Archives for posts with tag: Productivity

by Magnus Mills

This remarkable novel deals with the love of labour. And it does so uniquely. Imagine William Morris writing Emmerdale, all wrapped up in with a Wickerman touch of paranoia.

All Quiet on the Orient Express takes as its main theme the efforts of one man seeking to employ himself creatively in spite his newly borne freedom. In this sense it is an existential work but in an incredibly banal yet paradoxically readable way. Apparently on his way to travel to India, our protagonist is diverted by one and then another job for Mr. Parker, owner of the campsite he happened to be staying on come end of season. The endlessness of the chores recall Paul Auster’s The Music of Chance, but this is a thoroughly English book and it is as interested in the value of work as it is in the absurdist, Kafkaesque situation.

In some senses the novel is a frank piece of rather old-fashioned social realism – imagine kitchen sink transposed to the twisty lanes and farmyard fronts of the Lake District a la Postman Pat or Whistle Down the Wind. But there’s a twist to this texture where on the surface of things nothing much happens at all. For example, one of the most dramatic moments is when our quiet antihero is painting a gate and a visiting milkman accidently knocks it over spilling its contents all over the roadway. He makes the best he can of a bad job by turning the splodge spillage into a green square and that’s just what this book is about: the struggle to be creative in one’s work despite the attempts (deliberate or otherwise) to disrupt the quiet peace of crafting an end-product. And, from a narrative perspective, the incident is an important one.

The mystery of local folk, especially Bryan in his cardboard crown and the various sidelines of Mr. Parker are both captivating, and the characterisation excellent.

The feel of its setting – the Lake District and, most notably its pubs – and of local, rural Britain is pervasive and, I’m sure for any British socialist, the book is contagious in its depiction of the leisure found in creative labour or being at rest while at work, as well as being at true rest (boat-rowing on the lakes or evenings at a warm pub playing darts with plenty of Topham’s Ex on tap).

On the other hand, the noise of interpersonal relationships and common misunderstandings disrupt this pleasure. Indeed, the coy politeness of our protagonist is the reason why he takes on so many tasks of which hold scant personal gain and it is this that often sees him exploited. These are things that spoil the beauty of the realm of physical, creative work. It is the labour itself that rewards the worker with a reduction of his world, personality and anxieties, no its capital value. It’s like gardening – the people’s art; a love of life through labour.

Interestingly, it wasn’t Marx, Morris nor Engels but a Cistercian Abbot (Andre Louf) who once wrote ‘We must work with some material substance that resists us, and against which we have to pit ourselves to reshape it.’ [1] Just as Magnus Mills has crafted a book of deceptively simple words and slender paragraphs, our protagonist labours before us fashioning a work of brilliant social realism, deadpan humour and life-enriching fiction. Indeed, I immediately sought out more Mills, which is as a reader has to be the best kind of recommendation.

[1 cited in Tobias Jones’ ‘Utopian Dreams’ (Faber & Faber, 2007)]


As unpalatable as it is, it is my opinion that the Tories can only lose the coming General Election: only some cataclysmic embarrassment or folly can surely deny them the helm of the country now. And while that is not entirely impossible, it is unlikely.

Having not voted Labour since they took us into Iraq in 2003, the time has come to reassess my support. Do I cast a losing vote? Do I stick with the Lib Dems in hope they become the main party of opposition and thereby fulfil the meagre hopes I have of it creating some space between them and the Tories, unlike what we had between New Labour and the Conservatives?

As a paid-up member of the Communist Party of Britain I am expected to vote for any CPB candidate standing in my constituency and, where there is none (and there isn’t in the Forest of Dean), then I am to vote Labour on the premise that, despite all the Party’s criticisms of it, we still stand a better chance of putting pressure on Labour than we ever will with the Tories. I think this is a mature approach. Were Labour even likely to return to power.

Of course neither I am under any delusion that the British Communist Party will be forming a government any time soon, but it seems the chances for Labour are heading that way too.  Is their directive, then, a waste of my vote?

I fully expect our Conservative MP, Mark Harper, to retain his seat in May, as Parliament itself swings to the blues. I therefore remain undecided as to how best oppose the right-wingers, bearing in mind that New Labour, on the whole and in my opinion, is only slightly to the left of Cameron’s crew. I am also mindful that we need to be careful of far right using the vacuum of a low turnout to make their own terrible gains.

So, it is to the long-view that we are to look now.

It is my prediction that David Milliband will become Leader of the Labour Party following its imminent trashing at the next General Election.

On the surface he will halt any reference to the New Labour project in all but spirit as he continues the trend in embracing the centre-right, middle class vote above and beyond the grass roots of his own Party. In the face of defeat and low turnout we will be told the Party is learning the lessons of the Blair/Brown years, while at the same time reminding us of their successes (some rightful, others diabolical (Iraq), PPP, foundation trusts etc.) and the advent of the longest term in government for Labour in its history.

Only after the second term of the Tories and the second defeat of the next Labour Party will we really have a chance to demonstrate that a refuelled, grassroots Labour Party is our only true hope for the left. If the Party then isn’t for our taking, be it by its mechanisms or our impotency, then it never will and our historical ties to it (trade unionism and social democratic support writ large) need to be thoroughly reassessed. It will be a critical time in labour and political history.

