[written in Iraq]
One thing I’ve picked up from studying the stock market and business, and from observing my father is time management. I obsess over the time value of things. How much would it cost me to save x amount of time? How can I streamline this process? How can I best utilize resources?
What I obsess over most however is management of my FREE time. A big lesson I’ve learned in the Army is that it does me no good to worry about management of work time. I’ve wasted so much time sitting around looking busy (or not even bothering looking busy) or sitting on shift doing no work that I’ve come to just accept it. The most annoying moments of Army life were the times when you weren’t allowed to make use of dead time by reading books or sleeping or studying. Oh, you could read a book as long as it was military-related. You could do Army correspondence courses. What? Oh, no, there’s no computer or Internet here to do that. Accepting that you’re doing absolutely nothing to earn your paycheck goes a long way in today’s military, even when deployed, where ever since I’ve arrived at my latest location, I’ve done nothing but use the Internet, watch DVDs, read, eat, and sleep.
Anyway. In my free time, it’s serious business. No time wasted. All brass, no tacks. I quantify watching TV and playing video games as the biggest wastes of time. While I enjoy them, I feel guilty about not doing something productive. Watching a new movie is far better. But watching a movie is not as fulfilling as reading a book. Reading a book is the ultimate in loner-productiveness. Unless you count writing, which I rarely do for fun but for my own sanity, as a catharsis.
The shift is EXTREMELY busy so I’m split on whether I should play Civilization 3 (the only game I can really enjoy on this old, dying laptop anymore), watch Ghost and the Darkness on the TV, or read. I settle on reading. It’s the most productive. It nurtures my mind. It fills me with ideas. Keeping my mind fresh while I exist in this dulled environment is critical.
But, you see, I can’t just read any book. It has to be an informative book, or an influential one. It has to have a wide-reaching topic, because pretty much I’m a person interested in wide-reaching ideas, less in more focused, directed ideas. Or it has to have reached the international or even national gestalt. My cultural and social education is on the line — I have to catch up, and after that, keep ahead.
Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if I became an Army officer instead of enlisted. For starters, I’d probably be commander of some mess hall somewhere. But I’ve seen officers work and they spend hours upon hours out of each day in meetings. What do they really accomplish in these meetings? How often is a meeting expedient, kept moving quickly, and productive? I understand face time but that should be done within the context of a work environment. These officer meetings just seem so artificial, staged, planned.
I can’t slow down. I have to keep up. I’m not in a rush for time, but I need to use my time efficiently. I’m 27. I’ve probably only been actively learning since I was 22 or 23. Before that, I learned what I was told. Initiative was low. I learned about the internet in high school and I took it in quickly. Growth and concentration in my academic studies slowed as a result. It would take years and two generations of web upgrades before I began to vastly increase the depth and breadth of my mind, shooting out tendrils of interest in more and more different directions to plunder the collection of knowledge already gained by others.
I have a hard time relaxing. At least, relaxing as in wasting time. I stopped playing video games and watching TV as I developed what feels like exponentially after college
ended. Sometimes I wake up after having only slept a few hours, racing the billions of ideas my mind’s been playing with while I’ve been sleeping over and over, waking up to write it all down before it loses its vividness, before it loses that power that an idea has ephemerally but which later seems pretty banal.
I watch movies now, but I rarely want to watch a movie a second time when there’s so many others I need to watch first, need to catch up, need to increase my exposure, awareness, capacity. I need to watch important movies, influential and creative and challenging ones. Throwaway entertainers are a distraction. I need to see movies that inspire me — I need to see movies that influence the gestalt. I need to see the movies that inspire the directors and writers and I need to know what movies are playing around the world, which ideas are on the lips of the creative, insightful, and ground-breaking.
There is also work time. For me that is military time. Which is hurry-up-and-wait time.
Picture this, if you will. I’m sitting in not-Iraq right now. I call it not-Iraq because there’s nothing Iraqi about it. It’s a base where nothing happens and Middle Eastern influence in any fashion is negligible. It’s a life of concrete, gravel, and fence. It’s a life of adrenaline-pumping jets taking off, the chopping of helicopter blades, the rumbling of large trucks and gunfire from the range. Being in not-Iraq is like being in the shittiest base in the U.S. while you’re on restriction, an Army-ism meaning you have to stay in uniform at all times and can’t leave the base, because you’re being punished. Imagine Fort Polk, Louisiana, only worse. Imagine the color palette consisting solely of industrial greys and woods. Imagine a shelled-out World War II village.
But I’d rather read books. Books are on a much higher level. Which is strange since my comprehension after one read is lower than my comprehension after one watch of a movie. I need to read books. I don’t like reading books because I can’t multi-task. If I’m reading, I can’t surf the net or watch a movie or concentrate on anything else. Which is hard since my mind is constantly thinking up new ideas, running through scenarios over and over for the most creative, natural, effective, simplest solution. But books are great. It’s just that there are so many and they take the most time of all to get through. To get to even a reasonably satisfactory level of awareness of books, I’d have to read another 1,000 of them.
So I’d be even less likely to read a book I’d already read. Which is weird since I’m doing exactly that. I’m re-reading Snow Crash because I’ve decided that my one idea that I need to focus on in life is that of the Metaverse, the virtual world that exists within Neal Stephenson’s seminal work. I need to refresh my mind of its many ideas, environments, attitudes.
