- What It Takes To Be Great
- What It Takes To Be Great 2: AJATT and Malcolm McDowell’s Outliers…wait…
- What It Takes to Be Great 3: Follow-Up
- What It Takes to Be Great 4: Capablanca
- Aim to Fail
- You can have do or be ANYthing, but you can’t have do or be EVERYthing
- Why Do People Who Have All the Time in the World Get Nothing Done?
- How To Accomplish Great Things: Small Victories, Winnable Games
I’m not sure how directly this relates to AJATT. I mean, it relates. But I’m not sure that it relates to everyone doing AJATT. In fact, I know it doesn’t. But, it is an issue that affects me and that affects some AJATT readers. In fact, now that I think about it, it affects everyone who ever has longish stretches of free time that just seem to slip through their fingers despite the best of intentions going in. So, yeah, it’s relevant.
The Big Question
OK, enough introductizing…the question at hand is this: “Why Do People Who Have All the Time in the World Get Nothing Done?” Why is it that you had a whole week to do catch up on your classwork over Thanksgiving Break, but not only did you not finish it, you didn’t even start it?! You didn’t even crack open the book! WHY? All you did was sit on your butt, eat dead, rotting bird and watch every episode of Robot Chicken released to date. And when you ran out of that, you reached for Gilmore Girls. Wow, this post is going to sound sooooo dated in 15 years.
Do we need management? Do we need bosses? Do we need stress or at least eustress to get anything done? Do we need the threat of pain and suffering to get our butts in gear? Do we need something to fear? Is an idle mind Dick Cheney’s workshop? I say yes and no.
If we had been left alone as kids, this would not be an issue. Young kids who have not yet undergone that much processing, and unschooled kids seem to do fine getting stuff done.
OK, but forget about kids. Stupid kids thinking they’re our future. I’m the future, you vertically challenged motherlovers! Let’s bring it back to us. So, why do people who have all the time in the world never get anything done? Why…do people who have all the time in the world never get anything done? WHY do people who have all the time in the world get absolutely nothing done? Chris Rock’s stand-up style is affecting my writing.
Lottery Winner/Windfall Syndrome
I don’t freaking know why. But I have a wacky Khatzumoto hypothesis about it. I call it lottery winner syndrome hype o’thesis.
We all know those stories of lottery winners who, like, were totally poor, and then they won the lottery and overnight became decamillionaires, but then overnight became po’ again. The New Age PD people will spin you a tale about the “Law of Attraction” and how they weren’t a “vibrational match” for the money.
Mmmmyeah. This is what is known in linguistics as “bollocks”. It’s a special kind of bollocks, though, because it’s actually correct at many levels, but it’s bollocks because it’s the same as saying “the Sky Deity is urinating” instead of “it’s raining”, or “Remote Desktop hates me” instead of “I forgot to open port 3389”, or…yeah…or that.
What I mean is, we can accurately describe and predict the same phenomena (effect of attitude and knowledge on life experience) without going all southern California about it and trying to sell people a seminar. Did I mention I hate personal development seminars? Yeah, but that’s just my two cents. PD books are cool, though.
Dang, dude, far too many asides. Where were we? Oh yeah — lottery winner syndrome. Yeah, it totally happens, man. Totally. In fact, it happens so often I want to give it a new, more general name: the “windfall syndrome hypothesis“, whereby:
People who have been in a state of impoverishment with respect to a given resource, are very likely to completely misuse and exhaust the resource if and when they abruptly come to have it in plentiful supply.
Corollary: People who gradually acquire more of the resource tend not to do so.
I and two Japanese friends of mine who live nearby have left the so-called “normal” company life that most adults currently live. We work from home. We set our own hours. We are basically free to do whatever we want whenever we want. In the common parlance, “we have a lot of free time on our hands”. We are timewealthy. We timerich, be-arch.
But, for a while there, we weren’t nearly as productive as we want to be. In fact, we had become less productive when free than when we were company serfs (and everything but company work was a side project that had to be done on the commuter train). Dude, there are only three podcasts up right now. I haven’t produced a Dick and Jane comic since my Sony days. KhatzuMemo went a year almost untouched. Fortunately, that’s changing now, due to reasons and discoveries I’ma going to a-discuss-a a-here.
OK, so the windfall hypothesis so far is saying what happens and when it happens but not why. Like so many things, it does come down to psychology, to philosophy, to state of mind, baby (I’m doing the touching-my-temples-with-both-index-fingers thing, and I’m saying “mind” in a near-whisper). State of miiiind, maaan.
Why? Because of a subtle subspecies of a disease called innumeracy (a great book, by the way). Innumeracy can affect even people who otherwise like numbers and math of the matics. Innumeracy is the reason people will drive across town to Kroger to save 50 cents on roasted peanuts, but will not blink at a $50,000 difference in house price because their being semi-conned into focussing on the low/no-down-payment and the monthly cost of the mortgage (another great book). As if the $50,000 somehow matters less because it’s being siphoned off over time (plus interest, son!).
The innumeracy at work in the windfall syndrome can actually be expressed verbally — without numbers — it is already in the title of this post:
“Why Do People Who Have All the Time in the World Get Nothing Done?”
