Are email and meetings actually a waste of time?

I recently discovered this fantastic blog by Paul Graham. Like so many others, he mentions that email is a digital time sink:

Some days I’d wake up, get a cup of tea and check the news, then check email, then check the news again, then answer a few emails, then suddenly notice it was almost lunchtime and I hadn’t gotten any real work done. And this started to happen more and more often.

He decided he would have one computer to browse the web and another to work:

My rule is that I can spend as much time online as I want, as long as I do it on that computer. And this turns out to be enough. When I have to sit on the other side of the room to check email or browse the web, I become much more aware of it. Sufficiently aware, in my case at least, that it’s hard to spend more than about an hour a day online. Source

check email or browse the web – wtf?

A huge amount of my work is done through email. Because some work involves other people, putting things in writing and communicating quickly.

How have the internets, including some of the founding fathers, deemed email so useless?

The Guardian rants:

In the Harvard Business Review, three consultants from Bain report the results of an exercise in which they analyzed the Outlook schedules of the employees of an unnamed “large company” – and concluded that one weekly executive meeting ate up a dizzying 300,000 hours a year. Which is impressive, given that each of us only has about 8,700 hours a year to begin with. Including sleep.

And The Washington Post weighs in:

Any cubicle drone with a corporate email address knows this well already, of course, but a new report from Adobe describes the problem with some pretty startling numbers. According to its data, which is sourced from a self-reported survey of more than 1,000 white-collar workers in the country, we spend an average of 4.1 hours checking our work email each day. That’s 20.5 hours each week, more than 1,000 hours each year, more than 47,000 hours over a career.

In that time, you could have learned two dozen languages. Or hiked the Appalachian Trail 100 times! Instead, you were tapping out gems like “plz acknowledge receipt, ty” and “ok sounds good, let’s meet at nine.”

Yeah… so it takes a lot of time. That doesn’t mean it’s a time waste.

Yes, you can do it all wrong and waste time, but you can do anything wrong.

I doubt Paul Graham gets less important email than I do. Yet he still calls it “not work”.

It’s actually kind of rude to the people who send you email to say that email is a waste of time.

It sounds so much like just another quick fix from the “productivity” industry, but it seems unlikely that a dude like Paul Graham would get trapped by that.

The only reasonable answer is that your work is something solitary. Same with “meetings” that people so hate. You can call yourself a team player all you want, but if you think email, or to use plain English, communicating is a waste of time, maybe you just aren’t?

When you’re browsing the web, no one cares. But when you don’t answer your emails or don’t turn up to/pay attention in meetings, somebody does.

 

Notes on The Last Psychiatrist

I love few things more than a great blog. My latest find: The Last Psychiatrist, an archived blog, mostly about narcissism.

I was so excited to learn his insights… I made notes.

What follows are his finest insights about narcissism and my comments.

Imagine a crowded subway, and a beautiful woman gets on. Hyper-beautiful, the kind of woman who can wear no makeup, a parka, earmuffs and a bulky scarf and that somehow makes her look even prettier. A handsome man about her age in an expensive suit gets up and says, “please, take my seat.” She smiles, and hastily sits down.

TLP (The Last Psychiatrist), as the author refers to himself, gives us two options as to how the woman should think about this:

  1. This was a sexually motivated act as far as the man was concerned
  2. He was just being nice

If you think of narcissism as grandiosity you miss the nuances, e.g. in her case the problem is narcissism without any grandiosity:

she is so consumed with her identity (as not pretty) that she is not able to read, to empathise with, other people’s feelings. Source

In another post, TLP explains why narcissism isn’t necessarily about grandiosity. This is a blatantly obvious point that escapes most people, unfortunately.

Being the main character of your own film isn’t necessarily grandiose. It is narcissistic though because all the other characters are only important because they help the viewer to understand the main story line.

Here are some less obvious traits of narcissism TLP outlined:

Shame over guilt (I think this is because shame is an emotion directed at the self, whereas guilt is an emotion directed at your victim)

envy over greed (greed would be a primary reason to look for something, whereas envy is only a desire to catch up because otherwise otherwise it’s a bad reflection on you. I liked how this was called “existential agency” here.)

He [the narcissist] thinks the problem is people don’t like him, or not enough, so he exerts massive energy into the creation and maintenance of an identity: if they think of me as X… (and that’s one of the reasons why we love brands)

The narcissist feels unhappy because he thinks his life isn’t as it should be, or things are going wrong;  but all of those feelings find origin in frustration, a specific frustration: the inability to love the other person.

