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Everyone wants to work smarter, not harder. No reason not to do both, really, but smarter seems so much more appealing sometimes because it requires less work. The free lunch at the end of that rainbow isn't always as tasty as we might imagine, but once in a while there is a fundamental change one can make to really get more from their effort.
This was illustrated for me this week.
All week I've been trying to fit in time to work on Cruise Sheet. I've needed the internet to work on the next chunk, so my long flights were out. Instead I've carved up an hour here or there, but it felt as though no real progress had been made.
Today I had a solid four hour chunk of uninterrupted work. I know that large blocks of time are the best, and I always talk about it, but I don't always act on it. Maybe it's cockiness that makes me think I can spin up quickly and do work in small chunks.
I stare at my phone's clock. My watch isn't accurate enough for situations like this. Up the street I look for the bus, the one with the happy-looking dog on it. It's 3:22, and the bus was supposed to be there a minute ago. Normally I wouldn't expect that sort of on-time performance, but this is Japan we're talking about.
Finally the bus comes at 3:26. Five whole minutes late, maybe enough to completely sink me. I take a seat next to the door, poised to bolt as soon as we get to the station. The same traffic that made the bus late continues to slow it down, and I get to the train station seven agonizing minutes late.
I run from the bus to the station, tap my card, and bolt up the stairs to the Yamanote line. The train is there, so I have a split-second to choose: do I commit to that route, which would get me to the airport at 4:41, or do I take the Narita Express which will get me there at 4:53, guaranteed?
My flight leaves at 5:15, and I decide that 4:53 is probably not early enough, given that I have to go through passport control. Damn. I jump into the subway car and commit to the 4:41 train.
It's got to be on millions of people's bucket lists. It was on mine, too. My friends and I were going to Jordan, and my one must-do was to go to Petra, the famous city carved from rock in a canyon. And yet, as we were about to go, I didn't want to go anymore.
Going just didn't sound that interesting to me. I imagined making the three hour drive, looking around, being unfulfilled, and then coming back.
The night before, I felt the same way about going to the dead sea. It was cold, and all I wanted to do was sit in the warm car. Even as I paid my $15 and shivered my way down to the water, I told everyone I wasn't going to go in because the water would be too cold.
A few days later we arrived in Egypt. I tried to get excited, but mostly I was looking forward to our flight out of there to the next place.
It is fairly easy to avoid getting rejected. Just don't step up to the plate and you can never strike out. If you really look at it, this is the modus operandi for most people. They're filter feeders, taking whatever comes their way, doing their best with it, but never going out and actively trying to get what they want.
For better or worse, this works okay in our society. Unless you're really near the poverty end of the scale, there's a default life waiting for you. On one end it might be working two shifts, scraping by, but being comfortable on your secondhand couch watching TV. Or on the other end it might be eating from the silver spoon until your inheritance creates a silver spoon for your kids.
If you want that default, whatever it may be, you can just go with the flow. If you want something else, you have to be proactive.
Recently I've been thinking about how this applies to social situations as well. If you only meet the people in your predefined social circles, don't go terribly out of your way to become better friends or be an especially good friend, you'll still be fine. Or at least, you probably won't be lonely.
I've been called unbalanced many times. Not mentally unbalanced (that I know of), but unbalanced in terms of how I spend my time. I spent a whole year doing nothing but pickup. Three years doing nothing but working 12+ hours a day. A lot of time traveling like a maniac. Sometimes people think I work way too much, sometimes way too little. Where's the moderation?
Multitasking was a really sexy until every study proved that monotasking was better. Focus on one thing, then another, then another. Don't try to do all three at once. Extreme focus led to balanced productivity in the end.
I think the same is true on a larger scale. Dedicating your life to mastery in a certain area for months or years at a time unlocks benefits not otherwise available. When your life is "about" something, you prioritize better, go deeper, and get help more from people.
Most people who know me would probably use "well-rounded" to describe me. And if you look at my history, you'd probably agree. I've seen a lot of the world, produced a lot of work, have some level of mastery over social skills, have hard technical skills, and have checked so many items off my bucket list that I probably need a new bucket.
