The Billfold Book Club: David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’

What can I write about Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity besides “it changed the way in which I interact with the world?”

Going Above and Beyond Doesn’t Help You

We’ve all had that job evaluation, right? The one where you get ranked along a scale, and “Meets Expectations” is in the middle of the scale, followed by “Exceeds Expectations” and “No, Seriously, This Person Demolishes Expectations?”

When you see a scale like that, you know that in this company “Exceeds Expectations” actually means “Meets Expectations.” There’s a certain sadness in this reconfiguration of the language, in the idea that you have to figure out what the secret expectations are and then meet them so you can be marked down as having exceeded the original expectations.

Because, according to a new study in Social Psychological & Personality Science, people really do just want you to meet the expectations. They don’t actually want you to exceed them.

I read about this study in The Atlantic this morning, and it rang true like a bell. Of course people don’t really want you to go above and beyond; the social contract goes much more smoothly when everyone does what they say they’re going to do, and when everyone does what’s fair. Or, to quote Atlantic author James Hamblin:

Imagine you’re a kid with a cookie and a friend who has no cookie. What happens if you eat it all? Your friend will be upset. What happens if you give all of it away? Your friend will like you a lot. What if you give away half the cookie? Your friend will be just about as happy with you as if you gave him the whole thing. His satisfaction is a pretty flat line if you give anything more than half of the cookie. People judge actions that are on the selfish side of fairness. Maybe because we denigrate do-gooders, or because we’re skeptical of too much selflessness, the research shows that, as Epley put it, “It just doesn’t get any better than giving half of the cookie.” 

Job of the Day: NASA Test Subject

Here’s another “Would You Rather:” would you rather not have a job, or spend around 100 days in a NASA bed rest facility watching your muscles decay?

NASA has re-opened its application process for individuals interested in becoming subjects in the CFT 70 Countermeasure and Functional Testing in Head-Down Tilt Bed Rest study. To quote NASA: “Head down bed rest is a good way to mimic a person traveling in space without gravity.”

And sure, we’re all going to try a little head down bed rest this evening to see if it really feels like floating through space, but only a handful of us are going to apply to spend “70 days lying in bed, with your body slightly tilted downward.” 

The Total Cost of Being a Guest at a Convention

Last week I wrote about the cost of flying from SEA to DCA to be a guest at a convention.

Today, let’s look at the total costs, as well as what I earned while I was there.

The cost of getting me from Seattle to Rockville, MD, as tallied in my initial post, was $297.24.

Y’all noticed I didn’t include the cost of the flight itself in that tally (I was only counting every time I swiped my debit card on that actual day). The full cost of the round-trip plane ticket was $622.20, but I had a United voucher since they bumped me off a flight earlier this year, so it only cost me $322.20.

So that’s over $600 out of pocket even before the convention starts.

How Wizards Do Money: Sybill Trelawney

Sybill Trelawney knew she was going to retire before she did.

Most people know they’re going to retire before they do, but Sybill felt like she knew it, like it had been written in air and sent around the world via radio wave. She would retire in the early 2010s, and so she bid her farewell at the end of term in Spring 2014, the last possible date she could choose and make the prediction still accurate.

(Sybill preferred her predictions to be accurate.)

Sybill realized, once she left teaching, that she did not know where her money would come from. So she drank a cup of tea. She still didn’t know where her money would come from.

The Cost of Flying Across the Country to Be a Guest at a Convention

Opening Uber, seeing the “Surge Pricing” notification: $0 (because NOPE)

Yellow Cab to SEA: $50.70 (I’m going to this convention to talk about freelance writing, but I’m also going as the “occasional nerd musician” part of my bio, so I have music and merch stuff in two big bags. Otherwise I would have walked to the metro.)

Checking two bags: $60 ($25 for bag one, $35 for bag two, and why is it more expensive to check a second bag? It seems counterintuitive, economically; you want people to think checking two bags is a really great deal.)

Airport breakfast, SEA: $5 and change (I didn’t get the receipt so I don’t have an exact figure; included a banana, a lemon currant scone, and an enormous cup of coffee.)

Airplane WiFi, SEA-ORD: $9.99 (First time I’ve used internet on a plane, but I was able to complete five articles on my travel day so it was WORTH IT.)

Friday Estimate

I’m in Rockville, Maryland at the geek+creativity convention Intervention this weekend (betcha didn’t know that the entire day yesterday I was working from airplanes) so my spending will be a little unusual.

