” again. To essentially meditate on what the past 9 month season was/wasn’t, to contemplate the next season ahead, and to really understand what is truly adding value in my life and what isn’t.  I don’t believe that as a human “doing” all the time that true contemplation and cause/effect consequences can be truly evaluated and thought out.

    The other reality, we live in the northeast, and I believe we also need the warmer weather just to recharge, to get grounded again.  Factor in the rain and how many “good” days do we actually get anyways?  Just some rambling thoughts there for another day… Hang in there!

  7. Paul Maurice Martin 15 years ago

    One way or another it’s about priorities, but the strategies we employ to decide what to work on next and how to go about the work – that can get complicated, as you show here. I think the exact mix of strategies would depend quite a lot on the type of work(s) being done as well as the individual’s personality and preferences.

  8. Mark Slater 15 years ago

    Depending upon your experience of strategic planning, you either hate strategic planning and think it is a waste of your time or you think it’s a great tool for organizational alignment and goal setting. I’ve seen both and I’ve participated.

    We should prioritize our work category wise for example A,B,C and then we should carry our work on it.

  9. Nollind Whachell 15 years ago

    The following is what I’ve recognized in my own life on a journey somewhat similar to your own.

    FOCUS: When you spoke of “triage”, the most immediate thing that popped into my head was “focus”. The ability to remove all distractions and act on what’s critically important or what’s meaningful important. Focus in design works the same way. Read any story about Steve Jobs and you’ll see how removing things can be more beneficial than adding things. Same philosophy applies to zen and the martial arts (i.e. empty your cup). Don’t get me wrong though. It’s harder than hell to do. But the less I’m distracted by superfluous things, the more I seem to be focused on what’s truly meaningful to me.

    FEELING: Your mention of “adrenaline” immediately made me think of feelings (i.e. fear, anticipation, excitement). Think of a movie you’ve watch recently that moved you to your core. What feelings were you having at that time? How did those feeling connect to something meaningful in your life? I’m seeing more and more a relationship between my feelings and what I’m truly passionate about. In a nutshell, if you’re doing something that doesn’t have any feeling to it, that makes you feel as lifeless as an undead zombie, then possibly that “direction” of work is not for you. On the flipside, if you can find an emotional connection to your work and can draw upon at will (like an actor doing an emotional scene), you’ll find it an easy way to focus yourself.

    PATTERNS, RELATIONSHIPS: At the same time though, don’t ignore strange patterns or similarities you may be noticing between things but not fully understanding at the time. For example, when I said that your “direction” of work may not be for you, I didn’t say anything about throwing out your existing skills. Actually if anything, I’m finding that the closer I get to my true passion, the more I’m discovering more and more of my diverse skills are being utilized (i.e. work skills, interpersonal skills, life skills, etc). In effect, all facets of your life start crystallizing into the gem that is you (i.e. diverse, many faceted).

    ENERGY: This kind of relates to feelings in a way because you use your feelings as a sensor or gauge. After doing something or interacting with others, find out if you feel energized or drained. I’m not speaking just physically of course but more on an emotional level as well. For example, you can go for a run with a friend and feel physically weak afterward but at the same time you feel emotionally energized. Again if you’re feeling like a drained lifeless zombie after doing something, try to figure out why and adjust things accordingly. For example, I enjoy gaming with my friends playing WoW two nights a week. The interaction is enjoyable and energizing to me. However grinding on off nights (i.e. farming for money, food, etc) I find emotionally and physically draining to the point that I’ve had enough of it. I’m now just focused on playing those two nights a week and only spending an hour or two the rest of the week on my character’s maintenance. So again I’m using my emotions to help me focus on what’s important to me.

    POSITIVE VS NEGATIVE: The need to use negative tactics on yourself is really unnecessary when we beat ourselves up enough as it is already. Instead focus on positive aspects of yourself to overcome your weaknesses (or try to look at your weaknesses as strengths). For example, whenever I’m feeling insecure in my abilities, I immediately think of the people who have valued my assistance in the past. So instead of focusing on myself, I turn my focus outwards onto others who may need my help. So I stop looking at things from a negative perspective and immediately see how I can help people in a positive way.

    CHOICES, MISTAKES, & GROWTH: Don’t feel bad about changing and not sticking to something, especially if the change is bringing you closer to your true passion. Everything is difficult at first, especially when you’re obviously pioneering something new and unique to yourself. Think of it like a new land you’re exploring and mapping. At first, you’ll be going in circles as you get a feel for the lay of the land and map it out. Eventually though, when you’re nearing completion, things will slowing come into focus, the borders lines will connect together, and you’ll see what you have finally discovered as whole. Therefore, don’t be afraid of stepping into the unknown and getting lost and making mistakes. As the Australia’s say, sometimes you got to lose yourself to find yourself (i.e. going on a walkabout).

