My weekly time-boxing process

Back in February, I wrote in a newsletter how I had started time-boxing my schedule again.

Well, it’s now September, and that practice is still going strong.

I recently wrote a Twitter thread on three of the benefits of time-boxing. Today, I wanted to focus on how I time-box my schedule each week.

1. I decide on my priority for the week.

This priority is an active project.

It’s not the only thing I’ll work on during the week, but it does help provide some focus and constraints.

2. I make a list of everything I want to get done this week.

My to-do list has a lot of stuff on it. It has more stuff than I can get done in a week.

So I try and capture all the urgent and important tasks that I’m going to try and make time for this week.

Usually, not everything that makes it onto this list ends up on my schedule. But this list does help funnel my attention down as I move through this process.

3. I account for all the pre-existing events in my personal and work calendars.

This is just taking inventory of time that has already been set aside.

Usually, this is a combination of recurring (e.g. volleyball, stand-ups) and non-recurring (e.g. one-off coaching calls) events.

4. I schedule my personal time.

I do this first as an act of self-care.

This includes things like scheduling time to eat, hang out with friends, or meditate.

How much time I allocate for this varies each week depending on my energy levels.

5. I schedule half-an-hour of buffer time each day.

Life happens.

This buffer time provides some space for unexpected tasks, conversations, and other shenanigans.

This way, I can still address some of life’s surprises without derailing my time-boxed schedule.

6. I schedule the tasks from the list I made in step 2.

I start by time-boxing the most important and urgent tasks from my list. Often, these tasks are related to my one priority for the week.

Then, I start time-boxing the next most important and urgent tasks.

Rinse and repeat.

As I mentioned above, I don’t usually end up scheduling everything on my list. And that’s okay.

Maybe next week they will be important or urgent enough to make it onto my schedule.

Or maybe I eventually just decide they weren’t worth doing, so I remove them from my to-do list.

This process takes me less than 1 hour each week.

I don’t spend too much time trying to make the perfect decision.

There is no perfect decision.

If I make a decision that doesn’t have a good result (e.g. one task got scheduled instead of another, a task got scheduled for too short of a time-box), I take those learnings and apply them next week.

An addendum:

I recently started setting alarms corresponding to my time-boxed schedule as part of my evening routine.

I had found that I was frequently not following my time-boxed schedule.

I’d get lost in the task at hand, and not realize how quickly time was going by.

Since I’ve started setting an alarm to notify me that my next time-box was coming up, I’ve been adhering to my schedule much better now!

How the medium shapes us

Thanks to a recommendation from Shirley, I recently came across Ezra Klein’s “I Didn’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message.”

This article had me reflecting a lot on how and why I consume content.

Klein starts by quoting Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher responsible for the phrase “the medium is the message”:

It’s another [Marshall McLuhan] quote, from early in his 1964 classic, “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,” that lodged in my mind: “Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.”

The first thing that jumped to mind for me was fact-checking on social media.

Meta’s fact-checking and Twitter’s Birdwatch are both attempts to allow users to feel more comfortable with the information being shared on their platforms.

That being said, both of these approaches only look at the medium’s content.

The medium itself, the social media platform, can conveniently drop off the radar.

While it is helpful to fact-check the content of the medium, other valuable considerations are easily overlooked:

  • Who determines what gets shared?
  • What are the incentives to share or not share something?
  • What gets shown to people, in what order, and with what frequency, and how does that get determined?
  • What about things that can’t be fact-checked, like opinions? And how are those distinguished for fact-checkers and readers?
  • Who is doing the fact-checking? What makes them qualified? How do they protect against their own biases and beliefs?
  • Related to some of the above, I also thought it would be helpful to explicitly ask: what does this say about the social media highlight reel?

In his article, Klein continues:

[Marshall McLuhan]’s view is that mediums matter more than content; it’s the common rules that govern all creation and consumption across a medium that change people and society. Oral culture teaches us to think one way, written culture another. Television turned everything into entertainment and social media taught us to think with the crowd.

It’s not just that television presents us with moving pictures and sound.

Television also gives us multiple channels to choose from.

I think this is important because it helps train us for immediate gratification.

Why stick with a TV show to see if it will get better? All you have to do is change the channel to find something more immediately entertaining.

If only one channel existed, we might be better trained for delayed gratification.

I don’t think we’d be so quick to turn the TV off if the show wasn’t entertaining.

We turn to the TV in the first place because we prefer it over living our own real lives.

Have you ever sat through a meh TV show to avoid something like chores or simply sitting with yourself and the discomfort in your body?

And it’s not just that social media connected us with friends, acquaintances, and idols, near and far.

Social media follows most of us around our entire waking lives.

And those social media notifications are a Pavlovian bell.

Every notification provides us with a dopamine hit that fuels our addiction.

It not only drives us to check our social media but also to think about our social media.

And it changes our behaviour to cater to our social media.

We buy supplements and hire personal trainers because we think 6-pack abs will get us more likes.

We change how we speak and write because we think it will increase our engagement.

We stop ourselves from sharing things that we fear may cost us followers.

One last thought from Klein’s article I wanted to touch on:

As Sean Illing, a co-author of “The Paradox of Democracy,” told me, “McLuhan says: Don’t just look at what’s being expressed. Look at the ways it’s being expressed. And then Postman says: Don’t just look at the way things are being expressed, look at how the way things are expressed determines what’s actually expressible.” In other words: The medium blocks certain messages.

I’ve already talked about how the medium blocks particular messages above.

And sometimes, people prefer it when the medium blocks certain messages, especially regarding political issues.

But still, there are important things to consider here as well. For simplicity, I’m going to focus on social media.

One example of this is experts.

