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The Redemptive Power of Reading & The Wrong Side of Right

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen
Description: Allen expounds on the steps/details involved when answering the “next actions” question


There are three types of action steps you can take:

1) Do it
2) Delegate it
3) Defer it

Do it — Two minute rule — if you could do it in under two minutes or less, do it right then and there. If you defer these kinds of activities, they go from being things that can get done really quickly to things that require a lot of time to process and plan. Just go ahead and get them out of the way right away. The two minute time frame is just a guideline. You can make this a one minute rule or a 5 minute rule depending on your working style and needs. Do not allow your entire day to be governed by two minute activities. If you find this happening, you’re getting stuck in reactive mode. It may be helpful to set aside blocks of time for these kinds of activities.

Delegate it — If you delegate something, get an estimate on when the results can be expected and have a system for tracking or following up on those results. Even though you’ve delegated things to someone else, you’re still responsible for the outcomes.

Defer it — Most of your work will fall into this category. Keep a pending file for things you’re working on.


“Doing a straightforward, clear-cut task that has a beginning and an end balances out the complexity-without-end that often vexes the rest of my life. Sacred simplicity.” —Robert Fulghum

“This is perhaps the most fundamental practice of this methodology. If there’s something that needs to be done about the item in “in,” then you need to decide what, exactly, that next action is. “Next action,” again, means the next physical, visible activity that would be required to move the situation toward closure. ”

“Until you know what the next physical action is, there’s still more thinking required before anything can happen—before you’re appropriately engaged. ”

“Remember that these are physical, visible activities. Many people think they’ve determined the next action when they get it down to “set meeting.” But that’s not the next action, because it’s not descriptive of physical behavior. How do you set a meeting? Well, it could be with a phone call or an e-mail, but to whom? Decide. If you don’t decide now, you’ll still have to decide at some other point, and what this process is designed to do is actually get you to finish the thinking exercise about this item. If you haven’t identified the next physical action required to kick-start it, there will be a psychological gap every time you think about it even vaguely. You’ll tend to resist noticing it, which leads to procrastination. ”

“Determine what physical activity needs to happen to get you to decide. ”

“If the next action can be done in two minutes or less, do it when you first pick the item up. If the e-mail requires just a thirty-second reading and then a quick yes/no/other response back to the sender, do it now. If you can browse the catalog in just a minute or two to see if there might be anything of interest in it, browse away, and then toss it, route it, or reference it as required. If the next action on something is to leave a quick message on someone’s voice mail, make the call now. Even if the item is not a high-priority one, do it now if you’re ever going to do it at all. ”

“The rationale for the two-minute rule is that it’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your hands—in other words, it’s the efficiency cutoff. If the thing’s not important enough to be done, throw it away. If it is, and if you’re going to do it sometime, the efficiency factor should come into play. ”

“The two-minute rule is magic. ”

“Two minutes is in fact just a guideline. If you have a long open window of time in which to process your in-tray, you can extend the cutoff for each item to five or ten minutes. If you’ve got to get to the bottom of all your input rapidly, in order to figure out how best to use your afternoon, then you may want to shorten the time to one minute, or even thirty seconds, so you can get through everything a little faster. ”

“You’ll be surprised how many two-minute actions you can perform even on your most critical projects. ”

“The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye. . . . The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.” —J. Bronowski

“That said, you shouldn’t become a slave to spending your day doing two-minute actions. This rule should be applied primarily when you are engaging with new input; for example, processing your in-tray, interacting with someone in your office or home, or simply dealing with some random intersection in the hallway. But if you don’t do it when it shows up, and you do still need to do it, you will have to take the time and energy to capture, clarify, and track it, to prevent its encroachment into your head. ”

“As you develop your own customized system, what you eventually hand off and then track could look like a list in a planner, a file folder holding separate papers for each item, and/or a list categorized as Waiting For in your software. For now, if you don’t have a trusted system set up already, just put a note on a piece of paper—“W/F: reply from Bob”—and put that into a Pending stack of notes in a separate pile or tray that may result from your processing. ”

