Sunday, August 29, 2010

Get Committed!

   I've got ideas.  You've got ideas.  All God's chilluns got ideas.

   But do we act on them?  No, usually we file them away, procrastinate on them, and eventually forget them.  Instead we need to get committed.  No, I don't mean to a mental institution; I mean that we need to commit to actually bring these ideas to fruition.

   There are several levels of this.  First is the new-agey affirmation.  Just look in a mirror and say to yourself, "I will do this!" (stating just what it is you will do).  And ta-dah, you've committed to do it, and you'll never procrastinate or forget it.


   Yeah, right.  Better duck, here come the stinky monkeys!

   Okay, you are indeed now a little bit committed to it.  More than before.  On a scale of 1 to 10, you've probably gone from a 1 or 2 (after all, if it were much higher, you probably wouldn't need such help), to maybe one notch higher.

   The next level is to remind yourself of it often.  Put a sticky-note on the mirror, maybe even the same one where you made the above committment.  Tape a note on the door, so you always see it as you leave.  Set up your iGoogle start page to include your task list from RememberTheMilk.  Eventually you'll get so sick of being pestered about it, that you'll get off your duff and do it just to stop the pestering.

   RememberTheMilk works great for short tasks that I just need to be reminded to get out of the way, like writing this blog entry.  But what about longer-term ideas, like, oh, say, starting a blog in the first place?  You can steal a page from the "Getting Things Done" philosophy, and put the idea's "Next Action" into RTM.  But for most of us, there's something even easier and better.

   You interact with people.  You have friends, neighbors, relatives, colleagues, and probably a boss.  Maybe fellow-members of clubs.  Perhaps you have some minions, henchmen, or other underlings.  (Don't count on zombies though.  They tend not to articulate well enough.)  And of course blog readers (or at least you hope you do).  You can leverage them, to help you commit.

   How?  Very simple.  Just tell them what you intend to do.  You don't need to tell them to remind you, or pressure you, or check up on you.  Just tell them, for instance, "I'm going to join Toastmasters!" or "I'm going to tell my boss how software development should be managed!" or "I'm going to start a blog on daring to speak up, or, uh, fix situations that are wrong, or, um, get things done, and, like, all that... sort of... stuff...."

   Your own mind will apply the pressure.  After all, you don't want to disappoint your adoring public, do you?

   Your turn!  What's your favorite tactic for getting in gear?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Challenge Lies!

   Today's entry is inspired by one of my favorite podcasters.  The podcasts contain mainly technical information, but there are a lot of politics about the subject too -- including lots of misinformation and outright lies.  Not from him, that is!  I mean in general.  Especially from the other side, of course.  ;-)

   Over the past few years, he has adopted what he calls a "No-Shrug Policy", and encourages us to join him in that.  The operative word here is encourage -- not order, or direct, or even suggest, but give us courage.  Many people often lack the courage to stand up for what's right -- and that's what this blog is all about.

   All of us often encounter statements we know to be false, especially from politicians, the media, activists, or other people who really should know better.  Sometimes they're just ignorant, especially ordinary people just expressing their opinions.  But sometimes, they're in such a position that there's no way they can not know the truth!  Either they've been horrendously lazy in their fact-finding, or they're just flat-out lying.  Unfortunately, these people are usually in a position to influence others much more.

   The normal human tendency is to shrug, and say "well, that's just the way it is, they just don't get it, and they'll continue to spread their idiocy and lies no matter what we do".  There are many proverbs that tell us how dangerous this is.  "A lie left unchallenged becomes the truth."  "A big enough lie becomes the truth."  "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."  "A lie can travel around the world before the truth gets its boots on."  Etc., etc., et bloody cetera.

   Instead, he encourages us to write Letters to the Editor, call our Senaturds and Reprehensibles, speak out at Town Hall meetings, and so on.  He's even organized what he calls "The Truth Squad", where you get information on such lies that need to be countered, and help doing so.

   Am I recommending you join his Truth Squad?  Sure, if you believe strongly in our side of the issue.  But even if not, do the same thing for your side of whatever issue(s) you feel strongly about.  Counter the lies, and let the "TRVTH" shine through.  Don't just shrug it off, and above all, don't let them wear you down and make you give up.

