Slip sliding away

2021-02-11: Smokey – Slip sliding away

I’ve been slacking quite badly. I know one of the simple rules is to forgive yourself your own failings, and people get up my ass about giving myself a hard time. But if I don’t, who will?

It sounds flip and I phrase it that way a bit tongue in cheek, to be sure. But it’s not wrong. I’ve got to stay on top of myself or I just slide and drift, unproductive hours stretch into days, then weeks, then years, a decade or two, then a life poorly lived.

Well that’s certainly not acceptable. “Mikey, you can never get back time.” My father echoes in my head. As if I had the faintest fucking idea what that really meant at 17.

So remaining vigilant against current distractions and failures is absolutely necessary.

But a life of self-flagelation for its own sake is certainly not any more well lived.

The balance must be kept. Though it could certainly be argued that it’s not balance along a spectrum as they are two different attitudes.

It is critical that we forgive ourselves our pasts, once we’ve learned the lessons we need to extract from those events which lay siege to our minds from our own history, because surely there are lessons they offer, as Peterson is keen on pointing out.

But once internalized those lessons and those memories mustn’t be allowed to claw at our heels the same way they had been. Life is for living forward, not for looking back.

Someone wiser than I once said “You want to learn about a man, listen to how far back he reaches in his life for his ‘glory day’ stories.” It’s a fascinating thing. And, it works at least as well in examining one’s own life, if you’ve the courage to do so.

When you’re in a social situation with people with whom you’re just becoming familiar, and stories are being traded around the table (one of the great joys of all time) how far back do you go? When is the material you pull from?

In the interest of disclosure mine tend to come from the time from 9/11 through about 2010. Yeah, there are a bunch of more recent gems. But if I’m shooting my shot to impress and entertain, it’s the particularly demonic Wall Street stories (shit jobs yield the greatest esprit de corps) and the social madness of Manhattan in the early 2000s with newly empty satchel of fucks with which I approached the world.

But I digress…

Shit. I kinda lost steam there.

I’ve found this nominal retirement to be quite tough on me as I’ve always had a bear of a time self-regulating my schedule. I have endless projects and pursuits, but they all seem to have the same numbing priority. It’s nine months since I moved in to my home and I still have VERY little furniture. Eh, I’ll make it. Eh. I’ll buy it. Dithering back and forth until I just abandon the consternation and go without.

So…to get back on track.

And again, these admonishments come repeatedly. They’re much the same over time. But course corrections are rarely particularly sexy. But seeking inspiration and motivation is the sucker’s path.

The tools are simple if you can get yourself to employ them.

First you need to understand what’s going on and where you’re at. Usually that’s enough for me. Once I make the mental jump to awareness that I’m drifting I snap pretty well into a bit of a frantic mode of stopping it. Though the next steps elude me sometimes.

Yesterday, for instance, was a horrible day in that it was a gorgeous one. It was a bit over 50 degrees up on the ridge where I live and it would have been a perfect day to drag a bunch of metalworking stuff out to the carport and either bang on some hot steel, melt down a bunch of aluminum cans, or take another shot with the welder.

The problem was, once I realized I was sitting at the computer dicking around, bouncing between twitter and reddit, I felt the day slipping away. I went down to the shop yelling “Dammit dude! Do SOMEthing!” I did end up cleaning up the shop a bit, because I had nothing in the front of my head that I was prepared to work on.

What I DID to finally, was say to myself “Well, you’ve lost this opportunity. The best thing you can do now is a session of planning.” I opened my wiki, kicked off a Pomodoro timer and just started banging away at my project list, organizing the wiki contents a bit and getting my head straight. I realized that if I’d done it in the morning I wouldn’t have been able to avoid making better use of the day. But the damage had been done and I’d recovered what I could. So I had to be satisfied with what I’d done in response to the failing, once I’d awoken to it.

So I think that’s really the best thing I can do for myself going forward. To dedicate time each day to going through my various projects and really break them down, not necessarily completely, because that way lies madness, but at least so I have the next couple steps clearly defined, a la David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.”

The fantasy is to have a file someplace that has a list of conditions and a pool of tasks that matches them.

For example:

  • Is it nice out: Here are your top five projects and the next things that need to be done on them that can only really be done if it’s nice outside.
  • Is it cold out: Here are the top five indoor projects and their next actions.
  • Are you in the kitchen: Here’s some stuff to fix, clean, or make.
  • Downstairs in the hardware lab: you get the point.
  • You haven’t done these few things in a while. Is it time?

Yeah, maybe having a giant Expert System that checks the weather report at night and sets up a list of goals for the next day might be a bit much. But…hell, it might not. I’ve got to do the data entry on the projects anyway (which, frankly, is what I thought I was going to do today while sitting here instead of just blathering. But The Cruft has caught me and this all needed to be purged anyway, so better now than later.)

So having a set of tools would help me immeasurably since I get ideas faster than I can possibly bring them to light. And yes, as I’ve mentioned before, I have to spend a significant amount of energy that I’m not spending in the process of pruning out the things that I’m just not ever going to do. It turns out that even keeping them on a GTD style “Someday Maybe” list still doesn’t purge them from my mind the way it probably should.

But it’s really the meta habits of keeping track of these things and then checking that information that I want to entrench in to my daily routines. I’m of the mind that once I get that straight that I’ll self-correct in a bit more of an organized way than I do now, at least.

One of the problems I’ve always had is that, owing to my software development background, I’ve found it much easier to take a bottom-up approach to getting things done. To not “overplan” something that ends up being a mistake in large time scale direction and instead to take the iterative approach of starting small and seeing where that takes me.

Well sure, that’s all well and good in software projects, certainly in a corporate environment, because there are external governing factors that keep track of direction, and all it takes is a modicum of communication with the larger organization to get kicked back into the right lane if I start careening off course.

But when it’s just Me, Myself, and I Inc., there is no such superstructure to rely on.

So now there’s this whole set of skills that not only do I not have, but that I didn’t even realize were there to be missing. It’s a part of the cost of always having been a lower-rung programmer, having had no desire to manage people (though managing projects would have been fun. The problem is there isn’t actually enough of a difference.)

Without that kind of higher-level guidance I’ve been sticking to highest granularity, trying to force myself forward through sheer force of will.

Well of course that yields the kind of results I’ve had. This strange frenetic activity which sure, produces things at its level of magnification. But thinking that’s enough to take me any distance along an undefined trajectory is just silly.

Okay, so now I have to tackle THAT problem.

But…I think that’s not really for this forum.

Good talk.