Find the Minimum Necessary Change

The Minimum Necessary Change or MNC was a thing in Isaac Asimov’s novel, The End of Eternity. Be careful of that link: like so much of Asimov’s work, the book has astonishingly vivid and great ideas but they’re written like he’s still in school.

Still, I read it when I was in school and the MNC stuck with me. The End of Eternity is a time-travel novel that features an organisation which fixes problems. If there’s a war that kills billions, they track it back to its cause, to the specific moment, the earliest speck of a pixel of its beginning, and they change that.

I think one example is delaying someone on their way to a meeting. If you could fix their car to stop working and they therefore never get to that meeting, you can imagine how that small act could be the trigger for massive changes. Say the meeting was an interview: you don’t go, so you don’t get the job, so your life is changed.

The MNC was the minimum necessary change to make big things happen.

And I’m thinking of all this in part because it’s fascinating how a dreadfully badly written novel can still stick with you all these years later. But more because Lifehacker has a feature on finding the Minimum Effective Dose. It’s the same thing, sort of.

In medical terms, the “minimum effective dose” or MED is the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical that causes a significant change in health or well-being for a patient. To find the perfect balance of productivity and time management in your life, Dr. Christine Carter suggests you find the MED for everything you have to get done.

There’s no point in burning yourself out on things that can be completed with far less effort. You can find your MED for everything: sleep, checking email, working out, various work tasks. Once you’ve figured out your MED for the tasks you do everyday, you’ll feel less stretched out. You might even find time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do, but never felt like you had time for. Determine your MEDs, stick to your dosage, and realize that overdosing doesn’t mean that you’re getting any more done.

Streamline Productivity with the “Minimum Effective Dose” for Tasks – Patrick Allan, Lifehacker (6 March 2015)

Read the full feature for what Dr Carter has to say.

I didn’t see your message, sorry

It is handy when you know that someone has seen your email or your text or your update or your anything, but actually it is never handy. You’re a writer, you know they’ve seen it, why aren’t they saying anything?

Worse, you’re wrong. They haven’t seen it. They really haven’t seen it. I’ve had this come up with people who tell me they know so-and-so read their email DAYS AGO and so is being rude not replying. Or they NEVER OPENED IT ONCE, same thing. In each case, you don’t know. Maybe they saw the three-line preview on their iPhone and didn’t bother to open the message. Maybe they got eleventy-billion emails that morning and simply didn’t see yours in there.

But none of that matters when the person in question is you. And when the question in question is whether you have read something or you haven’t. You could just let the online world go on its little way, sending out read receipt acknowledgements wherever it may, or you could fight back. Stop it happening.

Lifehacker’s got your back. Read its full feature on how to switch off bleedin’ read receipts in the most popular software around.

Lifehacker picks the best productivity books

Well, sort of. Very often will ask readers what their favourite something or other is and then after a few days will reveal the top five. This time, it seems a bit more open season: go to this thread and nominate a book you like.

So, for instance, you could nominate, oh, The Blank Screen – UK edition or maybe the US edition.

Thank you.

But right now there are some sixty-odd recommendations in there and I truly didn’t know there were sixty-odd productivity books. Take a look through the comments so far and see if there’s anything that takes your fancy.

This is the US edition of Lifehacker so naturally the books are chiefly American but if you can’t order them from Amazon UK, you can still get them from Amazon US and wait a bit.

Louis CK on making choices

He tells GQ Magazine, I see it on Lifehacker, I want you to know it too:

“These situations where I can’t make a choice because I’m too busy trying to envision the perfect one—that false perfectionism traps you in this painful ambivalence: If I do this, then that other thing I could have done becomes attractive. But if I go and choose the other one, the same thing happens again. It’s part of our consumer culture. People do this trying to get a DVD player or a service provider, but it also bleeds into big decisions. So my rule is that if you have someone or something that gets 70 percent approval, you just do it. ‘Cause here’s what happens. The fact that other options go away immediately brings your choice to 80. Because the pain of deciding is over.

