The limitations of sequential thinking

What does sequential thinking mean, you might be asking? Many of us think in a sequential order. Basically, it means I cannot think about a certain thing, because it comes after what I need to do next. Sequential thinking is at odds with a working or living environment that demands a multi-tasking mindset.

When I say multi-tasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at one time, although that is its most common description. What I mean is having a list of multiple things to do and balancing the priority and times of when you plan to do them. It is akin to walking while juggling balls in the air. The key is to not drop any balls while you keep walking.

Let me use a few examples to emphasize my point. I may have a list of ten or twenty things to do. I receive information to do one of the items, but that item is not needed for a week. Sequential thinking would push doing that project until later in the week. But, what if you have a hard deadline and the information provided might be incomplete?

The military doctors and nurses coined an apt term called “triage.” So, a multi-tasking way to think of this would be to triage the information for the later project as an earlier step. Then, if it is incomplete, you could ask the sender to clarify or send additional input. Then, you can move onto other things while you wait.

Another example is moving forward with pieces of a project before having all the needed steps complete. One of the best project managers I have ever worked with would apportion a large report out in pieces for earlier completion. She would have folks working on producing the Appendix, Sections 5, 8, 11 and 14, e.g., while the analysis was being done to complete the key findings and recommendations. So, the supporting sections could be completed, so as to reduce the time crunch at the end once the analysis was done.

Although the last paragraph makes so much sense, it is not as widely practiced as you would think. Neither is the triaging concept, except in medical emergency settings. The other thing these two approaches avoid is the bottle-neck created by other projects and demands. And, in so doing, it enables deadlines to be better fulfilled.

As I write this, I recall a very demanding client. She could be a hard-ass on staff, but at the heart of her criticisms often was a legitimate one. If you told her a deadline, she expected you to meet it. The key was to give her a deadline that could be met, not in a vacuum, but in recognition that you had other things to do.

People like to please and hate telling people no. But, having been a consultant and client manager for ages, I would rather someone tell me they were too busy to help, forcing me to find another source, or avoid giving me too aggressive a deadline. This may not surprise people, but many deadlines that are not met are set by the person doing the work, not the client. Managing expectations is vital.

A favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, confessed in an interview that he writes in an unusual way that works for him. He said he does not do all his research up front, so he outlines the idea, does some research, writes some, does more research, writes some more and so on. Why? Two reasons – he said he would get bored doing all the research, then writing. Plus, the research is fresher in his mind when he writes soon thereafter. He portions out the work in smaller more manageable segments.

Sequential thinking can get in the way of moving forward. I am not suggesting everyone will think like Gladwell or the best project manager I mention above, but think in terms of smaller, earlier steps to move things along.

Book recommendations for the holidays

If you are looking for a last minute gift for the holidays, here are six suggestions for consideration.

A Man called Ove
by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a great read, but tough start as you get full on curmudgeon in Ove from the outset. Through memories and interaction with new neighbors, you get to peel away the layers and better understand him.

Flat Broke with Two Goats
by Jennifer McGaha

Based on her own story, the author wife discovers the hard way they are flat broke with the IRS wanting even more. Getting back to nature in a run down cabin was a crazy, but interesting path forward for her family.

Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens

This is a book about a woman who grew up on her own in the rustic North Carolina inlets. She is accused of a crime she did not commit. I am in the middle of this best seller and it is an enjoyable read.

The Only Woman in the Room
by Marie Benedict

This is a non-fiction novel about the actress (and scientist) Hedy LaMarr who escaped Austria and her domineering husband just prior to WWII. Her husband sold munitions to the Nazis and Italians, so she witnessed conversations as the only woman in the room including one with Mussolini and eavesdropping on Hitler berating her husband.

The Road to Character
by David Brooks

Brooks has written several good books. This non-fiction book defines the importance character plays. How we conduct ourselves matters. On this day, the president’s lack of character and common decency is underlying context to the impeachment subject.

Quiet: Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking
by Susan Cain

This is a very informational read. At one time, introversion was thought to be a deficiency that must be remedied. The book highlights how introversion finds it way into many surprising places of leadership and even with people who seem to be extroverted.

All are worth the effort, in my view.

Immortality in crosswords

It is often said you can’t live forever, but in crossword puzzles that is not entirely true. With the right name, you will be recurringly remembered. It is not necessarily the most famous names that come up. It is the names with at least a couple of vowels.

UMA Thurman is a popular actress, but her first name is even more popular in crossword puzzles.

ERMA Bombeck was a witty columnist and author. But, her first name lives on.

ENYA is an enchanting Irish songstress, but her solo name appears often.

Herman Melville’s most famous novel is “Moby Dick,” but in crossword puzzles “OMOO” beats it hands down.

Melville’s more read novel does show up, but its tormented Captain AHAB is the answer to many a puzzle question.

ALMA Gluck was a famous actress, but her first name lives on in puzzles. The same goes for IDA Lupino.

While Charlie Chaplin was the star, his last wife OONA is very popular in crosswords with three vowels.

Several deities appear with some frequency – ODIN, HERA, OLAF.

Even a pair of tennis playing sisters will periodically come up – SERENA and VENUS.

Finally, while he was most famous for playing Obi Wan Kenobi, ALEC Guiness lives on with the crossword Force.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you do crossword puzzles, please share a few of the names you use with some frequency.