The learning value of time. I never make decisions based upon the time value of money. The margin of variation in making a decision based on time versus money is large. I’m not afraid to spend money on something I know I’ll use. I’m not afraid to spend a lot of money. My dad is meticulous about the time value of money — he claims to have calculated that taking a toll-exit ramp and going to our house is cheaper than taking the free exit ramp to our house not more than a mile down the freeway. My belief is that riches are not earned or lost based on the small stuff like groceries vs. fast food, time vs. money, etc. Money is contingent upon the big purchases, the big debts.
I’m constantly thinking of new ways to use my time better. That is, my personal time. Productivity is key. I will do things the longer, harder way if it means I can control the entire process, but in the end that decision should lead to faster production and isn’t done just because I have a vain streak for coding. I code all the stuff on my site because I know exactly what’s there and can learn how to do it on my own. Obviously there are plenty of online tools but I still prefer to do it myself, the long way.
I once remarked to my old teammate that when I have my own business, it won’t have any meetings. Being the jackass that he is, he would later tell our boss, “Hey, did you hear Turner’s great idea for a business? SI NOT GOING TO HAV NE MEETINGS LOL!” Okay, so maybe I think too much time is wasted on meetings. It seems to me like military senior officers spend all day arguing nitpicks and trivialities like body armor thickness versions and chains of responsibility. Remember in 3rd grade when your math teacher would tell you you needed to know all this stuff? Well I think the only stuff that ever applied to is officer stuff. I heard the Pentagon runs on PowerPoint presentations — somewhere some brand-new lieutenant is like, “Whoah, Ms. Halsted was right! I’m using Venn diagrams, greatest common denominators, and Thanksgiving hand turkeys every day now!” I have a business in my mind, but it does not have a focus yet. So far all I can think of are dozens of stunningly efficient and simple ways to run the business, slick webapp ajax php project management packages and green plant business environment and ecological energy-efficient architecture and tight-knit development outlines.
Turns out that Google has a theory about meetings is that most of it can be taken care of by placing a team in close quarters so that they can ask each other or bounce ideas off one another right there, instead of dealing with e-mail response lag, voicemail tag, and meeting wrap-ups. I bet if you added up all the man-hours spent on meetings, preparing for meetings, showing up to meetings early, cancelled meetings, notifications of meetings, planning other events around meetings, and so on, you could have cracked the best encryption, demonstrably reversed the effects of cancer, and turned a 500$ million profit.
At least Google, Inc. agrees with me. I’ve discovered the value of Julie time. The thing about Julie time is that it has become the most precious time of all to me, and the most meaningful. I think most people who know me would agree that I’m pretty driven for career, money, fame. But that’s all changed after Iraq. Career is important to me because it is what will satisfy my inner thirst and need to express myself and create. Money is also important because having money means having opportunities, and comparing opportunities and making them into reality is my lifeblood. Fame I have learned is worthless. In fact it is less than worthless — it is dangerous. I’ve seen stalking first-hand of people who did nothing except have a public persona. Politics is an extremely risky game played by people who will stop at nothing to win, people who will burn everyone they know in order to succeed. Having a name means destructive criticism, caricature of personality and ideas, and is a lethal risk in the intelligence, counter-terrorist, and military world.
I used to think that Julie time might mean a sacrifice of other time. But now I see that the only way is to balance them all out. Julie is what makes me happy. Being with her is what defines me as a person. Loyalty, love, and selflessness toward family are a worthwhile legacy. I would not trade anything else for Julie time. I believe I have shown maturity in seeking out paths for my future which fully integrate Julie into my life. I believe that the world is vast enough, and nature kind enough, to allow me opportunities to have a perfect life in this regard. Without Julie’s smile, kiss, and love for me, what does everything else mean? I must savor her. Julie is the journey and the destination, the inspiration and the reward. Besides, she’s a shoulder and a good kisser and a true French lover.
Now that I’m home, I’m restless. Restless because my job has become a dead-end. I file paperwork and shred that same paperwork later. I don’t have access needed to do my job. I don’t work with the people I trained with and deployed with. I can’t do what I was trained to do anymore. No one knows what my situation is. And I have a year left of this dead-end before I’m set free.
So right now I hate getting up for work. And I’ve been sitting on my ass watching TV and playing Battlefield 2. Very unproductive, very restless. I don’t work out every other night like I used to. I’m not depressed but this is what happens when I have nothing to work towards or to motivate me. Before I deployed, I was psyched about going over there to learn about it and to serve in the Army. I felt useful. I felt like there was so much I had to do to be ready to take it all in. Right now I’m in limbo. I didn’t realize until lately that it was bothering me.
I hate the feeling. I know I will get over it as my future opportunities get closer. As I can see my day of getting out of the Army come. It’s just sad to me that it’s come to this. I’ve loved the Army, what I’ve given it and what it’s given me. I enjoyed most of my time in Iraq. I enjoyed all the people I met. There’s no better way to learn about life, diversity, and leadership. But all the constructiveness has been taken away from me. It’s just a job to me now. I didn’t join for an easy job like most people do. I joined to make a difference. And now because of things that happened, I’m biding my time.
Bleh. =P Hopefully by this time next year, after much more wasting time, I’ll be readying myself for grad school and moving in with my girlfriend. And big steps closer to starting a company. And having a huge investment portfolio. And having a successful web site and name. Hopefully.