  10. katrina 15 years ago

    This is very illuminating, I like how you approach your process/journey. 

    My approach is to experiment with possible solutions, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t … and over time I have devised some meaningful ways of approaching things.

    I have a mission and defined roles ala Covey/Franklin as well as long term and annual goals … all of which I review annually/quarterly/weekly as needed.

    I use GTD more as a software solution than a mindset because of its general lack of a holistic approach—but it works for the day to day.

    I just added back in my big rocks from my First Things First as my most-important-things.

    I have used your forms to help me comprehend and improve my process, as well as help me to track the efficacy of new habits.

    All this noodling around has led me to this revelation … my life IS balanced!

    Who knew?

    Well I didn’t know. 

    And that was what was bothering me.  I did not have a way to seeing the balance that was already present in my life.  As paraphrased from one of my favorite authors, Wendy Palmer in her seminal book Intuitive Body,  you can not add to a store unless it already exists.  For example, you cannot add patience to non-patience … so you always ask, “What would it be like if I had more patience?”

    So now, knowing that I have balance, I can ask, “What would it be like to have more balance?”  And that is a far easier question to answer.

    So I guess what I am saying is this, maybe you are asking the wrong questions.

    Maybe, there is nothing wrong … maybe you have just hit a plateau in the midst of rising success and maybe … it is simply the time to ask …. for more.

  11. Jerry Kolber 15 years ago


    What a beautiful, inspiring post. Not only have you let us in on a very intimate process of decision making and prioritizing but you have done it eloquently and poetically.

    I work in creative industries (film & TV) and frequently am handed a project with very little detail. I.e., create a show about a matchmaker, or adapt a series about young women in debt.  I have to start somewhere, and the more experienced I get the more I realize that it doesn’t matter where I start just as long as I pick a starting point.  My first efforts fail a lot (most of) the time but as I refine my drafts and hold them to a foundational premise of WHAT I want to achieve with the format, it gets better. 

    So perhaps it’s worthwhile to abandon specific goals for a minute and ask, why do I WANT to achieve these goals?

    Another bit of clarity I have had as I’ve delved deeper into a personal meditation practice is that a lot of the “busyness”, “spreading thin”, “too many choices” etc is actually (for me anyways) not at ALL about busy-ness or too many choices. What I’ve discovered only recently is that most of this stuff, for me, is about fear of non-existence (i.e. ego crud).  In effect, I create too many things to do so that there is always something left undone, because if there is something left undone than that means that I (ego) must arrive in the future to complete the undone tasks, ergo my arrival in the future is guaranteed and I don’t have to worry about non-existence.

    Naturally my contemplative practice has slowly, oh so slowly, revealed to me the simultaneous truth that not only will I most definitely arrive in the future, there is no future to arrive in.

    This contradiction is at times very comforting, and at others very unsettling, but in both cases it allows me to see that busy-ness and over-committing is just a trick to keep me from being aware of this present moment, in which everything dies and is reborn continuously.

    That is of course only my personal experience, and not something I share often, but your post is so deeply open that I felt compelled to share.

  12. Beverly 15 years ago

    Wow Dave, you really hit the nail on the head again! I love the term “procrastinator-perfectionist” – it made me laugh because just today I was explaining to a client that I was not procrastinating on his project because I was being lazy, but rather I lacked clarity and was reluctant to start until I thought through some of the loose ends.

    I am also well accustomed to the “triage” approach, and it is a great short term method for barreling through a task list, however too long in the trenches and the mental fatigue is over whelming. I call this stage “hitting the wall.” 
    Then clarity is shot and nothing makes sense. (I personally tend to babble in incomplete sentences)

    Then it’s time to shut down the external noise and re-prioritize. So maybe this constant sorting and resorting is part of building a good process, as it keep us growing, learning and adapting.

    Besides what is the alternative? Complacency? No thanks, I’ll keep refining the method and practicing discipline and patience.

    Thanks Dave!

  13. poscogrubb 15 years ago

    I’m going to have to disagree with Jo Ann.

    I find your new-fangled bold text so extreme as to be almost completely distracting. While it’s nice to emphasize key phrases and punchlines for marketing brochures, your long-ish articles usually read more like a magazine article or a book, which rarely use such physical highlighting. The key phrases are the ones at the beginnings and endings of paragraphs, in headings, and in bulleted lists.

    I found my eyes skipping around on the bolded items rather than actually reading the post. Did you try reading only the bold text? It makes no sense at all.

    I daresay that limiting your reliance on typography to make your point may make you a better writer.

    Just sayin’.

  14. Daryl Furuyama 15 years ago

    Hi Dave,

    The last section about speed, clarity, and testing really makes me think of this game called FlOw, which is based on psychological principles to improve game experience (something I know you’re interested in).

