To-Do Lists Make Me Shudder Inside

This is what I should be doing, I should be writing a list of all of the things that need to be done. I should then be prioritising that list based on some criteria, the most popular one being the Covery two-by-two criteria of urgency and importance.

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I know this is what I should be doing, but it makes me shudder inside.

Yes, it’s a great way to organise my day. Yes, it’s a great way of focussing on the things that are important for that day, but it provokes an internal reaction that’s a bit like tasting something very-very bitter every time I try to get my lists together. There are certain rough surfaces that when I touch them give me the same feeling. It’s a shudder that starts in my fingers and works it’s way all the way up through my shoulders and down my back. Touching a to-do list is like touching one of those surfaces.

It never used to be this way, I used to be able to create a to-do list with the enthusiasm that it deserves. I would maintain it for a number of day, weeks even, but eventually it would fall into disrepair as I became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of activities on my list still to-do. At some point I would realise that my efforts had fallen by the wayside and a cloud of disappointment in myself would descend.

All around me others would work their lists like heros, adding to and ticking off activities with a determination that just baffles me. They would celebrate the wins and be spurred on to even greater to-do exploits. They would revel in the act of organising, their to-do lists becoming things of beauty. I’ve tried, really I have, but I’m just not wired like that. I can’t recall ever regarding a to-do list as beautiful and I see each completed task is only one item out of the door as others are coming into the room which is hardly a triumph.

I suspect that my shudder is the result of the many failed attempts to make a formal to-do list work. It’s a learnt response to the repeated disappointments of being a to-do failure. I’ve tried many different to-do list regimes but each one has fallen by the wayside like a fad diet, they work for a while, but sooner-or-later it all falls apart.

Am I the only one who suffers from this affliction?

But, here’s the problem, not maintaining lists is exhausting. Keeping all of that information in my head tires me out. The most annoying part of not maintaining a list is that my brain reminds me of things at the least appropriate time. Not having a list means that whilst relaxing in the evening, just before bedtime, my brain will pick that moment to tell me about that email that I should have sent with those documents I should have read and completed. Not having a list results in early morning mental alerts whilst everyone else is still asleep, including the people I need to talk to n order to get the task done. Not having a list results in opportunities missed as deadlines pass and unnecessary mental panics

To list or not to list – therein lies the problem. Or, perhaps, it’s just me?

I’m currently trying out a different way of thinking about the problem, but that’s a post for another time.

Because it’s Friday: “Rainbow Paint on a Speaker – 12,500fps” by The Slow Mo Guys

Having been paid to do a fancy show with a big crewe and a budget The Slow Mo Guys return to their roots in the garden messing about with paint and a speaker.

The Slow Mo Guys are at their best when it’s wonderfully Heath Robinson (apart from the top of the range Hassleblad and Vision research cameras that they’ve been loaned).

I’m reading… “The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District” by James Rebanks

It seems appropriate to start this post by defining my own relationship with the countryside. I am basically a townie, but it’s more complicated than that.

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I’ve never been a city person although I now live in somewhere called a city. I have always lived in towns, and nearly always on the edge of towns with a significant amount of countryside around them. The secondary school that I went to was a combination of town people and country people; we mixed quite well and I would cycle out of town to visit a friend who lived on a farm. My first experience of driving was in a tractor.

I’ve always loved to be out in the countryside, as you may have picked up from my instagram timeline, but I’ve never regarded the English countryside as a picture-postcard place, I’ve always seen it as somewhere that has been crafted and maintained by generations of people. This crafting is especially true of the English Lake District where I love to walk.

My wife’s family are lakeland people, her father was born in a small hamlet above Derwentwater where her grandfather was a fell farmer. There are relatives who live and make their livelihood there to this day. I’ve walked the fells around the farm with my wife’s dad and soaked in the stories of the life that they led there; stories of harsh winters, stories of dry-stone walling, stories of hunts, stories of visiting catalogue salesmen, stories of pig slaughter and blood for black puddings, and stories of summers spent sleeping in the barns so that paying visitors could have a bed in the house. In short, stories of a countryside shaped by people and a people shaped by the countryside.

James Rebanks (Herdwick Shepherd) is the son and grandson of lakeland fell farmers. Farming is in his blood and was all that he wanted to be as a child. He lives a way of life that has existed in the northern Lake District for centuries, taking on changes as they have been needed, but continuing to use many of the tried and tested practices. The traditional Herdwick sheep, which he shepherds, characterise the Lake District for many, but they aren’t there for show, they are people’s livelihoods and have been there (probably) since the Vikings brought them over in the 10th or 11th century.

This book is an autobiographical walk through James Rebanks his own upbringing whilst also stepping through the shepherd’s year. I love to read books about other people’s lives, it opens my eyes to the diversity of our ways of life are. Herdwick Shepherd lives just over a hours drive away from my home and yet he lives a life that is in so many ways different to mine. I’ve never rescued a sheep from a snow drift, participated in a livestock auction, delivered a lamb or judged the quality of a tup. Yet, there are many connections with my own story, that of my father-in-law and other lakeland folk that I know. I suppose that’s the power of biography, the differences that interest us and the similarities that connect us.

This isn’t a sanitised, National Trust, portrayal of the Lake District, this is a book that talks about the tragedies of life as well as the wonders of the environment. The sections that talk about the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 are bleak and nearly had me in tears. The descriptions of times in the fells are wonderful.

