There is nothing better than the feeling of accomplishment. This is why it’s time to do less.

For the last year or 18 months I’ve tried a radical self-experiment where I try to be useful to people. The idea being if I was responsive to people’s needs, they’d be happy, then they’d care about me.

This has not worked out that way. At least, I don’t believe it has. I don’t think there are somehow more people who care more or less about me. Some of the things I’ve done this last 12 months either quietly or publicly include:

  • Writing a book
  • Starting another book that is in second draft
  • Establishing a goal of 10% body fat
  • Finishing my bachelor’s degree from 14 years ago (I finished August 8th)
  • Running for office and other political activities
  • Growing my business to maximum capacity

Much of this idea was a variant on the popular “don’t say no” strategy of relationship and activity-building. If someone asks you to do something, say yes. Maybe something fun will come of it. Except in rare circumstances, that has not been my case this year. 

In fact, midway through writing this piece someone called to ask me to travel two hours away to speak to a group of people for 30 minutes. Not only do I not want to do that, I don’t have the time and it’s not particularly valuable.

The problem I’ve encountered, aside from the emotional impact, is I am not a multi-threaded human being. No one is, really. People who are adept at moving between tasks and jobs probably come about that way either only in appearance or by some kind of mental disorder, like bipolar disorder or by being a sociopath. Theodore Roosevelt’s many adventures come to mind. Not only would we consider him a genius by today’s standards, many historians believe he also probably suffered some kind of bipolar disorder to make him swing between manic activity and disregard for life and calmer times to do things like writing.

Humans are not multi-threaded machines, and last I checked I am human. We know this from decades of research, but the human brain is too messy to be able to switch from one task to another without the first task lingering. This gets more complicated as you add stress, anxiety, and other tension like relationships to the mix.

The more I’ve done this year the more convinced I become I’m better suited to slow thinking. I’ve often told people off-handedly “I’m a slow thinker about these things”. The reality is I’m much more inclined to do a few things with more attention than many things with a little attention. I’m also much more inclined to do things I actually have a shot at winning. Much of my time this year has been spent on tasks that deserve more time than I can give and are, generally, unwinnable or unachievable.

And therein lies the nugget of this post: there is nothing more satisfying than accomplishment. And I don’t have many accomplishments this year.

You may look at that list and see fine things. I look at it and see projects that haven’t succeeded, gone far, or weren’t all that hard (undergraduate classes by and large are not that hard, for instance).

The strategy for next year is different: fewer pursuits of new clients, saying “no” more, focusing on projects to the extent they can become something, and being a more single-threaded, slow thinker.

An unintended consequence of better bus service in Indianapolis

Most people hate to think. But if you think, you must make your own opinions.

I was thinking this morning and realized while waiting at the 9th Street Red Line station there’s a huge consequence to the Red Line.

It’s perhaps the biggest thing no one’s yet thought of written about. It’ll be hard to measure, and it’ll take years to fully unfold, but it’s big news.

People who ride the Red Line will talk to each other.

I know. It’s likely to start off small, but people who ride a bus regularly tend to notice other people. Those little conversations helping people along makes humans into people. Like the lady who everyone helps on and off the 25 each morning at 6:45 and 3:45 like clockwork. She had a stroke and has trouble getting around. But she walks to and from her doctor every day, and when it’s icy, people get out and help her up the curb.

The knee jerk reaction is “that’s impossible” or “that’s dumb”. Maybe, but if you think about it you know it has to be a little true. We’re all different when we’re waiting in line at the bank or grocery store than when we’re waiting in line in traffic. Once people get behind the wheel, the impetus is different. “Don’t touch my car. Hurry up. Get out of the way.” We become mechanized. Half machine in a bionic kind of way that’s useful in some situations, but has a cost.

People lament “kids these days” with headphones in. I’m always wearing headphones, but I’m always listening to audiobooks or podcasts. I can hear just fine and can strike up a conversation. This weekend a guy asked me where the post office was. Another asked me where the library was. On the Red Line lots of people chatted. At the station, I walked up with a lovely young woman who was curious about payment options. I saw another person I knew who worked nearby.

In a car, those interactions are gone. They are completely removed and replaced by the insulating tomb of metal, glass, and perhaps the radio.

People who move around cities without their cars become less mechanical and more human. Perhaps it’s a vulnerability, but I think it’s good for people.

We know more and more people are insular, lacking friends, and don’t see many people beyond their co-workers or passing customers with brief interactions. Generationally, we have fewer relationships than ever. Even people who think they get out plenty might, if they think about it, not have many conversations.

That isn’t healthy for people or cities. Nostalgically we long for Mayberry-style days where everyone is friendly and waves and chats with you on the street. But no one on Mayberry’s main street ever spoke to Floyd or Andy in the front seat of a car. They were walking around, visiting people and places.

If someone at IU or another school with a medical or psychology program could measure it, I bet we’d find people who get out of their cars more will, over the long term, show signs of being less agitated and stressed. We know this of bicycle riders — no denying exercise is good for people there. I bet there are similar benefits to getting around town with others through transit.

Yes, yes, someone’s complaining this is all unworkable or not for them. That’s fine. But smart cities give people options.