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The Scipionic Circle 87: Mastering Time Management, Depth Over Breadth, and The Paradox of Desire
"The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” — Bertrand Russel
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle — I hope you find something of value.
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Food for Thought
I. Mastering Time Management: Peter Drucker's Guide to Making Every Hour Count
"[Peter] Drucker taught that what gets measured gets managed. So, how can we possibly hope to manage our time if we don’t measure precisely where our time goes? Inspired by Drucker’s challenge, I’ve kept a spreadsheet with one key metric: the number of creative hours logged each day, with the self-imposed imperative to stay above a thousand creative hours a year. This mechanism keeps me on the creative march—doing research, developing concepts, and writing—despite ever-increasing demands for travel, team leadership, and working with executives. But you also have to make your time count. The 'secret' of people who do so many difficult things, writes Drucker, is that they do only one thing at a time; they refuse to let themselves be squandered away in 'small driblets [that] are no time at all.' This requires the discipline to consolidate time into blocks, of three primary types. First, create unbroken blocks for individual think time, preferably during the most lucid time of day; these pockets of quietude might be only ninety minutes, but even the busiest executive must do them with regularity. Second, create chunks of deliberately unstructured time for people and the inevitable stuff that comes up. Third, engage in meetings that matter, making particular use of carefully constructed standing meetings that can be the heartbeat of dialogue, debate, and decision; and use some of your think time to prepare and follow up." — From The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter Drucker.
These are essentially five such practices—five such habits of the mind that have to be acquired to be an effective executive:
Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.
Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, 'What results are expected of me?' rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools.
Effective executives build on strengths—their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths in the situation, that is, on what they can do. They do not build on weakness. They do not start out with the things they cannot do.
Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first—and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.
Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions. They know that this is, above all, a matter of system—of the right steps in the right sequence. They know that an effective decision is always a judgment based on 'dissenting opinions' rather than on 'consensus on the facts.' And they know that to make many decisions fast means to make the wrong decisions. What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions. What is needed is the right strategy rather than razzle-dazzle tactics.
II. Seneca on The Art of Intentional Stillness: Valuing Depth Over Breadth in Reading and Life
"You do not tear from place to place and unsettle yourself with one move after another. Restlessness of that sort is symptomatic of a sick mind. Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company. Be careful, however, that there is no element of discursiveness and desultoriness about this reading you refer to, this reading of many different authors and books of every description. You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind. To be everywhere is to be nowhere.
"People who spend their whole life travelling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships. The same must needs be the case with people who never set about acquiring an intimate acquaintanceship with any one great writer, but skip from one to another, paying flying visits to them all.
"Food that is vomited up as soon as it is eaten is not assimilated into the body and does not do one any good; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent changes of treatment; a wound will not heal over if it is being made the subject of experiments with different ointments; a plant which is frequently moved never grows strong. Nothing is so useful that it can be of any service in the mere passing. A multitude of books only gets in one’s way. So if you are unable to read all the books in your possession, you have enough when you have all the books you are able to read. And if you say, ‘But I feel like opening different books at different times’, my answer will be this: tasting one dish after another is the sign of a fussy stomach, and where the foods are dissimilar and diverse in range they lead to contamination of the system, not nutrition. So always read well-tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to ones you have read before." — From Letters from a Stoic: Moral Letters to Lucilius by Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
III. Naval Ravikant on The Paradox of Desire: Navigating Youth, Health, and the Pursuit of Happiness
"I think the most common mistake for humanity is believing you’re going to be made happy because of some external circumstance. I know that’s not original. That’s not new. It’s fundamental Buddhist wisdom—I’m not taking credit for it. I think I really just recognize it on a fundamental level, including in myself. We bought a new car. Now, I’m waiting for the new car to arrive. Of course, every night, I’m on the forums reading about the car. Why? It’s a silly object. It’s a silly car. It’s not going to change my life much or at all. I know the instant the car arrives I won’t care about it anymore. The thing is, I’m addicted to the desiring. I’m addicted to the idea of this external thing bringing me some kind of happiness and joy, and this is completely delusional. Looking outside yourself for anything is the fundamental delusion. Not to say you shouldn’t do things on the outside. You absolutely should. You’re a living creature. There are things you do. You locally reverse entropy. That’s why you’re here. You’re meant to do something. You’re not just meant to lie there in the sand and meditate all day long. You should self-actualize. You should do what you are meant to do. The idea you’re going to change something in the outside world, and that is going to bring you the peace, everlasting joy, and happiness you deserve, is a fundamental delusion we all suffer from, including me. The mistake over and over and over is to say, 'Oh, I’ll be happy when I get that thing,' whatever it is. That is the fundamental mistake we all make, 24/7, all day long.
"The fundamental delusion: There is something out there that will make me happy and fulfilled forever. Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want. I don’t think most of us realize that’s what it is. I think we go about desiring things all day long and then wonder why we’re unhappy. I like to stay aware of it, because then I can choose my desires very carefully. I try not to have more than one big desire in my life at any given time, and I also recognize it as the axis of my suffering. I realize the area where I’ve chosen to be unhappy.” — From The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness by Eric Jorgenson.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Bertrand Russel on the modern dilemma:
"The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
II. Charlie Munger on avoiding mistakes over pursuing brilliance:
"People are trying to be smart—all I am trying to do is not to be idiotic, but it’s harder than most people think.”
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Thank you for reading,