Can you see it? I’ll point it out for you: “all the time in the world“. This is the innmueracy of large numbers — innumeracy of infinites. Governments use it all the time, wangling a billion dollars here and there. Regular, schooled-and-therefore-innumerate taxpaying folk are so bamboozled that they swallow all these budget tricks.
So, in short the problem is: we (tend to) have a very poor understanding of the concept of infinity: we fallaciously conflate it with any sufficiently large-seeming number. Just like those rags-to-riches-to-rags lottery winners who think that the money is infinite — it could never run out — only to discover that, yes, one hundred million dollars can, in fact, be exhausted.
It’s not just the fault of the lottery winners. The people around them play a role, too. Get considerably richer than your friends and watch their behavior change. You don’t even have to wait for it to be six figures…just start making about twice as much money as your friends and watch them act differently; watch them act as if your money is inexhaustible.
Like Cuba Gooding, Jr. once said on Oprah, when you become a millionaire, and an old friend/acquaintance asks you for $10,000 and you say no, and they say that you suck and wealth has changed you…it’s not you that has changed; it’s them: they never would have asked you for that kind of cash before, but suddenly they act as if you’re a never-ending fountain of no-strings-attached grant money. In fact, they more or less believe you are. (Similar things happen where people who have less steal from people who have more, thinking “it’s so little; they won’t notice”).
Timewealth and Timepoverty
OK, let’s bring it back to time. People who have a lot of free time certainly have a lot more than most. Many salarymen (サラリーマン) in Japan have, on a good weekday, maybe two hours of discretionary time — if that. In contrast, someone not living the reeman (リーマン/salaryman) lifestyle — even a housewife — arguably has 24 hours a day free, right? Which means they have, say, 12 times as much time as a reeman (リーマン). Right?
Wrong. As with money, there is “time tax” in a sense. First of all, we all need to sleep maybe, I dunno, 6 to 10 hours a day to stay healthy and sane. Some people more, some less. So, strike off 8 hours for sleep. That leaves 16 hours. SIXTEEN FREE HOURS! That’s still 8 times more than our fictional reeman (リーマン), right?
Wrong. Personal maintenance — eating, showering, getting ready, let’s give it two hours. Which leaves 14 hours, right?
Wrong. Let’s say exercise and travel combined take 2 hours, leaving 12 hours. And then let’s just say “various” other tasks involving care and maintenance of things other than one’s person — housework, childcare, petcare, and play-breaks (since (1) virtually no one can work on something without breaks indefinitely, (2) many people have these kinds of maintenance responsibilities). That leaves 8 hours for some real work.
Eight hours is still a good amount of time. But you know what? It certainly isn’t infinite. My figures are all kind of fudged and estimated and made-up; it’s probably hard to be truly general since except maybe Japanese housewives, people are going to have very unique life patterns. Maybe with some timehacks people can squeeze out an extra two hours, bringing us back to 10.
So, this person with “all the time in the world” is really only 4 to 5 times timericher than a reeman (リーマン). In the US, where I’d hazard a guess that regular-a$$ employees have 4 hours a day of truly discretionary time, this means that the timerich are only maybe twice as rich as “regular” folk.
Unlike money, time can’t be created; it can only be “reallocated”. And there’s a hard limit — the day is only 24 hours long for any of us. Add in all that natural overhead (“tax”), and a timerich person just isn’t that rich.
Now, the problem is that not only do many of the timerich think they’re far richer than they actually are, so do the timepoor cling-ons. You know, those people who ask you to do something because “come on, maaan, it’s not like you don’t have the time”. “Why don’t you respond to every email that ever comes into your inbox, be-arch? Come on, man — YOU HAVE THE TIME”. “Back up my files for me! Come on, maaan! You have a terabyte!”. “Buy me a house, Bill Gates — come on, man — YOU HAVE THE MONEY” (actually, he doesn’t: a lot of that net worth is stock and there are rules preventing him from selling it…plus, if he were to sell it, it could be taken reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally badly).
So, the timerich are not only bombarded by infinite requests for their “infinite” time, they also put infinite demands upon themselves. (And, like I said, a timerich person is anyone who has considerably more discretionary time than the so-called norm; many people experience sudden temporary timewealth in forms like Thanksgiving Break and summer holidays, even public holidays). Not because they are stupid but because they are in fact following a code of ethics. By this simple, invisible code, it would be wrong for an infinitely wealthy person to be stingy. It would be wrong for a person who has infinite time to not do infinitely good work: one’s fundamental sense of morality would not allow it.
According to David Allen of Getting Things Done, this is why people who already have too much to do often keep taking on more stuff — without some kind of management system to tell them otherwise, they may feel busy and burnt-out, but they have no way of telling for certain that they have far too much going on and they need to start saying no outright — so they keep taking on more projects, often until they fall apart from the strain of it all (i.e. go physically/mentally bankrupt, like unto a lottery winner). Those projects can be as simple as taking on too many books to read. Only when you have something like a single, (visibly jam-packed) “to read” box do you realize that, in fact, you have too much to read and this pamphlet’s just gonna have to go suck it. Without a visible spillage, they may just think that their glass is heavy but that they should keep pouring in more water.