Simply being an expert isn’t enough.

Platforms like Twitter reward people who ensure that each sentence is at least as entertaining as the previous one.

Platforms like YouTube reward attractive people with clear voices and charisma.

Another example of this is newcomers.

Social media rewards audience size.

Something tweeted by someone with 100,000 followers will be seen by more people than if someone with 100 followers tweeted it.

And this effect tends to grow over time since it’s easier to find more followers when your tweets get more views.

Here are some questions I wanted to leave you with. I’ve been thinking about them since I read this article:

  • What are you hoping to achieve by consuming X? (e.g. knowledge, entertainment, skill acquisition)? Are you reading according to that goal or another one?
  • How often are you bringing into your awareness how the medium is shaping the top of your consumption funnel? …how the medium is shaping your beliefs, feelings, and behaviours?

Reflections on authenticity stemming from Seth Godin’s The Practice

I’m participating in a book club at work for Seth Godin’s The Practice.

Some of the essays this week were about authenticity.

So this puts me back on what seems to be one of my forever questions: what is authenticity?

Suppose someone gets into an argument with someone else. During this argument, they end up yelling at the other person. Later, they reflect on this and see themselves as having acted inauthentically because they value civil debate–not uncontrolled ones.

Is authenticity about living in alignment with one’s ideal values?

Suppose someone finds out that their team will have to do a particular project as part of the broader strategy. While they want to stay united with the rest of the organization and provide a clear direction for their team, they also personally disagree with the decision that was made about the strategy. They know that the decision has already been made and that voicing their disagreement will not affect change. Still, they feel like they’re not being authentic if they don’t share their opinion.

Is authenticity about giving voice to the entirety of one’s (complex) experience?

Suppose someone has been experiencing burnout at work. They wake up one morning and realize they have a meeting that has just started. They’re still tired and don’t want to go to work today. Still, they decide to get out of bed and jump on the call. Later, they reflect and wonder if they were being authentic.

Is authenticity about following our moment-to-moment desires and experiences?

Godin says this about authenticity:

If you’re using any sort of self-control (there’s that “self” word again), then you’re not being authentic. Only a tantrum is authentic. Everything else we do with intention.

This makes me think that Godin believes the last of these three examples is the closest to what authenticity is.

Godin seems to go a bit further than that:

There is nothing authentic about the next thing you’re going to say or do or write. It’s simply a calculated effort to engage with someone else, to contribute, or to cause a result.

This suggests that it’s difficult, perhaps even undesirable, to act authentically.

This seems a bit counterintuitive. There’s been such a big push for authenticity in recent years. And it looks like there are significant, negative impacts on people who cannot act authentically for long periods. (Some examples that jump to mind are closeted folk, trans individuals, and people who pretend everything is okay when something’s bothering them.)

But Godin does leave this tidbit:

Your audience doesn’t want your authentic voice. They want your consistent voice.

I find this pretty helpful.

I always struggle with authenticity because I don’t have a good sense of what it means.

Consistent is easier to grasp, though.

Consistency also makes me think of integrity.

So here are two questions that I’m continuing to think about now:

  • What is the difference between consistency and integrity?
  • What is the relationship between integrity and authenticity? (e.g. is one a subset of the other?)

My takeaways from my first PKM show and tell session

I participated in my first ever PKM show and tell session this week.

Eight people attended this one-hour Zoom call.

We spent 20 minutes doing introductions. We shared a little bit about who we are, where we’re from, what got us into PKM, and what the different components of our PKM currently look like.

After this, we spent 20 minutes in a breakout room. Each of these rooms had 2-3 people in them. This gave each person 6-10 minutes to share a bit about their PKM. In my breakout room, some people talked about their PKM and systems, whereas others shared their screens to provide a live demo of how certain things were set up.

Finally, we all returned to the main room. For the remaining time, people shared their highlights from the breakout rooms. Sometimes people would share their screens to demonstrate these highlights so people in other breakout rooms could see.

I enjoyed being able to participate in this session and having the opportunity to see how everyone else was building their PKM systems.

While I do have thoughts about how to improve future iterations of a PKM show and tell, I thought I’d leave those for another day.

Instead, I’m going to be sharing some of the exciting things I took away from the session:

What I’ve started working on in my coaching practice this week

Today, I wanted to talk about something I’ve noticed in some of my recent coaching sessions. It’s something that I’m actively practicing right now.

Sometimes, people come to a coaching session and have a lot to say about their problem. Sometimes, it’s helpful to have someone listen while they talk through their thoughts.

Now, there’s always the chance that this is true.

But it’s not always true.

And I can’t predict the future.

So there will be times when a client will want to talk through a problem. And if they ask for that, we can totally do that.

However, I can’t just default to hoping for the best.

Often, when a client comes to a coach with a problem, they have a lot of thoughts about it.

Navigating all of these thoughts can present a problem in itself for the client:

  • Feeling confused
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Ruminating on past thoughts
  • Being stuck in a vicious circle

Interrupting the client, helping them to slow down their mind, and focusing their thoughts can be helpful for the client.

The fact that time is limited in each session compounds this value.

Historically, I feel a lot of resistance towards interrupting and driving a conversation so directly.

I thought it was rude to do so, making me scared to interrupt. As a result, I would just let people continue following their stream of thought.

This reminds me of a clip I’d recently seen of Judith Gaton.

Maybe our coaching conversations will become more delicious if I’m willing to show up more fully in these conversations instead of only holding space for others.

So I’ve started practicing something new.

I’m reminding myself that keeping the conversation focused will benefit my client. Because this has me feeling confident in keeping the conversation on track, I’m willing to do just that.

