Searching for “studying failure” on any search engine shows that it’s a rather popular topic for blogging, discussion and exploration. Most of the results are largely about learning from failure, and I am very much on board with this right now. I certainly found at least one very adamant opponent to studying failure, and the responses to him were, to me, right on the money. The opponent of this method said you should study your successes. I agree. But not studying your failure, or not examining failure at all or dismissing the examination and reflection on failure is a great way to set yourself up for a big failure later when your methods for achieving success no longer work. Continue reading
My work situation has been fairly unhappy for a long time. It is tedious and there is no room for advancement where I work. It’s a large, dysfunctional organization with a host of built in biases that put me at a distinct disadvantage. At my workplace they have been restructuring for over a year now, essentially under the guise of best practices improvements. It being an educational institution with the person in charge coming from private enterprise, what is really happening is the corporatization of the university. They are also using some amusing doublespeak words to label the restructuring, and it is so specific that I can’t actually say it here since it would clearly reveal the place. I will say that so far two large groups have been restructured, much to the chagrin of the people that use the services of those groups. Sadly and unfortunately, the restructuring of the group I work with looks to be no different. (I am going to write more about that another time, in fact.)
Restructuring in this case means dissolving and eliminating existing process and human resource infrastructure. On the whole it means large scale depersonalization or most process and infrastructure services. For me personally, and all of my colleagues, it means having to apply for new jobs in the newly formed restructured group, interview for those jobs and then either be hired into those new positions or be laid off. I was hired into a new position. Success and acceptance! …that feels like failure and rejection. Why? Because it continues me down the same plodding path I’ve been in for nearly five years without any change in sight. I can look back on a lot of great positive changes that I implemented myself (in fact, that’s another entry and probably some great things to add to my LinkedIn profile), but overall I feel like a wasted resource where I work and with the work I do.
I successfully landed my job back. I was offered a position. Yet, it feels like I failed to really make any changes. Additionally, one of the key parts of the new job is a site relocation in six months to a site that I have worked at before but which I find abysmal. Landing the same job is a small disappointment because I also interview for a small step up position that, frankly, I am overqualified for to begin with (as I am with my current job). The relocation feels like outright rejection, though. And so here I am writing about it all to sort out how to make these two things positive movements forward.
Successfully landing the same position: Motivation. That is the positive move forward. My workplace is vastly underusing me and my skills. That’s dual motivation of (1) perhaps I didn’t present myself or portray myself in the right way in the interview, (2) where I work is a progressive educational institution which means that who I am genetically has a big influence on whether or not I am considered for a position or not and (3) educational institutions are political institutions and I am not a politically oriented or politically motivated person. This is a two-fold motivation: change myself and change my environment. Two-fold is a good way to describe it, as these two ideas fold in on each other. My environment is one that does not really encourage me to thrive or excel, nor is it one that values what I have to offer. Therefore, my motivation to find a place that does value those things (or to create a place for myself that values those things) is very high. This is the positive aspect of a bad situation and this is the learning moment of the bad situation: Change myself. Change my environment.
Acceptance via banishment: Motivation. My workplace is moving me to a location I don’t find safe or agree with being assigned to and I can’t help but interpret it as a form or social rejection. Coincidentally I had an article clipped to Evernote with the subject tag “inspiration” and “motivation” about this very thing. The suggestions they give are good, and the first suggestion is to confront the problem. I did that immediately, even before accepting the job (I have not accepted as of this writing, in fact) in email asking about this relocation. I received what I can only describe as exactly the type of responses I have come to expect from the place where I work. It is interesting to receive responses like this, though. Non-committal, deflective responses emphasize what I learned in the previous paragraph: It is not an environment where I can thrive. Deflection and not answering the questions from a future supervisor is never a good sign, but having that knowledge ahead of time is a good to know. It keeps me from wasting time in the future. The other suggestion is the one that is all part of the Focus Project: “if it can’t be solved, consider ways to remove yourself from the situation because unwarranted social rejection isn’t healthy for anybody”. And that is exactly the plan over the next year. Move on. Move out. Move away. Move forward.
Move. “A person has to participate.” – Studs Terkel
On the last post I mentioned self forgiveness and failed to explore it at all. That’s interesting and, well, forgivable. This place to write isn’t about productivity and deadliness anyway, but just about writing through things and thinking them through. This one is a little more public and it’s also a way to explore WordPress, so not writing here for just a couple of days is largely forgivable.
