Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The three-or-four-hours rule for getting creative work done

Farnsworth is one pioneer of a new multidisciplinary science, fit for an era in which weather radar has become so sensitive it can detect a single bumblebee over thirty miles away. It’s called aeroecology, and it uses sophisticated remote-sensing technologies like radar, acoustics and tracking devices to study ecological patterns and relationships in the skies. ‘The whole notion of the aerosphere and airspace as habitat is not something that has come into the collective psyche until recently,’ Farnsworth says. And this new science is helping us understand how climate change, skyscrapers, wind turbines, light pollution and aviation affect the creatures that live and move above us.

Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights

You’ve likely heard about imposter syndrome. It’s some people’s self-perception that they are not as competent as others believe them to be. It’s the experience of feeling like a phony, coupled with the fear that you may be discovered to be a fraud.

An equally debilitating experience is when other people believe just the opposite—that you are not competent or worthy or capable. 

Charlene Wheeless has much to say about shattering stereotypes, knocking down barriers, and refusing to be ignored, pigeonholed, or forgotten. She grew up in a California neighborhood described as “synonymous with gangs, drug dealing, shootings, and body bags.” With blunt candor, she shares the trauma of being sexually assaulted as a young girl and surviving cancer as an adult.

I see how the same staking claim can be made in many organisations …

PwC US Pulse Survey: Next in work

At a pivotal moment for the future of work, companies can help their businesses and employees thrive: “Employees have had more than a year to reflect on their needs and aspirations, and many want a new model of work. Our latest US Pulse Survey found that 65% of employees are looking for a new job. We also talked to executives, 88% of whom told us they are seeing higher turnover than normal.  For the most part, executives have a good grasp on why their employees are looking elsewhere. But when it comes to offering incentives that employees want most, they’re falling short in two key areas: benefits and comp. This employer-employee tension compounds the challenge facing companies eager to redesign work. Rising inflation, the surging delta variant and tension over vaccines, masks and shifting return-to-work plans are creating extra uncertainty. How can executives balance their strategic and operational goals with shifting employee expectations? Companies have a tremendous opportunity to transform work. By redesigning work, you can help drive growth, better anticipate uncertainty and create a workplace that top talent is eager to join. To successfully execute your plans, you’ll need to figure out your hybrid work model, make changes to processes and operating models, revamp strategic planning and, most importantly, attract and retain top talent. Our survey offers insights into the changes executives are making as they redesign work and how they are centering many of those decisions around people…”

Up to two dozen top public servants will take part in a leadership talent program as the tax agency begins its search for the next group of leaders. The Australian Taxation Office is expected to select top-performing senior executive staff to join its year-long talent program in February next year, as revealed in tender documents released last month.

ATO's got talent? Search begins for tax agency's top leaders

Bad Manager: is Boston Consulting really consulting consultants?

Oliver Burkeman - The three-or-four-hours rule for getting creative work done: “…The real lesson – or one of them – is that it pays to use whatever freedom you do have over your schedule not to “maximise your time” or “optimise your day”, in some vague way, but specifically to ringfence three or four hours of undisturbed focus (ideally when your energy levels are highest). Stop assuming that the way to make progress on your most important projects is to work for longer. And drop the perfectionistic notion that emails, meetings, digital distractions and other interruptions ought ideally to be whittled away to practically nothing. Just focus on protecting four hours – and don’t worry if the rest of the day is characterised by the usual scattered chaos….”

Senators question DOJ funding for AI-powered policing tech Associated Press 

Google Says Geofence Warrants Make Up One-Quarter Of All US Demands TechCrunch

Fears of ‘violent’ delta offshoot arise in Israel with 10 new cases of AY.3 reported i24 News. GM has been warning of this variant.