You only see what your eyes want to see

This week, I spent a lot of time on my coaching certification. I did a lot of coaching calls (both as a coach and as a coachee) and reflected on many coaching materials.

Naturally, thoughts were on my mind a lot this week.

It still always amazes me how we push to confirm our thoughts.

In Annihilation, Dr. Ventress says:

Then, as a psychologist, I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction. Almost none of us commit suicide, and almost all of us self-destruct. In some way, in some part of our lives. We drink, or we smoke, we destabilize the good job… and a happy marriage. But these aren’t decisions. They’re… they’re impulses.

I think this is an important observation.

A problem, by definition, is unwanted. If I don’t want it, why would I take action to perpetuate the problem? That would be intentionally harming myself. It doesn’t make any sense.

Right?

This is where the distinction is helpful. Because, somehow, despite not wanting to harm ourselves, “almost all of us self-destruct.”

(The following three examples are over-simplified and completely fabricated to illustrate this idea as related to the above quote.)

I have the problem that I am in a lot of pain. The world is a shitty place, and I’m clearly not enough. So I drink to make the pain go away. Over time, I start to choose alcohol over relationships. And other people choose not to spend time with me. As a result, I feel alone. This is painful.

I have the problem that I’ve been excelling at my job, but I haven’t gotten the raise and promotion I deserve. It’s unfair, and I’m frustrated. So I stop offering my feedback in meetings. I stop being the first person to volunteer to help out. I coast on my work instead of pushing it out. As a result, my boss sees my performance declining, and I don’t get a raise or a promotion.

I have the problem that while we’ve been married for 18 years, my spouse continues to leave a mess around the house despite my asking him not to. So I stop asking him to clean up because I’ve asked so many times already, and he should know what I want. I do stuff to annoy him because it’s only fair. I don’t want to have sex because I’m not in the mood, and he doesn’t deserve it, anyways. As a result, we grow further apart. Any motivation he may have had to clean is now completely gone.

In each of these three examples, we take actions we think that, at worst, will leave us no worse and, at best, will solve our problem. However, what actually happens is that our actions perpetuate our problem. In this way, we’re (unintentionally) self-destructive.

Another way of looking at this comes from Werner Erhard in Speaking Being (which is pretty much an annotated transcript of the Landmark Forum):

A rat can learn how to negotiate a maze by finding a piece of cheese, but will choose a new tunnel if the cheese is moved. The difference between a human being and a rat is as follows: a human being will go down the tunnel with no cheese forever. You know, you’ve been doing the same shit year after year after year, hoping for a different outcome. What you care about is being in the right tunnel, regardless of whether there’s cheese or not.

The thing with our thoughts is that we think they’re true.

Well, duh. Why would I think something that I don’t think is true? It doesn’t make any sense.

But then our subconscious tries hard to affirm that our thoughts are true. (Maybe this is because it could be evolutionary disadvantageous to question your perception of reality constantly?)

Our reticular activating system focuses our attention on the things that confirm our thoughts. In other words, confirmation bias leads us to find data that supports our existing thoughts (and overlook data that don’t support them).

I think this is part of what Erhard is getting at when he says, “What you care about is being in the right tunnel, regardless of whether there’s cheese or not.”

As much as we like to tell ourselves otherwise, we don’t care about reality–we only care about what we “know” to be true.

In a recent Unf*ck your brain episode, Kara Loewentheil speaks to this in action:

Your brain decides what you are literally going to see with your eyes. Think about looking at photos of yourself. Your thoughts about how you look actually influence what you see. Think about how often you have not noticed that somebody got a haircut, or is wearing glasses, or now they’re wearing contacts, or something looks different about them. We can go forever not noticing these changes because our brain has created an image of what that person looks like and it’s just using that image and not drawing our attention to any changes.

I oversimplify this as the Law of Attraction.

This is why I really value my therapist and coaches.

Yes, they too experience the world through the lens of their thoughts. However, they can help me see my blind spots, where I ignore or distort information, or vicious circles where I may be unintentionally pushing for unwanted results.

Unfortunately, not everyone can afford a therapist or a coach. (Obligatory plug: I’m offering free coaching sessions as I work towards my life coaching certification. Click here to sign-up for a complimentary session(s)!)

One free and independent alternative that I’ve enjoyed using in the past is Julia Cameron’s morning pages.

The morning pages in themselves can be a freeing exercise. They can help you clear things from your mind and help you start from a new space.

I think in The Artist’s Way, Cameron suggests you don’t need to read your morning pages. However, in light of this newsletter, I think reading your morning pages can help bring you awareness of the thoughts you’re thinking. This may help you gain insights into how you may be shaping your experience of reality.

To wrap up, I leave you with these questions:

What thoughts are you thinking?

How are these thoughts shaping your experience of reality?

Are these thoughts helpful for you right now?

Prioritizing side projects

In a recent conversation at work, someone brought up the value of individuals taking on side/”side of desk” projects.

I have seen great value delivered by side projects. At the same time, I have some concerns about their nature.

I thought it might be helpful to share that dialogue here.

Not everything has an owner.

Sometimes, it’s clear that doing something would be valuable. Sometimes, those valuable things don’t have a clear owner. And as a result, those valuable things remain undone.

This can be a good candidate for a side project.

Some projects require specific knowledge or skill-sets.

Teams sometimes avoid taking on projects because their team members aren’t prepared to take them on. While there is value in gaining knowledge and skills, that investment isn’t always prioritized when that knowledge or skill-set is unlikely to be re-used. And having someone take on something so foreign to them can slow down the entire team.

But if you already have that knowledge or skill-set, it may make sense for you to take on this side project.

Sometimes, people enjoy having a specific side project.

