Are We Having Fun Yet?

Expat life in China

For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way – 13 time zones to be exact – from my original hometown of Rolla in south-central Missouri, on the Little Dry Fork creek. Depending on how loosely you define “city”, one could argue that CQ is the world’s largest city. In my quest for a simple life, I write these observations and admonitions from my 18th-Floor homestead.

Mind Fleet Update:

My new company, Mind Fleet, is getting closer and closer to opening its digital doors for business. Web pages are being created. A licensing contract with the English company Postcards From Space has been signed to allow Mind Fleet to sell their products in China. Thus, Mind Fleet will be an international company the first day it opens for business.

Hopefully, I will be making an announcement very soon about the Grand Opening of Mind Fleet. For now, I will simply say that this would not be possible without some outstanding help and cooperation from several people. I have tried my best to provide clear instructions, guidance, useful feedback, and support for each of the activities necessary to make Mind Fleet become a reality… but I confess that I frequently felt more like a passenger than the pilot.

Kon-Tiki 2 Update:

I received a message from Torgeir this week. He included a link to his Facebook page:

Check it out for a fascinating story, comments, and beautiful action photos and videos of young adventurers following his lead. I hope this is a step closer to seeing the completed Kon-Tiki 2 manuscript.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Regular reader know that I have been quite busy in recent weeks. In addition to my usual tightly packed schedule of domestic tranquility, elementary education antics with an active, agile second-grader (with accompanying alliteration), and various literary endeavors, I have also been receiving an education in how to start a new business – aptly named Mind Fleet – in CQ. This process of starting a new business has opened up a whole new world for me and, while daunting and close to overwhelming, it has been a fascinating experience. It is so different from my previous life that this has been like discovering a new continent.

Photo by Anrita1705

In truth, busy as I have been, this has been a fun and exciting venture into a new world – mostly fun, anyway. My blood pressure has been lower and my sleep has been better. On the home front, CS has been watching the Old Man working on the startup business. Delightfully, it has activated his latent commercial and management genes; now he wants to help make this enterprise a success. For an eight-year-old, he has some surprisingly good insights and suggestions. He is especially excited about some of the promotional items – including t-shirts in his size emblazoned with the Mind Fleet logo, the Tanno and Iguda characters, and enticing captions. He has even announced his reward for boosting sales: a robodog. We reached an understanding that the reward only comes after selling “a whole bunch” (astronomical unit) of the Postcards From Space.

On the other hand, Sunny (wife) seems to be managing her life quite well without my bumbling attempts to micromanage her. Is there a point to this rambling drivel, you may be asking? Yes, gentle reader, there is. Read on.

As part of the process of cramming extra activities into a day already fully packed with projects, routines, and commitments, I was forced to carefully prioritize my activities. The upcoming summer holiday (for CS, not me) means even less discretionary or undisturbed time (for me, not CS). Maybe your home is different, but for our family, Chester’s summer holiday means chaos on steroids going into overdrive.

This wedging of additional activities into an already full schedule meant I only had time for working on the highest ROI (return on investment) activities. Starting a company also meant more time spent in meetings and coordinating with other people – activities I thought I had left behind forever. It meant I had to watch my calendar closely to remind myself of appointments, deadlines, and commitments. A Modern Lament: How did we ever live without Wechat, Zoom, and Evernote apps? They sometimes make us crazy but they keep us from going entirely crazy.

Ultimately, this excessive busy-ness meant that I was forced to adopt new guidelines for managing my burgeoning to-do list. Let me pay homage at this point to the Chinese scholar and writer of the last century, Lin Yutang, who wrote, “The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” Hmm. “… the elimination of non-essentials”. That was the key to my new regimen. (The good doctor also wrote: “There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.” Hmm. Gonna have to try that one, also. Someday, but not this week. Too busy.)

Photo by GamerChef6

I summarize my new day-planning hierarchy thus:

  1. Eliminate the non-essential. What doesn’t need to be on my to-do list at all? What can I defer or outsource? This step also means to eliminate time spent in thinking about small changes in my daily routines that would, at best, result in tiny, tiny improvements in efficiency. Thinking about how to rearrange an established routine is an occupational hazard for perfectionists but a huge time-waster. This constant reviewing is truly a low ROI activity – plus it uses precious time and decision energy.
  2. Prioritize for the time block. (Sometimes a time block means Quiet time while my two roommates are sleeping… or morning/afternoon/evening hours… or until someone arrives home… or while I am waiting for someone). What is the most important and most valuable thing I should be doing right now?
  3. Define the task. Know exactly what you are going to do before you start. How will you know when it is finished? If appropriate, create a separate checklist for the task.
  4. Execute briskly, excellently. As I tell CS, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast… so slower is faster.” Rushing causes too many mistakes that must be corrected. Move briskly but not too briskly. Focus on one task at a time, then do it very well.
  5. Handle each item only once. Don’t plan to come back to finish things. The root of all inefficiency is unfinished projects. If an activity absolutely must be segmented, know when or where you will stop today. Complete today’s segment, then put that activity’s next step as a high priority on your calendar for the following day. This continuation will ensure a commitment to working on it until it is complete – which includes recording and reporting, plus follow-up notes and routine maintenance notes on my calendar.
  6. As much as possible, turn off all internet and phone connections until lunchtime so I can work on my chosen activities without disturbance or distractions the whole morning, a delicious luxury. If this disconnection is impossible some days, only deal with the interruptions that require immediate responses. Defer everything else until after lunch. Likewise, don’t allow distractions in my immediate environment to impede my selected activities. Keep a notepad handy for recording new ideas and reminders but don’t stop working on the immediate task.