And this really brings it back to the original myth that TLP broke down beautifully here:

Narcissus mother took him to a clairvoyant who said, “He’ll have a long life as long as he never knows himself.

Narcissus kept rejecting people who fell in love with him because they weren’t good enough.

One rejected lover was furious and begged Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, for retribution.  “If Narcissus ever falls in love, don’t let the love be returned!”

Nemesis  heard the prayer and caused Narcissus to fall in love with himself: he was lead to a  pool of water, and when he looked into it, he fell in love with what he saw.  And what he saw wasn’t real, so of course it couldn’t love him back.  But Narcissus sat patiently, forever, hoping that one day that beautiful person in the bottom of the pool was going to come out and love him.

Because he never loved anyone, he fell in love with himself. That was Narcissus’s punishment.

This brings up an interesting point: how are you meant to feel about yourself?

Let’s first look at what we want. What we pay for. A huge portion of marketing directly helps us to be in love with ourselves, because we’re worth it. They’re not even trying to hide that the feeling of being in love with yourself is what they’re selling. And it’s not punishment as we see it – otherwise we wouldn’t buy it. I suppose it’s a psychic equivalent of putting a person on heroin. You mightn’t feel it’s a punishment, but it is.

Then there are the more subtle “intellectual” publications that help you love yourself (see the distinction from being in love with yourself? Cause that would be shallow.) I wonder how many pages were dedicated to helping people see Narcissus’ infatuation as Buddhist acceptance or some other high and mighty concept.

There isn’t really anywhere that would tell you that you’re meant to not love yourself.

What happened to Narcissus doesn’t really sound so horrible in today’s culture. Maybe he wouldn’t have even retaken a selfie if he lived today and been happy with the first shot? That level of self-acceptance is just enviable! He’s winning at life by millennial standards!… Indeed, TPL calls narcissism “a generational pathology”.

TLP goes on to discuss Narcissus’ parents’ role, which I thought was priceless:

He will have a long life, if he never knows himself.

Forget about whether the prophecy is true.  Ask instead, “what would the parents have done once they heard it?”…

Next time I feel insignificant and weak, maybe I need to hold on to that feeling, because my culture will obviously infuse me with my own grandiosity without me ever trying.

TLP has another explanation for why Narcissus stayed looking at the primordial selfie lake though.

He didn’t stay there for years because the reflection had pretty hair.  He stayed because daydreaming takes a lot of time.

In other words, Narcissus didn’t recognise himself and spent all that time conjuring up images of how wonderful life would be with that person in the reflection…

And the DSM says exactly that, only it adds a grandiose twist: “preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”.

I am confused now.

Narcissus fell in love with himself, only he didn’t know if was himself.

So, as far as Narcissus was concerned, he was genuinely in love with another human being – only they were unreachable. Their personality was entirely a figment of his imagination…

Wait, that’s not Narcissus, that’s Gatsby! (Who also dies in a body of water, fair dues to FitzGerald).

Narcissus’ crime wasn’t being in love with himself at all. Phew, it’s ok to let L’Oreal and #positivethinking to get money and likes.

Narcissus’ crime was not knowing himself.

Actually, no, again.

TLP puts it better:

The moral of the story of Narcissus, told as a warning for the very people who refuse to hear it as such, is that how Narcissus came to be is irrelevant.  What was important was what he did, and what he did – was nothing.

And that’s his main crime: he never cared about anyone real. To me that’s all one ever needs to know to understand narcissism.

TLPs advice on how to not be a narcissist is to fake it. I think what TLP’s getting at is that your behaviour is much more important than your identity.

The ROI of beauty

Empirically, the most accomplished, intelligent people I know couldn’t give two fks about beauty standards.

All the same, it is super popular and desired. Being beautiful seems to serve a purpose beyond health and attraction. I am wondering what that is.

I followed Jessi Kneeland a few years ago after seeing a recommendation on Greatist. Obsessed with HIIT, the fitness-junkie in me rejoiced at finding her, fit as a tennis ball.

