The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Recently, I’ve been reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, upon the Twitter recommendation of Leo Polovets.

It’s a modern paean to Stoicism, written with irreverence and very contemporary examples.

Still, I’m partial to the argument because I’m partial to Stoic philosophy. Some of the key things it’s reminded me of include:

  • You shouldn’t tie your sense of identity // values to things you don’t control, i.e. how smart people think you are.
  • You shouldn’t link fault and responsibility (you can be responsible for the outcome without having credit/fault. See: management).
  • You should focus yourself on the things you can control.
  • Don’t spend mental and emotional energy on things outside of your control.

My own (limited) of Stoic thought includes that kind of list. The essential idea (that I keep in my head) is that your happiness is a result of a fraction — what you have, divided by what you spend your life worrying about. You can’t control the numerator (what happens) but you can control the denominator (where you spend your mental and emotional energy).

One nice thing that Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, takes pains to point out is that avoiding possible bad outcomes is a backwards way of thinking about things. Bad things happen: you should be ready to deal with them, not go out of your way to avoid them.

As a corollary, spending time being afraid of what other people think/do does more damage by inhibiting your actions (and your sense of freedom/control) than you get back by protecting yourself. Some people want to be respected as an artist: that can lead them to not share their art. OK, but why are (hypothetical) you worried about other people not liking your art?

There’s a real flipside, of course. The amount of fear you have is also a function of your privilege (// power). If you have very little power, then it might be best for you to avoid risk. In that sense, the author’s specific scriptures probably apply best to moderately well-earning white men.

Still, I think it’s worth stepping back and thinking about what you spend your energy on and what you want to value.

Busy Work and Work Volume

Recently, a colleague of mine recommended the book Slack to me.

I’m only part way through, but I have to say I like it a lot — mostly because it help to post hoc justify my own decisions.

I recall when I was first placed into a management role. I’d interviewed for a web developer role; gotten it; and then a couple of days before discovered that I’d have a designer reporting to me (who had started one week before me).

As this was my first “corporate” job, I was at a bit of a loss. Two things I did was to read a lot of management books, and listen to the backlog of Manager Tools.

The second was to struggle with “how much” work to assign to people (first; the designer; somewhat later, a statistician).

On the one hand, you want people to be as productive as possible. On the other, people that spend all of them time doing their “work” would never get better at it. That seems less than ideal.

Also, I ran into a few occasions where I’d assigned some work, and then during that week some needed change occurred — in a couple of cases, a client pitch. In some others, I’d just read something and wanted to bring it into the workplace.

In those two situations I’d get the question “Well, when am I meant to work on that?”

Gosh, I don’t know, I thought. During the workday?

I ended up making up a rule of thumb, and then centering our weekly one on ones on that rule. The rule was:

  • 60% of your time on day to day.
  • 20% of your time on learning to do your job better.
  • 20% of your time on “process improvement”, to make your job faster/easier.

If I “assigned” (or they had scheduled) more than 60% of their “weekly hours” to their day job, I regarded them as overcommitted and tried to shift deadlines around or reprioritize.

I can’t say I was fantastic about it — you’d have to ask them — but reading Slack reminds me very strongly of doing that.

In brief, the argument (which occurs in other books, e.g. The Goal) is that people that are always busy impede the flow of work through the organization. The busier your are, the higher the latency for any additional work. If you have high latency, then efficiency in work further on through the organization is very low and total task latency is high.

Or: if you want an organization that is flexible, then you need to build in flex time.