Today and Saturday it’ll just be the cost of hotel food*, but Sunday I’ll have to pay for the incidental costs of flying back to Seattle, including checking two bags because I’ve got a merch booth at Intervention and that means I get to haul my merch across the country.

So I’m guessing $80 for three meals each on Fri/Sat/Sun, and then $100 for checking two bags at the airport and then paying a taxi to get those awkward, heavy bags back from the airport to my apartment.

And probably an extra $20 on a souvenir from one of the Intervention merch booth dealers.

$200 total for the weekend. (I’m also expecting to earn $400 selling merch.)

How about you?

*Hotel food may also include adult beverages

Photo: thejaan

Reminder: The Billfold Book Club Is Discussing ‘Getting Things Done’ on Thursday, August 28

Thursdays at The Billfold are “Do 1 Thing” days, and if you haven’t done your 1 thing today you might consider taking whatever Next Action is next on your list re: preparing for our Billfold Book Club discussion of David Allen’s Getting Things Done next Thursday.

Is your Next Action “check to see if the book is available at the library?”

Is it “read the book?”

Maybe it’s “decide when I’m going to read the book,” because hard scheduling is an important part of the GTD system.

Your Next Action could, of course, be “decide not to read Getting Things Done because part of getting things done is letting some things go.”

But whatever your Next Action is, today is a very good day to do it.

I look forward to discussing this book with you next Thursday.

Photo: Camera Eye Photography

The Year We Saved $10K: I Try to Live Below the Salt

Let’s start the morning off with a Saved $10K story that taught me a new idiom: living below the salt.

Ruzielle: This year is the year I have saved over $10,000, and I did it because I’m incredibly lucky and also, I have serious workaholic tendencies. I spend my days off scouring the internet to make extra cash on the side—read: mock jury research, usability research ($50 an hour? Holla!), focus groups, etc.—and I take any chance I get to work overtime. Two years ago, I worked three jobs to beef up my savings and because: workaholic tendencies. Right now, I make okay-ish money for an unmarried woman without kids or animal friends ($45,000 plus range). I’m also a unicorn—I have zero consumer and/or “life happened” debt, zero car payments, and zero student loans.

My job has a 401(k) (sadly, it’s unmatched) and they take away $200 a month. Plus I also save about 20-25% of my post-tax income and any money I make on side jobs goes directly to my savings account. I received a huge chunk of tax refund money earlier this year from educational costs; it was around $4,000, and most of it went to savings. Also, I’m part of a twice-yearly bonus program at work and you guessed it, the money goes to savings. The bonus checks vary in amount; I’ve seen $1,000 dollars, and the one I just received was $250.

My housing costs are reasonable. I live alone and my rent and everything included is a flat fee of $1,100. I’m a bit of a recluse so I don’t spend all my time going out to happy hour with co-workers or going out, period. I’m not one to engage in FOMO, no matter how much fun going to Vegas is, or going to a bar that just opened. I try to live below the salt, because I have that mentality that I work X amount of hours to pay for this sweatshop shirt or whatever, so I might as well pay myself.

This past couple of months, I’ve made a conscious decision to cook more and meal plan. I’m fixated on fancy grocery stores and tend to pay $5 for a small cup of deli chicken salad which I can make at home and do a better job on it. I used to eat out a lot more but I get more disappointing meals than satisfying ones, and I just paid $15 on it. So I’m trying to be better at not eating out and the savings are adding up.

I also have to re-emphasize how luck plays into being able to save money. My bosses liked me a lot so I’m always first in line for raises, promotions, bonuses; I have lots of co-workers who never get ahead or get bonuses like I do, and I feel incredibly lucky.

Yes, I Do In Fact Owe My Entire Career to Browsing Reddit

I don’t foreshadow casually, so when I dropped “I actually owe my freelance career to Reddit and will tell you that story someday” in the tags this morning, well… you knew this was coming.

Back when I was trying to make a go of the touring musician thing, I realized that I was running out of money very, very quickly. (I was making surprising amounts of money as a musician, but touring was expensive so I wasn’t actually making a profit.)

At that point, I could have walked myself down to the nearest temp agency and done my usual trick of “I can type one billion words a minute at a Six Sigma error rate, please hire me.” The problem was that I was in the middle of working on Giant Robot Album and I had shows booked all over the country.

So I had to figure out something else.