 

So many women- clients, friends, and strangers- off handedly apologize to me or feel shame for not "having their shit together" like I do. Which always strikes me as strange, because I don't have my shit together either. We all have gifts. I just found a way to pursue and teach mine. But trust me, I have just as many "issues" as anyone else. I like to think I deal with them compassionately and patiently, but that doesn't mean they're not there. I don't see any particular reason to spend time lamenting stuff I suck at, because focusing on my gifts is so much more fulfilling! So I guess what I'm saying is this: stop giving all your power to the stuff you suck at. Stop comparing your gifts and weaknesses to other people's gifts and weaknesses. Just find some shit you're amazing at, and do more of it. Focus on your gifts, and enjoy the absolute shit out of sharing them. #mindset #selfesteem #confidence #dharmayogawheel #yoga #bodyimage #remodelfitness #gifts

A post shared by Jessi Kneeland (@jessikneeland) on

In the last year, she switched from being a fitness guru to a body image coach:

“Here are some of the boxes which a modern woman must check in order to be hot. (You’ll notice that many of these are actually “achieved” through effort, skill, time, and money, rather than inborn):
➡️A thin/toned hourglass body
➡️Big perky breasts
➡️Long femme smooth hair
➡️Youthful appearance
➡️Big doe eyes
➡️Kardashian level makeup
➡️Smooth and hairless skin
➡️Well-fitted clothing and high heels
➡️A particular way of moving, speaking and posture.” Source

I think this is a really interesting point: hotness is down to the amount of energy you put into it. My personal experience would be congruent with her ideas.

“Women were taught that our purpose in life was to be desirable enough to “snag” a good partner.”

That is certainly the idea being thrown around by “empowering” publications. I think any woman who was told this and bought it already had issues with her self-respect.

I went through a rebellious phase when I was around 12. Sporting short hair with a touch of pink, I was asked to stay behind after class. The teacher didn’t bring up anything academic. She told me that she does not approve of my image and that women ought to have lovely long hair.

I told her that I don’t subscribe to her standards of what women “ought” and could she please refrain from biting into my after school time unless absolutely necessary.

Being a rebellious teenager seems to be like chicken pox. It’s better to get over it when you are a teenager.

I’m not immune from societal expectations. I do admit to feeling a little ill when seeing some of the casual modelling that goes on on Instagram.

But if I were to feel bad when watching the Oscars for not being a movie star or feel bad when going to a gallery for not being an artist, that would be silly.

It’s best not to confuse societal expectations and your own. But this is where it gets interesting:

“Beauty standards got invented to help women be more competitive in the man-snagging market, and the whole thing escalated endlessly until we all have to look like airbrushed celebrities in order to be “good enough”.

Indeed, what is the point of beauty standards if not to attract a partner?

“I wondered if women who aren’t attracted to men might worry less about looking “hot,” since the whole women-as-beautiful-sex-objects thing was made by and for men, right?”

Basically, she asked LGBT women. As an experiment, this didn’t control for the “looking for a partner” aspect, only for “looking for a male partner”.

“The feedback I got proved this shit has nothing to do with men at all: being gay does *not* seem to offer ANY freedom from the pressures of the male gaze, beauty standards, or insecurities…

It’s not for men. So then what are doing this all for?”

What if we tried to control for “looking for a partner”? Ask married people? Well, they still have to “maintain a parter”, so that’s out.

So why do women do it?

A lot of men do the male equivalent, but it seems that that’s not quite as common.

Is it literally being gullible? These standards are floating out there, so we adapt them with the idea that… That what? It will make us better people? Plug holes in our self-esteem?

Or is it literally just down to being a more attractive partner? But that doesn’t add up because (from what I can tell) a lot of men don’t like women who fulfil the “hotness standards” outlined above.

So, either the purpose of looking hot is to find/maintain a partner, only the method is miscalculated, or there is some other reason. Let’s consider proving your worth as a reason.

Traditionally, men had other ways of proving their worth, e.g. their work. That’s increasingly popular with women. In that case, looks should be less important in today’s society than they were 200 years ago. I have no way whatsoever of testing that.

It’s well known that beautiful people are assumed to be more persuasive, trustworthyintelligent and generally better.

The question then arises: is it worth it?… Cause it is hard work – as Jessi has shown us above.

Curious as to what you think!

UPD: This is a really interesting perspective on gender issues.

Ordeal By Innocence

Presuming one’s innocence means presuming that the plaintiff’s lying. In certain cases.

The presumption of innocence works well when we don’t know who committed the crime. The paradigm breaks down when fighting over whether a crime was committed.

Whoever solves this philosophical puzzle will do a lot for justice. The current rules fail both the victims and the accused. And the bystanders – all the people who worked on “Ordeal by Innocence” whose work will never be recognised.