Self forgiveness is something that has never come easy to me. In fact, I have generally been very binary about caring about success and failure. By that I mean I have been either entirely not caring at all about failures or beating myself up over failures. The former is more difficult to explain, but usually not caring at all about failure has been grounded in ignorance. Basically me not knowing the consequences of failure or not understanding what I’ve failed at. That in itself is a topic that could probably be discussed at great length, but overall it just means that if I was completely detached from a large failure in my life that it probably meant that I was oblivious to the consequences of the implications. Of course, there are certainly times when being detached and not caring about failure are fine and justified, but in a lot of cases I basically just haven’t cared enough about failing at something for it to bother me. Or worse, if it was genuinely important that I wasn’t moved to positive action from it.
The other way I have dealt with failure is the one that is probably more familiar to people: beating up on myself. i.e. just being downright unforgiving of making mistakes at all and become obsessed with avoiding that mistake in the future. Frankly, this is equally as bad as not giving a damn since it basically results in an identical way of dealing with things but on the opposite end of the spectrum: going to extremes. In the case of not caring at all, that extreme is apathy. In the case of not forgiving my mistakes, that extreme is obsession. The latter extreme is also a case of skewing priorities and the importance of certain actions. i.e. focusing on a single failure and trying to prevent only that type of failure in the future. And THAT doesn’t change the overall habits that are needed to avoid systemic failures. In other words, it doesn’t change the process, it only changes the response to one type of event.
It’s the wrong kind of thing to learn from failure. If anything, what I should be learning from failure is that, in fact, failure happens. It’s part of life. Sure, it shouldn’t be the primary thing you do, and it certainly shouldn’t be the primary thing you focus on, but it has to be part of the process. You can’t thrive without some disappointments and failures. Failures are where you learn a lot about yourself. It’s a great starting point for self exploration, actually.
That’s how I’ve ended up here. I felt like I had failed at my Focus Project last year and instead of just drowning my sorrows in beer or losing myself in nostalgic movie escapes, I decided I wanted to explore my failure. Not just my failure, but failure in general as a theme. I want to learn from not just my own failure, but from other failure as well. I want to use failure as an avenue for self exploration. Ironically what it ended up doing, though, was emphasizing my big successes with last year’s Focus Project. Not everything succeeded, but there were some big successes. I simply started to dwell on my failures at the end instead of looking back and examining the successes. Looking back and throughout a year eventually gets you to where you are now and then looking back turns into looking inward and becomes self exploration. And that is where I am now. Self exploring my ideas and assumptions about success and failure.
Most things I read about “finding focus” have to do with getting into the concentration zone where you only think about that one thing you are trying to think about and also DOING something with that thing (creating, writing, processing, etc.). This morning I woke up early again (two days in row! Hoorary!) and was thinking about what I could use the time for. In that I took yesterday morning to examine and reflect on my successes and failures last year and what I learned from them, I sat down this morning to think about what I want to focus on this year. I suspect most go-get-’em types start doing this sort of thing in December, but honestly, I can’t say I was in the best place in December to really tackle this. December is a giant combination of elation and depression in many ways, and BNAT was the elation and post-BNAT was the depression, so I wasn’t able to get motivated or create time to start thinking about what I could focus on for 2013. Frankly, that low point after BNAT and up until the past few weeks is what finally kicked me into taking action to move forward with something new and to examine my failures and successes. It’s funny that feeling like a failure is what has led me down this path of examining not only my failures, but my successes and having a giant revelation about just how successful last year’s Focus Project was even though it collapsed at the end of the year. There was a lot of auto-pilot by about 3/4 of the way through the year, or maybe 2/3, but a lot of that was (and still is) rooted in my place of employment not being well organized or well-scheduled during their restructuring. That’s caused a lot of doubt, self-doubt and nervousness over the chaos of the situation. Frankly, I’m tired of all that. That’s a form of letting other people control you life, and that is a proxy of letting other people control how well you are thriving and existing in the world around you. I suppose I’m to the point of not only publicly saying “Ugh. Fuck that stupid shit.” but also to the point of having the deep realizations about it. The only person that’s going to treat me any better in my professional world on a daily basis is going to be me.
What does that have to do with this morning? Well, for one thing I believe all of that undercurrent (and my lack of beer) is giving me the energy to wake up early in the mornings and work on ideas for how to make our lives better over the next year. While most people probably have good ideas of these types of things (or maybe not – I kid myself that other people have their shit together a lot more than they really do), I really sat down this morning and hit the Focus Booster app for 30 minutes to just do nothing but sit and write about what some of the things are that I need to focus on for the next year and which of those things are worth being designated for the Focus Project. Not just me, but my family as well. If it were just me, it would look similar but also very different. I would probably spend a lot more time focused on drawing and photography if I were the only one to worry about, but I’m not. So financial improvement and professional growth (and improvement) are things that are going to take precedence this year. Those things are incredibly important and becoming a higher priority every year I get older and every year my daughter gets older as well. None of it’s ‘fun’ in the creative way that drawing or taking pictures is fun, but I have to make it interesting by setting goals to work toward and to make sure that the time and work I put into those things will make our lives better overall, not just in one area. That means there has to be at least some time for the drawing and/or the photography this year or I will end up focused on achieving only one “fun” goal like BNAT again and then once achieved find myself lost in a fog afterwards.
