Henri Frederic Amiel on How to Be Ready

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

What follows is the entry for August 15, 1851 by Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal where he explores how to be ready, how to focus on the essential and how to fulfill your purpose. I have added some details on my own shortcomings: procrastination, disorganization, and a rock-paper-scissors approach to picking the next task to finish. 

How To Be Ready

August 15, 1851.—To know how to be ready, a great thing, a precious gift, and one that implies calculation, grasp and decision. To be always ready a man must be able to cut a knot, for everything cannot be untied; he must know how to disengage what is essential from the detail in which it is enwrapped, for everything cannot be equally considered; in a word, he must be able to simplify his duties, his business, and his life.”
Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal entry for August 15, 1851

To be ready is to be clear on priorities. I try to listen to Joseph Joubert and “never cut what you can untie”–if I have the time–sometimes I don’t. Sometime I have to drop everything and di di mau. My priorities: my family, friends in need, clients in trouble, my health.

“To know how to be ready, is to know how to start.”
Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal entry for August 15, 1851

When I am unable to start it’s most often because I am afraid my efforts won’t measure up. Sometimes I need to ask for help but most often it’s getting comfortable with “good enough.” That can take weeks. Alas something that might be been pretty good three weeks ago and acceptable two weeks ago has now been written off even as I continue to leave it unstarted.

“It is astonishing how all of us are generally cumbered up with the thousand and one hindrances and duties which are not such, but which nevertheless wind us about with their spider threads and fetter the movement of our wings.”
Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal entry for August 15, 1851

I play this game of rock-paper-scissors with myself: I should get started on rock, but then I realize that paper is actually more important until it occurs to me that scissors is even more critical. It quickly dawns on me that rock trumps scissors and after a few cycles it’s time for lunch or dinner or bed.

“It is the lack of order which makes us slaves; the confusion of today discounts the freedom of tomorrow. Confusion is the enemy of all comfort, and confusion is born of procrastination.”
Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal entry for August 15, 1851

Things are rarely as good as I imagine they could be. Which can make them hard to share, or even continue to work on them because they are falling so far short of my expectations.

I Know It’s Done, But is it Done Done?

To know how to be ready we must be able to finish. Nothing is done but what is finished.
Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal entry for August 15, 1851

I had an old boss who would ask the project team “I know it’s done but is it done done? In fact, now that I am thinking about it, is it done done done and ready to go?”

The things which we leave dragging behind us will start up again later on before us and harass our path. Let each day take thought for what concerns it, liquidate its own affairs and respect the day which is to follow, and then we shall be always ready.
Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal entry for August 15, 1851

I do have one trick for this, when I realize that I am really not going to get around to finishing something before it will be obsolete I put it on my “do it / don” list with a [d] instead of an [x] to indicate I decided to give up on it. That’s OK.

No Time For Caution, Ease, or Comfort

“To know how to be ready is at bottom to know how to die.”
Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal entry for August 15, 1851

I do believe we will be held accountable for what we do and fail to do in this life. Whether it’s true or not I think it improves my behavior, at least at the margins. At this point I am not in sudden death overtime but I do feel many mornings like Coop in Interstellar trying to dock with the spinning space station: “now is no time for caution.” Or as Churchill instructed, “This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.”

Merlin Mann: A Priority is Observed

Merlin Mann on “Priorities

  • A priority is observed, not manufactured or assigned. Otherwise, it’s necessarily not a priority.
  • A priority is not simply a good idea; it’s a condition of reality that, when observed, causes you to reject every other thing in the universe — real, imagined, or prospective — in order to ensure that things related to the priority stay alive.
  • First, ask yourself why any “high priority” item has remained unresolved in your life for more than 60 seconds. Why isn’t it done completely? Have you ever “re-assigned” “priority” to some task? Really? Because that sounds more like procrastination than management, let alone “effective” action and decisive execution.
  • Your entire career is defined by the unbelievably great ideas that you reject. Painfully giant, wonderful, terrific opportunities that you simply don’t have the capacity to address without screwing up the real priority.
  • Ask yourself what you must not do in order to make sure it gets taken care of.

Se also Merlin Mann’s  “First, Care” and “Cranking

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