Closure and Apathy

Last week I wrote about some of the problems with delegating, but I stopped before I came to any solid advice. This was partly because I wanted to keep my post under 1000 words, but also because I wanted some time to think over the question I ended with.

How do we get closure when putting an unfinished task into someone else’s hands?

I don’t know that I really came to any good solid solutions on this, but I was able to break down the issue a little bit more. I hope that this is marginally helpful, but what is probably more helpful, is the reminder that the worry and lack of closure is ultimately YOUR problem. Delegation is something that YOU have to be okay with, and I don’t know that I can tell you how to do that. So what can I tell you?

This has nothing to do with the article, but LOOK AT THE CUTE LITTLE PUPPY!

Before we can answer the question of “how we get closure” we have to know “why do we not feel closure”?

I can only speak from personal experiences, but as people I would like to think we’re not all too different in regards to this.

The first reason you might not feel closure is a lack of trust. You need to trust the people helping you can get the job done. If you don’t trust them, A) why are they helping you, and B) you’ll never be at ease because you’ll be worried they won’t meet your expectations.

Trust takes time. It has to be earned. At an immediate level, this is very unhelpful because this doesn’t solve the problem of delegating now, though it might solve the problem of delegating later. If you know someone has had the proper training you’re more likely to trust them. Like trust, training takes time, especially if it needs to be “proper.”

This all walks a fine line between the things that you do and do not actually have control over. What happens when you can’t train, you don’t have time to train, and you need to blindly trust someone else to do something?

At times like this, there is only one thing you can do. Take a deep breath, say a prayer, and know that the world won’t end when things go wrong.1 (Probably.)2

I’m going to come back to the topic of training in the future, but now I want to talk about apathy.

Sometimes life needs a healthy dose of apathy.

apathy: (noun) lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.

Not all apathy is bad.

In our busy lives it is impossible for us to do everything that everyone (ourselves included) would like us to do. As such, it is unrealistic for us to expect ourselves to be able to do so. There are going to be many things that we just can’t do. You have to choose what is important for you to do and what you don’t have time for. If you don’t have time for something, but it needs to be done, you probably need to delegate it.

A lot of stuff needs to be delegated today. This should be something we all expect, and this is where the apathy comes in. In this context, apathy becomes knowledge that right or wrong, correctly done or not, someone else is taking care of this thing. If they do it wrong, they’ll just have to do it again. It’s not your problem.

“Yeah, but…”

As someone who likes to be in some semblance of control, this is not always very easy. But there are a few things you can do to help yourself.

The first step is to know the limit of your control. You can’t control what other people do. You can give them instruction, you can offer advice, you can describe your expectations, but ultimately, they will do things how they see fit. They will use their experience and knowledge in a way that makes sense to them to do what you asked. (Or at very least what they think you asked.)

At this point, there isn’t much of anything you can do. You have to learn to be okay with this. Once you are at peace with the limits of your control, things are mentally easier to delegate. If you have done the best you can to delegate, the responsibility is no longer with you.

Faith 2“Yeah, but…”

Yes. Things may not be perfect, but it’s not the end of the world. You may still be “responsible” for something to happen or held accountable when it doesn’t. There are certainly tasks which don’t lend them well to delegating. There are tasks that probably shouldn’t be delegated, at least not to certain people, but that’s not what I’m trying to talk about.

When you pass along a task to someone else you have to pass along the task. The whole task. The reason we don’t get closure when we delegate is because we aren’t willing to give anything up. We’ll tell someone to do something, but we won’t let go of it mentally. You have to remove yourself from the process.

I did not define “delegate” in my last post, allow me to do so here.

Delegate: (verb) entrust (a task or responsibility) to another person

Entrust: (verb) assign the responsibility for doing something to (someone)

To properly delegate something you need to give it to someone and then put it out of your mind. You have to be willing to hold that person responsible if things don’t turn out as expected. Finally, you need to have the resolve to not get involved, even if things go amiss.

R and L“Yeah, but…”

If you plan to get involved in order to fix something if things go wrong, and you feel that is a necessity, I would question your decision to delegate the task. If things are so mission critical that any error will require your direct involvement, either this is not a good task to delegate or you need to let go of the task.

The tricky part of this topic is that it is very nebulous. There’s a lot of exceptions to these “rules.”3 These suggestions don’t work in every situation, but what will work in every situation is a better mindset.