“And,” he continues, “when you get to 80 percent, you work. You apply your knowledge, and that gets you to 85 percent! And the thing itself, especially if it’s a human being, will always reveal itself—100 percent of the time!—to be more than you thought. And that will get you to 90 percent. After that, you’re stuck at 90, but who the fuck do you think you are, a god? You got to 90 percent? It’s incredible!”

Louis C.K. Is America’s Undisputed King of Comedy – GQ magazine (May 2014)

That actually comes from page three of the interview: it’s all a good read so do start right at the top here.


Working for yourself is harder and better than you think

Lifehacker has a smart post about what it's really like when you go work for yourself. Some of the details are very USA-specific – naturally, since Lifehacker is an American site – but the principles are the same here in the UK:

Often, people want to freelance or start their own business because they're lured by the freedom of working from home. If that's what you care most about, you're probably better off trying to convince your boss to let you telecommute and learning about the downsides of working from home rather than leaving your employer to work for yourself.

List articles – 5 things to eat, 10 things to sell or whatever – are usually quite lazy pieces of writing that are also pointlessly empty. And I'll give you seven reasons why. But this one is simple and straight and practical: I'm not sure I've ever read it all put so well as Lifehacker does.

I've been freelance since the mid-1990s but I also had an enormous crutch of a regular client for a dozen years so I felt I eased into this life. Can't imagine going back now, but I can imagine doing this freelancing an awful lot better: when you've read that article, follow its many links out to further advice. It's a smart collection.

Small moves, Ellie.

You already know that making too big a statement at the start of the year ain't going to work. I will go to the moon, salvage all the junk that's up there, bring it back and sell it. Or even just I'm going to lose three stone in weight by Tuesday. But there are also apparently small resolutions that you give up on because they are out of your control: I will get an agent this month, that kind of thing. There is a huge amount you can do toward getting an agent if that's what you need and you can do a gigantic amount of it right now, but the final step requires them saying yes and offering you a deal you want. You can't control their schedule, therefore you can't control yours. Not in this one case.

But if you pick smaller goals and ones that are within your control, you aren't just making life easier for yourself, you're helping to convince yourself that resolutions are achievable. If we never did the bigger ones we'd never do anything, but having small, concrete, possible resolutions that we then actually do and actually stick to, it helps a mile.

So says an article in Pick the Brain anyway.

Hat tip, as so often, to Lifehacker for spotting this.

Best word of the day: Schumpeterianism. And how it can help you be productive

It apparently means “creative destruction”. I’d not heard the word before and I still can’t pronounce it with confidence, I also have a bit of doubt that I can spell it. So think of this paragraph as my making a run up to leaping straight in to it and seeing if I can write the word Schumpeterianism.

I need tea. Don’t ask me to do that again.

I’d like you to nip straight to this Lifehacker article rather than listen to me but so you know what you’re getting, it’s really a piece about how to take criticism and use it. How to take criticism without it hurting. For some reason this week I’ve been in several conversations where something similar has come up: my The Blank Screen book has a whole chapter called How to Get Rejected and it’s helped people. A reader tweeted at me that this specific chapter had ignited him. Oh, that felt good.

But hang on, you can read The Blank Screen any time. (If you’re in the States, it’s waiting for you here instead.) Have you already seen this article about – deep breath and no, I hadn’t thought of copy-and-paste until you just said it – Schumpeterianism?

If I got that word wrong the first time, I’ve now just copied-and-pasted the error. So much for your great idea, thanks a bunch. I blame you.

The you who I hope is now nipping off to read the original piece here on Lifehacker:

Time Your Power Nap Naturally with Einstein and Dali’s Key Method

Not one article about power napping but several – take a look through this from Lifehacker:

That article includes the Einstein and Dali methods of the title but it also begins with links out to other rather good Lifehacker pieces about the best time for a nap – and the best duration too.