I’m a big fan of books. The way they transport you away to other places and so on. As repositories of knowledge and adventure they can’t be beat. I can think of no better way out of an existential fix than reading.

The trouble is I tend to hoard them. I’ve posted pictures of book stacks before (on more than one occasion). I could probably repeat that every month if I wanted to, perhaps even more often. I’ve always been a networked thinker, able to see (at least superficially) the connections between all sorts of things. Because of this I get excited and enthusiastic about all kinds of things, and I want to learn them all.

My motto: learn all the things. If only I had some sort of heraldic crest below which those words could float on a trompe l’oeil fluttering scroll. I can picture it now: a Bear rampant on yellow and black quarters, above a scroll featuring the words omnia scire.

Of course the problem with always wanting to learn new things is that you might not learn anything. There’s always something better, newer and shinier over the hill. It’s a perverse kind of perfectionism: in wanting to be the best and know the most, you end up underestimating the work involved in what you want to learn. As part of my PhD I learned that sometimes there is no scenic route up to those hills and sometimes you have drudge on in order to get there.

That is less exciting. There isn’t much shiny or new-seeming about the word drudge. It’s boring. That’s partly why the “next” new thing seems so exciting by comparison. And this whole process doesn’t just manifest in fun things like learning programming languages or techniques for statistical inference, but also on the micro scale in the horrors of admin minutiae and email.

And just because I know something, it doesn’t necessarily mean I put that knowledge to use. We always remember the view and not the walk up the hill. Well apart from that time in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which is very much a memory of the climb thanks to a mini panic attack but that’s a whole other story. The point here is that knowing that the reality is boring and knowing how that boredom will probably deflect me on to attempting something else doesn’t really prevent it from happening. So what do you do? Well…

Do you want hear about something else that’s boring? The single most boring sentence in the whole English language? Ready? “Let’s make sure these are SMART objectives ok?” There are variations but pretty much any sentence that invokes the SMART acronym is a crime against sentences.

Well, not really. Despite the fact that I have to break up recalling what the acronym actually stands for into two sessions (divided by a quick espresso) in order to avoid falling into a sweet unproductive sleep, it is a pretty sensible set of guidelines for managing your expectations about any kind of goal, objective or project. It might be boring, but for the sake of your sanity it pays to be SMART.

That involves making sure that goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable1

☕ 💤 ☕ ☕

… Realistic and Time-bound2. Of course, it’s hard to be SMART in bookshops when confronted with so many lovely books and the different ideas contained within them. Though I’m often a decent judge of which books should be read, this still leaves me with too many to read. That’ll be the subject of my next post: how on Earth do I pick what needs to be done next?


Cover photo by Peter Nguyen on Unsplash.

  1. I had to look this one up to be certain, which tells you everything you need to know about me. 

  2. Some formulations have timely or targeted for this one. The idea is that you have a time constraint on your goals.