Weekly Head Voices #214: One Main Thing


Figure 1: View from a family walk in Hermanus. I was surprised by the beauty here, memories of years ago apparently faded.

Figure 1: View from a family walk in Hermanus. I was surprised by the beauty here, memories of years ago apparently faded.

You are reading the 214th edition of the WHV, the first of 2021 (hurrah), and spottily covering the intersections of my consciousness with the period of time from Monday, January 11 to Sunday, January 24 of the year 2021.

I’m not entirely happy with the water-tightness of this coverage, but the 2020-2021 year transition post, which I hope you’ve read or at least heard about, is probably worth this bit of start-point haziness.

First rule of blogging: We don’t blog about blogging

As you know, I really love Hugo, the software tool with which I can write these posts in Emacs (text editor, you heathens) and then convert them to the fast static pages that you are now reading.

The one thing I was a bit disappointed with, was the lack of some form of built-in yearly post archives.

Well, while writing the year transition post, this disappointment spiked into action, and so I applied just enough internet and elbow grease to scratch my yearly archive itch on this blog.

This post shows you how to do it, and here you can see the result, yearly archives for all of the posts on this blog!

As a first step on my path to become better at asynchronous communication, I wrote an introductory blog post on the topic.

I’m not as happy with it as I would have liked to be, but it’s the line in the sand that I really wanted to draw.

More importantly, I’ve been able to get a few people to read it.

Signal: I told you so

Thanks to WhatsApp recently making clear that they will be sharing increasing amounts of the massive amounts of your data at their disposal with all other companies in the Facebook family, many folks have been looking for alternatives.

Even more fortunately, many of those folks have been choosing the most pragmatically private alternative, namely Signal.

You might recall that I started recommending that we use Signal back in January of 2016, which is infinity years ago in internet time.

Telegram does indeed count as an alternative to WhatsApp, but its chats are by default not end-to-end encrypted, and it’s still backed by a for-profit company. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if your concern is privacy now and in the future, Signal is by far the better choice.

Anyways, I am happy to see more of my contacts appear in the Signal list.

One Main Thing

In 2011, I wrote about starting the day by writing down concretely the tasks one would like to complete by the end of the day.

A few years later, I picked up a tip from a podcast with Sam Harris and Derren Brown that one should explicitly ask the question which tasks would satisfy you the most at the end of the day.

(Interestingly, in the 2018 post above I misquoted my 2011 post as suggesting that one writes down “the two to three really important tasks for the day”. That “two to three” came from some other memory which I can’t track down right now.)

Last year I ran into Lubbock’s far more eloquent formulation:

If we are ever in doubt about what to do, it is a good rule to ask ourselves what we shall wish on the morrow that we had done. – John Lubbock

In the comments to that post, friend AJ added the following:

Another iteration of what to do next that I recently heard was Gary Kellers version: The One Thing.

I have not yet gotten around to reading The One Thing, but I think AJ’s comment did plant a seed…

Fast forward a few months, and I have started to realise that my most productive and satisfying days often coincide with the days when I have the guts in the morning to commit to one main thing for the day.

Conversely, when I don’t select and commit to One Main Thing, but due to deadlines and other expectations put more than two or more bigger items on my list, that day has a high probability of leaving me quite frazzled by its end.

One Main Thing days are scary, because I feel like there is always a long list of things I’m not going to get to, and people I’m going to have to disappoint.

However, selecting that One Main Thing wisely, explicitly committing to it, and then knocking it off after a few hours of focus is undeniably satisfying, and will probably help a bunch of people.

Furthermore, it turns out that even with this commitment, one does still manage to get some of the little things done in the scraps of left-over time.

You know, just after lunch, just before dinner and so on.

Pay some bills, answer a few emails, and then dive back into your One Main Thing.

Interstitial projects

In addition to this, it turns out some of my projects can be specifically treated as interstitial.

This is the label I’ve chosen for those projects that 1. are supported by low-friction tools that are instantly available and 2. benefit from slivers of thought.

For example, I’m working on a few blog posts dealing with issues I come across during my work.

During the day, I see something that warrants a section in one of the blog posts…

Switch to Emacs, hotkey search the relevant notes file, hotkey search the relevant section in that file, type the sentence or two in your head, switch back to work.

That took all of a minute or two, but now there are two new sentences, and we all know what sentences do, right? They compound into blog posts!

Do you want to produce or consume?

I’m technically not allowed to write about something that appeared after the published timespan of a WHV, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the nudge that got WHV #214 off the ground.

That nudge is this post by Noeska, and specifically these words:

Do I want to produce or consume?

You should really go read the post for context, but if you need to hear that sentence, you’ll probably understand exactly what it means.