   Now, I haven't mentioned who that podcaster is.  I wanted you to pay attention to the underlying message, regardless of where you stand on the particular issue in question.  Long story short, I'm talking about recordings of a well known radio show, Tom Gresham's Gun Talk.  Those of you who don't get the show in your area, or can't spare the time when it's on, can get it as a podcast, from the iTunes Store.  For more information, head over to

   Another side note: check out the DISC system of personality analysis.  The "I" types are the "Influencers".  They love to be in the spotlight, and to influence people's opinions.  Unfortunately, it also matters not a whit to them whether the positions they espouse are the least bit correct -- that's the domain of the "C" types, the Competents.  Does this sound like anybody you've ever heard of?  If so, then take their opinions with a large sack of salt.  (Yes, even if it reminds you of ME!)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Quitters Can Win!

   Imagine trying to knock down a brick wall by pounding your head against it.  Literally.  You finally realize that it's not exactly the smartest idea in the world.  So you quit.

   What?!  You quit?  But quitters never win, and winners never quit, right?  They (the infamous They) have been telling you that for you whole life!  So it must be right, right?

   WRONG!  Winners quit all right... but they know when and why to quit.  There is a time for everything, including ceasing to put your energy into unproductive and downright futile efforts.  Then you can put that energy into something more productive, or at least fun.

   (Mind you, there's also a time for sticking it out, and slogging through the tough times.  Conventional wisdom isn't always wrong!)

   In the specific case of knocking down a wall, after you bandage your wounds and get some painkillers, and maybe an X-ray, you can go get a sledge hammer, or a crane with a wrecking ball.  (Or hire someone to do it for you.  You don't have to do everything yourself.)  Or you might decide you really didn't need to knock that wall down after all, and go watch a movie or read a book or play a game or whatever you do for fun.  Maybe some tennis practice... against that brick wall.

   Back to the real world, though, there are all sorts of situations you can apply this to.  Your job.  Keeping up with the Joneses.  This month's governmental "War on a Vague Concept".  Whatever.  Leave a comment below, to tell us (me and the other readers, assuming there are any) what brick wall you've been banging your head against... and what you intend to do instead, now that you know it's okay to quit.

Just Do It!

   Oops!  I forgot to put up an entry last week, so you get two this week to make up for it.  And awaaay we go!

   One of Jeff Atwood's entries on his blog, Coding Horror, struck me as particularly worth referencing here.

   Those of you in the coding business (as in computer programming, not medical coding), I strongly recommend you go read his blog, not only that entry but all the others too.  This one is not all that software-centric, so the rest of you can get the point very easily, but I'll summarize anyway.  (See his blog for the upstream source.)

   He tells of a ceramics teacher, who divided the class into two groups.  The students in Group A would be graded solely on the sheer quantity of pottery produced, literally by the pound.  Those in Group B only had to produce one pot... but it alone determined their grades.  A student wanting an A, had to produce a perfect pot.

   So what happened?  The best pots came from . . . Group A, the "quantity" group!  Why?  While most of Group B was sitting around researching, theorizing, and arguing about how to build the best possible pots, Group A got off their butts and did it.  They produced some pots, perhaps not perfect pots at first, but they learned from their mistakes, and made better and better pots.

   Does this remind you of anything?  I've been trying to keep this blog not software-centric, but it sure reminds me of what we call "analysis paralysis".  Those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry.  Surely there's something in your line of work, that this describes all too well.

   There have been many short pithy phrases to describe this phenomenon.  "The best is the enemy of the good", is attributed to Voltaire (though he said it in French), and is usually taken to mean that shining examples of perfection, often discourage the efforts of those afraid of falling short of that -- possibly the efforts to begin at all, but certainly the efforts to improve.  Much more familiar to typical Americans, however, is the Nike (as in sneakers, not missiles or Greek gods) slogan: Just Do It.

   Now it's your turn.  Tell us what you've been trying to figure out how to do perfectly, to the point that it's stopping you from trying.  Tell us how you plan to proceed, and improve on its imperfections.  Don't worry about making your comment perfect, Just Do It!