For the next three days I’m going to wake up early every morning and focus on projects to be part of the Focus Project. That’s the plan. Along the way, I hope to keep writing here to get thoughts out and to do what amounts to a second run of those early morning thoughts to see what sticks. Also along the way I am hoping to talk more about what tools I am going to use for all of these. I am terrible Perfect Apostrophe pursuer, and I was able to avoid it last year when I started the project and I hope to avoid it again this year while also at least opening myself up to exploring a few new tools. And if not exploring, then documenting and organizing the tools that I do use for the Focus Project. We’ll see where all of this goes over the next year, and I’ll do my best to come here regularly and write about it and try to talk about progress and obstruction, success and failure. But it’s time to achieve some significant things this year and I’m worn out and tired of those things in my life that aren’t working anymore, so it’s time to change what I can, keep things I enjoy (and do so within reason with things like beer and actually try to add in some things that have fallen by the wayside like drawing and watching movies more regularly), and get out of my own personal ruts and step up to some new levels of thinking, appreciating and being a different and better person in my own eyes and in the eyes of my family.
This morning for the first time in a LONG time I was able to genuinely wake up at 5:00 AM. For some people I know that seems outrageous, but frankly, I like that time of the morning because I can be totally along in our small apartment. It’s quiet. I can listen to music softly and focus on writing and thinking. I did a small bit of file review and sorting, but the main thing I did when I got up was start writing up a review of last year’s Focus Project. The review was primarily to examine the failures, but as I typed it up, I realized that a big part of it, if not all of it, was successful. There were definitely some failures, to say the least. The successes were many, though, and some of those were big. I did learn a few things, though.
•Have future goals and projects to look forward to when you achieve a goal or complete a project.
This probably sounds obvious to more mature goal setters and project pursuers. But It had been so long since I had really achieve a lot of personal goals that I forgot about the gigantic let down that follows achieving a very large personal goal.
•Beer is a double-edge sword for me to enjoy.
This is something I really learned last year at the beginning of the year when I gave up buying beer for myself. Removing it as a daily habit really adds a lot of energy and positivity back to my psyche. That makes sense. Alcohol depletes resources, makes it harder to sleep, and is a depressant. Having beer as a daily habit creates a terrible feedback loop for my body. I plan on enjoying beer still in the future, but more as a goal itself to work toward, as a reward for big achievements in projects, but not a daily relaxation technique.
•Focusing on achieving something works.
I ended the year on very down psyche because of the first bullet point up there. I achieve my goal to attend BNAT, and post-BNAT blues (which are normal) were worse than just blues. They were devastating and almost hopeless feeling. But sitting down to think through my successes this year I realized that, in fact, focusing on achieving something really works for me. I had gigantic successes this year, and the post-BNAT period made it all feel inconsequential and minimized. Only sitting down today to examine it with less emotion and a little more distance did I really start to be amazing at the achievements for 2012. There were failures, sure, and the end of the year being closer than the beginning and middle, made me dwell on the failures since the successes were further away.
•There aren’t always clear lessons to be learned.
This one is the hardest. I had a lot of goals regarding my job and work and other professional goals, and while some were achieved, many were not. And there are some things to be learned, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear singular lesson to be learned from my professional failures this year. Accepting failure is one thing. Accepting that there’s not much to be learned from that failure is another thing altogether. Acceptance of that is tough.
•Follow my instincts.
There are good and bad things about this, of course. I followed my instincts to come back to San Francisco and pursue a PMP certification, only to have my work life thrown into an uproar with a restructuring that forced my into not having an idea about my financial future, so investing the money into the PMP certification had to be put on hold. That feels like a failure of following my instincts, but I have to look at whether or not my wife and kid were ready for us to pack up and move across the country in three weeks in what was a lateral job move (for a contract job no less) and a gigantic salary reduction in a city that we would still end up struggling in that we may not like struggling in. The instinct now says that it might be time to move, but I am waiting to see what happens over the next week. The real need to follow my instincts, though, came from my failed Photography component of my Focus project. Partially just time, yes, but also the tools I use for photography are all wrong for me. I bought a camera in 2011 that I deeply regret owning now and have little joy in using and little interest in learning. My computer is fine, but my photo management tool, which I am entrenched in using, is slow and buggy and failing me, and I feel a lot of chagrined resentment toward investing so many years into it at this point. So there are two big points of failure that crushed the Photography component of my Focus project. I felt like I should have gone with a micro 4/3 systems and I went with a standard DSLR and it was the wrong decision that I am working hard to overcome emotionally and confidence-wise. Same with investing all of my current photo collection with iPhoto ’11 and it being so incredibly, terribly slow and messed up and not knowing really where to go for a new photo library management tool for the massive photo library I have. More lessons will be learned this year, for sure.