People may want to gain the knowledge or skill-set corresponding to a side project. They may personally feel the pain of something and want to take on the project to address that. They may enjoy working on the side project compared to their current primary work obligations.

Factors such as these may drive someone to take on a side project.

Taking on a side project can help develop communication skills.

The time and attention someone can dedicate to a side project may ebb and flow with their other responsibilities. However, how you see that ebb and flow may differ from how your boss sees that ebb and flow. Ensuring there’s alignment between you and your boss on bandwidth and priorities can be important.

So effectively taking on a side project may require you to stay in regular communication.

Side projects can help provide variety.

As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say in It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work:

Be it in hours, degrees of difficulty, or even specific benefits that emphasize seasonality, find ways to melt the monotony of work. People grow dull and stiff if they stay in the same swing for too long.

Side projects may be one way to “melt the monotony of work.” Instead of focusing all your attention on one thing, you have this side project to provide a change of pace.

This can help with engagement and avoiding burnout.

Side projects can help with career progression.

Some projects have a massive, widespread impact when they’re completed. You get all that credit if you’re the only person behind that project. People can see the impact that you’ve had. It’s easier to stand out from the rest of the team.

This can make it easier to be considered for raises or promotions.

And yet, at the same time…

Side projects don’t always help with career progression.

Some projects don’t have the intended impact. (In which case, they may have slowed the delivery of other more impactful initiatives.) And sometimes, even impactful projects don’t get attributed correctly. Someone else may steal the credit, or people may just enjoy the benefits without realizing who did the work.

There is an element of luck, strategy, and self-advocacy required here.

Side projects are sometimes synonymous with context-switching.

When you take on a side project, it means you’re working on multiple things. If you don’t have much control of your schedule, this may require you to switch between projects depending on the situation. Depending on the nature of the project, this may require you to jump on calls or respond to impromptu feedback. This may lead to a lot of context-switching.

And context-switching can be wasteful and inefficient.

Focusing on a single project develops the skill of prioritization.

A side project means multiple things are being worked on simultaneously. This means that there’s no need to decide on prioritization. Prioritization is an important skill.

Without making judgement calls about priorities, it’s hard to get better at making those calls.

Side projects may encourage people to work overtime.

People who enjoy working on a side project may feel more open to working extra hours on it. If people spend extra hours during the work day on the side project, they may feel the need to catch up on other projects after work hours. Or, if people spend most of their time on one project due to a deadline or emergency, they may also feel the need to spend time on the other project.

Too much overtime can result in unrealistic expectations, a bad reputation, and employee burnout.

Side projects may result in time and attention being spent on non-priorities.

Sometimes, we don’t prioritize a side project because our prioritization skill is lacking. Sometimes, we don’t prioritize a side project because we know it isn’t a priority. But if it isn’t a priority, why take it on as a side project?

Taking on a side project takes time, attention, and opportunity cost away from the priority. This can be wasteful.

Side projects may encourage an attitude of NIMBY.

If people see a problem in the commons, one thing they may do is come together to solve it. That involves setting their own interests aside to focus on improving life for the collective. But if you see someone who always takes on solving the problem themselves, life for the collective can be improved without setting your own interests aside.

In this way, side projects can encourage individualism in environments where there is a collective interest.

So while I can see some value in taking on side projects, I also see some potential unwanted side effects. Perhaps there’s some way to take on side projects while addressing these side effects, but that will take some more thinking time in the future.

Reflections on productivity and the allure of the ineffective path

I recently stumbled across this idea when reading It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work:

When people focus on productivity, they end up focusing on being busy. Filling every moment with something to do. And there’s always more to do!

This got me thinking about the nature of productivity.

We’re socialized into thinking it’s always good to be productive.

People wear the label “busy” with pride. They brag about being constantly busy. It’s become a societal status symbol.

(But the opposite of “busy” isn’t “lazy.” You can still be “effective” without being “busy.”)

We may also value productivity because it feels good on a biochemical level.

The brain releases dopamine every time we complete something on our to-do list. This produces a good feeling in the body.

It doesn’t matter if that thing we crossed off is important or even urgent. We feel good when we complete things. And we feel even better when we complete more things.

And the fastest and easiest way to do more things? Do the things we feel like doing. Do the things we can do in the least time with the least effort.

(Not the most important things. Because often the most important things we have to do are complicated, time-consuming, and not something we want to do when we’re not in the right mood.)

These may be some reasons we value productivity in the first place.

But are there any other issues with productivity?

The Eisenhower matrix suggests that we should prioritize important tasks over non-important tasks. And within the important tasks, we should prioritize urgent ones over non-urgent ones.

But we don’t always judge importance the same way.

At our best, we evaluate importance based on our values, principles, and responsibilities.

But sometimes, we evaluate importance from a place of fear and scarcity.

Sometimes things remain undone on our to-do list for weeks, months, or years longer than we wanted them to.

Eventually, we may feel driven to get these things done—not necessarily because they uphold our values, but because we’re afraid that they will never get done or that we’re somehow inadequate for not completing them.

Sometimes things have deadlines that drive us to do them.

We may be compelled to do these not because our best self would prioritize them but because we experience the fear of missing out.

So while productivity drives us to get things done, we aren’t always driven to do the things that matter.

Now, focusing on the important implies that there are things on our to-do lists that aren’t going to be prioritized. This means that we have to choose not to do some things that are on our to-do lists.

This can feel uncomfortable. This can feel like we’re not being productive.

It’s also related to why I sometimes resist scheduling buffer time into my calendar when I time-block my week. Although this buffer time is there to ensure I can complete my highest priorities, I feel like I could be scheduling other tasks from my to-do list.

(Even though those other tasks are, by definition, not priorities.)