Many of us have lost the connection between the food that we eat and the farmers and land that produce it. We see so much of our food as a commodity that we want to be cheaper each time we visit the supermarket. One of the lessons from this book is that our drive for cheap risks the very things that we value.

If you are one of those people who love to visit the Lake District, and millions do, then you will learn a lot about what makes this place what it is and it will improve you appreciation of the place on your next visit.

I’m reading… “The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country” by Helen Russell

I’m quite happy with where I live, but that doesn’t stop me wondering what it’s like for different people to live where they choose to live.

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I’ve been to Denmark several times, mostly to Copenhagen, and always loved the country.

Helen Russell is a lifestyle journalist who is, at the start of the book, based in London with her husband. They work, they eat, they sleep, and not a whole lot more. Then her husband gets a job in Denmark at that landmark organisation Lego.

This book documents Helen’s journey during those first twelve month of living in Denmark. Helen finds a country that works very differently to London, and it has to be said, to the rest of the England. I say England, and not Britain, because I think that there are parts of Scotland where much of what Helen found is present, but for the most part we operate very differently.

Not only does Helen find a country that works differently, but Denmark is also regularly ranked as the happiest country in the world, so what is it that makes it happy? Not surprisingly it’s not a single thing, it’s many things. I suspect that it’s all of it that makes it a happy country, I didn’t read something and say, “if we only did that in England we would be much happier”, but I did think, “if only we did that, and that, and that, and weren’t like that, then we’d be happier”. It’s difficult to change one thing in a whole nation, it’s almost impossible to change the whole thing. For starters, the population of England is nearly ten times greater than that of Denmark, there are one and a half times as many people in London alone, and population size is a factor in happiness.

Having said that, this book shines a light into some English orthodoxies that tell us “we’ll be happy if…” and exposes them as problematic, at best, and downright untrue at worst. In England we believe that long work hours show that you are committed to your work, and that has to be a good thing? In Denmark the working week is significantly shorter and yet they are significantly more productive than we are. In England we tend to believe in small government because we are suspicious of everything that government does, Denmark’s government is significantly larger than ours and yet they are happier. In England we downgrade tradition, always looking for the new thing, in Denmark tradition is highly regarded and seen as the bedrock of much of what they do. In England we regard the accumulation of more possessions as a good thing, it’s not the same in Denmark where things are so expensive that they focus on a few high-quality things.

We have much to learn.

Because it’s Friday: Massive “Time-Lapse” of London – all 7.3 gigapixels of it

London by day and London by night.

24 Hour London is a set of 24, 7.3-gigapixel, photos showing in intricate detail the change in London throughout the day. There are a few images below, but you really need to go to the site to get the full experience.

I prefered the nighttime images, being able to see how the lights changed, but also how much of London was still lit up at 4:00am.

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“If you’re serious, you really understand that it’s important that you laugh as much as possible… Maya Angelou

If you’re serious, you really understand that it’s important that you laugh as much as possible and admit that you’re the funniest person you ever met. You have to laugh. Admit that you’re funny. Otherwise, you die in solemnity.

Maya Angelou

I’m Reading: “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy” by Cathy O’Neil

We are surrounded by algorithms. We are constantly being evaluated by criteria that is invisible to us.

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What I see on Google is different to what you see. What I see on Facebook is different to your perspective and not just because I have access to different thing to you.

I pay for insurance for a number of things, the cost of that insurance is governed by a set of parameters that are unknown to me; many of which I can’t change or even validate whether they are correct.

Weapons of Math Destruction explores some of these algorithms and their impacts on individuals and society in general.

Statisticians have known that many statistics have a dark side creating unintended consequences and perverse outcomes. As we increasingly use data, and the associated statistical algorithms, we need to understand the dangers of the perverse outcomes that we are creating.

Cathy O’Neil uses examples to illustrate the challenges that we are facing. The bulk of the book is examples of Weapons of Math Destruction (WMD) that already exist. There are examples for algorithms being used for politics, employee candidate selection, criminal justice, insurance, education ratings and advertising, to name just a few. The extent of these algorithms means that it’s unlikely that you haven’t been impacted in some way by one of them, but how do you know that the assessment of you is fair, or even accurate. How do you know what parameters have been used to calculate your insurance premium?

In many of the areas outlined in the book the unintended consequences lead to significant mistreatment of individuals and whole people groups. Many of these people groups being the same people groups that have been mistreated by society for generations – the poor, those living in certain neighbourhoods, ethnic minorities and women being particularly negatively impacted.

The book talks about a lot of examples and raises a lot of questions and concerns, the book doesn’t spend a lot of time exploring the potential resolutions to the issues raised. There are a few great thoughts in that direction but it’s not that primary topic for this book.

I’m quite sure that we don’t, yet, have the necessary regulatory framework in place for these algorithms. I’m also convinced that we will make progress towards the right framework, but in the interim, damage is being caused.

I read this book in the middle of a political and media storm about an organisation called Cambridge Analytica who collected data from Facebook on 50 million people. This story was pioneered by The Guardian with a lot of coverage on 17th March 2018 quoting whistleblower Christopher Wylie, but it’s worth noting that Cathy O’Neil’s book was published in September 2016 and contains many of the same details about Cambridge Analytica that we now regard as shocking. Perhaps news doesn’t travel as quickly as we think it does.

I was first prompted to read this book by Cathy’s TED talk which will give you an idea of the WMD that she has collected: