Monday, October 20, 2014

Focus

You're going to have to work long hours, but not all hours are created equal.  The hours you want are the ones in which you are really moving, really getting things done, and not just busy work, but important tasks, at the core of accomplishing one of your missions.  In order to have any time like this you will need focus; that is, the ability to concentrate on the task at hand, and keep pushing through the distractions to actually accomplish something of fundamental significance.  I was fortunate, in that I was born with an almost praeternatural ability to focus on one task, to the total exclusion of everything going on around me.  The bad news is, not all people are born with focus. The good news is, that the ability can be cultivated, and improved upon - always improved upon.

As is often the case, the method is simple to understand, but difficult to actually do.  In this case, utilize a variety of the "practice makes perfect" method in order to train up your ability to focus.  It works like this:  surround yourself by as many distractions as you can, then get to work.  I realize this flies in the face of accepted "wisdom" about productivity.  Almost everyone tells you to find a quiet place, meditate, clear your mind, make your workplace free of distractions, and get to it. Then again, the accepted "wisdom" produces generation after generation of mediocrities - not exactly the goal here.

The typical method makes two large errors in its plan, which result in failure to improve focus in any measurable way.  The most obvious is that, life just doesn't work that way.  Life doesn't provide you each day with the opportunity to get Zen, clear your mind and your desk, and just have one thing on your plate at any given time.  Rather, life requires you to deal with the phone, the wife, the kids, the neighbor, the car, and whatever the hell else pops up.  The traditional "clear your mind" nonsense will only teach you how to be productive under perfect conditions.  Perfect conditions rarely flash into existence, and when they do, they never, ever last long.  The second problem will be one recognized by athletes and weightlifters everywhere - no pain, no gain.  In order to improve a skill, a muscle, anything, you need to stress it - expose it to ever increasing levels of difficulty, so that it gradually improves to meet each new level of challenge.  Its not difficult to focus in a perfect, quiet environment.  It is very hard to do so in the context of a typical, hectic day.  Therefore, that is when your ability to focus can be strengthened.

Subject yourself, everyday, to the most challenging environment you can.  Don't wait for just the right time to accomplish something - accomplish something now.  I routinely write with five kids and their friends screeching about the house, two TVs on, music playing, dogs barking.  That's Zen.  That's the way to focus.  I know it sounds strange, but as the great Robert Anton Wilson said, "Do it, everyday."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Contact Me!

I just added a contact form to the front page of this blog.

The only thing I like better than writing about these things, is discussing these things with people.

Please feel free to send me a message through the contact form, or call me on Google Hangouts!


Putting in the Time

In the previous post, I tried to emphasize the importance of doing it now.  Many people will say that there just aren't enough hours in the work day to do everything now.  As you will expect coming from someone advocating the importance of a strong work ethic, the solution I offer is again simple to understand.  Expand your work day.  This will be a bitter pill for many readers to swallow, especially, I suspect, younger readers.  However, there really is no other way.  Your work day should last as long as it takes to get everything done, limited only by your physical ability to continue working.
If you've been paying attention as you read, you may note that I said my work day begins around six in the morning, and I routinely work until ten in the evening, often later.  If you are counting, that is a minimum sixteen hour day, and that is, I promise you, no exaggeration.  If you doubt it, try calling me at 6:30 a.m or 9:30 p.m., and see for yourself.  I know a couple who recently complained to me that they are each working a full eight hours each day, and so have no time to do all of the other things they would need to do to become successful.  These are two people who, barring significant changes in their way of thinking, will never be successful. While I start in the office at six, I'm up at five.  That means I've got seven useful hours in, more than they squeeze out in a whole day, before they take their lunches.  Do I think I'm something special?  No.  I'm just a realist.  If you want to work only eight hours a day toward your mission, resign yourself to failure, as that is all you will ever get.
You simply must work each day, until the day's work is done.  Work, in this context (in fact, in any reasonable context) means the tasks necessary each day to serve your various missions.  I routinely get up at 5 a.m. and get to bed around midnight, and in that time I manage the necessities of life, work for my law clients, work on my books, get my ass to the gym, spend time with my wife and kids, and do all of the things that fulfill my personal missions.  Some days I can get it all done in less time, and some days it takes more.  The qualities necessary to being able to put in those kind of hours will be the subjects of upcoming posts.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Best Time, to Do Everything, is NOW.