I, my friends, and everyone who’s ever put off coursework for the weekend or Thanksgiving Break “when I’ll have a whole week to catch up” (as if all 168 hours could be spent lump sum, en masse, nonstop on the work you hadn’t been doing all semester), all thought we had infinite time. So we tried to do infinite work. And we didn’t just end up only doing “a leetle bit of work” — we did virtually no work. No manga produced, no website put up, no KhatzuMemo updates. Because we were paralyzed. We’d spend days and weeks just THINKING CRAP UP, because we (subconsciously) felt we had to because, after all, we had the time. And, yeah, if you had an infinitely long life, then 70 years spent just playing with ideas for your Great American Novel would be no problem. But you know what? Not only do you not have an infinite life, you have pretty durn short days.
So, yeah…this is why short, winnable games work…they bring us back into finite reality. This is why giving a kid a dollar and teaching her not to spend all of it will help her if she ever suddenly has a kajillion of them. In short “a lot” of anything, really isn’t that much.
The 80-20 Principle
Remember when I hinted at “discoveries I’ma going to a-discuss-a a-here.”? My big “discovery” was the 80-20 Principle. In fact, I’m reading a whole book about it. It is fascinating stuff, man. And liberating. These kind of ideas used to upset me, kind of like how certain people (hippies) always lament at the rich growing richer — it’s called feedback, motherlover; wouldn’t it suck if getting more of something made you lose it? The idea that the vast majority of effects stem from a minuscule minority of causes can seem unjust…but think about it — the next time you make a to-do list at your computer, know that for every 10 items about 2 will actually be really worth it. Rather than stress out about all 10, focus on those 2, and then, if there’s still time, try to fit in some of the other 8. It’s like that object lesson about trying to fit pebbles and rocks into a jar. If you put in the pebbles, there’ll be no room for the rocks. Put in the rocks, and let the pebbles fit around them.
I used to try to get everything done. I was the perfectionist. And it was killing me; I was getting symptoms of all those middle-class neuroses (what “pretty white kids with problems” collectively refer to as “issues”) — panic attacks, OCD-like behavior, watching Gilmore Girls. OK, it never quite got that bad, but you see what I mean.
Many days, I would avoid doing anything, just so I could evade the self-imposed duty to be perfect, complete and infinite. But thanks to all these books, I have a whole box of tools to help me work with that. Eat That Frog and Getting Things Done taught me how to slice up my work so small that even complex, dirty duties (who likes filing their taxes?) could be as emotionally neutral as the proverbial flipping of burgers.
This was a major step forward, but by itself it was not enough. The Now Habit taught me to let go of being perfect and just get on with it. And the 80-20 Principle taught me to look for and zero in on the very least — the one or two widget-making/burger-flipping tasks — I could do to achieve the very most. I feel good. I knew that I would, now.
Example from Real Life:
Yesterday I had a list of changes to make on AJATT. And I started making the changes, then I thought up yet more ideas and I started working on them. In about two minutes I was literally working on ten things at once (those books, as good as they are, don’t won’t can’t change your behavior for you, rather, they lead you to observe it and show you what to do, then you change it). I was trying to be at all points in space and time at once, kind of like in Star Trek: Voyager (buy the Japanese version, motherlover!) when Tom Paris went to warp 10; I was flying at warp 10 with no inertial dampers, shields down, broken deflector…I was going to get crushed by the enormity of my own thoughts.
Then I stopped. First, I wrote down what I wanted to do. Writing it down is something many of the PD peepz recommend — it helps you judge things in their true context, against everything else that needs to be done (when it’s just in your head, everything can seem important). As David Allen has hinted, the purpose of a list of tasks is not necessarily to do all of them, indeed a lot of it is a matter of choosing tasks to not do.
Anyway, I wrote down all the tasks. Then I numbered them in order of “easiest to do and greatest long-term benefit”; I like easy. I noticed one of the tasks wasn’t a task at all, but a nebulous, amorphous, undefined, unwinnable project: “update/streamline Table of Contents”. I deleted it and went with “add recent (= October/November) articles to Table of Contents”. Oh yeah — like the pebbles fitting in around the rocks, I also picked up some of the lower-numbered tasks “on the way”, quite unintentionally. Which, funnily enough, led to an overall update/streamlining of the Table of Contents.
Which all seems very petty, but…if you’d been there, you’d have felt the realness.
Like the SRS once taught me about memory, 90-95% right is good enough. The remaining 5-10% is almost never worth going for (pretend for a moment that the long tail doesn’t exist; I don’t know how to fit it in) — too much work, too much pain, too little gain.
So do you need a boss? Only if you don’t know this stuff. That’s what bosses and editors and producers do for employees/writers/artists — they make these task-splitting, get-‘er-done, 80-20 decisions. This work is valuable, but most of it wouldn’t be necessary if more people were (allowed and placed in a position to learn) to do this for themselves.
Anyway, I don’t know if I’m actually right or not about any of this but…it seems to explain what I’m seeing. What’s your experience? Share!