An Office Cleanse

As many of my readers know (as well as friends who aren’t readers), I have been working independently since 2003. Since it is primarily just me, I have not found a need to rent separate office space. Our house is large enough that there’s a room I use as my office.

Thing is, it is also the room I use to hold much of my fitness equipment. It’s also the room I use for recording and mixing music. And . . . it’s the room I get dressed in. (Like many couples, only one of us gets to use the in-bedroom closet.)

So, over the years, with so many different functions that this one room has been performing, you can imagine how much stuff has accumulated. Finally, as the new year dawned, I decided I could take it no more. I went corner by corner, throwing out (literally) anything I had not touched for the last 12 months I was ruthless. It was glorious.

You are probably wondering what my space looks like now. Well, here you go:

My main office headquarters:

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And here is my “studio,” where I work on music and mix recordings:

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Now I just have to do the same to the rest of the house!

Start With Just One

My friend Cindy Cotte Griffiths wrote a piece as the year began that holds an excellent lesson. She tells a story of a project her young son was working on. Instead of trying to add a whole bunch of elements, he wanted to see how few elements it would take te get his task done.

He was disappointed that he couldn’t get it done with just one piece, he needed at least two. Here’s how Cindy tells it:

“Recently my son told me “You can’t do it with one.” I was remembering a visit to the American History Museum more than six months earlier. He was talking about his attempt to attach magnetic objects on a ramp in order to direct a ball into a hole in the hands-on science exhibit.

I was delighted he remembered because at the time I stood there marveling at his minimalist approach.

For over an hour, every other kid immediately proceeded to add as many gadgets as possible to the ramp. More and more and more, without even checking if their system worked.

When my son walked up, he was the only one to remove all the pieces and try with one. Only one. No matter what he did, it didn’t work so he tried two.”

What a great thing to remember.

I am in the midst of developing an agenda for a meeting, and I know that my own advice to myself is usually just to keep agendas as short as possible. But, when you’ve got a whole day to fill, you get worried, and you start to add in this and that until your agenda looks good on paper. You want others to know you put effort into it, so you add more.

It’s a discipline to keep to about one subject for every 90 minutes. But I am going to do it.

I’ll see if I can use the bare minimum, starting with just one thing, and build from there only if necessary.

Rearranging The Deck Chairs At The State Of The Union

As people wring their hands over the “toxic” rhetoric swirling throughout public life, a proposal from Colorado Senator Mark Udall has been gaining traction and winning approving nods from The Concerned Elite. The idea? At the upcoming State Of The Union address on January 25, don’t seat Members of Congress by party but mix them up.

This idea, originally proposed by Third Way one week ago, seeks to end the spectacle of one side of the audience standing and applauding while the other sits in stony silence. The intended result is harmony, or at least a scaling back of partisan tension.

I know that many people I respect are in favor of this. However, I think it’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic — a futile endeavor that distracts from the real problem.

In the first place, it will actually benefit Democrats by making it appear that the whole room is standing in applause at certain points rather than just half. In the second place, it seems foolish to think that making Members switch desks as if they are wayward elementary school children will make the class run any smoother.

The Real Problem

A more important flaw, though, is that the problem is not that we disagree — it is that we express our disagreements in ways that are disagreeable. Everything in public life feels as if it is a game of one-upsmanship and advantage-seeking.

One key way that this plays out is in the annual game of applause lines in State Of The Union addresses. At least since the Johnson administration, it has been a tradition to clap for the things that your party likes, and remain stonily silent at the things your party doesn’t. (So Johnson got notable stony silence at his mention of the Civil Rights Act.)

Now it has become tradition to interrupt the speech repeatedly, and part of the journalistic coverage involves counting these interruptions and timing them, as if the energy with which the party faithful express support for their own positions reflects something other than the energy of self-interest.

All this clapping, and the focus wasted upon it, seems to me to diminish the importance and value of the State Of The Union. A better initiative, I would propose, is for all Members to agree not to clap. Let the President give the annual update uninterrupted. Let the American people hear it in full, without the necessity of knowing how much the two sides wish to express their agreement or disagreement (save that for the spin room afterwards).

(Photo credit: Flickr user ‘dvs’.)

Bad News From The Skies

I recently learned something that I simply refuse to believe.

You see, an article recently made it clear to me that I have had my zodiac sign wrong since I discovered horoscopes. It turns out that the world has shifted since the ancient Babylonians originally parsed out the skies into the zodiac, and whereas I used to be a Leo, I am now a Cancer.

Mufasa by Carson

Let me hasten to say that I don’t believe astrology. Not in the slightest. However, I read seven online horoscopes every morning. Even though I am not superstitious.

Why do I do that? Because I know that if I read enough of the things, I will come upon a positive prediction. I use them as little motivational tools — someone saying, “Hey, Brad, you’re going to have a good day today.”

I really am a creature of habit, and so I refuse to start reading the Cancer horoscope just because that’s what is correct. I am going to stick with good ol’ Leo, because that’s what I know and love.

Want to know what the real cutoff dates for the various signs are? Here you go:

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.
Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11.
Pisces: March 11-April 18.
Aries: April 18-May 13.
Taurus: May 13-June 21.
Gemini: June 21-July 20.
Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10.
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.
Ophiuchus:* Nov. 29-Dec. 17.
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.

* Discarded by the Babylonians because they wanted 12 signs per year.

If you were born under Ophiuchus, I do not know whether to be sorry for you that you can’t find any horoscopes, or impressed because it seems pretty awesome. See here for more on that.