Becoming good at something takes practice. It takes practice to learn to delegate. Which brings us around to what I said at the start. What is probably most helpful, is the reminder that the worry and lack of closure is ultimately YOUR problem. Delegation is something that YOU have to be okay with, and I don’t know that I can tell you how to do that.4


  1. Okay, that’s three things. 

  2. If you’re in a situation where delegating something to an incompetent person could actually end the world then I would suggest rethinking the necessity of delegating the task and ask you to remember that I take no responsibility for people following the advice on my website when it comes to situations involving the life and death of humanity. 

  3. There more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. 

  4. Delegate one thing this week. One thing. I dare you. Let me know if the world ends as a result. 

GACR: Any.DO

Any.DO is a very clean, minimalist to-do app. It has a lot of neat features and it keeps a lot of things out of sight so they can stay out of mind and not bother you until they are actually worth dealing with.

The interface is different enough that it might take some getting use to from other to-do apps. Any.DO splits up your tasks into four categories: Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming, and Someday. You can sort tasks into different folders if that is helpful, but I spent most of my time in date mode.

Add items by tapping the (+) button or pull down. It has voice recognition features, though I didn’t use them much for my testing period. Any.DO has an auto-complete feature when writing action items. It can be rather helpful at times. Checking items off is as easy as swiping to the side. Completed tasks are greyed out and moved to the bottom of the list. You can make completed tasks disappear by shaking your phone, though you’ll want to make sure you have your volume on when you do. (*wink*)

The feature I like the most is the Any.DO Moment. This is the “Review” in GTD terminology. You can set it to alert you on certain days of the week and a certain time of day if you like. Otherwise you can just choose it from a menu. An Any.DO Moment walks you through everything on your to-do list and lets you choose Today, Later, Done, or Delete for everything on your plate.

This type of review is fantastic because it helps make sure your list doesn’t get cluttered up with things you don’t need to be thinking about or things you no longer need to do but haven’t been deleted yet.

You can set specific reminders for certain tasks if need be, but the app does it’s best to keep extra details hidden away.

I love the clean feel of the app, though with such a sparse interface it does feel like something is missing.

The only thing I felt might be missing is the ability to have projects. That said, you could implement a project hierarchy by using folders.

A neat feature I didn’t use is the alarm feature. Not only can you set an alarm to alert you at a specific time, but you can set an alarm if you arrive at or depart from a specific location. (This would be super helpful for remembering my Netflix DVD when I head out the door.)

If you haven’t given Any.DO a try yet, I would highly recommend it.

App: Any.DO
Developer: Any.DO
Price: Free
Length of Use: 9 Days
TextExpander Support: No
Apathetic Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Delegation

They say the first step towards recovery is admitting that you have a problem.

I believe that the first step towards solving a problem is to understand the problem. It’s very hard to solve a problem if you don’t know the root cause.

Know thyself.

I have a hard time delegating. I have a hard time letting go. I know that I am not alone in this. The purpose of delegating is to take the weight off of our shoulders, so why can delegating cause so much stress?

The inability to delegate can be attributed to a need for control or perhaps for a level of perfectionism that is believed to be unattainable by others. Both of these are valid and difficult obstacles and both of them deal with trust. Though I think it can be broken down a little further.

Consider a task that you know well but could be delegated. Maybe you don’t like to do it, maybe you don’t “need” to be the one who does it, but you’ve done it often and have a good system. Now you have an opportunity to delegate the task, but are hesitant to do so.

The fear and distrust can be broken down to several different causes:

  • You know they will probably do it differently and maybe you distrust their process or the outcome.
  • You know potential problems that could arise in the process (especially if it’s not YOUR process.)
  • You know what is important to achieve in the end. (You know what the end results needs to look like, and maybe even why.)
  • You know what might need to be done to fix a non-optimal result.
  • You know that if something does go wrong, you’ll probably be the one fixing it… and you know this will take as long, if not longer, than doing it yourself.

Now, a lot of this could be handled by giving appropriate directions… but maybe you don’t trust them to follow directions. Or maybe you don’t trust yourself to give clear enough directions.

Directions can be problematic.

People get really grumpy when they realize you're giving them directions for how to go to the store and buy a GPS.

Properly delegated work should focus on outcomes, rather than process. Yet, as humans, we tend to think in processes.

There are certain times and places where process is perhaps more valuable than outcome (like in science!), but focusing on process can cause problems in delegation situations.

Process and procedure is within the realm of problem solving. It’s a potential creativity outlet when it comes to getting from point a to point b. When the solution is a given, the task becomes tedious. At some level, it also disallows someone else the opportunity to learn.

There is usually more than one way to accomplish any given goal: There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

How often are our directions more complicated than they need be?