Any Poldark fans out there?

On PBS Sunday, the last episode of the excellent series “Poldark” aired. My wife and I have enjoyed the show for years which is based on the novels by Winston Graham. For those who have never watched, the series is worth the effort. I must add that I did not read the novels, so I do not know how true the show is to its roots. It also had an earlier version that aired years ago, which I have not seen.

The series follows the trials and tribulations of a good-hearted, but sometimes rash and stubborn, man in his fight for his family and those who have been disenfranchised. Set in England in the late 1700s, Aidan Turner stars as Ross Poldark, with Eleanor Tomlinson playing his wife Demelza. His main nemesis, George Warleggan, is played well by Jack Farthing.

The female fans are keen to point out their enjoyment of watching Turner play Ross. But, we husbands got to see the lovely Tomlinson along with other actresses playing key roles, such as Heida Reed as Elizabeth and Gabriella Wilde as Caroline.

The plots are well-laid out, although you do get frustrated with Ross. Yet, he is a true blue friend and his heart is in the right place. The scenery on the coast is breathtaking, plus it is enabled by a beautiful instrumental as its theme song. And, there is good historical context about the times and issues.

If you plan on watching, please do not read the comments. For those who have watched the show, I want to inquire about your thoughts on the conclusion and final episode. I will stop here and respond to your thoughts in the comments. Again, for those who plan on watching or are currently watching, please avoid the comments.

You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference

“You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference.” Gerald Durrell

Who is Gerald Durrell? If you watched the BBC show “The Durrells in Corfu,” you would know Jerry was the young boy who loved all animals, birds, reptiles and insects. This true story was based on this progressive zookeeper’s book “My family and other animals,” which was a best seller in the UK in the 1950s.

The context for the quote was his warning that humans were destroying the forests to harvest the wood and farm the land. We were killing off the homes to many animals. This was prescient and could reemphasized today.

Yet, the quote applies to so much more. We do not have to be expert on climate change to make a difference. We do not have to be expert on the long lifespan of plastic to use fewer plastic contsiners. We do not need to be an expert to know we need to use our water resources wisely.

And, to Durrell’s point, we do need to be an expert to preserve and replenish forests. Trees, mangroves, etc. are also carbon eaters, so it is not just the animals we are protecting. Remember the title of the best seller above.

Monday Maxims

Our philosopher friend Hugh spawned this post citing a maxim. While unattributed, it bears repeating: those who are the least tolerant require more tolerance from others.

So, on this Monday in late October, let me mention a few maxims. Where I can, I will cite the source.

I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get – Gary Player, legendary golfer

It is better to be thought the fool, than to speak and remove all doubt – attributed to Mark Twain

It gets dark early out there – Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player

Wise men say, only fools fall in love, but I can’t help falling in love with you – sung by Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii

Those who shout the loudest usually have the worst argument – author unknown

I can’t wait ’til tomorrow, because I get better looking everyday – Broadway Joe Namath, Hall of Fame football quarterback

A good plan today will beat a perfect plan tomorrow – General Patton

When walking through hell, it is better to keep walking – Winston Churchill

Sleep is a weapon – Robert Ludlum in “The Bourne Supremacy”

Love a girl who holds the world in a paper cup, drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck – Kenny Loggins in “Danny’s Song

The longest journey begins with a short step – author unknown

There are many who talk about doing things, but few who actually get up out of their chair and go do them – author unknown

You have two ears and one mouth, it is better to use them in that proportion – recounted by an old CEO

Please feel free to amend or add your sayings.

Five easy memory tricks

With two of our four parents succumbing to complications due to Alzheimer’s, memory maintenance is of interest to my wife and me. Readers’ Digest ran an article by Andrea Au Levitt called “5 Easy Memory Tricks.” Her intro paragraph follows:

“You know that eating healthy, staying active, and solving a few brain games can help keep you sharp. But these lesser known habits work wonders, too.”

1. Sit tall – when slouching it follows or promotes defeated, anxious and depressive thoughts, which hinder memory.

2. Exercise – once – gains in memory after one exercise are similar to gains after regular exercise (note still do the regular stuff).

3. Limit TV – including online versions of TV, too much screen time can harm cognitive development and maintenance.

4. Doodle – people can remember things better if they doodle or draw a picture of what they are thinking of. Writing the words of the thing is not as memorable as drawing a picture.

5. Walk backward – real, imagined or watched walking backward or even forward, can help remember something. So, in keeping with #2 above, take a walk (and walk backwards on occasion).

Let me take one of the above and break it down more. One of the examples from Malcom Gladwell’s book, “Talking to strangers,” notes that torture is a horrible way to gain information. Why? Under trauma, people remember less than they would normally. The comment about sitting tall in #1 above, notes if we slouch we increase anxiety or depressive thoughts, a mild form of trauma.

Outside of the walking backward, I do the above things. The sitting tall actually helps this tall person with his back. As for doodling, for some reason when I work the various puzzles in the newspaper, I blacken in the circular letters (O’s, D’s, P’s etc.) in the title of the advice section (sorry Dear Abby). Maybe it helps me with the puzzles (or advice).

As I leave you, think of Barbra Streisand walking backward singing “Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories of the way we were.”