Getting Organized

I’m focusing on organization both physically and digitally.

This means making a beautiful and effective work space. The tiny moments of frustration searching for lost cables and having a cluttered desk adds friction towards excellence.

Likewise, I’m often missing and searching for items like my car keys, phone, and random gloves/hats. So, I instituted a new rule that I always keep my cellphone in my right pants pocket now.

The most immediate trigger was reading the book Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-En-Place to Organize Your Life, Work and Mind.

Wikipedia defines mise en place as “a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” It refers to the set up required before cooking, and is often used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients …

The writer and chef Dan Charnas uses the concept of mise en place as a “philosophy” and “system” for what chefs believe and do, even going so far to call it an “ethical code”. In the kitchen, the phrase is used as a noun (i.e., the setup of the array of ingredients), a verb (i.e., the process of preparing) and a state of mind. All of these uses, however, refer to someone who knows to be well-prepared.”

Mis-en-place as a philosophy is a state of mind, a system of habits, and guiding principles towards being prepared to be excellent in work and life. It’s not just a matter of what work you do or having an exhaustive task list system. Rather, it’s the preparation and attitude before, during, and after tasks.

One of core pieces is arranging spaces. In a professional kitchen, everyone’s cooking station is optimized to allow for effective, flow movement.

Likewise, I’ve been working on arranging my workspace. This includes creating more desk space by using elevated boxes, making my walls more beautiful, adding drawer organizers, making my screen and keyboard more ergonomic, and adding a physical inbox I review daily. I’m also downsizing all my possessions, plan on creating more vertical shelving, and setting up spare screens/tablets to have dedicated view of my calendar and tasks.

Over time, I plan on re-reading Work Clean to implement each of its exercises and principles and document how that works up in my life.

Not Reading Fiction for a Month

Sometimes, residents at the monastery run different personal experiments. Daniel once went a long time without eating any sugary desserts. If anyone saw him about to eat one, we could remind him, and he had to hand it over. One time, Pan went vegan for several months in honor of another vegan friend. Several residents have done all night sitting or fasting during retreats. I was a huge fan of extra hot saunas back when we rented our old location in a large wood barrel sauna.

Last month, I realized that I was reading a lot as a sort of crutch that was taking away from my mindfulness practice. Most nights, I would lie in bed and read a fiction novel on my kindle. Technically, we’re not suppose to use any electronic screens at night, but books/kindles are allowed.

Sometimes, I found myself reading well into the night and only getting 5-6 hours of sleep then. The bad morning start would inevitably impact the quality of my morning practice which would continue into exercise period and work. Often, whenever I felt a particular other-worldly type momentum in my practice, there would be this other part of me that wants to come back to my old state — maintain a state of homeostasis. It’s weird because I often would feel better. Way more energized. Breathing with my whole body. Solid. In the world. Yet, as soon as I get to bed, a part of me wants to read and scale back that momentum.

So, at the end of the December retreat, I vowed to go 30 days without reading any fiction. That was the 27th. Today, it’s Jan 21. So, almost there.

What have I learned?

Predictably, I switched to reading a lot more non-fiction reading. I finished a new book and started reading several more. With several of the non-fiction, the content starts getting fuzzy, and I want to sleep anyway so that’s an improvement over the fiction reading.

The book I finished was Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-En-Place to Organize Your Life, Work and Mind. It has a lot of practical exercises I really enjoy and started implementing. I plan to write more on those too. So, that was a net immediate and obvious benefit over reading yet another short story.

I do want to sleep earlier though. With Soryu back and retreat starting tonight, I will have no distractions to sleep unless I journal or just continue sitting (maybe all nighters this time..).

It’s funny because most people wouldn’t consider reading to be a bad habit or distraction. Who’s it hurting after all? But, it was taking away from my highest goals and priorities. It gave me a type of pleasure and satisfaction, but it often came at making my next day slightly worse.

This isn’t the first time I’ve pinpointed reading as a bad habit. And it’s not the only one. There’s reddit, quora, news, and more. I got obsessed for weeks/months on van dwelling and mini pcs too. But, this is the first time I set a 30 day goal and got success.

Not sure what I’ll do after the 30 days. I don’t think I’ll return to fiction. If anything, I may cut back on my non-fiction now too.

Two Selves: Horse & Rider

For many of us when we practice meditation or any difficult skill, there can be an inner voice monitoring and telling ourselves what to do. For example, “Okay. We’re going to meditate now. Just pay attention to your breathe…..No, don’t think about that. Come back……Geez, this doesn’t work. I can’t do this. This place is too cold. I need to try harder…..Okay, right breathe time.”

In the Inner Game of Tennis, the author raises the interesting question, who is talking to who here? It seems like there’s the “I” that is constantly on watch keeping track of things and telling the other “me” what to do and how it’s doing. We could say this first “I” is the self-conscious ego and the other “me” is my subconscious body-self.

Often, the “I” is talking and doing too much. For most modern folks including myself, there’s a perfectionism theme to the self-conscious ego. It’s constantly feeling inadequate, upset, craving, nervous, and anxious about what’s happening and state of one’s practice.

