Every January, I make plans for a better year. I buy Moleskine notebooks. I read a bunch of self-improvement articles. I make a list of my goals. ThisEvery January, I make plans for a better year. I buy Moleskine notebooks. I read a bunch of self-improvement articles. I make a list of my goals. This year, I added The Power of Less to the mix. Babauta's text is like a concise version of Get Things Done, filled with exhortations to focus your attention, build good habits, avoid email time-sinks, and go after the most important tasks.
If you're already the sort of person who works hard on building good habits and prioritizing goals, this book may seem overly simple. But I like keeping things simple. That's the point, isn't it?
Books on organizing are so seductive. Each one promises you a shiny new life--free of clutter, dirty dishes, mismatched socks. Marie Kondo's book evenBooks on organizing are so seductive. Each one promises you a shiny new life--free of clutter, dirty dishes, mismatched socks. Marie Kondo's book even has the phrase "life-changing magic" in the title, so of course I had to read it.
Kondo's main idea is that physical objects are imbued with power, and your possessions should have the power to "spark joy." Don't grant burdensome objects the opportunity to roost in your home, filling you with resentment. Make room for those that spark you instead.
I recently finished a completely unrelated book--investor Charles T. Munger's "Poor Charlie's Almanack"--in which Munger attributes his extraordinary success as an investor to avoiding the mediocre and holding out for the really big ideas.
In both books, the idea is clear: do less, own less, hold out for something you'll treasure. Why engage in a frenzy of materialism, buying things you're not sure you want? Why own things, when you don't know why? Why clutter your life with mediocrity? Save your attention for something that will transform you.
Munger's book is called an almanack for a reason, since it's not really an autobiography of the legendary investor, not really an investment guide, noMunger's book is called an almanack for a reason, since it's not really an autobiography of the legendary investor, not really an investment guide, not really anything easy to categorize. I would call it a portrait of a remarkable mind.
As Munger sees it, we could do worse than to emulate Albert Einstein, who once said his successful theories came from "curiosity, concentration, perseverance, and self-criticism." Consequently, many of the stories in Poor Charlie's Amanack focus on the cultivation these traits.
Munger suggests that much of success in life isn't about having great strokes of genius; rather, it's about avoiding folly. We need to avoid addiction, avoid envy and resentment, avoid toxic and dishonest people, avoid making disastrous mistakes.
"People calculate too much and think too little," Munger says. "Part of [having uncommon sense] is being able to tune out folly, as opposed to recognizing wisdom. If you bat away many things, you don't clutter yourself."
But it's not enough to avoid disaster. Recognizing wisdom is important, too. Munger points out that anyone capable of reading critically can drill into the content of their library for usable ideas. We have the priceless benefit of other people's experience, conveniently compiled into books, so why should we learn all of life's hard lessons ourselves?
"We read a lot," Munger says, speaking of himself and his partner Warren Buffett. "I don't know anyone who's wise who doesn't read a lot. But that's not enough: you have to have a temperament to grab ideas and do sensible things. Most people don't grab the right ideas or don't know what to do with them."
Warren Buffett has called Munger "the abominable no-man" because of his tendency to reject investment opportunities he deemed mediocre. Munger would patiently sit on tens of millions of dollars for months or years, waiting for the right opportunity to come along. "It takes character," Munger notes,"to sit there with all that cash and do nothing. I didn't get to where I am by going after mediocre opportunities."
Ultimately, patience and preparation are the dual keys to his success. "Our game is to recognize a big idea when it comes along, when it doesn't come along very often. Opportunity comes to the prepared mind."
This strikes me as good advice, whether you're an investor or a poet. Your goal shouldn't be to throw stuff at the wall in the hopes of seeing what sticks. You should be working hard in a focused way, putting your best efforts into your best ideas. When you find something that really matters, go all in.
In terms of investing, this concept of saving your attention for the big idea is developed further by the image of the twenty-hole punch card. Paraphrasing Buffett, Munger says: "I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only twenty slots in it...representing all the investments you got to make in a lifetime. Once you'd punched through the card, you couldn't make any more investments at all. Under those rules, you'd really think carefully about what you did....so you'd do so much better." Good advice for a buy-and-hold investor, but also good advice in general. It's better to do twenty things that you've analyzed carefully, than to do hundreds of things that you haven't thought much about.
Munger urges readers to be self-aware. Know your own "circle of competence." For example, if you don't really understand how high-tech companies make money, you shouldn't be buying their stock. Don't follow like sheep without knowing where or why. "You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are," Munger says, explaining his own avoidance of many high-tech investments. "If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don't, you're going to lose."
The second half of Poor Charlie's Almanack consists of speeches that Munger has given over the years. Here's a representative exhortation to college students: "Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts."
This reminds me of the "10,000 hour rule" for achieving mastery. It's easy to get discouraged when you don't see fast progress, but the discipline of steady effort prepares you for those spurts when your efforts will pay off.