That’s not really all, but those are my highlights that I’m writing here to have open to look at and write about and think about. I want to make this coming year better, and tomorrow when I write here that’s what I’m going to focus on writing and think about. Making this year’s Focus project work better than last years and to really focus on changing our lives and transforming it for the better and the positive.
I’ve been attempting to rally from distraction and inattention for a while, but I confess to a degree of self-pity when it comes to moving things forward in my life. That isn’t to say that a little self-pity isn’t justified given my workplace and the current situation there. On the other hand, it’s enlightening to just throw your hands up and say “Whatever happens, happens.” and move yourself forward.
Sickness: The last thing I wrote about was being sick and how that saps, depletes, exhaust and empties all of the physical and psychological reserves. It has been ten long days of being sick and being a parent to a 4.5 year old, a spouse, and trying to get day-to-day life done. It is as terrible as it sounds. For both me and my spouse. She has it as well, and she gets the heavier burden of responsibility of parenting. I make up for it by working full time and doing my full share of regular housework (trust me, there’s not an unbalance of housework put on her in our household since I’m the once that is more bothered by messiness and dirtiness – that puts the burden on me just out of sheer desire to not have my brain twitching at me about it while I am home). My kid has fared the worst because she hasn’t been sick and she is 4.5 and has all the energy a 4.5 year old has. i.e. an infinite amount. She has been frustrated, but patient. Still, being sick requires extra rest, including extra sleep, and making any efforts to wake up early during January when you’re sick is like trying to drink cement through a straw. Even worse for myself is that in the moments of my body feeling even slightly better my mind takes it upon itself to beret me for not using the burst of time to get more organized, even though I’m having to catch up on daily life. Ones own mind can sometimes be the worst enemy and least understanding about reality. It’s why I’ve been coming here to write, to let my mind know that I’m not slacking at all, but trying to come to an agreement on how I can balance all of the things in my life.
Chaos: Sickness breeds chaos when you live with a kid. Everything falls behind when your energy and will fail you simply because all of it is being channeled into survival and recovery. Rallying from chaos is daunting, as every organizing book and guru will tell you. You need to start with something small and set priorities, but a week behind even trying to get started at reclaiming those efforts to begin with feels more defeat than setback. Chaos seems less like a dust bunny you have to sweep away or vacuum up and more like a real demon waiting for you to open the door so it can silently attach itself to your back and whisper bitter everythings into your ear. The only way I can think of rallying from chaos is to give myself an inch of organizing in the morning. Not a lot. A few minutes here to look through the piled up mail. A few minutes to read over some Evernote saved articles from the last year on focus and inspiration. Just a taste of something organized, ordered and positive to remind myself that when there’s chaos and you want order, you’re fighting against the natural inclination of the universe itself. Be forgiving and gentle with yourself when you start pulling the demon off your back.
Distraction: This is the real beast of burden when you start feeling sick and when you are sick. You don’t want to be sick and when you are sick you don’t want to just focus on that. You specifically want something, anything to distract you from it and you’ll dart around like a hummingbird looking for short-term distractions or long-term non-productive distractions. Even worse, distraction as an activity is itself incredibly habit forming. It’s how Facebook has exploded to being the most active social network on the planet. It’s built on distraction from everything but it. It notifies via distraction. It draws you in from the world around you as a distraction under the guise that it’s simply connecting you to the real world network of friends and family in your life. But it’s a bit insidious while certainly serving as a genuine connecting tissue for a lot of friends and family. I’m not even sure how I’m going fight distraction myself. I’ve pulled away from Facebook by about 98%, but Twitter is still pinging my brain with its notification system as well and I’m trying to determine exactly how to use it without it just becoming Facebook 2.0 level of distraction for me. I may not be able to.
Inattention: Distraction’s warped offspring is probably my most difficult self inflicted psychological damage that I am working on overcoming. Inattention derives, for me, from distraction. Distraction for me is the want of something new to keep me away from more serious thoughts and responsibilities I need to face and work on. Inattention blossoms with distractions such as Facebook and Twitter because you feel tricked into thinking you’re focused on something, which you are, but the whole thing is managed distraction leading you to a series of constant shifting attention levels resulting into what I can only describe as a self-inflicted inattention wound that you either just let fester or which you try to heal through active separation.
Now comes the time to rally. To take the baby steps to organize and renew my energy and renew my focus. And it’s hard. Even when being sick starts to creep away, the tasks I have before me in all parts of my life seem fairly daunting. But it is heartening to know that this is everyone’s burden as well. We all have to face up to the crappier parts of regular life that we think are boring and take time away from things we enjoy. Some people even end up enjoying those things that are the responsibilities. I’m not sure I can get to that point, but I do hope that I can get to the point where it at least feels rewarding to do those things and to complete them. Rewarding inside not just outside.