This drive to cram as much as possible into our schedules leads to another side effect: no downtime, which can lead to exhaustion or burnout.

(And it’s hard to do the things that matter when we’re burned out or have no energy.)

In reflecting on productivity, one of the outstanding questions I’m still pondering is, what about maintenance tasks?

(Maintenance tasks are those things that aren’t of critical importance, but we usually do them to keep things running smoothly. Chores are one example of a maintenance task.)

Is it that eventually, maintenance tasks will become priorities? The need for maintenance tasks grows the longer they go undone? (In which case, is this different from what I mentioned above, where things appear to grow in importance by virtue of not being done?)

Or should a certain amount of time be budgeted on some cadence for this work? (In tech, we sometimes budget for things like tech debt or bugs when planning the team’s capacity.)

Integrating MOCs with PARA

There are many motivations for maintaining a Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system. Many books, courses, videos, articles, etc., also teach different ways to build a PKM system. This can sometimes confuse people because they don’t understand the purpose of a specific framework or aren’t consciously aware of why they want to build and maintain a PKM system.

💭 Why do you want to build a PKM system?

Two of the most popular PKM ideas come from the cohort-based courses Building a Second Brain (BASB; taught by Tiago Forte) and Linking Your Thinking (LYT; taught by Nick Milo). In a previous tweet, I summarized the difference between these courses as the former focuses on producing outputs, whereas the latter focuses on developing thought.

While Forte certainly emphasizes folders and Milo indeed emphasizes links, I don’t think Forte is anti-links, nor do I think Milo is anti-folders. And in many ways, I don’t believe their recommendations are mutually exclusive. (I integrate both of their ideas into my PKM system.)

I wrote a blog post about one example of this. Traditionally, Projects-Areas-Resources-Archive (PARA) is done with a folder-based approach. However, it is possible to implement PARA with a Map of Content (MOC)-based system.

Some people don’t see the need for PARA because they use their PKM primarily for thinking. Their PKM isn’t output-focused, such as a PKM used to support someone who writes a newsletter, produces content for YouTube, or manages their business.

While I certainly agree PARA isn’t necessary, I think that even for PKM systems focused on thinking, PARA can sometimes be helpful.

PARA is designed to be helpful for creative and productive expression. But not all expression is external. Even when we’re developing our thoughts, we are expressing ourselves.

One of the ways it can be helpful is by directing our thinking.

If your PKM is primarily for thinking, you’re probably a pretty curious person. And when you’re curious, thoughts can be unbounded.

This is great, but it isn’t without consequences.

We may find that our thinking becomes unbalanced. Our diverse interests may lead us to have too much breadth in our PKM without much depth. Or maybe we do have depth, but that depth isn’t in things that are important to us. Perhaps that depth is related to thoughts driven by places that our attention has been drawn to by the news, a podcast we listened to, or social media.

And a lot of breadth can also potentially decrease the efficiency with which we can see connections between unrelated ideas.

I think PARA can help with this.

Just as it can be helpful to focus on a few goals at a time, it can also be beneficial to focus your thinking on a few topics at a time.

This may look like having a project in your PARA to develop a MOC on a topic of interest.

And this doesn’t mean you need to ignore moments of inspiration. It’s just an opportunity to focus your attention and effort and be more intentional about your thinking.

I shared some examples of Obsidian-based structures on Github, but I’ll provide a few more examples here to illustrate.

A project represents materials and tasks linked to a goal with a deadline.

# Projects
– [[Develop MOC on board games]]
– [[Collide Oh, the Places You’ll Go! MOC with Everything Everywhere All At Once MOC]]
– [[Schedule newsletter]]

💭 What goals/finish lines are you currently working towards?

An area represents a sphere of activity, such as a role or responsibility, with an ongoing standard to maintain.

# Areas
– [[Weekly newsletter]]
– [[Learning circle]]
– [[Car]]

💭 What roles and responsibilities are you currently maintaining?

A resource represents materials related to things that you’re currently interested in.

# Resources
– [[Board games]]
– [[PKM]]
– [[Recipes]]

💭 What topics are you currently interested in?

And here are example notes for a project, area, and resource:

# Schedule newsletter
> [!IMPORTANT] Definition of Done: Newsletter is scheduled in ConvertKit to be released on July 10, 2022.
https://fortelabs.co/blog/para
– [[BASB]]
– [[LYT]]
– [[PKM]]

# Weekly newsletter
> [!IMPORTANT] Standard to be Maintained: Newsletter is published on Sunday each week.
https://convertkit.com
– [[Writing tips]]
– [[Queue of newsletter ideas]]

# Board games
There are many [[Types of board games]]. One of my favourite types is [[Social deduction games]]. [[Social deduction games are good because they build trust]], and [[Social deduction games are bad because they erode trust]]. I’m looking forward to the arrival of my copy of [Blood on the Clocktower](https://bloodontheclocktower.com)–where the heck is my shipping notice?!

Everything Everywhere All At Once

SPOILER WARNING: I will be talking extensively about Everything Everywhere All At Once in this article. I recommend against reading further if you have yet to see the movie.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a fast-paced movie that strikes me as having absurdism themes and also often being absurd in itself. It is broken into three parts: Everything, Everywhere, and All At Once. The film starts with themes that are dark, heavy, and painful. The featured themes become lighter, loving, and empowered as it progresses.

I will start by talking about Dr. Seuss.

In part 2 of the movie (i.e. Everywhere), Joy hands Evelyn a book called Everything Everywhere All At Once. This book reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. However, whereas the cover of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! features a person standing on an elevated platform, the cover of Everything Everywhere All At Once features a person being sucked down into a bagel.

