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Beginner's Mind, Metropolis, and all our unnecessary parts

a million monkeys typing » The Beginner’s Mind

Metropolitan Clock

Douglas’s post reminds me of that unintentionally hilarious scene in Metropolis where the Beleaguered Iconic Worker is pushed to exhaustion in the clearly meaningless work of moving the clock hands around on the Big Futuristic Machine he’s charged to attend. (God, I wish I had a screengrab to share; it’s a stitch to watch. Found one. Thanks, Douglas.)

There have definitely been times in the past couple years when I’ve felt the same way about maintaining “my system”—driven as if by a motor from one list to another, dashing to connect all the pieces into some theoretically unified field theory of my life. It’s nutty.

The irony is that I, like many of you, tarry in this productivity sweat shop in order to achieve what David Allen has called “mind like water,” or the ability to adapt to change and disruption in a relaxed manner. So often, of course, the result is the virtual opposite. You get so stressed out about moving the meaningless clock hands on your Big Futuristic Machine that you forget what they’re supposed to be attached to.

I acknowledge that a certain amount of Byzantine organizational work is what keeps many of us interested in this stuff, but there is something very compelling about working to adopt Beginner’s Mind—in this case, the idea that you can achieve the higher goals of systems like GTD not by fretting endlessly over the minutiae of your personal ontology, but by exerting the absolute minimum amount of effort needed to get things off your mind and parked in the right place. That’s the sweet spot.

Or, to quote Strunk and White, in talking about writing:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Maybe one good goal this week would be to remove the largest, most unnecessary part from each of our machines. It may not be pure “Beginner’s Mind,” but it’s an easy place to start.

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About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
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