The next step is to start small with a plan. A plan to create a small Focus Project with a few primary goals to achieve over the next year. I was successful in some parts of last year’s focus project, but there were failures as well. Some things were simply never addressed. I learned a lot from that. Focus Projects should be considered carefully for what goals need accomplished. Written goals are the best, of course, and the goals that failed last year lacked clarity and well-written goals. Goals need priorities based on life needs and desires. Goals should be team determined in a family, which although difficult to involve a 4.5 year old, I want to try and determine what she enjoys in life and make sure we have that as well as the things she needs for her overall general well-being. I don’t think this year will be easy at all. It might be really hard depending on what’s coming up. But I think my family and myself all want things to be better and different than they have been, and setting out on a focus project for changes is a good start.
It’s a bummer that being sick along with being a dad are two things that conspire to push my desire to write so far aside. Yet, I am digging my heels in this afternoon on a slow work day to have at least a small something to say. Mainly what I have to say is that being sick is a disaster for trying to make changes in your life. The first thing you want to do when you get sick and start to feel awful is to feel comfortable. And to feel comfortable the first thing you do is simply fall back on old habits. They got you this far, right? This is good enough, right? Stasis is fine when you’re sick. No need to look around or make any pushes to change things or be creative. They can all wait while you sniffe and cough and hack and blow your way through the misery of an illness, right?
Ugh. Right. And that’s the worst part about being sick outside of the sickness itself. You fall back on terrible habits. The energy to make changes is all used up to do your most basic day-to-day functions. Thinking is muddled. Organizing anything turns into simply maintaining non-disaster status. It all falls into a loop of suck.
Today I was desperate to get here, though. To write something. Even a little about why being sick sucks. And how sick is a sort of interesting exploration into failure you really don’t necessarily bring upon yourself, but when it happens you do spend a lot of time wondering about why it happened and when it’s going to end. The failure of the self to recognize being sick is a challenge as well. Denial runs rampant for those with a terrible flu or cold. Energy estimates and allocations are improperly estimated. Everything just goes to shit and you’re happy to get a good night’s sleep at some point. You’re happy to go to do regular things like make it to the grocery store. You definitely fail at making progress past day-to-day regular life.
This is an important lesson in failure for me. These unintentional failures, natural disasters if you will, happen. You don’t control your immune systems anymore than you control the weather. It does its level best to make you better and the result is depletion. You fail. Your body fails a little. And yet, it succeeds a lot. The terrible results of your immune system fighting illness is success and failure all in one container of messiness. I feel, though, like there’s something important to learn from the depleted energy and miscalculated energy exertions. About how working to make things better often has the result of making things a big mess for a while and then things start to get to a new normal. Just like an immune system, I’m wondering how much of a mess making changes in my life is going to make and how painful they will be and how much I will under and over estimate many things. If there were no changes, though, no mess, then wouldn’t an illness just win? Isn’t it just decay and death. Without the mess, nothing gets better and no new normal is established. Hm. I never though being sick with a rotten cold would teach me an important lesson about accepting the messiness of making things better.
We have all brainwashed ourselves either a little or a lot. About a lot of things. About success. About failure. About our place in the world. About our own importance. About our lack of importance. We are all suffering from some weird delusions, and to each his own delusion. One of the biggest illusions we are suffering through right now is the illusion of progress through productivity. We believe in this idea. We think we can sit down and show that it is real through numbers. Through metrics. Through science. Through self-confidence. Through any and every type of explanation we can muster in order to convince ourselves that progress come through being productive. We also believe that we know what being productive is. It’s obvious, right? Productivity is defined by producing things. Whatever it is that is important to us or to the things that make us money or define is. Producing them is important, and moreover, producing more is better. Right? *looks around* What?
Yet, here I am thinking of exactly doing that. Producing something. But I wonder if it will be progress or change. And really, is progress what I want or is it just a change? I could change by just letting my precarious life I already have devolve into madness and lack of care. Yet, I’m not a monster. I have a wife and kid and that type of change, while certainly a possible path for some people, isn’t the type of change I can, erm… pursue (if you can call it a pursuit). Lately, for the past couple of years, I haven’t pursued much of anything except a sort of static existence. Admittedly, I am frustrated with that static existence. It’s why I came here to write and figure things out in my own head. I have done some things, of course. I have paid off debt. I have not gotten further into debt. I have paid for my kid to have specific attention necessary to her needs. I have lived in the country’s second most expensive city on wages that most people here would consider poverty wages, yet we have a 2 bedroom apartment in an active neighborhood close to museums and playgrounds and great places to walk to or take a train or bus to. It’s the sort of childhood I myself very much desired. A city childhood. There are some crappy parts too. No yard, only a park the size of a small town (wait… is that crappy?). A lot of people around me doing much better than myself, yet also some doing much worse). It’s a weird existence. I have almost changed it more than once. And it has to change in the next year no matter what. Everyone in my family is tired of the same ‘ol thing in a lot of ways. And I am too.