Q: How do I get to your house?
A: Oh, well, just get to this street, then follow it south. Go three blocks past the fourth stoplight, then turn left. Go two blocks and you’ll see a park, then take a right, and three houses past the brick house on the corner, take a left into the driveway with the basketball hoop.

How much more complicated do we make our lives trying to give directions to someone else? How often do directions rely on our perception of the world? By definition they must, we only see the world through our own eyes. The things we think are obvious are not always obvious to others.

I’m not saying that these kinds of directions are unhelpful, but add any level of complication and it takes more time and energy to explain the process than it does to do the thing yourself.

We instinctively feel that our own methods are significantly better than anyone else’s method. Many times that might be true, we have probably done it more (and therefore might be more efficient at it).

There are times and places where things need to be done a certain way. It can very hard to convey this knowledge without experiencing it first hand.

Again, it comes back to trust. Trust that someone else is capable of producing a satisfactory result.

As such, there are many tasks that can’t be delegated without a lot of training. At the same time, how many tasks do we only think need to be done a certain way? How often are we more anxious about someone following our process than achieving a given result? Can you trust someone to get the right result using their own process?

Delegation is suppose to ease our burden, but if it’s not done correctly, it creates an open loop. Open loops are bad, as humans, we need closure.

How do you get closure, when you put an unfinished task into someone else’s hands?

To be continued…

This is a longer post than I originally intended, but there is more to say. Stay tuned for more on this topic, and others that are related. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this and get any tips or tricks you might have for delegating tasks.

On Vampires

I just finished reading Dracula and a friend sent me a link to a trailer for the new NBC Drama, “Dracula”. I find the premise of the series completely infuriating. It has lead me to the conclusion that Brahm Stoker is one of the only people capable of telling a truly compelling (and actually good) vampire story.

This really confuses me, because I think Dracula is an absolutely fascinating, intriguing, suspenseful, and well told tale. Yet, every incarnation of the story in a visual format (TV and Movies) pales in comparison.

My conclusion is that the focus is all wrong.

The problem is that as soon as someone tries to tell a Vampire story, they want to tell it from the point of view of the vampire. I don’t understand this at all. They want to humanize the vampire. They want to talk about how hard it is to be a vampire. This does not make for a good story. Vampires are not human, they are undead, they are abominations, and they shouldn’t be the main character.

The reason Brahm Stoker’s Dracula makes a better love story than Twilight is that the Vampire is the antagonist. The real story is how a band of strong-willed godly gentlemen and women are fighting to save friends they love and the souls of others.

So how do you tell a compelling vampire story:

The unknown is more terrifying than the known. Danger that is alluded to or monsters that are implied are more scary than poor CGI effects in horror movies. This is the first mistake of the vampire film. As soon as Hollywood starts thinking about Vampires they go straight to the special effects team and oder six hundred gallons of fake blood and then go to town making a splatter film. If that’s your thing, good for you, but it makes for a terrible vampire flick.

The instances of massive gore within Brahm Stoker’s Dracula could be counted on one hand. I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t read the book, so I won’t go into details, but I will say that many of the instances of blood sucking leave only two small red dots on the victims neck. Vampires can be quite subtle if they don’t want to be noticed.

If they don’t go for gore, they give the vampire a love interest. Which is JUST. FRAKING. STUPID.

As already stated, the Vampire should not be the main character. He is the antagonist, and he should be mostly unseen. Vampires are instinctive and animalistic. They are capable of reason, planning, plotting, but they have limited emotions. They are no longer human in this regard. They display fear and aggression mainly.

Vampire’s need not be completely flat characters, but they should not be very dynamic. Vampires like Dracula have lived for centuries most of which time they have been living in secret in the far corners of the world. You don’t stay unnoticed by being rash, outrageous, and messy. Yet, Dracula is referred to as having a “child brain” and slowly experiments with his abilities, learning as he goes.

The story must, MUST, focus around people. People who are relatable. Good men and women who, while not perfect, are worthy of admiration.

Characters tell stories. Characters are the reason we are pulled into tales.

Hollywood, today, is completely incapable of differentiating between the different types of love. The characters within Dracula are bound together with bonds of friendship and brotherly love. Their devotion to one another is unconditional. Now there is certainly hints of romantic love between the newly wedded couple, but this is secondary to the gratitude they display to one another for their support and help.

The seduction of vampires is not romantic at all. The feelings described by characters within the vampire’s trance are mixture of desire and repulsion. The will of the victim is suppressed and replaced by that of the undead.