What One Big Thing Will You Do Today?

Normally, I find articles about how to “minimize distractions in this distraction-filled world” to be unhelpful. They usually amount to: “Have more will power to avoid distractions, unplug, and do things in batches.” I sometimes get upwards of 200 emails per day. I have many filters in place, so the dross gets autofiled and ignored. But if I batched the remainder, I would be facing a huge backlog every day, AND people who have come to expect swift response will be disappointed. (So I constantly look at my inbox, as things come in, and dispatch them quickly. My inbox is close to zero at all times.)

Therein lies the crux of the problem: In today’s world, it is reasonable to expect a response within an hour or two. And that is not necessarily bad.

But wait, that wasn’t what I wanted to write about. I was reading this article on reducing distractions, inwardly complaining, when I ran across this piece of advice:

“Make space for One Important Thing Everyday. The truth is everyday we only need to do one or at most two really important things, or tasks. Each day make a note of what that thing is and do it.For me today it was writing this blog post, it’s not that I didn’t do another productive stuff but it was the main important thing that I likely would put off unless I had a bit of a push.”

That strikes me as excellent advice. Every day, there is usually One Big Thing — the one thing that sets the tone for the day. Maybe I am delivering a big document, or reviewing a batch of notes, or holding some meeting. Whatever. Point is, even in a busy day there is typically one defining thing. I need to identify that and let it be the center of gravity.

The other things in the day? Well, they will get done, or they can become the One Big Thing for a subsequent day.

Looking back at my own behavior, I think I already tend to do this, only I have not articulated it.

What’s your One Big Thing today?

Man Attacked; Onlookers Film And Do Nothing

This is the kind of world we live in.

Sunday before last, about 7:15pm, Allen Haywood was on his way home from working out at the gym. He had a gym bag and a book. He leaned against the wall, reading, waiting for his Metro train at L’Enfant Plaza station.

He felt a whack on the back of his head, and turned around. There was a young young boy, 11 or 12 looking at him. He felt another whack, and turned again. This time it was a young girl. They were in a pack.

They began to hit and taunt him, chasing him around the station, while some filmed the whole thing on their cellphones. The beating got severe. He started bleeding. Onlookers also began filming.

Haywood pled with the girl to end it: “Stop it! I have done nothing to you!”

It sounds unreal, but here’s proof:

Haywood, 47, got away and ran to the attendant’s booth. He banged on the glass, then went back to the scene, hoping he could have the assailants detained. There, he was further taunted by the onlookers. They offered to sell him video of his attack.

Meanwhile, he was bleeding from his head.

Finally, a Metro worker arrived and insisted that Haywood leave the scene. Transit police took his statement.

No one knows yet who the assailants were or where to find them.

A Call For Rhetorical Nonviolence: It Starts With Me, Not My Enemy

Photo by Flickr user "S†e"

The tragic events in Arizona may well be a turning point. Many are calling for changes in policies, and many of these changes may well make sense. Many are also calling for a scaling back of the vitriolic political rhetoric that has marked public life these days. There is much blame being directed at political leaders on the right who use a nostalgic, hyper-patriotic, libertarian kind of language that includes repeated references to the Founders, and to Revolution, and veiled (and not-so-veiled) insinuations that it’s time for violence.

Now, like many, I don’t like that kind of rhetoric. I find it damaging. And it may be the case that it contributes to the kind of climate where the shooting in Tucson could take place (though I believe there is no valid way to test that hypothesis, as instinctively true as it may feel).

But many of the responses I have heard to the Arizona rampage seem equally intemperate. The call from many on the left is for a crackdown on these leaders, for them to be held accountable.

I don’t think the best way to reduce the vitriol in public life is to get mad.

The best way to reduce the level of vitriol is for individuals (me, you, friends, family, colleagues) to stop tolerating it from our peers.

For me to tell an enemy, “Quit that inflammatory talk,” will fall on deaf ears. The divide between us will only be further hardened. No, instead, what I ought to do is demand better behavior from the people who agree with me. We listen to like-minded people, and set our norms that way. When I am in a meeting and someone starts getting mad, and it gets over the top, I need to rush to the defense of moderation.

Indeed, I need to quit thinking there are enemies in public life. Because an enemy is someone I want to kill. There are opponents, detractors, people I disagree with, and others who are misguided. But there are no “enemies.”

We can’t demand better behavior from the other side. It won’t work. We can practice rhetorical nonviolence, right here and right now, with those in our immediate circle.

My favorite example of nonviolence in the day-to-day was provided by none other than Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, in a seminar I had the good fortune to attend some time ago. I wrote a piece spurred by that experience here, but here is the salient portion for our purposes:

“Turn to your neighbor,” Arun Ghandi told us, “and make a fist. Pretend you are holding the world’s most valuable diamond.” I was at a global conference at Kennesaw State University, where Mahatma Ghandi’s grandson was giving the keynote. Mr. Gandhi is a potent speaker in his own right. “Now, neighbor: Try to get the diamond.” There ensued amusing antics as a roomful of people struggled in what looked like a cross-cultural arm-wrestling contest. My own neighbor good-naturedly stabbed my hand with a butter knife, to hoots of laughter at our table. I gave up the diamond.

After a decent interval, Mr. Ghandi raised his hand and waited. We stopped struggling and looked to the podium. “Tell me honestly. How many of you asked your neighbor if they would please give you the diamond?” Silence. He nodded slowly, as if he rarely got much response to that question. “See how violence seeps into everything we do? I did not ask you to attack your neighbor, only to get their diamond.”