“Again, I define a project as any outcome you’re committed to achieving that will take more than one action step to complete. If you look through an inventory of actions that you have already been generating—“Call Frank about the car alarm”; “E-mail Bernadette re: conference materials”—you’ll no doubt recognize a number of things that are larger than the single action you’ve defined. There’s still going to be something to do about the car alarm after the call to Frank, and there will still be something to handle about the conference after the e-mail to Bernadette. I hope you’re able to see the very practical reason for defining projects as broadly as I do: if the action step you’ve identified will not complete the commitment, then you’ll need some stake in the ground to keep reminding you of actions you have pending until you have closure. ”

“A “Projects” list may include anything from “Give holiday party” to “Divest the software product line” to “Finalize compensation package.” The purpose of this list is not to reflect your priorities but just to ensure that you’ve got placeholders for all those open loops. ”

“Whether you draw up your Projects list while you’re initially processing your in-tray or after you’ve set up your action lists doesn’t really matter. It just needs to be done at some point, and it must be maintained, as it’s the key driver for reviewing where you are and where you want to be, and to maintain a sense of week-to-week control of your life. ”

Resource: David Foster Wallace on the Redemptive Power of Reading and the Future of Writing in the Age of Information
Description: Wallace on why he was drawn to reading, how TV shapes our artistic tastes, and how to make good art


When deciding what kind of art to make, start with yourself. Write the sorts of things you would like to read. Compose the sorts of songs you’d like to listen to. Create the sorts of products you’d like to buy. Thinking too much about how big your audience will be can psyche you out and drive you nuts.

Fiction does more than just teach moral lessons and impart empathy. It helps you make sense out of your own life. Through the lives of other characters, we come to understand the things we have lived.

Following your inspiration to read will help you generate inspiration to write.

Fiction provides us with a way of talking about stuff that we normally don’t discuss.


“If you think about … the size of the audience or how much it will appeal to the reader, you go nuts fairly quickly.”

“There’s this part that makes you feel full. There’s this part that is redemptive and instructive, [so that] when you read something, it’s not just delight — you go, “Oh my god, that’s me! I’ve lived like that, I’ve felt like that, I’m not alone in the world…”

“The way I am as a writer comes very much out of what I … want as a reader and what got me off when I was reading. A lot of it has to do with … really stretching myself … really having to think and process and feel in ways I don’t normally feel.”

Resource: The Nature of the Fun: David Foster Wallace on Why Writers Write
Description: Wallace on what makes writing fun, how we lost the fun, and how we rediscover it

Writing usually begins as a kind of escape. An escape from the world of external obligations. An escape into our own dreams, fantasies, beliefs, longings, etc. We initially write in order to explore and express ourselves in a context that’s free of the usual demands and restrictions that govern conventional life. But something paradoxical happens when the world sees someone sharing their ideas and stories with such vulnerability, transparency, and self-authenticity: a tribe of admirers, fans, and supporters begin to emerge. People find themselves inspired or entertained by our work. And gradually the writer gets hooked on the praise or love. And the writer begins to write not just for himself, but for an audience that he wants to move or touch. This is a good thing. In a paradoxical sense, the egoic desire to be praised makes the writer less egoic. But this also can lead to a loss of one’s first love. The key to recovery is going back to your initial audience of one. But this return to what Wallace calls “the fun” is more than just a mere return to what existed in the past. When you return, you’ll find that “the fun” has been transformed by your deviation from it. Because of your experience with the world –being praised, hated, ignored, loved— you’ll have a maturer concept of fun. Instead of the purely hedonistic masturbatory pleasure of writing just for yourself, you’ll have a sense of writing for fun with a sense of discipline and responsibility. This is the paradox: by deviating from the fun, we set ourselves up for a return to something fuller.


