Category Archives: Time

Finish Theodosian Code before golf!


I found my 2003/04 diary.

On 23 December:

Finish Theodosian Code before golf!

The Theodosian Code is a late Roman legal text. It’s a great source – I almost did a PhD on it. But it needed to be finished before I played golf with Nick.

An old diary is a time machine. But when you arrive in that former age, not everything has changed.

In 2003/04 I was in my final year at Oxford. But it was not a life of pure pseudo-academic splendour. In the same week I had:

  • White tie ball at New College (26 June)
  • Start work as a pot washer in a restaurant back home (30 June)

Juxtapositions like this – Roman law and golf, posh decadence and pot washing – occur throughout.

There are many things in there that feel a very long time ago – History lecture times (3x per week in term), Masters application deadlines (mostly 15 Jan), family events with long-passed relatives (late April),  and cooking plans with long-lost girlfriends (ok, I wasn’t exactly a player… it was one cooking plan with one long-lost girlfriend – 6 April).

But what stands out most are the things that have not changed, even 12 years later.

The same fantasy football league is still going strong, and we even have a trophy engraved with the winners’ names these days.

And I still hang out as much as possible with the same friends whose 20th and 21st birthdays we celebrated back then.

The world keeps turning. But not everything has to change.

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God jul!

Konked out

An Amazon review of Konk, a double album by The Kooks:

They shouldn’t have made the 2-disc edition. You don’t have to release every sh*t you ever recorded.

Sounds familiar? Less is more. Quality over quantity. Etc. 

But it’s more complex than that. Sometimes quantity is better. The Mail Online has >100 journalists pumping out celebrity gossip stories, because those drive the pageviews which in turn bring the ad revenue. For the Mail, maybe adding quantity is smarter than adding quality. 

I’m very interested in these grey areas. Blanket statements hide the nuances.

I just finished a book called Turn The Ship Around!. A US Navy commander writes about introducing a ‘leader-leader’ model (instead of the traditional ‘leader-follower’ model) on his submarine. It’s a good book, all very empowering and life-affirming – but there is not a lot of grey.

When should you hold back from empowering staff?

How do you manage accountability when responsibility is so thoroughly delegated?

In what circumstances are the staff, not the system, seen to be the problem?

We rate pretty highly in leader-leader coverage in the teams I have worked in. But I find it very hard to believe that I have all the solutions already latent inside of me, or that if something goes wrong, all that’s needed is a little more empowerment. It sounds like the supposed disaster emerging at Zappos under holacracy. And very little consideration of these grey areas appears in the book. 

Next time you hear one of these truisms – less is more, quality over quantity – just stop for a minute. Is it really true?

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Small numbers


This ammonite fossil is 170 million years old.

That’s a hard number to grasp, so let’s put it in context.

It’s just over 2000 years since we switched from BC to AD. For us, 2000 years ago is ancient history.

But 2000 years are nothing to this little fossil. What proportion of his existence do those 2000 years represent?

Not much: he is so old that the entire AD era – starting when the Romans ruled Britain, Augustus was on the throne, and Jesus was born – is only 0.00001% of his time on Earth.

Firing Einstein: Unoptimise Your Life

We should definitely fire that Einstein guy. And Newton, slacking off under that tree over there. And as for Archimedes – man, what a waster. Get out of the bath and back to work, ffs.

Inefficiency is the serpent in the garden of our techo-paradise. There’s a crusade against it. Its soldiers ask us: how do we minimise waste, increase output, prioritise correctly?

But necessity is not the true mother of invention – it’s the wicked step-mother, hassling and stressing you out. To invent, you require a little inefficiency.

The Romans had a concept called otium. Senators did it. It means spending time mixing business and pleasure. Cicero, Horace, Livy and Seneca would withdraw to their villas to practice a mixture of relaxing, writing letters to friends, patrons and clients, conducting research, composing works of art and science.

This was unoptimised time. Unoptimised time that produced some of the greatest works of the ancient world. Cicero was an archetypal orator, Horace wrote beautiful poetry, Livy was one of the fathers of history, Seneca wrote the beautiful On The Shortness Of Life (just finished reading it; highly recommended).

For St Augustine, otium was a requirement for creativity. It means making the time and space to think. It’s hard to find, and hard to justify to others. But it will get results.

Unoptimise your life.

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Picture by Jill Heyer, via Unsplash

Read next:

I Quit 200 Hours Too Late

To-do lists

A Couple Of Zeroes

Monk-ey business

The bones of four thousand dead friars line the walls of this Capuchin Crypt in Rome.

