Pacing yourself

As great soccer players become older, you notice a change in a key attribute to their game – their ability to pace themselves.

Ten years prior, they might have spent the game chasing the ball and harrying their opponents. But, now, they’re careful about when they choose to sprint. They’ve got fewer sprints in them and have to make them count.

Whether it is a a work week, a speech, a marathon, a marketing campaign or life, this ability to pace ourselves is a marker of experience. A great speaker knows that turning up her volume is key to making a point. It isn’t possible to be at full pelt every minute of every day. It is also not effective.

Carrying a sense of urgency with us as we live our lives helps us get things done. And, marrying that with the ability to pace ourselves helps us and those around us focus our sprints for when they really matter.

When you check your GPS

Every advance in measuring time has involved a new science. We progressed through –

  • Astronomy: Sundials had a fair amount of margin of error
  • Dynamics: Thanks to Galileo, we had pendulums and higher accuracy
  • Electromagnetics: The discovery of Quartz gave us microsecond accuracy
  • Quantum mechanics: Atomic clocks, then, led us to nano second accuracy

At the start of the 21st century, Quartz’s microsecond-level accuracy was a revelation. It enabled modern day computers which need precise time measurement.

Then, Niels Bohr’s observation of the consistency of the Cesium atom led to the use of Cesium by the “International Conference of Weighs and Measures” in 1967 to adjust any errors from Quartz.

The power of accurate measurement of time is that measuring time is key to measuring space. Every time we glance down at our phone to find our location, we’re triangulating between at least 4 of 24 atomic clocks that tell us our location based on the last measured time (mindblowing!). Of course, we know this as the Global Positioning System or GPS.

“The next time you look down at your watch, think of the embedded layers of human ingenuity that make this all possible. As more progress happens, layers of ingenuity get buried. But, this can also obscure just how far we’ve come.” | Steven Johnson

Hat tip: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

Toward the unresolved

If it is important and unresolved, it is likely on your mind.

One way to deal with it is to say things will be better once resolution happens. And, the unresolved do get resolved – even if they take longer than you thought.

But, I’ve learnt to move toward the unresolved instead. For, if it is on my mind, it is almost guaranteed that I’m meant to learn something from it. Uncomfortable as the learning may be in the short term, these often tend to be opportunities for growth and transformation.

The unresolved are the obstacles.

And, the obstacles show us the way.

Few mentors, more heroes and many wiser friends

I’ve seen a few variants of questions around how people can find mentors. I’ve come to think about it such –

Few mentors: First, looking for mentors is a futile exercise because it involves a combination of chemistry and circumstance. It happens every once a while and can be special if it works out right. But, it isn’t worth expending a ton of energy trying to seek it out.

More heroes: We have the opportunity to learn from more heroes today than ever before. We have access to their books and blogs. All we need to do is ask ourselves – “What would __ do?”

Many wiser friends: If we’re lucky, a few of these mentors and heroes will become friends – wiser friends at that. The beautiful thing about such friendships is that we get the opportunity to learn from them up close and seek advice without the pressure of mentorship.

At the end of the day, your journey is but your own. And, while it is incredibly important to seek help along the way from people who have the right intentions and useful context or perspective, it is critical that you keep honing your intuition and plugging away.

Keep getting better, keep plugging away. Be your own mentor, hero and friend. Learning has to start from within.

(HT: Seth’s post on Mentors and Heroes and A LinkedIn post by Jason Fried reminding us to seek fewer mentors – both of whom said it better)

Organization – when it is useful and when it isn’t

Here are 3 things to know about organization.

First, the return-on-investment on organization is higher when the sheer volume of activity involved exceeds a certain threshold. Put differently, organization is useless as low volumes of activity. The relationship looks something like this.

 So, the busier/the more overwhelmed you feel, the more important it is that you spend time getting organized. This is counter intuitive when things are extremely busy. But, the extra time spent thinking about how to get work done (and perhaps ask for help) goes a long way.

Second, organization isn’t the same as prioritization. Organization helps ensure you are tackling things in the most efficient manner. Spending time becoming organized will not help ensure you’re spending time on the right things (focus). Organization, thus, is most helpful when it accompanies focus.

Finally, it is probably normal to require extra organization time every once a while. But, if you’re always feeling overwhelmed, it is a focus and “saying yes to too many things” problem rather than an organization problem. You’ll get more mileage working on the root cause.

Thank you, Murphy

Edward A Murphy Jr was an Air Force captain and reliability engineer. He once visited the Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California to deliver some gauges for a mission to determine the amount of force a human body could sustain during a crash.

