The glamorous side of productivity and self improvement is the big changes. You put your stake in the ground, decide to make a change, and you do it. You start a new set of habits or a new project. These are positive things, but we sometimes forget about the other side of forward progress.
Throughout our lives we are constantly introducing chaos and friction. A new business might mean a new bank account, IRS forms, email address, and a new web site to maintain. A new relationship can disrupt your regular routine. A new set of habits adds more obligation to your day.
The less glamorous side is systematically reducing friction. Sometimes we forget to do this because reducing friction doesn't look like forward progress. It looks like janitorial work, and that's not very exciting.
But reducing friction is what helps you get the most out of each stroke. It makes it so that you can sustain your progress and do more each day with the same amount of effort.
Here are some examples of things that I did recently to reduce friction:
- I made some mailing lists for groups of friends that I email frequently
- I bought a few years of extra batteries and toiletries from Amazon
- I sorted through all of the paper in my office and all of the mail in my mail scanning service
- I organized my tea, loose hardware like nails and screws, and my tools
- I bought better pliers because my old ones annoyed me whenever I used them
- I moved all of my vehicles to the same LLC and the same insurer
- I sold the small amounts of cryptocurrency I had in coins like CVC and BCC because I was too distracted checking the prices
- I bought new sandals because my old ones were annoying
- I bought a new projector because the remote stopped working on my old one and I had to reach under the couch to turn it on and off
- I went through my shelves in my little shed and closet and got rid of everything I didn't need
- I made some tools for CruiseSheet to make routine tasks take a fraction of the time they used to take
- I polyurethaned the shelves in my tea room and the nightstands I made in my bedroom
None of this is glamorous stuff. And each little item is so small that it almost doesn't feel worth working on. Better pliers? Extra batteries? Deleting old mail? But the cumulative benefit is huge.
I was working on some electrical stuff in my car and was trying to crimp wire connectors with pliers. It works but was a miserable experience. Then I finally paid $18 for some actual wire crimpers and the rest of the job was not only quick and painless, but actually fun. Efficiency feels really good.
We are all going to add stuff to our lives naturally. If I make a new friend, I'm going to make time for them. If I have a new project idea, it's not hard for me to get motivated to start on it. If there's something I really want to buy, I'm probably going to do it.
If we don't watch out, though, we'll never remove stuff from our lives. That's the mechanism we use to create space for the new things, though, temporally, physically, and mentally.
I always try to remove friction. I try to travel with fewer things in my backpack. I like getting rid of things in my house. I unfollow and unfriend people on Facebook all the time. I love spending focused time building something that will save me from tiny annoying bits of work throughout the year. I used to try to calculate if the time savings was worth it when automating things, but now I just do it no matter what, because I've never found a time where it wasn't worth automating even a semi-frequent task.
All of this feels like a huge secret weapon to me. Every item in my environment makes it easier for me to do whatever I want to do. The constraints on my time are probably fewer than the average retired person. This doesn't lead to me living a coddled idle life, it enables me to do a lot of work with no stress, no encumbrance, and no distraction.
Take a week and notice anything that distracts you, contributes even a tiny bit of stress, or annoys you. If you can afford the time or money to solve the problem, just do it. Try to do a lot of them. Every year or two I'll spend 3-4 weeks and focus on this stuff, and it really pays off.
Photo is a weird gold + mirror mannequin I saw in a museum.
Based on feedback from an offhand mention in the last post, I'm going to put on an event in Vegas. I have a bunch of ideas for it, but I'd love to hear what you'd like to experience if you were to sign up for such an event and spend a weekend with me and 10-20 other awesome people. Looking to do something more more fun and interactive than me standing in front of a room and talking all day.
I like and spend time in several cities which are very different from each other. Las Vegas, Hilo (Hawaii), Budapest, rural Halifax (our island), and Tokyo. On paper it would be hard to draw many links between those cities, which of course led me to think about why I liked all of them so much.
What I realized is that each of those cities has extremely low friction.
San Francisco is a very high friction city. Everything is expensive there, so unless you are wealthy, eating out for meals feels a little bit stressful. Is it really worth $25 for a non-Chipotle dinner? Getting places is stressful because you have to take ubers to most places and they are expensive and exposed to traffic. The homeless problem has grown so out of control that you are almost certain to be confronted with feces and heroin needles during your visit.
New York is also very high friction. The subway is swelteringly hot during the summer and has none of the efficiency or thoughtfulness of systems in other cities like Tokyo. Real estate is expensive, so your living situation is likely to have a bit of friction. Like San Francisco, everything is expensive. Getting to the airport can take a couple hours or $80, depending on whether you take the train or uber.
The coefficient of friction is a number that describes the friction between two objects. A combination like rubber on concrete would have a really high coefficient of friction, whereas a greased baby on a slip-n-slide would have a really low coefficient of friction.
There's more to it, though-- every pair of objects has two coefficients of friction, one for static friction, whch applies when the objects are at rest, and one for kinetic friction which applies when objects are in motion. The kinetic coefficient is always lower, which is why something can be stuck on an incline, but as soon as you give it a tiny push, it slides easily. We have mental coefficients of friction, too, and they react the same way.
Preparing for my trip to China last fall, I knew that my laptop battery wouldn't last for the entire length of the flight. Rather than being a champion and just read, I decded to download the first season of Breaking Bad to watch on my phone. Being the paragon of discipline that I am, I figured I'd watch the first half of the season on the flight over (after exhausting my computer battery with work, of course), and then watch the second half on the way back.
So I got on my flight to China and worked until my battery was dead. That was easy, because working on my laptop is what I do. I read for an hour or so on my Kindle and then decided to check out Breaking Bad. As everyone said-- it was great. I watched it for the rest of the flight.