Strong Female characters. Within the world of film, strength so often means fighting. Mina, however, is a wonderfully strong character, even though she does not venture out to the front lines. Her brave face in the mist of danger is actually contrasted against her husband who groans in agony when subjected to the things his wife has had to suffer. (Though I would not call any of the characters in the book cowards, by any means.)

But… I guess it’s silly for me to expect anything else from the TV industry.

GACR: Todoist by Doist

Todoist and I got off on the wrong foot. I like the clean interface, but their system just doesn’t work for me.

Todoist was hard for me to use and over the course of seven days I found myself relying on it less and on paper and pencil more. That’s not a good sign for me.

Right off the bat Todoist started emailing me my to-do list every morning. This isn’t helpful for me and kinda defeats my purpose in want a separate to-do app. Which kinda ties into my second complaint. Every action needs a due date. This is an unnecessary obstacle for my workflow.

The feature set is minimal, which fits the aesthetics of the program and also makes the app fairly easy to use. Each action can be put in a project, (which can help color code things). Besides a due date, you can label tasks, give them a priority and create subtasks.

The website appears to offer a bunch of other features (something about karma tracking?) but I’m looking for a to-do app which can be used as a stand alone on a mobile device. So I didn’t look at any of those features (except to turn off daily emails.)

I couldn’t find any means of setting up alarms for things like “take out the trash” but fortunately some of my other to-do apps are still alerting me to that so I didn’t miss trash day again.

Overall I found the app difficult to embrace, yet I have the impression that maybe that is just me. It feels pretty solid, but it wants to rely on the web interface and it’s just not for me. With so many other options available, I just don’t feel like this one is up to par.

App: Todoist
Developer: Doist
Price: Free (Premium Upgrade: $28.99)
Length of Use: 7 Days
TextExpander Support: No
Apathetic Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

The Worst Hammer in the World

In a recently blog post I started writing about expectations. In summary:

“You can’t expect everyone (anyone?) to understand something without the proper context.”

This really ties in with something Merlin Mann said a while ago on Back to Work. (Side note, that show needs transcripts.)

To paraphrase/misquote Merlin:

“Everyone has their reasons. Very rarely does anyone do something because they think it’s a really stupid thing for them to do.”

At face value this is a fairly benign and obvious, but it has deeper implications. The implications I’d like to focus on now are those associated with the initial reaction.

People tend to react negatively to something new, especially if they don’t understand it. It’s not only very easy to berate something but it can be cathartic and if you have an audience it might even be entertaining.

This behavior is nothing new, but the internet makes it very easy to yell frustrations into a webcam and post online for the world to see.

“Web comments are a satisfying outlet for people who enjoy pressing a button right after saying something asinine.” - Merlin Mann

Rash, lash-out reactions betray a closed-minded nature that is unwilling to seek out either context or thought process. It displays an unwillingness to accept other people’s ideas, opinions, or needs as relevant or perhaps even possible. “It’s not how I would have done it, so it’s stupid.” “If I don’t like it, neither should you.” “How could/why would anyone enjoy something that I think is obviously stupid?”

Following every Apple event comes a series of tweets, blogs, and forum comments lambasting Apple for decisions they made, because the decision “doesn’t fit my need/wants/expectations. So why would anyone want this?”

I like to call this “I’m not in charge” syndrome.

To some extent this is the easy way out, perhaps even “cowardly” means of dealing with things. It takes a lot more effort to recognize the legitimacy of someone else’s desires when they do not align with your own.

Granted, there are certainly times and places where a quick and angry reaction is not only acceptable, but called for. Yet, it is also tends to be a pervasive mentality and I don’t think that is a good thing.

This is a complicated topic and there is a lot of finger pointing for the cause and effect, but at a very basic level this is like getting irritated at a milk jug because it can’t be used to pound a nail into the wall.

Uninformed and non-constructive criticism is detrimental to innovation. It does nothing to foster creativity. Instead, it creates an emotional barrier of annoyance and resentment. Granted, a portion of this may be due to a lack of tact, but the problem still exists.

Lately, I’ve seen some examples of this on Kickstarter. (Most recently with Sound Band.) Everyone has a different use case for Sound Band and some of the suggestions offered actually sound really good though many of them come across as small-minded requests from people who are not looking at the larger picture, they only want something to fix their personal annoyance.

There’s a definite difference between wanting something that adapts to your current workflow and considering how something new could alter your workflow in a beneficial manner.

There’s a lot more to say on this, but that is enough to think about for now. Food for thought: How do you respond to things you don’t understand? What things can you do to subdue your initial (and irritable) reactions?