This month I’m writing letters with @leeS.
The irony here, to begin with irony, is that your email to me reminding me to start writing my side of this correspondence got lost in my email. We all have a firehose of info coming at us; nothing new there. For me, the dividing line between finishing work at a reasonable hour and staying at it all night has become dictated by the efficiency of my filters.
I’ve thought long and hard, sometimes literally falling asleep to, various mental exercises devoted to creating efficient filters for my emails, workflows, and projects. I could regale you about the efficiencies of Apple Mail vs. Spark vs. Superhuman vs. Hey vs. Fastmail, and on the project side, of Todoist vs. Things vs. ClickUp vs. Sunsama vs. DevonTHINK; and on the short-form writing side, of Bear vs. Ulysses vs. Drafts vs. IA Writer vs. Evernote (Evernote!), and on the long-form writing side, of Ulysses vs. Scrivener. I’ve tried them all, and while fun to work with, and even more fun to port all your data from one to the other in a semi-useless exercise, they all lack something.
They all process my thoughts but none can do my thinking for me.
Let me branch off to another idea before coming back to that. When Threads launched, I was flung into another this vs. that thought cyclone. It went something like this: Should I crosspost on micro.blog and Twitter, vs. crossposting on micro.blog and Mastodon? And if I did that, which Mastodon instance should I favor in my crossposts (I’m in two instances), vs. posting to LinkedIn, vs. Instagram, vs. posting on Threads? And should I post the stuff I used to post on Twitter on Threads, or create some new magical identity that will gain me followers faster than Paris Hilton? And, if I could drink some magic elixir that would turn me into Paris Hilton, with all of her popularity on Threads, would I want to do that anyway?
In the middle of these various thought cyclones, I tested positive for Covid, which has left my mind in a state of crystal clarity. ( Not really.)
What I need, and what everyone needs, is a digital machete to slash our way through the info-forest. But then, I wonder about that. A blunt-force instrument, even if elegantly constructed of software, would cut away stuff we would need. Example: I was recently promoted to assistant professor at USC. My new contract went into spam. Doh. [Head slap evoking Homer Simpson.]
I think the solution is in stepping away from the mechanics that have brought us so much efficiency, and taking a moment, pausing, creating some space by breathing, walking, staying in the shower too long, or by staring into any distant mountains you may happen to have nearby. There is a superb filter already installed in the mind, always auto-updating to its latest version. I find I can turn it on by asking “Does this matter to me?” And being ruthless about the answer.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
A funny thing happened in my life about nine years ago. I started working for a startup that was using Slack, way back in the early days of Slack. And starting at that moment, email got quiet for me.
Sure, I have a lot of junk that comes in that I have to clean up from time to time, but I don’t live or die by email. Email that matters to me is rare, and the process of “doing email” is largely unimportant.
Slack didn’t eliminate email for a lot of folks, but for me, it sure quieted it enough to separate signal and noise pretty effectively. Well, that, plus aggressive unsubscribing from various advertising emails and a few well designed filters on emails from popular political campaign donation software.
Personally, I’m back largely on pencil and paper for the true “management” of my time. My tasks are written on Ugmonk Analog cards or in a Cortex Sidekick, depending on my mood. Sometimes it’s not written down at all. My work and life is sufficiently chaotic that there’s often little mystery where my attention needs to be at any given moment. Taking the time to write down a list, and then paying attention to that list, can feel like a luxury.
Walking is my solution. I’m a big fan of taking multiple mid day walks. When I worked in an office, I would often head out to Walgreens or 7-11 a block or two away for a Diet Coke. Yes, I wanted the caffeine, but doing that a couple of times a day and taking the “long way” back around the block cleared my head. My partner, Elsa, doesn’t leave her office in our home the entire working day. I don’t understand how she does it. I routinely have 5,000-7,000 steps already at the end of the work day even though I have a desk job. I need to get outside, I need to think a bit. I even like to take my meetings as regular phone calls (how not-millennial of me) so that I can walk through the park across from our house while talking through a problem.
We get lost in the tools and the mechanics all the time. But the work I do is knowledge work, and brains need rest just like physical muscle. And brains don’t active best sitting and staring at a machine that flashes lights in my eyes.
Perhaps you’ve heard of forest bathing? Or A Need to Walk? I believe in these things so much, it’s one of the only links on my vanity site. To me, a great vacation is 25,000 steps every day without even trying. Seeing a new city is walking its neighborhoods.
For all that time I spend on the computer and on the internet, for all my posts about the social web, I’d trade all of it without a seconds hesitation to take walk on a pleasant day with a friend.
Congratulations on the promotion, and I hope you have a swift recovery from COVID.