    Using some of the lessons from flow, I recently made a new form to help me keep focus and gain a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’ll give you some additional ideas for balance. You can check it out here.

    On a side note, you usually have coffee with Stephen Smith? I recently started talking with him over at WLC.

  15. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Josh: I actually have that book, and it was the basis for the entire “serial habit rebooting” I’ve been trying. I wish I’d written it. The more I think of it, I think I just need to invest in something outside of myself. All this habit stuff is merely theoretical without a really compelling motivation.

    Pavs: Good note, dude. Out of curiosity, how sure are you about what you want to do? This is an area where I tend to have many competing things I could do, but none of them are compelling.

    Stephen Smith: Shoot me an email! I’m digging my to-dos on cards as well.

    Gary C: I hear you (and others) on the use of negative feedback, but I think as a shock it’s useful for digging out of a circular rut. I’m at the point now where I’m experiencing diminishing returns from accepting what I’m good at and keeping doing that. Or rather, it’s lost its appeal. I suppose one way to evolve beyond this is not to worry about getting everything done (maybe this is another way of doing that 1-2x year “doing nothing” chunk of time). Ok, I hearby declare a doing nothing period…it only seems awful if I think that I’m somehow expending an opportunity cost relative to what COULD be getting done.

    Paul Maurice Martin: Your comment made me think that perhaps it’s a lack of meaningful feedback that is forcing the complication I’m experiencing. I’m in the doldrums. Either I can enjoy it as I paddle, or I can try to do something about it. Perhaps the struggle is bigger than myself, and this is an opportunity to surrender to it and let go of my futile splashing until something happens on its own. Hmm.

    Mark Slater: Your statement seems to be describing mere methodology. What is behind the “should”?

  16. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Nollind: Always good to see ya, man. I think we’re pretty much on the same page as far as FOCUS, FEELING, PATTERNS/RELATIONSHIPS, ENERGY, CHOICE/MISTAKES/GROWTH. I am very reasonable, I think, with regards to myself. On POSITIVE/NEGATIVE, though, I think a little negative zing is helpful every once in a while if you don’t use it destructively to beat yourself down. The intent behind the tool is what counts. In this case, I’m not applying negativity to hurt myself, but to wake myself up…kind of like using a little bit of poison as an anti-venom. Too much, of course, and that’s bad.

    Katrina: LOL, that’s awesome…we’re so used to thinking our lives our out of whack that we don’t recognize when things are good! :-) I am actually feeling pretty good about myself these days, but I suppose I am always wondering if I can do more, and I believe I can do more. I suppose on strategy might be to just accept that this is the way it is for me, but even as a child I would always want to believe in the impossible. I hated the idea of limits. I don’t play chess because I perceive it as a game of limits, albeit a very large set of them. Perhaps this is the actual symptom I have to address.

    Jerry Kolber: Hm, why do I WANT to achieve these goals? I think the answer is because I don’t have anything better to do, and I think that by achieving them I might be in a place where I can find them. So the goals kind of suck to begin with, as they are intermediate goals to a place that I hope exists, but am unable to describe.

    That description of busyness to ensure something to do in the future is REALLY INTERESTING. I think I am experiencing the same thing, though perhaps in my case it was the sense that the future already was not “THE FUTURE”, but just another bit of the same. That is indeed disturbing. It might be different for you, but the feeling I have is one of “meh”.

    Beverly: I love your extension of the triage metaphor: “too long in the trenches” leading to mental fatigue. It occurs to me that I’ve been pushing along this path for 3 years by myself, and maybe it is mental fatigue and the lack of clarity of an end goal that is doing me in.

    Poscogrubb: Yeah, bold text isn’t for everyone. This argument comes up every year or so, with both backers and takers. It’s interesting to hear that you think of my articles more of a magazine article or book (that is encouraging). I probably should stick to bolding just key phrases, and not use it for emphasis (or maybe stick to italics for that, though I’m not really a fan of italics). It sort of depends on my mood. I wouldn’t say that I am relying purely on typography on making points, though I have thought that the way to improve overall is to just condense the writing by 30%.

    Daryl: That’s a great game…thanks for the link! It reminds me of the SPORE videos. The new form looks interesting…I like the streamlining you did by dropping points and using visual accrual instead (this is something I’ve used also). I haven’t had coffee with Stephen yet…are you local also?

  17. Beverly 15 years ago

    Oh I hear you loud and clear, mental fatigue robs the creative process and leaves you in a dull uninspired “infinite loop.”
    I’m currently fighting off a “reactive” work style. Where there is no sense of control and your pulled in so many directions you can’t remember your own original goal.

    But I am working through it by re-focusing the task list every day and witnessing randomness. I sat down for an afternoon coffee and there on the coffee table was a tattered copy of “The Te Of Piglet” by Benjamin Hoff.  So I started reading and felt instantly refreshed.

