Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Zen Habits..."

I only recently heard about a site called Zen Habits.  Its author claims it's one of the more popular blogs in the world.   It's author has a nice self-help story.   People like successful self-help stories, but, really - I can't emphasize this too much - failure  is pretty important.  The author's conflation of "Zen" with simple, organized living is a bit de trop for me, and obviously please take that point. But there's various nuances on that point I'd like to explore, though I'm happy the author of that stuff has found success, etc. etc.  "Zen" it ain't of course, at least not in any all-encompassing sense. 

I'd like to examine a few of the points I've found on that guy's site.

The guy boasts an uncluttered inbox.  My inbox is fairly cluttered - it's been intentionally that way for years.  I could unclutter it a bit, but that would mean the data equivalent of water filling up the bathtub somewhere.  But I've kept my inbox cluttered because that's why the universe gave us search engines, and ways to organize lists, even large ones.  I just go through and search and index my huge inbox every day around my key stakeholders.

Voila! I've simplifed simplifying. It invokes one of my rules for using computers: Never get a human to do something you can get a computer to do for you.   No, that does not include learning trigonometry- you'll have to learn that on your own.   But sorting? That's a computer's job.  Once you've learned what a sorting algorithm is, use it by having the computer do it.

At some point I will simplify further but really I'd use my inbox the same way anyway.  

I was inspired to write this by coming across this article on "How to Savor a Life."  It says there:

We procrastinate because we are uncomfortable doing something and want to do more comfortable (easier or more familiar) things instead. We don’t want to write that report/article/chapter, because it’s difficult, and it’s easier to check emails and take care of a bunch of little tasks. It’s easier to put off those dreaded tasks. 
But savoring can help. Let’s take writing as an example (the process is the same for anything, from cleaning your bathroom to doing taxes) … you have something to write and you know it’s important. The usual way is to say, “OK, I should write this, but first maybe I’ll check to see if anything important came into my email … and maybe my Twitter and Facebook too … oh, what’s this interesting article I found?” 
When we savor, we take this task of writing, and we slow down. We give the task some space — no switching quickly to the next thing. We pay attention to it and find the enjoyable aspects of it. And actually, there are enjoyable aspects to any activity, if we slow down and pay attention. When we savor, we notice these things, and fully enjoy them. We bask in the moment of doing, and let ourselves soak in its pleasure. 
So instead of switching to something else, we sit there with the writing. We notice our urge to switch and let it go — after all, we’re savoring this, so we can’t just switch! We think of other things we need to do, and let them go too. We’re savoring here.

This excerpt is why I started to feel a bit of remonstration in my gut about this guy, though his first bits were pretty good. 

First,  in terms of just working and creativity,  our brains are what they are.  A "Zen" "response" to procrastination might just be procrastination!  I learned this way way back in college: if a lab report kept me up all night before it was due, it did me no good to start it earlier; otherwise I'd spend the whole damn week doing the lab report and nothing but the lab report and it was only 2 out of something like 18 credits!  So sometimes "savoring" life means putting aside something unsavory with the intention of taking it up later.  It's a matter of having perspective.

Too, our brains being what they are, sometimes, it pays to put things down and take up something else. Our brains might continue to work on them in background mode.   I have to do this as a matter of course in my work anyway, since my workday typically involves at seeming random times, doing any one of several to a dozen separate activities, including some long-term but important creative activity.  For many of us that's how our jobs are structured, and if we work with that structure there will be some "procrastination." As long as a deadline's not missed,  there's no harm.  So I'd say work with yourself where you are (to be fair the Zen habits author would probably say the same thing)  but don't sweat at least some procrastination.

Moreover, "we" don't just procrastinate because there is something "bad" about being uncomfortable about doing something or we're "dreading" them.  Another thing I've learned is that sometimes you have to act like a low pass filter when it comes to requests from upper management, if you're in middle management.    This is because upper management's requests may not be fully coherently formed, and you'd only confuse things by acting on them. 

Finally, the unpleasant - like failure - has its place.  It is like sitting with great distress.  You've got to go past the distress by fully being open and accepting of the distress.   That is - not all tasks will have an element of enjoyment in them.  DO NOT expect that.  Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that it is there, but in any event consider the unpleasantness of the unpleasant task you must do a tiny, minuscule nanocosm of facing your own death.  OK?   While there are aspects of facing death that might bring forth the relief of pain for some, it's not something that most of us will find enjoyable as a general thing.  But it must be openly faced and accepted in order to be transcended in any kind of way.

No comments: