Reflections on Aphorisms #71

Aphorism 109

In the city, time becomes visible.

Lewis Mumford

Interpretation

I finished a Great Courses audio-book on the history of common people today, so this aphorism seems particularly applicable to me.

One of the things about people is that we alter the entropy around us. We might temporarily stall it, intentionally hasten it, or even just modulate it, but the effect becomes stronger as we come together.

In a rural village for most of the history of humanity, life remained the same for decades or centuries at a time. People came and went, as did their structures, but the actual lifestyle stayed the same, even as regimes and beliefs changed.

I don’t think the same is true today to the same extent, but mostly because our standards of what constitutes a small settlement have changed. I think of the small town where I would visit my grandmother as a child.

Barring a visitor center, I don’t think that there has been any significant construction since the last time I visited, which was before I was an adult.

There’s no need for it. The population is small, and while the individuals and businesses may change over time the actual buildings themselves do not. The library where I spent so much of my youth remains in the same state it was when I left it last, the grocery store down the street and the hotel across town are still where they were, and will likely be there for the next decade. There’s no stimulus to change the substance of the town.

Admittedly, there were stimuli that could change the environment, but in these cases they were often not human in origin: fires, earthquakes, famines, and the like that displaced people may have changed the landscape, but people would either settle back into the same lifestyle elsewhere or move to a city.

Only where people concentrated did one see a vast amount of differences over time. Cities have a lot of people, and they concentrate resources. Building, especially the luxury of deconstruction and reconstruction, becomes a pastime and then a necessity.

Each person contributes more to the change until the chaos–or conversion of chaos into order–reaches a critical point and things are put into motion.

And just because this works on a macro-scale doesn’t mean it’s absent in smaller examples of life.

Think about how much of your time you spend actually working toward something valuable. If you represented it as a percentage, is it in the double digits? I know that for much of my life mine has been low–perhaps even as low as the single digits during my youth and college years–though it’s gone up quite a bit in my more recent years (teaching has a way of converting your free time into time spent laboring toward a goal, though not always in a way that feels productive).

As you bring that number up, you’ll find it having an increasingly great impact. I read or listen to audio-books for possibly as much as 20% of my waking hours each day. I have learned more this year than I have in my last two years combined, and not for lack of trying.

So push yourself. Do everything you can. Don’t forget to live a little (100% productivity is a great path to burnout), but if something you do has no meaning figure out a way to eradicate it and replace it with something that does.

Resolution

Stop doing worthless things.

Remember that change increases exponentially, not linearly.

Sleep, eat, drink. Then wake up and accomplish something.

How to Write Every Day

I don’t update this blog as often as I perhaps should; I’m trending toward a post on at least a bi-weekly basis, but I do update the Loreshaper Games blog for my company every day.

It’s something that requires a lot of discipline and time, but I think it’s worth it in the long run for the practice it gives in becoming a better writer and the social networking that it builds.

One of the hardest parts of writing daily is just figuring out stuff to write. I keep Loreshaper Games on-brand as much as possible by sticking to gaming; not always our own products but always something that is industry-significant.

However, when worst comes to worst it’s just important to write every day. A lot of the posts that go up here are products of weeks of development, and writing so much tends to burn through all your inspiration quick.

You need a way to replenish that if you want to keep your creative juices flowing.

Be Creative On Demand

As I was reading the Harvard Business Review the other day, I came across an article that touched on some productivity techniques, and one of the quotes stuck with me.

Do things that don’t interest you. Early in my career, Will Marre, the founding president of the Stephen Covey’s training company, admonished me to subscribe to a handful of business journals he listed, then added, “And every time you read one, be sure to read at least one article that holds no interest for you.” I’ve been rewarded time and again for doing so. Many things that end of up in my shoebox have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things “boring” simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.

Harvard Business Review

I try to keep up with a certain amount of news every day. I’m a subscriber to Foreign Policy, for instance, and I follow a couple video-based news outlets every day.

These, however, rarely give me any meaningful inspiration.

You find that a lot of things repeat. While news is great for having a conversation starter, it’s not great at giving us a whole ton of inspiration.

It’s also a matter of lacking an ability to comprehend things that you need to explore to move past your current stage of understanding. Being a good writer is part of an evolutionary process: every time you write you should reflect and improve, but you can’t do that if you’re not giving yourself fertile soil in which to plant roots.

Varied reading goes a lot further in giving that inspiration and opportunity

How-To

One of the things that I’ve been using a lot is the Recommended by Pocket function in Firefox (which I use both on my desktop and smartphone). It pops up some interesting stuff, and whenever I’m tempted to “waste time”, I go there and read. I think I’ve probably had more “eureka” moments as a result of little articles I’ve read in the past year than from any conscious attempts to seek out inspiration (and, probably, improved my writing style by osmosis).

However, I’m also an Audible (affiliate link) subscriber, and I get two credits each month. I use one for something that interests me or something that I’ve been recommended, and the other for something more or less “random”.

One of my best experiences last year came when I accidentally purchased a copy of Educated (affiliate link), Tara Westover’s memoir; a consequence of having too many tabs open and not enough attention. Amazon One-Click is the bane of my existence, apparently.

However, I decided that my penance for carelessness would be to read a book that I had actually ruled out of the running for a late-night book search, and I was really glad that I did (you can read my review of Educated here).

New Horizons

One of the advantages of this more hap-hazard selection of readings is that you have an opportunity to broaden your experiential horizons.

The brain is funny in the way it works: it’s not a computer with neatly categorized information in separate files. Everything that it experiences and records goes in a sort of soup, and while our consciousness is fairly good at putting the most important stuff at the forefront, anything learned can resurface at a later date in an unexpected way.

It’s also just good practice. I don’t think I put Educated down for more than a few hours to sleep from the time I purchased it to the time that I finished reading it, and that’s an experience I’ve had over and over again with these random things.

Learning new stuff is, frankly, fun, something that we’ve drilled out of ourselves with our industrialized education system and its love of meaningless tasks.

Improve yourself, broaden your horizons, and give yourself something to write about. Not everything that inspires me makes it to public view, but if you write even a little about something every day you’re more likely to write something that goes out to the public.

Right now I’ve got my Loreshaper Games blog, this blog, and freelance writing on the side, and having a little bit of everything in my literary diet makes doing all that writing (and maintaining a day job) a whole lot easier

The Secret to Productivity

One of my goals in the past few months has been to become more productive, as this blog certainly shows (I’ve also put Loreshaper Games on steemit which I’ve been doing another daily post for over the last couple days).

There are a few things that I noticed about myself before I got serious about productivity. I had a hard time keeping up on projects, really working in fits and starts more than any disciplined manner. If I didn’t work in the way I planned, I just sort of gave up for the day (I still struggle with this a little). I had given up on my old habit of just turning off my internet for 50 minutes (I don’t do a whole hour on the timer, because I’ll typically pause the timer and go have a cup of water or the like and do a little head-clearing exercise, which brings me to a whole hour).

Continue reading “The Secret to Productivity”