Taking It Easy


Summer in Montevideo.

A good friend of mine recently suggested that I read Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I found the book pretty mediocre, but I did like its advocacy of accepting compromise and letting leisure. The issue is, Burkeman argues, that we find ourselves facing a world where work begets work, and if you keep finishing off the small tasks first in hopes of eventually being able to free time up for the serious stuff, you'll never get to the serious stuff.

In the great tradition of "business/self help books that can be summarized in a paragraph", Burkeman writes:

Hence the old parable about a vacationing New York businessman who gets talking to a Mexican fisherman, who tells him that he works only a few hours per day and spends most of his time drinking wine in the sun and playing music with his friends. Appalled at the fisherman’s approach to time management, the businessman offers him an unsolicited piece of advice: if the fisherman worked harder, he explains, he could invest the profits in a bigger fleet of boats, pay others to do the fishing, make millions, then retire early. “And what would I do then?” the fisherman asks. “Ah, well, then,” the businessman replies, “you could spend your days drinking wine in the sun and playing music with your friends.”

I did recently read another book recently called Busy Doing Nothing, by Rekka Bellum and Devine Lu Linvega, which I loved. It's a charming book, a sailor's log of their journey sailing from Japan back to Canada, infused with adorable illustrations and creative recipes at sea. A key part of their book is understanding and accepting their situation at sea: they intentionally chose to not rush through passages that could've been dangerous, and to live with the discomforts along the way. To be busy doing nothing is to accept the fact that there's some days where you're not going to go anywhere, and taking a rest is fine.

I've been thinking more and more recently about what I wanted to accomplish this year. On a bike ride the other day, I realized that my career was going to turn 8 years old this year. Eight! At eight years old I left China, at eight years I've been a "professional" software engineer for my entire 20's! Usually in January I make yearly plans, trying to figure out what I want to tackle throughout the year. A few years back, I decided that I wouldn't treat my plans like specific goals, but rather signposts along the way. Like any good signpost, they help you from being led astray too far, but also provide shelter to lean against along in the road.

As a result, I think this year I'm going to try and take things easy. Looking back at the last stats for the last 8 years:

Category Things Done
Languages Learned Arabic, Spanish
Programming Languages Erlang/Elixir, C++, Python, Golang
Master's Degrees 1
Countries Lived in Iraq, Uruguay, US
Fields Worked In Video streaming, observability, financial markets, sports betting, Shi'a rituals

I think I've done alright. In the spirit of Burkeman and accepting compromise and in the spirit of being busy doing nothing, this year I've got two things I want to work towards: getting to be native fluent at Spanish, and contributing in a major way to the Erlang ecosystem.

Posted: 2024-01-22
Filed Under: personal, books