They want to remind visitors of the brevity of life on Earth:

We were like you once. Soon you will be like us.

Cheery stuff, thanks lads! There’s lots of this kind of thing around – ‘Do it now, don’t wait’ / ‘Carpe diem’ / ‘YOLO baby!’.

It’s easy to scoff, because scoffing is easier than acknowledging it’s true. Tick-tock, time keeps marching on. Time never comes to an end, but you and I will.

The consequences of embracing this idea are unsettling: every second is precious, so every second is under pressure.

But this quickly becomes impractical. This had better be the best shit of my life!

The feeling of living on limited time might put getting older into perspective. Those years ain’t coming back, and my inevitable demise draws ever nearer.

But in the past month I’ve started a new blog, had a mad idea for a pizza festival, and put my name to a funding proposal for a digital history project at a London university.

So long as things like that keep happening, you’re all good. It’s only when they stop that you notice the time passing.

Today’s my 30th birthday. Can’t hear a ticking sound just yet…

Did you make anything today?

Isaac Asimov wrote and edited over 500 books, plus 90,000 letters and postcards.

Did you make anything today?

A couple of zeroes

There are something like 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. The universe is 13,700,000,000 years old. Even in our little solar system (surrounding one of the 200,000,000,000-400,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy), the nearest planet to Earth (Venus) is 25,700,000 miles away.

In 100 years I’ll be dead and so will you. In 1,000 years the houses we live in will be dust and books and gadgets we hold dear will have wasted away. In 7,500,000,000 years the Earth will crash into the Sun and that will be that.

You know what? It doesn’t matter.

Not because we’re tiny beings who will be gone in a cosmic instant, blah blah blahzzzzz.

It doesn’t matter because most of those numbers are so huge that they’re meaningless. Add or subtract a couple if zeroes and no-one’s going to notice.

So what matters – the only thing that can matter – is what’s happening right here, right now.

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How to become a world-ranked sportsman (just like me)

In 2010 I was ranked #705 in the world. Heady days!

I also made it to #105 in Britain. I won a bronze medal in the British Championships and had beaten a couple of tricky opponents at the English Open.

But then I quit.

Why?

Not burn-out for sure. No injuries to speak of. No drug rumours swirling! (My agent took care of those.)

I quit because I didn’t want to practice. I was playing 2-3 times a week but I was getting tired of the late nights, it meant a lot of travelling, and winter was coming.

So I quit, and abandoned my world ranking.

But how did I get it in the first place? Skills + Niche.

1) Skills

I’ve been playing tennis since I was a kid – I’m not great (ok club standard at best), but it means my hand-eye coordination is decent so I’ve always been ok at other racket sports.

2) Niche

My world ranking came in a sport called racketlon. ‘Racket-l-o-n‘. It’s a Finnish sport: you play the same opponent in table tennis, then badminton, then squash, then tennis (with a two-minute break between sports). It’s first to 21 points in each sport, and you add up all the scores at the end to see who won.

Racketlon is pretty niche. My friend Jo told me about it and the next day I discovered I could simply sign up on the internet to play in the British Championships, which were happening the following weekend. I got my British Champs bronze by beating one guy – there were only four entrants in the amateur category, so by winning one match I came 3rd and got the bronze.

Skills + Niche = World ranking!

That’s probably true in lots of areas outside Finnish sports. Wikipedia’s list of sports is enormous. Maybe you would be a world-class player of Hooverball, Yukigassen or Old Cat? Figure out what you’re good at, and apply it to a niche.

The same must be true outside sports as well. It’s pretty cool to be the best damn recycled pencil maker in the world. Or the finest mandolin stringer in the world, or the funniest fridge poet. And if you combine >1 thing you can create all sorts of other niches – I’m sure someone out there is the greatest maker of brail for packaging, and there must be world-class manufacturers of shoelaces for football boots and utterly brilliant writers of jokes for Christmas crackers.

Who knows who they are – who cares? So long as they know, so long as they get the rewards of a feeling of mastery, and so long as they can hang out with the other best guys and girls around, it will still be a pretty cool feeling.

It’s not so hard to be one of the best in the world if you combine Skills + Niche.

So if you want a game of racketlon, come and get me.

But be warned: I’ve got this little bad boy in the trophy cabinet already, and your head is next.

 

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Your New Year’s resolutions won’t work, so try this instead!

Your New Year’s resolutions won’t work, so don’t stress about keeping them!