“Fiction becomes a weird way to countenance yourself and to tell the truth instead of being a way to escape yourself or present yourself in a way you figure you will be maximally likable.”

“In the beginning, when you first start out trying to write fiction, the whole endeavor’s about fun. You don’t expect anybody else to read it. You’re writing almost wholly to get yourself off. To enable your own fantasies and deviant logics and to escape or transform parts of yourself you don’t like. And it works – and it’s terrific fun. Then, if you have good luck and people seem to like what you do, and you actually start to get paid for it, and get to see your stuff professionally typeset and bound and blurbed and reviewed and even (once) being read on the a.m. subway by a pretty girl you don’t even know it seems to make it even more fun. For a while. Then things start to get complicated and confusing, not to mention scary. Now you feel like you’re writing for other people, or at least you hope so. You’re no longer writing just to get yourself off, which — since any kind of masturbation is lonely and hollow — is probably good. But what replaces the onanistic motive? You’ve found you very much enjoy having your writing liked by people, and you find you’re extremely keen to have people like the new stuff you’re doing. The motive of pure personal starts to get supplanted by the motive of being liked, of having pretty people you don’t know like you and admire you and think you’re a good writer. Onanism gives way to attempted seduction, as a motive. Now, attempted seduction is hard work, and its fun is offset by a terrible fear of rejection. Whatever “ego” means, your ego has now gotten into the game. Or maybe “vanity” is a better word. Because you notice that a good deal of your writing has now become basically showing off, trying to get people to think you’re good. This is understandable. You have a great deal of yourself on the line, writing — your vanity is at stake. You discover a tricky thing about fiction writing; a certain amount of vanity is necessary to be able to do it all, but any vanity above that certain amount is lethal.”

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” -Vonnegut

“The smart thing to say, I think, is that the way out of this bind is to work your way somehow back to your original motivation — fun. And, if you can find your way back to fun, you will find that the hideously unfortunate double-bind of the late vain period turns out really to have been good luck for you. Because the fun you work back to has been transfigured by the extreme unpleasantness of vanity and fear, an unpleasantness you’re now so anxious to avoid that the fun you rediscover is a way fuller and more large-hearted kind of fun. It has something to do with Work as Play. Or with the discovery that disciplined fun is more than impulsive or hedonistic fun. Or with figuring out that not all paradoxes have to be paralyzing. Under fun’s new administration, writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers everywhere share and respond to, feel. Fiction becomes a weird way to countenance yourself and to tell the truth instead of being a way to escape yourself or present yourself in a way you figure you will be maximally likable. This process is complicated and confusing and scary, and also hard work, but it turns out to be the best fun there is.”

“The fact that you can now sustain the fun of writing only by confronting the very same unfun parts of yourself you’d first used writing to avoid or disguise is another paradox, but this one isn’t any kind of bind at all. What it is is a gift, a kind of miracle, and compared to it the rewards of strangers’ affection is as dust, lint.”

Resource: The Wrong Side of Right by Shane Parish
Description: Shane Parish shares insights from his past experiences wrestling with the fear of being wrong


We often associate being valuable with being right and we associate being right with never being wrong. This leads to an inability to recognize our mistakes, accept critical feedback, and build trust.

Nothing is more wrong than the belief that is wrong to ever be wrong.

When you’re willing to be wrong, you actually increase the probability of discovering truth. You also incentivize people to be more honest with you.

Focus more on learning and growing than on always winning and being right. Don’t let your ego get in to the way of your evolution.


“One big mistake I see people make over and over is focusing on proving themselves right, instead of focusing on achieving the best outcome.”

“For the longest time, I thought that if the winning idea wasn’t my idea, then I’d be nothing. I thought no one would see me as valuable. No one would see me as insightful. People would think I wasn’t adding value. And worse, I’d see myself as not contributing. I’ve never been so wrong.”

“The most important lesson I’ve learned from running a company is that the more I give up trying to be right, the better the outcomes get for everyone.”

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