And the similarities don’t stop there. Many themes are shared between Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Shame

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes, “I’m afraid that some times / you’ll play lonely games too. / Games you can’t win / ’cause you’ll play against you.”

This idea of loneliness takes many forms in Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Perhaps the most obvious is the role of intergenerational trauma in the movie.

Early on in the movie, Evelyn has a flashback to her birth. One of her first experiences being alive is a doctor telling her father, “I’m sorry. It’s a girl.” So she’s already a disappointment early on in her existence. This starts the feeling of disconnection between her and Gong Gong.

This disconnection is then perpetuated in Evelyn’s relationship with her daughter. Just as Evelyn spends her entire life trying to make her father proud so she may finally feel a sense of connection with him, Joy spends most of the movie (lifetimes across many universes) seeking a relationship with her mother. Regarding the relationship she longs for, Joy says, “I was just looking for someone who could see what I see. Feel what I feel.”

In Dare to LeadBrené Brown says, “Shame is the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. Here’s the definition of shame that emerged from my research: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.”

Shame plays a predominant role throughout Everything Everywhere All At Once.

There are numerous scenes where Joy feels shame about her experiences with her mother.

Early in the movie, Joy tries to introduce her girlfriend to Gong Gong. She says, “Becky is my… Shit, how do you say it? She is my…” Evelyn interrupts her and says, “Good friend. Becky is a very good friend.” Here, Joy may feel shame about being gay.

Shortly after, as Joy is leaving the laundromat, Evelyn rushes after her and says, “Joy, wait, please. I have something to say to you.” Joy asks, “What?” Evelyn pauses and then responds, “You… You have to try and eat healthier. You are getting fat.” Here, Joy may feel shame about her weight.

And then in the IRS building, when Joy arrives in the elevator with a pig on a leash, Evelyn asks, “Why do you look so stupid?” Here, Joy may feel shame about the way she dresses.

But shame isn’t limited to the relationship between Evelyn and Joy. Evelyn experiences her own shame throughout the movie as well.

One example of this is when Evelyn, Waymond, and Gong Gong first sit down with Deirdre at the IRS. At one point, Waymond tries to address Deirdre’s concerns by saying, “Sorry, my wife confuses her hobbies for businesses. An honest mistake.”

Immediately after hearing this, you can see Evelyn lower her head and look down in what looks like an experience of shame. And as expected, she gets defensive in response. She claims that Deirdre is always trying to confuse them with big words, and then yells at Deirdre claiming that they will bring Joy to their future meetings.

It seems like a common response to respond to experiences of shame by trying to shame others.

(In fact, I think this is what is happening in the “You are getting fat” scene between Evelyn and Joy. I suspect that when Joy turns around and asks, “What?,” Evelyn experiences a feeling of shame about her relationship with Joy and thus fires back with her fat comment instead of inviting her and Becky to the New Year’s Eve party.)

Shame is a very painful emotion. This is what motivates Joy to create the bagel:

Joy: ‘Cause you see, when you really put everything on a bagel, it becomes this.

Waymond: Come on. Run, Evelyn.

Joy: The truth.

Evelyn: What is the truth?

Joy: Nothing matters.

Evelyn: No, Joy. You don’t believe that.

Joy: Feels nice, doesn’t it? If nothing matters, then all the pain and guilt you feel for making nothing of your life, it goes away.

Now, the bagel has a cult following. What do all these people seem to have in common?

Just as a bagel has a hole in the middle, the bagel versions of people in the movie seem to think they’re incomplete too. Bagel Joy (i.e. Jobu Tupaki) thinks she’s incomplete without her mother. Bagel Deirdre thinks she’s unloveable. Bagel Chad believes that he’s useless.

Joy says, “I got bored one day, and I put everything on a bagel. Everything. All my hopes and dreams, my old report cards, […]” And, understandably, someone could feel shame with the weight of all those (internal and external) unmet expectations.

In seeing Joy as Jobu Tupaki, Evelyn says, “No, I’m not like you. You’re young, and your mind is always changing. I still know who I am.” When Evelyn says that she still knows who she is, it makes me think that she’s implying that Joy has lost (part of) herself–that Joy may be broken. But as Joy responded, “I am your daughter. Your daughter is me. Every version of Joy is Jobu Tupaki. You can’t separate us.”

Wherever you go, there you are.

Suffering

Now, for most of the movie, we see Joy spending her time doing one thing: looking for Evelyn. As she puts it, “I’ve been trapped like this for so long… experiencing everything… I was hoping you would see something I didn’t… that you would convince me there was another way.” She spends all her time waiting for Evelyn to show her something different.

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, there is a similar section about The Waiting Place. Dr. Seuss writes, “[…] a most useless place. / The Waiting Place… / […] / Waiting for the fish to bite / or waiting for wind to fly a kite / or waiting around for Friday night / or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake / or a pot to boil, or a Better Break / or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants / or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. / Everyone is just waiting.”

Notice that when Joy is stuck in The Waiting Place, she isn’t being presentInstead, she’s spending all her time in other universes, hoping it will lead to a different outcome.

She tells Evelyn, “Not a single moment will go by without every other universe screaming for your attention. Never fully there. Just a lifetime of fractured moments, contradictions, and confusion. With only a few specks of time where anything actually makes any sense.”

As Waymond explained to Evelyn when she first learns about verse jumping, every decision one makes branches off into multiple universes.

Sometimes we decide and then find out that we don’t get the outcome we were trying to get. We can get depressed if we think too much about that alternate universe–screaming for our attention–where we made a different choice that got us a better outcome.

Sometimes we decide (or know that we’re going to have to make a decision) but don’t know whether we will get the outcome we were trying to get. We can get anxious if we think too much about that alternate universe–screaming for our attention–where there may have been a different decision that would have brought us a better outcome.