These new guidelines have helped immensely. At least, they have kept me from spinning in circles. They allow me to continue to say, “I’m not crazy, but my life is crazy.” Following these six principles for forming and executing my day’s task lists has resulted in a marked increase in efficiency and, subsequently, in productivity. The numbers speak for themselves. I still try to work on my first love (writing) in the early morning quiet hours because that time is when I do my best creative work – and the only time when I can work without interruption – but I follow these six new guidelines when making plans for the rest of the day.

Photo by Ramdlon

However, there has been a downside to all this increased efficiency. Now, let me tell you the rest of the story:

The first negative side-effect:

By eliminating everything non-essential to focus on the highest ROI activities, every activity becomes more intense. This is inevitable because, by definition, each selected task is the most valuable and important activity at that moment. It is indisputable that working on the most important things and accomplishing them efficiently gets more important, more valuable things done. However, those things that bring the greatest rewards are usually the most demanding of our creative energy. That intensity is draining.

Side note: I quickly realized that, this level of intensity is simply not sustainable for long periods of time. For a balanced life, we need planned recreational activities as well. (Closely examine the word recreational and you find “re create”.) As Gordon MacQuarrie wrote, “Around the cabin there were incessant chores that please the hands and rest the brain.” Occasional lapses into puttering, those small, desultory activities that please your hands and rest your brain are fine, even necessary. Working with your hands is great therapy and very satisfying. Schedule your recreation to avoid exhaustion or burn-out.

The second negative side-effect:

It is inevitable that we will make some mistakes in our work. We are only human. Indeed, humans working together seem to generate even more mistakes, as in 1+1=3. These seems to be an irreducible minimum error rate, no matter how carefully we attempt to work. Therefore, when I am completing even more tasks, they are accompanied by even more mistakes.

A certain proportion of our work will need to be corrected, adjusted, removed, or replaced. Often returning to the original task for corrections is very stressful, especially if we are pressed for time or being watched by others. Thus, when I was becoming more efficient and increasing my production, it meant there were more errors to correct… which meant more stress.

The third negative side-effect:

Green’s Law (one of many): More people involved on a project means more problems which means more time to get the task completed. Miscommunications, personality clashes, egos to be soothed, lost in translation snags, excessive time spent in inconclusive meetings, endless repetition of simple instructions to people not listening closely, willful non-compliance, and systemic resistance all carry a price of increased stress and wasted time. Don’t forget illness, equipment failure, somebody broke up with his girlfriend and doesn’t feel like working today, the occasional dishonest vendor, rescheduled appointments, and the everyday hazard of traffic jams and weather-related delays. Adding more people to any group means changing the group chemistry. Add enough new people and you can completely change a company culture.

Simply put: One person can make a decision. Two people must have a discussion before reaching a decision. Three people must have a meeting before reaching a decision. Four people must have a discussion about when to hold a meeting to reach a decision. Five people must have personal assignments, monitoring, enticements, punishments, continual admonitions, and interpersonal lubrication.

So, dear reader, where does all this lead? In starting up a company that will offer a new and valuable service to the target market (students and their parents), I have come to the conclusion that control of my world has been lost. Any attempt to regain control is doomed to failure. This is an unspoken price of success.

I must tolerate the new limitations and inefficiencies; the alternative to meekly accepting them is increased hypertension. This conclusion also reaffirms – to me, anyway – the ancient wisdom of designating one day each week as a “day off”. On my 24-hour sabbitical, unless there is a genuine, indisputable, hair on fire-type emergency that demands an immediate response, I don’t do anything that day which can be deferred until the next day. For me, the sabbatical day is Friday. Don’t call me, email me, or text me on Friday and expect an instant response. I’ll get back to you on Saturday. It’s That Simple – which is, incidently, the title of one of my underselling ebooks which can be found on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and other distributors.

More reports will be made as unfolding events warrant.

Photo by johnhain

2 thoughts on “Are We Having Fun Yet?

  1. Hi Randy, glad to read your new blog. It seems your life has much changes and ventures. I am so busy in this hot summer, and my life is full of stress. So it’s pleasure to read your passage about how to balance life and make to-do list. You are right, we should learn to control our life and make plan for the day. It can help us start the new day more confidently and clearly. Sometimes I would like to waste of time, cause it makes me feel relaxed. You should also pay attention to rest and entertainment, don’t be too tired and stress. Always look forward to read you’re blogs.
    Best wishes,

  2. First of all, congratulations on your new venture, and for allowing CS to get involved. Fabulous learning for him.
    Secondly, it sounds like you need to think about systems. Try to make the time to listen to the Online Marketing Podcast, #382, where Amy Porterfield discusses the systems she uses to help her business and team run smoothly.
    Super interesting.
    Looking forward to hearing about the business launch.

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