The Trillion Dollar Illusion: The Entirely Predictable Failure of the West’s Mission in Afghanistan Der Spiegel 

The T-Mobile Breach Is Much Worse Than It Had to Be Wired 

In the 20 years since David Allen promised us a “mind like water” in Getting Things Done, there is not a productivity hack I haven’t tried. I’ve task-batched, time-blocked, typed to the ticking of a Pomodoro timer, sliced the day into quarter-hour increments, and started my mornings by swallowing a (figurative) frog. Rather than enjoying more leisure thanks to increased efficiency, however, ticking off to-dos left me spending my days in the a state of what Marilynne Robinson has called “joyless urgency”. 
It was with some relief that I learned that Oliver Burkeman, a former mental wellbeing columnist for the Guardian, hadn’t fared any better. In his new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It, Burkeman describes an a-ha moment on a park bench in Brooklyn, in which he realised that the race to get more done was a sham. Clear the decks, and they just get filled more quickly. Smugly achieve inbox zero, and guess what? Sisyphus, you’ve got mail. Worse still, by putting out fires first, you never get around to doing the deep work that requires uninterrupted time. Whatever it takes to protect that uninterrupted time, by contrast, is worthwhile. While I haven’t gone as far as an author friend who puts his phone in a timed safe when writing (which he periodically takes a hammer to and has to replace), turning off notifications has been a game-changer.

 As has ringfencing my most productive hours. Having taken a class on how to write a book proposal a full five years before putting pen to paper, I can confirm it only happened when I gave it my focused attention, instead of trying to cram it in the cracks between other commitments.

For Burkeman, the best time-management technique is simply accepting the reality that we’ll never get everything done. The self-help author Stephen Covey liked to use rocks in a jar as a metaphor for time. If you fill the jar with pebbles and sand (the small stuff) first, there’s no room left for the big rocks (what’s important).

But the demo is rigged, writes Burkeman: there are, and always will be, far more rocks than can fit in the jar. To focus on what’s most meaningful to us — whether a creative project, a relationship or a cause — we have to learn which rocks to neglect. “It’s the moderately appealing ones — the fairly interesting job opportunity, the semi-enjoyable friendship — on which a finite life can come to grief,” he warns. When I asked my son how many weeks are in a lifetime, he ballparked it correctly in the blink of an eye-roll Only by facing what Heidegger called our “finitude” can we hope to make better choices. 

Those of us fortunate enough to live until 80 will have about 4,000 weeks, which is, writes Burkeman, “absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short”. To his mind, what distinguishes us from other apes is not language or the length of our opposable thumbs but the capacity to make ambitious plans that we will have heartbreakingly little time to fulfil. Not everyone will be as wowed as I was by the 4,000 weeks revelation. When I asked my son how many weeks are in a lifetime, he ballparked it correctly in the blink of an eye-roll, and shrugged at my lament that it was so little. Not only does he have (God willing) a lot of weeks left, but each one still feels long to him. As the cartoonist Bill Watterson put it in a Calvin and Hobbes strip, in which the pair are perched in a tree on a summer day waiting to drop a water balloon, the days are just packed. 
Burkeman confirms that time speeds up as we age and life becomes more routinised. “It’s hard to imagine a crueller arrangement: not only are our 4,000 weeks constantly running out, but the fewer of them we have left, the faster we seem to lose them.” Further down the actuarial table, my father, struck with a malignant brain tumour, doesn’t have so many weeks left. Rather than regretting what remains unticked on his bucket list, what he would like is more ordinary weeks, filled with the things that have given his life meaning since retiring from teaching — kvetching about sky-high P/E ratios on value forums, playing ping-pong with his grandson, and taking long walks with my mother to continue their nearly six decade-long conversation. These are all, it’s worth noting, what are known as atelic activities — enjoyed for their own sake rather than an end goal.

Each year, the Harvard Business School Portrait Project asks graduating MBA students the question posed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver in “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Since 2002, when the project began, it has become démodé to mention money; the answers increasingly involve giving back. There’s little talk of lolling in the grass on a summer day, however. Despite its most oft-quoted line sounding like a call to action, the poem is in fact an ode to idleness. 

Having spent her day strolling through fields and kneeling to commune with a grasshopper, “What else should I have done?” asks Oliver. “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” Having chucked last year’s day planner out of the window, I am being very careful about what I allow in the new one. Once you get over the disappointment that, despite a large industry trying to say otherwise, there is no magic bullet for optimising life, it’s rather liberating not wasting time trying to find one. In these last few weeks of summer, I’ll spend as much time as I can with my dad, and make ample space for idling. Mia Levitin is a writer and critic