As a result, our mind is continuously pulled away from the present. We’re drawn towards those other universes of past and future. This results in suffering.

To this, Waymond tells Evelyn, “My dear Evelyn, I know you. With every passing moment, you fear you might have missed your chance to make something of your life. I’m here to tell you every rejection, every disappointment has led you here. To this moment. Don’t let anything distract you from it.”

Not only is it painful to not live in the present, but it is also incredibly disempowering because you’re focused on what could have been rather than what you can do right now. (At least, it is disempowering for Evelyn before she has access to everything everywhere all at once.)

Joy also speaks to the painfulness of this. She says, “But you see how everything we do gets washed away in a sea of every other possibility.”

No matter how much we accomplish or how successful we are, we always seem overwhelmed by something else.

Those other universes where we didn’t fail? They scream for our attention.

Those other universes where we didn’t experience so much pain? They scream for our attention.

Those other universes where we were more efficient and saved more of our valuable time? They scream for our attention.

With all those other universes constantly screaming for our attention, we forget the present and instead focus on the painful screams.

One other thing that results in suffering is attachment.

Joy: For most of our history, we knew the Earth was the center of the universe. We killed and tortured people for saying otherwise. That is, until we discovered that the Earth is actually revolving around the Sun, which is just one sun out of trillions of suns. And now look at us, trying to deal with the fact that all of that exists inside of universe out of who knows how many. Every new discovery is just a reminder–

Evelyn: We’re all small & stupid.

Joy: And who knows what great new discovery is coming next… to make us feel like even smaller pieces of shit.

When we become attached to an idea, a thought, a form of understanding, we can set ourselves up to feel like even smaller pieces of shit. In this scene with the rocks, Joy points out this can happen when that attachment is severed–when we learn that idea/thought/understanding wasn’t, in fact, accurate.

Disempowerment

In addition to The Waiting Place, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! talks about the idea of a Lurch. Dr. Seuss writes, “I’m sorry to say so / but, sadly, it’s true / that Bang-ups / and Hang-ups / can happen to you. / You can get all hung up / in a prickle-ly perch. / And your gang will fly on. / You’ll be left in a Lurch.”

One of the most moving parts of the movie for me was a scene that illustrated the idea of being left in a Lurch:

Joy: Mom… Just… Just stop. Good for you. You’re figuring your shit out. And that’s great. I’m really, really happy for you. But I’m… I’m tired. I don’t want to hurt anymore, and for some reason when I’m with you, it just… It just hurts the both of us. So, let’s just go our separate ways, okay? Just let me go.

Evelyn: Okay.

Both internal and external things can leave us in a Lurch.

One example of an internal source is in the rock scene I recently quoted.

We commonly assume that our thoughts are true–that our thoughts are facts about the universe. We see many examples of these throughout the movie:

  • My father isn’t proud of me.
  • I’m unloveable.
  • I’m useless alone.
  • I’m not connected to my mother.

But thoughts do not have a property of truthiness. Sometimes they may correspond to things in the universe that are true. But the thought itself is not true. It’s just a thought.

Sometimes thoughts are helpful, but sometimes they leave us feeling hung up on something. When this happens, they often aren’t helpful.

(Random aside because I felt it was fitting here.)

The Work by Byron Katie provides four questions to help explore the nature of our thoughts:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

(End aside.)

Here is one example of an external source that can leave us in a Lurch:

Joy: Is it that I can’t be here, or that I’m not allowed to be here?

Evelyn: Hey! You show them some respect!

Officer: Hands where I can see them.

Joy: See, I can physically be here. But what you meant to say is you’re not allowing me to be here.

Sometimes an authority figure may tell us that we can’t do something. In this scene, the authority figure is a police officer. However, authority figures can also be parents (e.g. Gong Gong), spouses (e.g. Evelyn), IRS agents (e.g. Deirdre), employers (e.g. chef Evelyn’s boss), etc.

When these authority figures tell us that we can’t do something, it’s often inaccurate and disempowering. While our actions may have consequences if we make those choices, those choices remain ours.

You can see this play out in this scene with Joy and the police officer. The police officer tells Joy that she can’t be in the area (or the consequence is that she’ll be arrested). Joy still chooses to stay there, and as a result, the consequence is that he arrests her.

Feeling disempowered is one of the things that can leave people feeling hung up and in a Lurch. It can prevent us from seeing possibilities to keep moving and make us feel confused about how we can move forward.

Acceptance

Another similarity I saw with Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is the idea of a journey. Dr. Seuss writes, “So… / be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray / or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, / you’re off to Great Places! / Today is your day! / Your mountain is waiting. / So… get on your way!

The way I read this is that each of us has our journey with successes and positive emotions (i.e. Great Places) and failures and negative emotions (i.e. your mountain).

In a recent podcast with Greg Nyman, Brooke Castillo says, “The hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life is feel your feelings.”

As Joy mentioned, the pain and guilt she experiences can be overwhelming. She says, “Do you know why I actually built the bagel? It wasn’t to destroy everything. It was to destroy myself. I wanted to see if I went in, could I finally escape?”

So just as I use food (i.e. boxes of cookies) to avoid listening to my emotions, Joy uses food (i.e. the everything bagel) to avoid listening to her emotions.

At the movie’s beginning, Evelyn uses work (i.e. laundry, taxes, making breakfast for Gong Gong) to avoid listening to her emotions.

However, by the movie’s end, Evelyn changes her relationship with her emotions. I’ll speak more about this later.

Nihilism

So now, let’s jump to a prominent theme in the movie.