You might wonder why I haven't mentioned a word about WifeQuest 9000 since posting a post saying I'm single. Maybe you've assumed that things are going really poorly, and I don't want to talk about it. That might be what I would have assumed.
The truth is that I've had to wait because of a prank that needed to happen...
After writing that post, I got way more responses than I anticipated. This swamped me with email, especially because I didn't lay out any sort of process for introducing me. So some introductions had pictures, some didn't; some had locations, some didn't; some were directly to me, others directly to the girl, others to both. It quickly became a mess and I fell behind in returning emails.
So, first, if I didn't write you back, or if you introduced me and I didn't thank you: sorry. I got overwhelmed and was traveling at the time. The quality of introductions was really good and I'm grateful for them.
My motorcycle gave me three years of virtually no problems. Then water got into the tank and caused it to intermittently stop running. A week after I had that fixed, the fuel pump broke, maybe because of the water issue. Once that was fixed, the bike felt better than ever, and I felt good making a 200 mile round-trip journey to Carmel, CA with Justine on the back.
Our ride down was as pleasant as a three hour ride on a small street bike can be. Our legs cramped up a bit, and the backpack I fastened to the tank slid around, but the beautiful scenery of the pacific coast highway kept us pleasantly distracted.
After a visit to Carmel that went by too quickly, we loaded up the motorcycle again and headed back on Sunday afternoon.
We took highway one up to Santa Cruz, and then decided to take route 17 over the mountain to save some time and see something different. The bike charged up the mountain until we were about 90% of the way to the top, and then it died.
Let's say you're going to put ten hours of effort into something, either a project or a habit. Your goal, or one of them, is to get as much out of those ten hours as possible. What will be important at the end isn't the number of hours put in, but the results.
One of the factors contributing to how effectively you spend your time is how you divide it. Do you do it all in one chunk? Ten one-hour chunks? Six hundred single minute chunks?
The answer to that depends heavily on the task, but for many habits, daily execution is ideal. You can break something huge like language learning into daily chunks that are manageable. You get the benefit of constant forward momentum. It's easy to remember that you're supposed to do something every day.
Someone asked, at a recent reader meetup in Budapest, how I do things every day. At this point it's such a fundamental part of who I am that I don't have an immediate answer other than: I just do them. But having to answer an earnest question made me think about it in depth. I used to be the kind of person who couldn't do anything on a regular daily basis. What changed?
You don't have to look very far to see indicators that maybe we don't have the best relationship with food. Most people are overweight, unhealthy, and making little to no effort to change those things. These are, presumably, good people who want to do what's best for themselves and their families.
The problem with our relationship with food is that it serves as both fuel and as pleasure, and the pleasure aspect hijacks the fuel aspect. How often do you eat what you need rather than what you want?
I get as much pleasure from food as anyone else. I had mandarin gelato in Rome a few days ago that was unspeakably delicious. And even though I eat the same thing every day when I'm not traveling, I really do love my sardines and Chipotle. But I always think of food as fuel primarily.
There's a range of entertainment, from positive stuff like physical activity and museum-hopping down to doing methamphetamine. Each of these has positive and negative aspects, but the former side of the scale is overwhelmingly positive, while the latter is overwhelmingly negative.
I can't imagine that working at a car rental place is much fun. Especially if you're working in Las Vegas and the line is full of angry customers who have waited an hour only to be barraged with company-managed upsells. I wasn't angry, but I was definitely in line for about an hour waiting to pick up my rental car in Las Vegas.
My friend and I got to the front of the line, and immediately started jokng with the woman behind the desk. We said that we'd like an upgrade to a car with spinning rims, and that it must be good for drive-bys. When she laughed and feigned terror, we invited her into the "business". By the end we were laughing together and she upgraded us to a convertible for free after quietly mumbling "There's a promotion..."
Cruising down the strip in our cherry Sebring Convertible, we talked about the merits of just being friendly and joking around with people.
Fundamentally, people want to get along. My sister went to a plant nursery that was slammed on Yelp for having an unfriendly and sour owner. She made it her mission to be friendly every time in, and eventually they became friends. Few people are really mean and nasty people by nature, rather than by circumstance.