by James Altucher: Multi-Tasking
Will Kill You
you take any pride in your work?” Rob Sansom said to me on
his way to being a billionaire or at least a 100-millionaire. He
called me into his office. I had to write a manual and I did a bad
job at it because I was busy writing a novel in my spare time instead.
He was CEO of Fore Systems, which went public a year or two later.
I was employee number 10 or 11 but long gone when everyone was splashing
around in money.
know what to say. The real answer was “no, I don’t. It’s
a technical manual about a computer chip.” And I was 22 years
old and stupid. The wrong answer was “yes”, because if
I took pride in my work then there would not have been so many spelling
and grammar mistakes. (I guess I still don’t take pride in
A few months
later I quit. I then worked on a virtual reality project. I didn’t
have much pride in my work there either. I had to help create an
emotional model for the artificial characters in the virtual reality.
But I didn’t have any pride in that work either and it only
lasted a few months and maybe cost me some friendships. I thought
I would like it but the only thing I enjoyed doing was writing novels
that never got published.
At the time
I was working for a guy named Joe Bates. He was almost 20 years
older than me but we were good friends. He had gotten his PhD at
something like age 15 from Cornell. He was a genius but there was
a childlike side to him. He wanted to create a simple virtual reality
that he would have fun playing in. With creatures that bounced around
and that would respond via radar to whatever he was doing and express
to evoke the same feelings that I had when I first watched Bambi,”
he would say.
I looked up
recently what he was doing. Apparently he had given up on virtual
reality. He’s now at MIT working on something he’s inventing
called “sloppy chips”. A sloppy chip, unlike every other
computer chip, makes mistakes. But that’s ok. If you’re
doing a billion calculations to do some facial recognition, it doesn’t
matter if a few times 1+1=3. You give up 100% accuracy to improve
the speed. And if you get 99% accuracy as a result then that’s
pretty good for many things.
sloppy chips. But we try so hard to be perfect computers.
We try to do
everything right. We try to never let anyone catch us doing anything
wrong. I sort of blame the blogosphere right now. Everything’s
about how to be more productive, smarter, have a better memory,
how to be perfect. I look at all these posts and I might as well
be living in Lord of the Rings world. They seem like for people
from another dimension or reality.
10 ways its ok if we’re a little sloppier.
ok to fail at a business or at a job. A lot of times in an job
interview people will be asked, “why did you leave this job?”
and they’ll say, “my partners went crazy” or “my
boss was on nuclear steroids.” The blame will be someplace
else. But it’s ok to say, “I just wasn’t that good
at that job.” Or, “the business failed and it was my fault
but here’s five things I learned.”
My last business
that failed I learned these things:
chase after a fad (twitter-based businesses. Twitter is certainly
not a fad but businesses that rely on twitter (or Facebook) often
are. Well, at the very least I chased after it in the wrong way).
use the same crappy developers you used the first time around.
continue with a bad business just because everyone around you
is relying on you to continue with it.
dating businesses or a dime a dozen and much harder than they
who has 100,000 Twitter followers does not equal “distribution”.
ok to fail at a marriage or a relationship. It doesn’t
mean someone did something wrong or evil. People are human. They
outgrow each other. To force it might mean you could go awry on
being the best possible human you can be. The sloppy chip approach
(being flexible in your relationships, despite the standards of
society and Time magazine (the annual cover that says “Divorce
is bad for kids”) might not be right. Or maybe it’s ok
for you to be imperfect for awhile in order for you to find your
optimal solution. By the way, it’s hard to realize this in
the moment but when you are looking for the relationship answer
to “1 + 1 =” there are a LOT of answers other than just
“2”. Sometimes “2.1” or even “3.14”
is just as good.
ok to be unproductive today. Today is a hard day. The markets
might be volatile. Your kids might be sick. You might be feeling
tired. You might not feel inspired. The writer Raymond Chandler
had a great discipline. Even if he had writer’s block he’d
sit in front of a blank piece of paper for three hours. Just to
build the physical discipline of just SITTING there even if he couldn’t
write a single world. Half of the writing process is simply being
able to sit down for a long period of time and trying to focus your
mind. It’s ok if today didn’t work out. But if you make
a little progress (the sloppy chip approach), if you get a little
closer to your answer (even subconsciously) then that’s great.
You’re closer to your ultimate revelation, even if it’s
years away. By the way, hat tip to Haruki Murakami in “What
I Talk About When I Talk About Running” for the Raymond Chandler
So, in other
words, some days you might be productive. But on other days, slip
into the “sloppy chip” approach. Get something done. At
least plug in the equation, even if the wrong answer comes out.
But don’t beat yourself over the head if it’s not the
ideal productive day/week/month/year.
A lot of blogs
are in the “self help” genre. They want to tell you how
to be productive. How to maximize your time. “No Facebook!”
They say. Or “pick one hour a day to answer all emails and
stick to that hour only!” Or, “Cut a half hour a day from