Nihilism is at the forefront when Joy introduces Evelyn to the truth: nothing matters.

This perspective allows Joy some relief from the pain and guilt she experiences. It also leads her to a path of destruction as she kills many people in many universes as she searches for Evelyn. Evelyn also walks a destructive path after Joy helps her see the truth–Evelyn signs her divorce papers with Waymond, stabs Waymond, and smashes a laundromat window with a baseball bat.

However, whereas Joy gets stuck in nihilism, Evelyn finds a way to transcend it.

There is a scene in the movie where Evelyn remembers a bunch of her experiences with Waymond. A moment where their hands touch. A moment where she sees Waymond looking at the television. A moment where Waymond finds the remote.

She remembers all of these meaningless moments. But then she starts to see that these same meaningless moments were meaningful to her. These same meaningless moments generated her feelings of love for and joy with Waymond.

Then the scene jumps to the movie-universe Waymond. He says, “So, even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say… In another life, I would have really liked… just doing laundry… and taxes with you.”

Even though doing laundry and taxes is meaningless, Waymond would have chosen that universe. Because even though doing laundry and taxes is meaningless, they could be meaningful to Waymond because that’s how he would get to spend his life with Evelyn.

When Evelyn sees that, even though everything is meaningless, she can create her own meaning, she ends her destructive actions and hugs Waymond.

This is when Evelyn transcends nihilism and realizes existentialism.

Existentialism

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes, “You can steer yourself / any direction you choose.”

This is what Evelyn sees. The googly eyes are meaningless. She can choose to see them as meaningless. Or she can steer herself in a direction where she thinks of the googly eyes as being stupid. Or she can steer herself in a direction where she considers the googly eyes as Waymond injecting fun into their life of laundry and taxes.

Waymond alludes to this power earlier in the movie when he says, “You underestimate how the smallest decisions can compound into significant differences over a lifetime.” I like to think of this as the Law of Attraction at work.

It is a small decision to see the googly eyes as “stupid.” But that decision has massive downstream effects, such as Evelyn losing her joy and Waymond serving her divorce papers.

Evelyn foreshadows this conclusion by saying, “I can think of whatever nonsense I want and somewhere… …and somewhere out there, it exists. It’s real.”

(Waymond is remarkable in his own way. He reaches a similar existentialist conclusion. He describes this as he says, “When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything.” This is how he continues to love Evelyn through a life of laundry, taxes, and her not having time to talk to him anymore.)

This role of the Law of Attraction may produce some existential angst for people because it spotlights our role in our results. As Landmark puts it, we can be in a vicious circle when we allow our thoughts to roam unchecked.

Evelyn mourns this when she says, “Another year, hmm. Pretending we know what we’re doing but really, we’re just going around in circles.” Despite her hating it, she thought that she would produce different results by doing laundry and taxes every year. She thought that she would have a happy family. She thought that she would have a successful business. She felt that she would be pleased with how her father perceived her. But every year was the same thing.

And like a vicious circle, our results always support the thoughts that generate them.

That isn’t to say that existentialism is a destination–it is a journey with challenges along the way.

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes, “Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? / How much can you lose? How much can you win? / And IF you go in, should you turn left or right… / or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? / Or go around back and sneak in from behind? / Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, / for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.”

This reminds me of the paradox of choice. Yes, it is potent to realize that you can create meaning. At the same time, it can feel very confusing when you have every other universe screaming for your attention.

For instance, when Evelyn first verse jumps, Deirdre says to her, “Mrs. Wang. Hello? Look, I’m sure you have a lot on your mind, but I cannot imagine anything mattering more than the conversation we are now having concerning your tax liability.”

At the same time, in another universe, Waymond says to her, “I know you have a lot of things on your mind, but nothing could possibly matter more than this conversation we are having right now concerning the fate of every single world of our infinite multiverse.”

These situations may result in some form of analysis paralysis.

However, as Dr. Seuss says in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, “Out there things can happen / and frequently do / to people as brainy / and footsy as you. / And when things start to happen, / don’t worry. Don’t stew. / Just go right along. / You’ll start happening too.”

We don’t need to fixate on making the perfect choice. We can’t escape failures. We can’t escape uncomfortable emotions. Life constantly presents us with ups and downs.

If you recall earlier, when I mentioned that Evelyn changed her relationship with her emotions, this is an example:

Evelyn: Wait. You are getting fat. And you never call me even though we have a family plan.

Joy: What?

Evelyn: And it’s free. You only visit when you need something, and you got a tattoo, and I don’t care if it’s supposed to represent our family, you know I hate tattoos. And of all the places I could be, why would I want to be here with you? Yes, you’re right. It doesn’t make sense.

Waymond: Evelyn… Stop. That’s enough.

Joy: Let her finish.

Evelyn: Maybe it’s like you said, maybe there is something out there, some new discovery that’ll make us feel like even smaller pieces of shit. Something that explains why you still went looking for me through all of this noise. And why, no matter what… …I still want to be here with you. I will always, always want to be here with you.

Joy: So, what? You’re just going to ignore everything else? You could be anything, anywhere. Why not go somewhere where your… Where your daughter is more than just… this? Here, all we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense.

Evelyn: Then I will cherish these few specks of time.

Evelyn chose the present. Even though she doesn’t always feel connected with her daughter… Even though she feels angry… Even though she has all these reasons to escape the present… Evelyn chooses to embrace the good and bad of life. This allows her to be fully present and genuinely lean into her power.

So, although this movie brought us on a journey full of shame, emptiness, loneliness, disconnection, pain, guilt, trauma, and the absurd… I ultimately think this movie is intende,d to be an empowering one.

As Evelyn puts it, “We can do whatever we want. Nothing matters.”