So it turns out that one of the most common human characteristics, the desire to procrastinate, or avoid doing things that one fears or finds distasteful, is actually fatal in the long run.  It destroys strength, success, power, influence, and self-esteem.  I suffered from this pernicious trait for many years, and I suspect each reader of this book, does, or has, suffered from it as well.  I have run a small law practice for many years, the the amount of suffering that procrastination caused me, and the loss of income and reputation I endured because of it, are enough to make me cry just remembering how much better I could have been.  Of course, I was always nails at organizing - goddamn, could I burn hours getting my client files in order, making sure my contacts database was up to date, making to-do lists and planning my day. But always, somehow, the hard stuff - the drafting of difficult pleadings, the client meetings at which I had to deliver bad news, the contentious negotiations, the trips to the prisons to interview clients in custody - always got kicked to the last possible time.  The catch is, those things didn't go away.  They were still there, they still needed to be done, and they did, of course, eventually get done.
They got done, but at a cost much greater than they needed to carry.  When you put off the hard, unpleasant stuff, several things happen.  First, molehills grow into mountains.  The unpleasant nature of the task becomes magnified, your fear of it grows and grows and grows.  People actually have nervous breakdowns due to the fear they allow to build up regarding things that they must do.  Second, through your delay, you insure that you have much less time to get something done, and therefore, the quality of your work suffers.  You simply can't produce the level of work in two hours that you could have produced if you had started earlier and invested more time.  Third, putting a task off generates more tasks that you want to put off.  Say, for instance, that I have a very lengthy, detailed brief to research and write.  Say further that I fear the effort involved, and put it off.  What happens next?  Well, I have to ask the court for an extension.  Try it sometime, its stressful in and of itself. I have to field calls from clients (or avoid them, more likely) wondering when in hell am I going to finish the work I promised to perform.  Put it off long enough, and a malpractice suit or ethical complaint is the ultimate result.  Procrastinate enough, and you earn, and get tagged with, the reputation of being a lazy-ass.
The key, then, is not to let those molehills become mountains.  They way to do that is simple to understand, but harder to travel.  The way is - DO EVERYTHING NOW. Read it again: DO EVERYTHING NOW.  Of course, the observant reader will say, "Murphy, what the hell are you talking about.  You can't do everything now, just like you can't be in two places at once."  But you can do everything now, and I'll show you what I mean by that, and how to do it, Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Work Ethic

So two of my children are now graduated from high school, and have moved on to college.  They are also talking a lot about working (as I did through school).  I'm hoping they'll do more than talk about it, though.  As always, the issues surrounding proper raising of my children provoke in me a strong tendency to navel-gazing.  So, for the next few posts, I'll be spewing forth some of those thoughts about work ethic, and how to get one.

It used to be taken for granted in the United States, and frankly, most everywhere else, that the responsible use of one's time, money, or any other assets which could be used to produce goods, services, and in the end, income, was an affirmative good; in fact, it was considered to be the duty of each and every citizen.  This idea of marshaling all of one's time, skills, brains, capital, resources and connections toward production of something valuable and worthwhile is known as the "work ethic." A strong work ethic has been at the root of the achievements of every successful person, company, community and nation.  This is right and proper, and furthermore, an immutable law of life.

However, in recent decades, it seems that people no longer subscribe to this idea.  To the modern young person of the day, work ethic seems to represent a caving in of one's principles, a cowardly act of submission to "the man."  Many oppose the traditional work ethic, proclaiming that in their brave new world of technology, more will be produced with less, and there will be no need to work hard, just the need to work enough.  Some people today talk about the evils of the J-O-B, so phrased, as nothing more than misplaced loyalty to classes higher than your own, destined to enrich others at the expense of your blood sweat and tears.  Others are just too goddamned lazy to even consider that hard work may be of some value to them.  In truth, I have some sympathy with all of these people.

However, they are wrong, and the problem is deeper than the lifestyle designers would let you believe; it cannot be solved simply by changing your definition of work.  You can curse those uptight Pilgrims, and laugh at the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality of generations that came before us - but before you do, it bears remembering that no nation, community, company, or any group worth a tinker's damn was every created by a bunch of lazy-asses.

Life is not easy, and if you want anything good out of it, you will be required to work hard to get it - and if you're reading this, I'll wager that you'll have to work harder than you ever have to get it. Honestly, if you were working hard enough, you probably wouldn't be reading a blog post about getting a work ethic.  Accept that truth, mull it over, think about it, chew it up, digest it, make it part of yourself.  It bears repeating: if you are dissatisfied with your life in any way - any way - it means you aren't working hard enough.  You are too lazy.  You are not willing to do what it takes to have the life you want.

But never fear - you are in a club with a great many members.  You can continue to sit on your ass, doing less than you could, and you'll never be alone.  If you're reading this you want more.  In that case, also, never fear.  I spent a good deal of my adult life lazier than I should have been.  Through a good deal of trial and error, I learned how to develop my work ethic and cast off (most of) my laziness.  In the next few days, I'll offer some suggestions.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Love is a Choice

In the middle of a long conversation with a very good friend the other day, I had the chance to discuss love; what it is, what it means, falling in love and falling out of love.  I think my take on love is a bit different from the things most people believe, and so, for your consideration, I will briefly attempt to do what has often been deemed impossible, and define love.