The gauges malfunctioned. And, Murphy reportedly said grumbled – “If there’s any way they can do it wrong, they will.”

This line became known to us as Murphy’s law that came to be known as “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Murphy inadvertently inspired areas like auto safety that worked hard to identify every possibility of failure and, in that process, saved millions of lives.

The spirit of Murphy’s law is one that both inspiring and applicable to us in our lives – especially for those of us who tend to be look at situations from an optimist’s point of view. Take the time to think about what might go wrong and prepare ourselves to deal with issues. Or, as a lovely alternate version of the saying goes – “Expect problems, and eat them for breakfast.”

Thank you, Murphy, for the inspiration.

Hopes and expectations

Hopes are important. A hope is simply a desire that something may happen in the future. It gives us the energy to build for the long term.

An expectation, on the other hand, is a strong belief that something will happen. It sounds like a fine line as an expectation seems to just be a stronger version of hope. And, it often is a fine line.

But, the fine line changes everything. It is possible to hope for something and not be disappointed or unhappy. Expectations, on the other hand, muck with our happiness and our ability to continue plugging away.

And, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it is the importance of optimizing toward plugging away.

The ability to hope but not expect is the go to skill of a professional.

In praise of incremental

Incremental is passe in a world obsessed with disruption and big changes.

But, you can’t really plan for disruption. You can create an environment which brings in talented people and allows them to ship new and interesting ideas. But, you can’t expect them to create something disruptive.

Similarly, you can invest in a new course or in learning a new skill. But, you can’t go in expecting it to change your life. It might. But, it likely won’t.

The challenge with disruption is that it is only easy to spot with hindsight.

What we can count on instead is incremental change. Every day, we can make our products a little better than they were yesterday. Every day, we can make ourselves a little better than we were yesterday. These incremental changes compound when consistently done over time.

We regularly overestimate what we can get done in a year and underestimate what we can get done in a decade. That’s because we greatly underestimate the power of consistent, incremental change.

In the long run, there are few forces as powerful as that.

Galileo Galilei and time zones

Galileo Galilei, attending mass as a college student in the 15th century, noticed a pendulum that seemed to keep consistent time. He didn’t act upon that thought as there was no real need for time keeping. He became a math professor and began more or less inventing science.

As shipping became commonplace, keeping time became important as it helped indirectly measure location too. So, accurate time keeping became valuable. And, Galileo went back to work on his idea to create the pendulum clock – and did.

Denison, in the US, decided to make a cheaper watch and his non jeweled watch sold at $3.50 versus 40 dollars and was a huge hit. A Chicago businessman called Sears caught on and created the Sears Roebuck collection by mail order (the first mail order business). Just as printing gave ru=ise to the need for spectacles, transportation required standardized time. So, an American railroad engineer proposed the 4 time zones that stand today from November 1883. A year later, the whole world’s time zones were standardized based on GMT.

The watch revolution became critical in the Industrial Age as “clocking in” was invented and as industrialists tracked everything using time. While workers adjusted to the new paradigm, the elites rebelled. “Romanticism” in this age was all about ditching the tyranny of time, waking up late, etc. – Steven Johnson (paraphrased)

Source and thanks to: How we got to now by Steven Johnson. How we got to now beautifully chronicles the history of stuff we take for granted.

9 years

Yesterday’s post was the culmination of 9 years of writing on this blog. During my first year of attempting to write something every day, I came across a story called “The Daffodil Principle.”

It was the story of a mother whose daughter badgered her to go see the daffodils. She finally did it. Here’s the rest of the story.

Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me, lay the most glorious sight.

It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.

‘Who did this?’ I asked Carolyn.

‘Just one woman,’ Carolyn answered. ‘She lives on the property. That’s her home.’ Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.

On the patio, we saw a poster. ‘Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking’, was the headline.

The first answer was- ‘50,000 bulbs,’ it read.

The second answer was, ‘One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain.’

The third answer was, ‘Began in 1958.’

For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration. And she created not for others, but for herself, for the nature, for her surroundings.

That is, learning to move toward implementing our vision and dreams – one step at a time, often just one baby-step at a time and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things.

‘It makes me sad in a way,’ I admitted to Carolyn. ‘ What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty five or forty years ago and had worked away at it ‘one! bulb at a time’ through all those years? ‘Just think what I might have been able to achieve!’

My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. ‘Start tomorrow,’ she said.

There is no better time than right now to be happy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

The story nicely illustrates what I set out to do.

9 years done. 31 to go (hopefully!). :)