Nicky's Blog

Too Many Mind

There’s a scene in The Last Samurai where Tom Cruise’s character is learning the way of the Japanese sword, or more accurately getting knocked around the field by a more skilled opponent. After getting floored again, the village leader and son of the samurai warlord leading the rebellion walks up to him and says:

Too many mind…mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind enemy. Too many mind.

That’s a phrase I can relate to.

I’ve written before about my use of the Getting Things Done methodology to try and corral all the loose ends running around in my head. I wrote in my mailing list recently that after doing the initial mind dump I had 360+ items logged in Nirvana, coming to around 250 projects1 and a whole bunch of single actions. And I've since added another 19 items to my inbox, before processing my notebooks.

That is a lot.

Ultimately, it comes down to too many mind. House purchases, garden clearance, DIY work, career goals, self improvement, a never ending list of things I want to learn and ready up on, hobbies spanning from reading and writing, to software development, to gaming, most of which I don't spend time on because of decision fatigue. Far, far easier to just watch Sopranos and West Wing clips on YouTube.

But wait; there's more. Helping my brother find a new job. Setting up regular savings to try and get ahead of house situations and the mortgage going up within the next year. I need a hair cut but fancy a change. The dog needs a hair cut but doesn't need a change. My guitars really need a maintenance, and on that topic I have two years worth of music ideas I really want to go over2. Novel ideas, short story ideas, wanting to pick up poetry again...

And writing all this out has caused me to open up a new tab and head over to the BBC News site, and then Turns out the Dilbert creator is a nut job. Huh.

That's my usual pattern, and my entire problem. It is far, far easier to get a quick dopamine fix than it is to deal with the issue at hand, but it always makes me feel worse.

Especially when the solution to to strip it all back.

I don't like accepting limitations. I don't like the concept that I am only human. I especially don't like how it makes me feel like a failure.

But that's crap. I am only human. I have set limitations, including the number of minutes I get in a day. It's up to me if I become a failure because of them.

So the first thing to strip back is that arrogance born out of perfectionism. That's not something I'll ever complete; I'll always have the version of me sitting in the background, waiting for it's time to strike. But the more I work on it, the stronger I'll be. Just like squatting in the gym.

Next: Interests. I've always been that guy that wants to go in so many directions at once. Reading, writing, music, gaming, cooking, learning (history, theology, philosophy, math3; It'll be quicker to list the topics I don't have interest in), coding, chess, board games, Magic: The Gathering (and other TCGs), Dungeons and Dragons, world building, sports, Warhammer. And that's just the list off the top of my head.

Bearing in mind I have a body and relationships to maintain, a 40 hour a week job, and various other responsibilities, I simply do not have the time and energy to pursue them all. Plus, some have more benefit than others.

So. Decisions.

I don't have the money to throw at Warhammer or Magic: The Gathering4, and keeping myself abreast of these games just fuels the wish for more. Best to say goodbye to these two for the time being. They'll still be around later.

Dungeons and Dragons, world building/leading my own group, and board games fall into the same category. I'm interested, but not enough to dedicate any real time too. It's something I'd like to be able to fit in at some point, but for now, cut.

Coding is a tough one. I've enjoyed it in the past, and even done some for my last role, but again, it's a time thing. It's not something I can really get any results for a quick 15 minute sprint. It's an activity where I'd want to spend a good one or two hours doing at a time, which is tough to fit in around my daily activities and energy levels, and so I feel bad about not doing it. This won't always be the case, but for now it is, so cut.

Learning is a tough one, and I think it's best to find a middle ground. There's nothing wrong with the pursuit of knowledge, but I don't want to just know something, I want to master it. Become academically adept with the subject matter. Be able to write a small dissertation on the topic. It's all down to that chip on my shoulder. I should have passed my A Levels, should have gone the full academic route, should be further along intellectually. It feels like a missing piece.

Maybe I'll be able to fill the hole at some point. Maybe I'll have finally worked a few extra hours out somehow. But it's not the case today, and more to the point, it's only a hole if I make it one. What I can do though is scratch that itch in other ways.

Which takes me to reading. Reading can both nourish and exhaust me, depending on the time of day and how crappy my work day was. It's a vital activity for me, one that on the whole makes me feel better. Plus, if I throw in some non-fiction every now and then, it'll scratch that particular itch for learning.

Music, and playing guitar in particular, is a salve for the crappy work days. Just Friday, after a long day in the office, I came back and spent an hour just playing around with some ideas. It scratches the learning itch in a different way, but hits those right brain notes. Same thing with cooking, if I let myself be more adventurous. Plus, if you do it right, cooking = tasty food.

Writing falls into the same category. I love being able to get thoughts and ideas out, and writing this blog every week has given me an outlet and a way to practice. Problem is I don't really allow or encourage myself to pursue them more than the necessity. My writing is limited to this blog; my cooking to the same basic recipes and on a bad day, freezer food; my music to the same albums, same guitar practices, couple clips here and there of ideas that sit in my voice memos. Sports and gaming, too, are things that require little mental effort but also a degree of selfishness, especially in the case of using the TV for watching whatever game is on.

But they help, and so a degree of selfishness is required.

In the same way, there's a few more projects that can go in the Later pile. I'd love to sort out a home recording set up, but that's just going to go unused for now. Similarly, I won't' be needed to replace my hob or washer/dryer any time soon.

Limiting myself in this way feels like I'm giving up. Like failure. It's similar to how we're encouraged to multi-task: doing more is the key to success.

But balancing is difficult when you keep adding weight in every direction, especially mismatched weight. And try as I might, I am still human.

But then how to achieve this balance?

Time Tracking.

That's next week.

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  1. In GTD, anything that requires more than one action to be complete is classed as a project, even if that project is simply 'find lamps to buy in set style -> choose lamp -> assemble and place lamp'.

  2. None of them are exactly number 1 hit material, but putting together a record has been a dream of mine since I was 16.

  3. Partly because it was something I was really good at up to a point, but mainly because I screwed up my A Level on it and still have a 15 year old chip on my shoulder because of it.

  4. I'm aware Magic: Arena can be free-to-play, but I have a number of gripes with it. Least of all the economy of it. Maybe later. Much later.