I have accomplished a few things in the last year and half. Some of them look so simple but took longer than I ever thought, like a resume I liked and could update with ease. A web site for my professional self that looks OK and has some excellent content (albeit a bit behind). I have even managed to pay off the little debt we had, buy a suit, get two job offers (sadly well below a pay range that would work for me), go to an incredibly important personal event, and still have time to have a job and be a dad (and on the weekend my wife works so I have to be 24/7 caretaker). To top it all, I go to work 40 hours a week to a job I’ve almost entirely mentally separated myself from for the last five years and managed to do a good job and help people work. Yet, I definitely feel like I want things to be different. Do I want to make progress? I have no clue. I just want things to be better for everyone in my immediate family. I want my daughter to be closer to the family that we do have. I want my wife to as well. I want more time to myself to write and draw. And more. A lot more. It’s funny that the more is not so much material as it is chronological and geographical. Meaning, I want more time and more travel. Both things that are difficult to coordinate and arrange when you’ve got a kid and the regular parts of day-to-day life. Not only do I want more time and more ability to travel, but I want to make things with that time. And the ONLY way to do that is to get organized. And the only way to get organized is to start to, well, make progress. To accomplish things. Things that I have put off accomplishing due to fear of not accomplishing them to an acceptable degree of quality. Yet, lately, I have started to decide that as much as I have the desire to make amazing quality stuff, frankly, I don’t have the talent. And time to build the talent is diminishing for me every day, so I have just moved on to just making things that are amateurishly terrible and not giving a shit. In other words, I’ve very much reverted to being a lot like a kid. I’m making things because it’s FUN to make things for myself and not care about what anyone else thinks about these things. Millions of people can do thing things I find fun much better than I can do them, but they aren’t me doing them. That’s the real important part for me to remember. It doesn’t have to amazing for everyone. Hell, it doesn’t have to be amazing for ME. It just have to be me doing it to have fun doing it.
WTF does that have to do with productivity? Well, this ties back to my ideas about having a place to write and a place to keep things. No matter how I think that the ideas of progress and productivity are a sort of cultural madness and delusion, I am right up front in suffering from those ideas. To the point that I have searched off and on for a way to keep to-do list and tasks list for years. And I have been through many, and frankly, I expect to go through more than a few more. I had a GREAT one in Wunderkinder’s Wunderlist for a while, right up until they busted v 2.0 with locking down a few things I loved and getting rid of them. So I went to another one that had a lot of potential and now has become the one that I’m going to be using to try to capture the “things I need to do for these silly things I want to accomplish”. That one is Producteev.
Producteev isn’t perfect. But it’s good. And if it’s good, then that’s just as important as it being great to me. Ironically, it lacks the very customizable feature that made me give up Wunderlist. So why abandon Wunderlist for Producteev, then? In my mind, Producteev never offered the feature in the first place so I don’t have any reason to resent losing that feature. Whereas Wunderlist gave me something that aesthetically pleased me and then took it away. In other words, Wunderlist hurt my feelings. And as much as we pretend to be an objective bunch of animals, we get bent out of shape when we have our feelings hurt. Seriously bent out of shape. And it isn’t that we don’t want to embrace change. We just don’t like having something we like taken away. It feels too personal. Like it’s against US, even when it isn’t. I know Wunderlist isn’t setting out to hurt my feelings or intentionally ruin a thing I like, but wow, having to stare at it and having it start back at me in a way that I am not used to and knowing that before I said yes to the upgrade that we had a great and pleasant agreement between us, well, it’s like having a splinter you just can’t get out. Whereas with Producteev, they’ve kept things pretty much intact. It’s got challenging interface issues, but they are diminished by the amazing things it offers. I also don’t look at it with that hurt feeling of “You USED to do that thing I loved.”
And this isn’t just Wunderlist, of course. This goes straight back to my earlier post on studying failure. Stitch upgraded to failure as well. And Google Reader. And Apple Maps. And Windows Vista. Lots of companies upgrade to failure. Some of them realize it and apologize and try to fix things. Others steadfastly stay with their vision. Vision is awesome, of course. We get great things from visionary people and companies. But there are many kinds of visions. Tunnel vision being one of them. And with tunnel vision you end up seeing only the things YOU want to see while abandoning any other points of view. The big picture is there and important, but only you can see it. Sometimes, that works out great. Other times that works out as a just a fanciful (and sometimes wistfully hopeful) vision of futures of your past. Visions that never come to fruition (Google Wave) despite their amazing potential. Visions that swim to the surface and never break through (Yahoo Pipes) to the surface.