Let's start with what love isn't.  That feeling you get that says "wow, I need to meet that girl, she's cute, she's hot!"  Not love.  Its just lust, and there is nothing wrong with it, but love has nothing to do with our sex organs, for all that we like to call it "making love."  Perhaps you'll tell me I'm being to harsh - its not just the good looks, its that he's sensitive, sweet, smart, and on and on and on.  That's also not love - really just curiosity.  Or maybe you're the emotional type, sure that your destined in the stats to have a deep, meaningful life-long connection with your soul-mate.  Again, not love - romance at best, infatuation and escapism at worst.  These things are not love - nor are obedience, sweet words, tender glances and soft kisses.  All wonderful -but not love.

Now some of you will say - Murphy, you're missing it.  Love is the desire to put someone else's well-being and happiness above your own, its the feeling that you want to do everything and anything to give the loved one the best possible life.  For those who say that, you, too, are wrong.  In fact, love is not a desire, feeling or emotion at all.

Love is not the desire to put another's interest above your own.  Love is...actually doing that!  Love is the choice, the constant decision, to do whatever your are capable of, and more, to insure the happiness and success of another person.  It is the active prevention of harm to that person, even the harm they would do to themselves, even the harm they don't see as harm.  Love is an active thing, a doing, a constant effort for the good of another.  Not an emotion, not a feeling.  Rather, a choice, and following through on that choice with action.

I hate it when people say they "fall in love," as if it was an open manhole cover in the street.  You choose to love.  And please don't ever tell me that you have "fallen out of love."  Own your decision - if you don't love anymore, its because you chose not to.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Heavy Lifting

I once read a post on a fitness forum, a thing I seem to be doing a lot of lately.  I don't recall the exact wording, but it contained a quote from some body builder or other, something like:

Everybody wants the body of a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift the damned heavy weights.

Now, this quote was given, as it was a fitness forum, to support the proposition that in order to build muscle and cut fat, one must lift weights, and lift heavy - low weight and high reps just won't cut it.  This is a proposition that, incidentally, I agree with, but that is beyond the scope of this post.  Rather, that quote contains wisdom for all of life's endeavors, as well as a spot on assessment as to why so many people never achieve their goals.  Everyone wants (insert accomplishment or goal here), but nobody wants to do the hard work it takes to get there.

We live in a culture literally overflowing with laziness and entitlement.  Never in human history has so much been given to so many in exchange for so little effort.  Kids need good grades to boost their "self-esteem," and instead of pushing them harder to earn higher marks, we lower the curve, make the tests easier, and then pat them on the back as congratulations for their new-found intellectual excellence.  Men want to find a supermodel-beautiful woman who rocks a miniskirt, is a tiger in the sack, and cranks out gourmet meals; but they never want to do the things necessary to make themselves attractive to such a woman, like taking care of the body, finding and keeping business and generating an income, and putting something inside the brain besides video game cheat codes (as Ice-T once said, "Wash your ass, do some sit-ups, read a book").  Women, of course, want a strong, sensitive man who will earn money, spend lots of time with the family, take care of all the problems, always listen to her, and say all the right things: it never occurs to them that a man like that will be looking for more than an occasional roll in the hay and an earful of bile each time Pwincess is displeased, about anything.  Without regard to gender, race, age or anything else, people almost universally want money (or enough to live comfortably), power (enough to get others to do the things one wants them to do), and fame (or recognition of what a great damned human being one is).

More than that, and here comes an even worse aspect of the problem, society fills peoples heads with the idea that all of these goodies are a right, rather than things to be earned through blood, sweat, tears, strength, determination, and prudent decision-making.  How many times I have heard someone say to a friend "you deserve better," or worse, "I deserve better."  But do you really deserve better?  Here is the news flash: Your mere existence as a human being on Planet Earth entitles you to precisely - nothing.  You are not entitled to love, respect, caring, consideration, a certain standard of living, or in fact, even to life itself.

If you want heads to turn when you walk down the street, put down the cheeseburger and hit the gym - we tell one another that all varieties of the human form are beautiful, but deep down, we all know that is a lie.  If you want someone to respect you for your mind, do something other than watch TV and burn up the Playstation - perhaps read a book?  If you want the high-life, put in the hours, use money wisely, and make it happen.  Do the heavy lifting - nobody else can do it for you.  Even if you just want life itself, you must guard your health like the treasure it truly is - work at it.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that this culture of entitlement we've created is really just a trick we play on ourselves.  While we tell each other that we are fine just the way we are, that people should accept us for us, and that we should be able to have it all; on some level, we all know that this is not real life.  But instead of doing the heavy lifting, we are clever about maintaining the slothful status quo.  We just lower our expectations of ourselves!  I actually know grown men content to earn minimum wage and spend the rest of their days sitting on their asses playing video games or watching sports.  I know women who languish in the grip of second-rate men, because they are second-rate themselves, and too inert to require more of themselves, and more for themselves.  And our young people have seen and taken these life-killing habits as their own, right down to their cores.

I am entitled to nothing.  If I want respect, I must make myself worthy of respect.  If I want love, I must become the type of person who inspires love.  Its fine to demand more from others, but first, let's demand more of ourselves.  Let's all do the heavy lifting.