A good metaphor here would be the “ego” as the rider, and the subconscious body-self as the “horse”. If you have ever ridden a horse (or tried to train any animal), you know that the rider doesn’t really have control. The ideal role of the rider is simply to keep the horse on track. The horse is the one doing the actual work and walking. The rider is the support. Once the horse gets into flow, the rider ideally disappears.

Likewise, in our meditation, the role of our thinking self-conscious mind is to keep track. We can use our thinking to coach ourselves rather than judge and criticize our efforts. Easy affirmations and instructions like “Nice job”, “I care about focusing”, “Come back to the breathe, friend”.

This is not a new concept. The Inner Game of Tennis was published in the 1970s. But, meditation teachers have been talking about this for thousands of years.

How to Effectively Use Facebook

In this article, I will give tips on how to effectively use Facebook for personal benefit while removing the possibility for addiction and misuse.

Facebook, along with Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and such are incentivized to capture your attention as much as possible. Their primary source of revenue is advertising therefore the more time you are glued to the screen, the better.

However, as many of us know firsthand, staring at Facebook for hours on end is not the best way to spend time. Better to be an active producer rather than passive consumer. Better to get high quality, clear input rather than low grade, diffuse input.

Yet, quitting facebook entirely is not an option for many of us. Personally, I’ve tried deactivating my account before. However, the convenience of finding and creating events via Facebook and messaging people in FB is far better than anything else I’ve found. I can get a 24 hour return message with FB that I may never get via email. Likewise, with hosting events. Finally, Facebook friending others I’ve found to be the best way to keep in touch with people over email, phone, text, or some CRM machine.

So, what to do?

Two ways I keep these benefits while removing the threat of endless time on the website.

First, identifying the problem.

The main issue is spending too much fruitless time on Facebook. Primarily, I’m looking to only use Facebook to send messages, host/respond to events, add new friends, and sometimes share or promote something about myself.

What I do not want to do is spend endless time in Facebook groups or scrolling through the Newsfeed which is the majority of the time sink.

Second, remove temptation as much as possible.

I do not have Facebook app installed on my phone. Instead, I only have the Facebook Messenger Lite app only to send/receive messages. In addition, my facebook password is a random string that I do not remember but have stored in my password manager. So, if I do need to get to FB on my phone, I can access it but requires going through my password manager. The amount of effort and time required is enough of an obstacle that I almost never do it.

Third, I use desktop browser addons/extensions to modify Facebook. For Chrome, I utilize News Feed Eradicator for Facebook and Facebook Demetricator. Similarly, for Firefox I have Disable Facebook News Feed and Facebook Demetricator via Greasemonkey.

So, my Facebook home page looks like this:

Without a Newsfeed, the only way I can waste time is to manually go visit groups, my profile, or someone else’s profile.

The Demetricator is an interesting plugin that removes the numbers such as the number of friends, number of likes, and so on from your Facebook experience. The webpage introduces it as:

The Facebook interface is filled with numbers. These numbers, or metrics, measure and present our social value and activity, enumerating friends, likes, comments, and more. Facebook Demetricator is a web browser addon that hides these metrics. No longer is the focus on how many friends you have or on how much they like your status, but on who they are and what they said. Friend counts disappear. ’16 people like this’ becomes ‘people like this’. Through changes like these, Demetricator invites Facebook’s users to try the system without the numbers, to see how their experience is changed by their absence. With this work I aim to disrupt the prescribed sociality these metrics produce, enabling a network society that isn’t dependent on quantification.

Since installing Demetricator, I’ve found I check Facebook much less habitually to see how many likes/comments/shares my posts are getting. I publish on my wall and the only real thing I care about are the comments that come back. Here’s how an example post looks without the number of likes/comments:

Now, some people may say that the NewsFeed is essential for staying connected with friends or at the very least it’s entertainment. I can only say that I’ve personally not found any lost from not having the newsfeed anymore. If I’m really interested about someone, I’ll visit their profile, or more likely, I’ll send them a message. And research has shown that for most people, Facebook is only making people more depressed and feeling less connected.

Now, if you’re astutely reading, you may notice a paradox or hypocrisy here. Because, one of my main uses of Facebook is sharing my own thoughts. Yet, I’m not seeing anyone else’s posts unless I manually browse to them. And, yeah, it’s true. I think Facebook can be beneficial if you actively curate who you’re following and who shows up on your NewsFeed. And, I think posting useful things matters more than passively, endlessly consuming other people’s random content.

One piece I haven’t yet figured out is how I can friend people at events using my phone without having the FB app installed on my phone. Perhaps, someone made an app that does only one function of allowing you to find and friend others on Facebook. I’ll have to do some research on that.

So, I would encourage you to try using these hacks and see if your relationship with Facebook improves:

  1. Remove Facebook app from your phone.
  2. Create a random password for your FB account and save it in a password manager program. (This way you can’t just randomly login to FB via browser very easily.)
  3. Use the mentioned addons to your favorite desktop web browsers to remove the Newsfeed and metric numbers from your Facebook.