Thursday, October 15, 2009

Art of Day to Day Improvement

I have written before about the dangers of multi-tasking. We may or may not end up knocking more "to-do's" off our checklist, but nothing will be done as well as it deserves. Hemingway spoke often of doing a job "properly." It was one of his favorite adverbs, and he learned that from his father. My Father also talks a lot about "doing things right."

But lest you mistake me for someone that has perfected that art, let me correct you. Right before I started this article, I had 5 Firefox tabs open, 2 chat boxes active in AIM, a half-finished work e-mail waiting for me, and I was paying my bills on-line. The "new post" box stayed open and empty for at least 20 minutes before I wrote the opening line.


There are just so many distractions. In order to avoid feeling like a complete hypocrite, I just closed everything except for this tab and the two reference sites that I will be using.

One trait about me that I am grateful for is that I do insist on improvement. One trait that I am a bit less grateful for is that I have little to no patience for that improvement. If I want to be competent at a certain thing, I want it now, and I will get down on myself for using any time that does not help me get it.

For example, I feel that it is important to be knowledgeable about current events and politics. To make sure that I am, I will engross myself entirely in that pursuit. I will read a newspaper every morning, have a few books on the Middle East going concurrently, watch the Talking Heads babble at me, etc. This will go on for weeks or months, until I have just had entirely too much of it, have burned myself out on it, and don't even want to think about current events for another 6 months. Clearly, this presents quite a consistency problem. You don't become knowledgeable with such an "on again, off again" approach.

I need to start looking at these pursuits more as a marathon than a sprint. A little bit of progress every day. If I don't make it through the entire newspaper, I won't beat myself up about it. If I don't make it to boxing practice, there should be a good reason. If there isn't however, I will do my best to be a little more gentle with myself, and focus on gradual improvement in all areas of my life that are important to me.

Two articles that I found and read today were inspiring and practical. The first was written by Paul Norwine about using the Japanese business principle of Kaizen in your personal life. For those who work in manufacturing and production, you are probably familiar with this term as a way of eliminating all wasted movement and gradual improvement over the long term. Paul turns this principle on our personal lives, and encourages us to aim for daily progression in all areas of your life. I often get bogged down in all the different areas I want to learn about, explore and improve in, and it sometimes leads me to doing none of these things. His post encouraged me to find and focus my priorities, and then aim for small improvements in each of them, every day.

The second was written by Stephen Mills, and deals with avoiding the multi-tasking trap. It relates strongly to my own post on the subject, but reading it around the same time I read Paul's article on Kaizen served as a needed wake-up call and reminder.

Some days will be more productive than others, but as long as we are doing something to further each of our long-term goals, we should find some peace in that.

"Everyday, I am getting better in every way."



mrblackmagic said...

I like this post. Its well written and I think your intent is spot on. The't be fooled by all that Japanese crap.

They have MASTERED The art of seeming to be busy. Its absurd, yet its a science.

Those people who write books about them only extol the good points...often to the detriment of the reader and Japan.

Japan is a massive slow moving Tank powered by the desperate lives of the masses and it cant be stopped, reprogrammed or deterred with anything less than a Massive bomb or two being dumped on it.

Anonymous said...

My dad says success/contentment comes from working hard consistently, then getting up the next day and doing it all over again. I have been fighting this reality my entire life, expending an incredible amount of energy to the contrary, only to have to bite the bullet and admit he is right. While I admire the discipline, I too have yet to master the necessary patience.
As you discuss, this is a gradual process that must be achieved, one day at a time, putting in the necessary road work. It sure isn't even usually fun, but I am starting to understand how consistency really does relate to accomplishment and contentment.
A well-deserved kick in the pants never did anybody harm, but deluging yourself with self-critism not only leads to increased frustration, but it obliterates time and insidiously zaps focus.
Keep on truckin', kid, because you're on the right path--just let me know when we're there yet!!!!

As I sit here, 6 HOURS into NOT studying. ....sigh....

Martin said...

The comments are better than the original blog post on this one.

Eric - That is REALLY interesting about the Japanese. As a white guy with samurai, dragon and Kanji character tattoos, I am embarrassed to admit that I definitely had bought into the mysticism of the orient a bit. Most of that stuff just irritates me now. However, even if most Japanese fail in these "day to day" improvement principles, that doesn't mean that we have to. Thanks for clearing up some of the mumbo jumbo crap.

Clara - Sadly, no substitute for hard work. Fortunately, that doesn't require us to be serious all the time. And Studying sucks...