What do I need? A simple task list with a place to take notes on the tasks and to categorize them. Who can do this? Tons of task list apps and services. Why did I pick Prodcteev this time? Because Wunderlist hurt my feelings and Prodcteev didn’t. Funny how much a change to a small tool that keeps track of big parts of your life can come down to hitting “Upgrade” and then ending up with a pouting bottom lip for about 30 minutes while you try to figure something out.
In the past, and now as well, one of the things that people used to collect their writing was notebooks. I have used them and still do. Notebooks are awesome and amazing. They are dense, offer the option to draw easily and write easily on the same page and in the same place, and they are tactile and are physically connected to the physical process of writing in a way we can understand and see. We literally could simply burn a match and write a word if we needed to, or find some kind of berry off a tree and squeeze its juices into a sponge and write with it. Pens and pencils themselves are very much technological achievements as is paper, but it’s a tried and true technology whose failure points we are familiar with. Paper hates fire, dust, water and age. Even tearing paper, it can be repaired or simply restructured to find the original content. Of course, something is lost, but the overall content of the words on paper can be recovered if paper is torn apart. That ability itself is so important that an entire industry evolved and still revolves around making sure you can’t do that. Notebooks also have the most interesting feature of being linear.
Linearity in a notebook is, of course, a product of either its manufacture or its owner’s desire to make it so. A manufactured notebook in which the pages are fixed in place can easily have the page cut out and the linearity be destroyed. Even as you write in it, you can choose to do this. Of course, you can simply own a notebook that paper can be placed into over binder rings, giving you the easy option of removal through removing it by opening the binder rings or tearing it out. I have and continue to often use these forms of notebooks. They are great for brainstorming because you can easily then take the pages and connect them in a non-linear way. You can transfer them to a different medium. You can use technological solutions to copy them or scan them into a computer. Non-linearity is a sort of blessing with writing.
Yet, linearity heartily survives. Moleskine has made a multi-million dollar business of linearity. Of course, you can buy any number of notebooks to write in that have perforated pages for easy removal, but the fixed page notebook thrives. There’s something about the fixed pages that draws a certain type of person into using it. And I am not here to even pretend to know why that’s the case. The only reason I started to write about to begin with was thinking about writing something else entirely and finding myself a bit chagrined that everything I wrote about it previously is now scattered across the digiverse. On Facebook in notes and in replies. In email. Maybe even in segments of Tweets. It is all collected in different, difficult to search places that I haven’t noted. And now I am left to search for it in order to recover those ideas. If it were in notebooks it would be difficult as well, but the difficulty would be an evening of me standing up and pulling notebooks off the shelf and going through them. And the difficulty of getting lost in other things I have written (an equally risky proposition searching through the sites as well, though) and getting more ideas and losing focus. But I think I would be able to find the things I had written without going on a scavenger hunt through my online digital life.
A place to write. That’s the title. And I have lost a place to write. I still write in notebooks, but not long thoughts or ideas like I am writing here. But I have not had a focused digital place to write for a while, and that has led to not knowing where good ideas have gotten off to in the social networks. And even the places I know I left good ideas are going to be investments in time and effort to search for them. Good ideas about what was happening in Prometheus that I now want to write about. Good ideas about Scott Pilgrim vs the World that I now want to write about. The cloud and the non-linearity of it all has me wondering how to search for these things and questioning where I put my ideas and thoughts. I love handwriting, but I love typing with a keyboard as well. Typing is a skill I have that I enjoy and loathe to abandon, which is why voice recognition has never held much sway for me (except for the ability to use it as seen in Star Trek to get where I live to do things for me). I can’t see abandoning one form over the other. But the linearity of the notebook forces a type of structure to even the most mundane of note taking. It slows the pace of data input as well, which is both a blessing and a curse. When ideas come fast, you want to capture them quickly, and that is why the computer and typing into them can be such a joy (especially for introverts that don’t feel comfortable putting their ideas into speech through recordings or even through transcription). The downside of the computer for capturing ideas is the ever changing nature of where you actually KEEP those ideas.