Instead follow James Altucher and decide on a theme – something to tend towards, instead of an absolute promise that you’re unlikely to keep and will feel bad when you break.

So I have no resolutions at all for this year. Only one theme.

I’m sticking to one but there are lots to choose from. It could mean less email or less TV or less booze. Not ‘no email’ or ‘no TV’ or ‘no booze’ – those are specific resolutions and they’re almost impossible to keep. A theme like ‘less email’ is much more manageable: it would encourage me not to check my email so often when I get up or last thing at night, not to be reading emails on the journey to or from work, not to be tapping away on my phone when I’m on the loo (I know you do that too).

But for me in 2013 ‘do less’ that means less projects. Less new ones. Less old ones. Less continuing with projects I’ve lost interest in. Less less less.

So today I’m killing off two projects.

1. toddmgreen time machine

This is a collection of things I find interesting, beautiful, or inspiring. The aim is to record specific things I think are cool, along with the date when I discovered them – like a time machine for interests. A new post has appeared every Tuesday at 10pm UK time since September 2011 – 79 in all. I posted today’s just now though and it’s the last post.

2. Advice for Media Students

This is a project I made for the undergraduate class I was teaching. I figured it would be easier to teach the students how to make a web project if I did one too. So I made a site (18 posts in all) offering practical advice on how to get a media job. I’m done with teaching for now, so although I think there’s a gap here for something like AFMS, I’m done with this project too.

Two dead projects. Less less less.

So why do less?

To make room for more.

More time for getting good at my new job.

More time to help plan mine and Emma’s wedding.

More time to write!

Themes not resolutions. Less is more. Happy new year.

 

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Thankfully it wasn’t cancer

There was a lump on my testicle and it needed to be investigated.

I went to the doctor and she sent me to the hospital for tests – a bad sign. There was a lump and the doctor was worried.

I walked around those few days in a trance. I couldn’t taste anything. I felt like my whole body was inside my head and that I was one step removed from what I was doing, like there was a pane of glass between me and the world.

Maybe I should have been thinking about all the stuff I still wanted to do with my life but actually all felt was fear. It consumed me, froze me, jellied my brain. I couldn’t talk to people properly but I didn’t want to tell anyone what was going on. I just wanted it all to go away, I didn’t want to be me any more and I really didn’t want to be ill.

I went to three different departments at the hospital and in the last one you could see people who actually had cancer and were going through treatment. I remember one guy in a wheelchair being pushed past the seating area I was in. He had no hair, his skin was pale white, he had the sweats you get when you’re feverish, and he looked totally zoned out, in a daze.

This guy looked really ill and I think he was going to die.

‘Todd Green?’ – my turn.

I stood up and walked with the doctor through to a dark room. I lay on the bed and the scan began. My head started spinning and it was like in books and movies where you see all the things you’ve done and people you’ve loved whirling past at once.

The doctor stopped scanning.

‘Mr. Green, you’re ok. It’s not cancer. You’re all clear.’

Thank fuck for that.

‘The lump is just a …’ – I don’t actually remember what it was because as soon as I got the all-clear my brain was flooded with relief and gratitude and love for this wonderful life and all I wanted to do was run up a mountain and jump the moon and sing ‘You and I are gonna live forever’ from the roof of that terrible, beautiful hospital.

If it really had been a film then some profound life change would have happened that day – as I walked out through the hospital doors I would have gone down on my knees and sworn to the universe that I would never again take anything for granted, that I would love and honour my fellow human beings in some new and cosmic way, and that I would immediately quit my self-serving job and dedicate my life to helping the afflicted.

That didn’t happen.

But the thing that has stayed with me, nearly four years later, is the feeling of fear.

For that short time I really felt utter, engulfing terror. Writing this has made me peer back into the abyss but I was a few steps down there for a while, and I can barely imagine what it must be like for people who live there for real.

I’m pretty sure my brain prevents me from feeling that fear every day – the whole experience has been assimilated now because in the end I wasn’t ill, and because otherwise it would be difficult to get on with stuff.

And I’m glad of that, because I don’t want to be thinking ‘Make the most of today, who knows what tomorrow will bring!’ all the time, or even ‘This could be your last pizza, better enjoy it!’.

But revisiting that experience is a powerful thing, even if it’s only once in a while.

It does make me more excited about the day. It does make me more grateful. And it does make me worry less about what’s 5 or 10 years down the road, and focus on what’s happening right now.

Today I’m writing my blog, playing tennis, and going for dinner with my girlfriend. And I’m going to bloody well enjoy it.

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