    When I’m really in a funk I think about a great line from the 70’s cartoon “The Point” where poor Oblio is banished to the “pointless forest” for not possessing a point and is told that “a point in every direction is the same as no point at all.”

    Maybe at the heart of the angst, is the conflict of working in an industry that thrives on a strategic linear architecture and life itself that evolves through constant chaotic flux.

    Oh and your BOLD text does not bother me at all. I think it actually distinguished your style. : )

  18. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Here’s what’s bugging me, Beverly: I feel like I am in total control, or rather I have no excuse not to be in control, yet I just sit here like a lump.

    It just occurred to me that I probably just need to change my environment and commit to that again. The perspective I’m stuck in is my own. I feel better when I’m scheming with other people, but I haven’t pursued scheming with my own goals and pushing them through.

  19. Daryl Furuyama 15 years ago

    Hi David,

    Unfortunately I’m in Los Angeles, but it would have been awesome to meet up with you. I owe most of what goes on in my blog to you and the whole making paper forms thing.

  20. Amy rich 15 years ago

    Yes its a big problem but you know what, if you want to live a guilt free life of not being able to keep up with your commitments, there is only one way out “Just Do it”!Ya it seems like very easy at first but once you start your task have guts to finish it off at once, these three words should keep ringing in your mind ti keep yourself motivated and believe me once you are done you will feel like top of world, ya first few weeks its going to take a toil but be persistent.

  21. Nollind Whachell 15 years ago

    “It just occurred to me that I probably just need to change my environment and commit to that again. The perspective I’m stuck in is my own.”

    Noticing the same thing myself. It’s why I’m trying to get “off the beaten” path and explore in unusual places. For example, if I’m in a rut working from home, I find getting out of the house is the best thing to do. Same applies with knowledge, I get my best design ideas from books that have nothing to do with “design”.

    Even just watching a movie or reading a book can help me see things from a different perspective. For example, if something moves me (i.e. deep emotional feeling), I try to stop and think why. Often the answer I get relates directly to my passions, what I believe in, and what I’ve been pursuing.

    Even rereading an old book you’ve already read before can provide interesting results. For example, I’ve got a handful of books that I’ve been rereading for the past year and every time I flip through them, I discover something new that I hadn’t see before. I think the reason for this is that my knowledge and awareness has evolved since last reading the book and it’s given me the ability to perceive things that I wouldn’t have seen or recognized before (even if it was under my very nose).

    PS. BTW watching less commercials has made a huge impact on my clarity of thought. If I want to watching something on TV now, I record it first so I can skip the commercials when watching it.

  22. Jerry Kolber 15 years ago


    Whether you feel the future is “yeah!” or “meh” is besides the point – either way we spend incredible amounts of energy creating fantasy futures that will never, ever manifest the way they think we will or hope they do (and hoping for a “meh” future is totally rational for someone with a “meh” outlook).  Not to harp on it but I’ve found daily contemplative practice to disproportiantely helpful in creating space between my thought patterns so I see that both “yeah!” and “meh” are really nothing more than impermanent reactions to impermanent situations, to be enjoyed (or not) in context and proportion to what they mean.  It’s not an easy process but I personally have found it quite beneficial to developing a sense of connection and vibrance.

    I’m working on an essay of my own (actually a two-parter) about how my own process has evolved as my practice has evolved. At core, one of the ideas I’ll be explaining in greater depth is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with burning and burying your to-do lists, your goals, and your projects.  If it’s really important – to you, or to someone important to you – it will appear on your radar all by itself. There’s something to be said for the idea that any goal or action we have to put on a list to remember to pay attention to is , by definition, not important enough to remember to do.

  23. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Daryl: You’re doing really great work in the form space, so I’m glad to have some company! Kick ass!

    Amy: Thanks for providing your statement of belief! I think it’s important to be reminded that sometimes, the truth is just that simple. Accepting it is the hard part for me :-)

    Nollind: I hear ya…I integrate everything together as well, and can shift perspectives at the drop of a hat. In fact, it’s so second-nature to me that I wonder if perhaps it’s a distraction, so I’ve been consciously narrowing my interests so that it’s Me versus The Wall. This itself is a shift BACK to a certain mentality; I think of the “running game” in American Football.

    Jerry: Interesting! What you are describing reminds me of the feeling I get when I read “The Alchemist”. At first your followup didn’t make sense to me because my unspoken assumption was that there was some kind of measuring stick by which we are succeeding or failing. Another approach, which I think you’re suggesting as a possibility, is to accept that our personal measuring is not very absolute in the first place, so one might as well just be open to what comes our way and embrace the wackiness of the process of living. Spinning this from a “productivity” perspective, perhaps what is really needed is a system that transforms “wasted time” into “productivity in hindsight”.