The BBC said Friday that it will not air upcoming Agatha Christie special “Ordeal by Innocence” while an investigation into actor Ed Westwick on allegations of sexual assault proceeds. Filming has been disrupted as well on another BBC series starring Westwick, “White Gold,” which is available on Netflix outside of the U.K. “Ordeal by Innocence” […]

via BBC Pulls Drama Starring Ed Westwick; Filming Disrupted on His Comedy Series ‘White Gold’ — Variety

Trying to be old

I loved how the sun lit up the windows of the ostentatiously classy restaurant come wine bar on St. Andrew’s Street in Dublin called Stanley’s. The bleached turquoise exterior with golden letters spelled understated chic.

A few doors down from the expensive Trocadero, the location seemed perfect for such a place.

It opened about 2 years ago. Today I found that it’s been replaced with a place called Kathmandu, a gerrish, bright orange Nepalese eatery. Full of people. 

Stanley’s was never full of people.

Why? Where did they go wrong? Where didn’t they go right, more like? The broadly positive Irish Times review and then another even more positive one? The perfect location? The classy interior in modern blues and grays? What more could people want?

Or is it maybe that classy is old-fashioned. Maybe these things don’t sell anymore.

I love old books, films, chandeliers, even houses. Often these things sell at a perplexing yet welcome discount.  Has it always been this way – that old things are cheap?

Writing up my list of the Christmas gifts I want to give, I realised that I strongly prefer older things. I think it’s from reading too many XIX century novels…

Which would you rather get for Christmas, a new iPhone or an antique chandelier? 

It turns out that the iPhone is about five times the price. This raises another point: did old things always go at a discount?

And finally, maybe that’s why Stanley’s closed down. Perhaps their bet was on people’s vanity, a desire for a classy place to shorten the protracted winters nights. But it never caught on.

Trying to be old without actually being old may be a hard sell. 

I am not Atlas, nor was meant to be

The New Year forces us to do a reality check. Accomplishments. Failures. Expectations. Sage books. Bad politics. Mistletoe. The CO2 from sparkling wine hitting you in the nose. Deep breaths and realisations. Shy wishes for the future.

The light and exciting feeling of starting something big pushes me on.

Coming to conclusions reminds me of herding cats. In a big dark room.

Conclusions lead to learning. I want to learn. Learning means order and understanding. Sometimes, stormy randomness prevents linear learning. What was it all for then I wonder? Just to be lived?

A sarky friend of mine calls this “the syndrome of searching for deeper meaning”, a disorder more prevalent in women. One step away from calling me a conspiracy theorist, the sneaky fk!

Why do I want to learn? To feel less pain by stepping on the same rake, as the Russians would say? I prefer the more subtle term, adaptation.

I resolve this by looking for ways to tame uncertainty. Work around it. Turn anxiety into excitement. Think probabilistically. Find people who have the same thoughts and dreams. Remember that I can always rely on myself.

My temptation to justify, to over-explain, to over-plan and catch that finer insight comes from a heightened, unhealthy sense of personal responsibility.

Aged 5, I fell and hurt myself during play. Nothing major. My grandmother came over. I expected her to help me up and console me. Hold me and tell me it’s all ok. She lifted me alright, but then gave out to me for not looking where I was going.

I think I am still running on that software. I always look for ways in which I caused what happened to me.

In some ways, it’s helpful. In others, I am Atlas with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Why haven’t I given up that horrible mentality?

Personal responsibility motivates like nothing else. It’s the fuel of making dreams come true, so it’s hard to give it up.

My learning from this is that feeling like Atlas is frighteningly egocentric. I am not Atlas, nor was meant to be. The world will keep on turning without my help.

What makes me want to bang my head against the wall is the obviousness of it all. Again and again, I arrive at these thoughts. However, it seems that understanding what is within my control is a daily exercise. Thinking about it every day is vital to being productive and at peace.

Meanwhile, I am building up my progress report from September to the end of November. Be ready with yours for 1 December 😉

Mood: T.S. Eliot

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Another reason to be less demanding

“I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.”

I came across the idea that our self-esteem is equal to our opinion of others.

Sounds esoteric, but I reflected on it and there may be something to it.

Assumption:

A mentally well person accepts that she is an ordinary human being and that most people who surround her are ordinary human beings.

Hence,

a) if she is highly critical of most ordinary human beings, on an average day she is critical of herself

b) if she is accepting of others’ faults,on an average day she accepts her own faults

Doesn’t this add up?

I sort of talked about this when I hypothesised that people criticise others for the things they hate about themselves. Reading over it, it seems naive and slightly needy, but I still think there was a grain of truth in it.

“Yet another reason to not be a demanding pig”, I gently remind myself.