There’s something amazingly conversational about places like Facebook and Twitter, and this conversational style is inherited from the old days of computer bulletin boards. I wonder exactly how many hours myself and others poured into our well thought out and well honed responses, typed in as well as our typing and grammatical skills allowed, to what basically amounted to nothing more than a coffee shop conversation or a bar argument. While the wild west feeling of the BBS has been removed from Facebook and Twitter through design elements, accessibility to family and friends you wouldn’t show that side of yourself to, and with Facebook, let’s face it, censorship. The wild west side of the web still exists in the form of feedback, the worst of which is exacerbated by the concept of anonymity, but Facebook and Twitter offer up something slightly more intimate in their own ways (with each being completely different). The conversational style is great, as it frees up the idea that you are facing a blank page to write on. Feedback is immediate. Notifications are immediate when there is feedback. It reminds me of something I wrote down in 2007 in a Tiddlywiki (which I still have and will copy from to quote the written item): “Timeshifting is the new black.”
Timeshifting conversations is really what Facebook and Twitter are doing for us. It’s exactly what all electronic communities have been doing for years. Facebook and Twitter both have polished this timeshifted conversation to a point where it is sleek and accessible to a wider number of people and age groups than ever before. The threshold for entry is so incredibly low that what was the domain of the computer geek in the 80s, for the computer savvy in the 90s, for nearly every person with someone to help them with their computer in the 00s, is now the domain of every person’s grandparents and beyond. The threshold is either so low or so invisible as to not even exists. Every person now has an almost flawless system of electronically timeshifting their conversations, even beyond email. Not only their conversations, but essentially their entire lives. Locations? You can check in. Visual record? You can post photos to any of these services, and videos as well. Audio record? You can take a moment to connect SoundCloud to both of these things. Basically, all of your activity is recorded now (if you want that) and response to it is recorded and timeshifted to you responding to it at your convenience.
Yet for writing itself, this activity I am involved in right now, well, you still need “a place” to do it. You need a blog, or a notebook, or a word processor. All of these exists. The place to do it becomes a choice of places. The real choice becomes which one to use and, more importantly, where to keep what you write. A place to keep it has become as important as the place to do the action itself. Because it’s about being able to find it and to find your old good ideas that is the most important aspect of writing. For myself, this is where Facebook and Twitter fail, although Twitter has actually addressed this by now letting you download all your tweets, which you can then proceed to have your computer index for search (I haven’t done this, but I am guessing it doesn’t catalog and keep the conversational nature of reply chains). Facebook has attempted to do something similar by providing you with Timelines and the ability to catalog events chronologically, but even this still will not let you catalog and index locally. You are left to remember and dig around for anything great you may have written in a reply or a group.
So it comes down to really what started all of this: I wanted to find some fun things I wrote in Facebook and Twitter. Some in notes, so easy to find, others in posts, not as easy but still you can load your posts up and search, and then… some in replies and groups. For these, you are left to your own devices to find someway to remember the when and where. Facebook replies feel like old school BBS replies of days gone by: important to you at the time, but lost to the vapor. Of course, there ARE some good ideas you threw out, and losing the specifics is the frustrating part of the whole situation. If you could just capture those one of two highlights of ideas you would be happy! But it’s a dying Roy Batty situation where they are all lost like tears in the rain.
This is why it’s important to have a place to write. A single spot to capture your ideas. Of course, the responsibility is human. It rest on you to capture any good idea you have put down in words. You are the responsible party for making choices, be they digital or analog (and as a support technician for the last 13.5 years, I can tell you straight away that there are more than a few people that print EVERYTHING they write and file it away), to store your ideas. If they are replies to Tweets and Facebook status updates or groups, you are still responsible for remembering to copy and past it somewhere. Or to email it to yourself. In the long run, for now, recovery of good ideas is as fleeting as it has ever been despite all the tools to record them and find them again.
Parenting forces me into a series of constant dilemmas. Not necessarily terrible dilemmas, but ones that are both non-dilemmas but also at their core a serious dilemma. One of those dilemmas is laundry. Basically, it has to get done. My daughter is four, and doing laundry isn’t her idea of a great way to spend the day. She is an only child and she prefers to spend her days with mom and dad actually interacting with mom and dad. She craves a lot of input and as a parent it’s my job to provide it and to make choices about what that input will be. Of course, some of that input is terrible (watching videos), some of is good (reading comic books with her), some of it’s great (visiting the science museum with her, drawing of painting with her, going to a movie with her). But me spending the day doing laundry is her idea of a 40 ton boulder being placed on her. And on me as well. Because all she wants out of life is incredibly simple: she wants me or her mom to play with her. That’s it. And doing chores, either her doing them or us doing them, takes away from that. Honestly, that makes me as sad as her about it. Every moment she is a kid when we aren’t playing is really time taken away from both of us to have fun together. Some of that is obviously what you have to do in order to raise your kid not to be a spoiled beast, but when you are doing chores instead of playing with your kid, even when it’s being done because you’ve mostly already spend so much time playing with your kid instead of doing those chores, you still kind of have a pang of regret about it. Even though each of these things is necessary, and frankly, they are successes when you are accomplishing them, they are also oddly their own types of failures in that they each represent something else you could or should be doing.