I urge unaffiliated members currently lacking in a Party home join the Labour Representation Committee as individual members and build the movement of the Left back into Labour during the recess of the coming darkness. You can do this with or outside of a union, as a private member as long as you are not currently in a political party other than Labour. There is much work to be done. If you don’t believe just how much I also urge you to get a copy of the documentary film ‘Taking Liberties’ from your local library or DVD rental service. In only an hour and a half it will remind us how difficult the road will be, but also how essential it is to begin that journey back to civil democracy now.

Only then can we even hope to demand proper socialism take its rightful place back in our Party.

LRC, c/o PO Box 2378, London, E5 9QU

Taking Liberties

In the last few days I’ve read two articles about Priority and living.

At work we do (or try to do) software development with scrum.

Creating a product from a sprint all comes down to Priority and it is my job, as Production Manager, to try and represent our customer’s interests by creating appropriate priorities. To me this is entirely consistent with Systems Thinking.

So it is a pity, then, that many of us don’t apply the same tenacity to our private lives. Rather we muddle along consumed by the pressures of everyday life. But at work, we delegate, work in teams and partnerships but most of all, successful people prioritize.

Making a priority is a decision. In his variable Guardian column ‘This Column Will Change Your Life‘, Oliver Burkeman recently included a superb spoiler to what looks like a self-help cash-in publication that is actually, in essence, really just one simple idea: priority.

By further reduction, here’s Burkeman’s summary:-

{the} ” 10-10-10 method for taking decisions is genuinely wise. When faced with any dilemma, she advises, ask yourself: what will the consequences be in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years? This process “surfaces our unconscious agendas”… though what it most ­obviously does is properly balance short- and long-term perspectives, avoiding both hedonistic impulsiveness and a grim-faced fixation with the future.”

This sounds like Motivational Interviewing to me; something my psychiatric nurse wife showed me. It is (I’m seriously paraphrasing here) a tool used to measure the motivation of addicts to really change their lives.

Burkeman offers more, however…

“Here are three more short cuts for taking ­everyday decisions:

1) 5-3-1: A dependable tactic for two people choosing a restaurant or movie: one person picks five options, the other narrows the field to three, then the first person selects one. This “has saved me and my girlfriend from starving to death on more than one occasion”, writes one commenter at Hint: couples should agree in advance to use this rule, so that “whether or not to use 5-3-1” doesn’t become a ­dilemma itself.

2) Be a satisficer, not a maximiser: “Satisficing”, coined by the economist Herbert Simon, means not ­letting the best be the enemy of the good. But it’s more rigorous than that. Rather than trying to pick the best bed-and-breakfast, for example, decide first on the criteria that ­matter most – “near woodland”, “serves a great breakfast” and “in Wales”, perhaps – then select the first one you encounter that ticks all the boxes. This is far less exhausting, and may actually bring you closer to the “best”, by focusing your mind on what matters, rather than alluring advertising or other distractions.

3) The 37% Rule. This is for ­sequential choices, where each ­option must be accepted or rejected in turn – as in flat-hunting, where an option may vanish if you hesitate, or, say, choosing where to picnic while hiking (assuming you don’t want to retrace your steps). Provided you can estimate the total number of options – the number of flats you’re prepared to look at, the number of potential picnic spots – it’s a weird mathematical truth that your best bet is to reject the first 37% of them, then pick the first one that’s better than any of those first 37%. (If none is, pick the final one instead.) According to an article in Lecture Notes In ­Economics And Mathematical ­Systems, this can be applied to choosing a mate, too. But maybe that journal’s not the greatest place to look for dating tips.”

To counter this, here’s Everett Bogue on priority, although his new e-book seems, on the surface, at least, not apply to people with family. I’ll check it out – though the remarks about priority still apply, assuming we’re placing our offspring and dearest at the centre of our ethical circle which, to me, has to be the our ultimate voice of reason. With decisions comes responsibility and none are arguably more foremost in our lives than our immediate family.

I remember at school that it was a sin tantamount to blasphemy, theft or plagiarism. But often I find myself doodling in general office meetings. Doodling was a shame – a sign that “YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION!”

As an adult I find this is simply untrue.

In the same way vacuuming, walking, driving to classical music or washing up empties the mind of noise, so does doodling. Indeed, through doodling I think you focus on the matter at hand intuitively, in an uncorrupted sense.

My drawings happen naturally without a thought (perhaps that’s the definition of a doodle?), whereas the information being discussed and exchanged in the meeting is consumed and processed with a tenacious ease.
I’d argue that doodling really is quite a productive tool for listening as well as hearing.

I have a notebook for recording all pertinent information and decisions, as well as noting what I’ve been working on throughout the day so I know what to book time to on my timesheet at the end of it without having to make it up or rely on my grossly inaccurate memory.

The latter, of course, has been made redundant by the journal view in Pillar Software’s Time Manager, leaving less reason to carry a notebook. Though I still do. And I continue to doodle too. Normally its leaves and vine. A house. 3D cubes or vanishing point lettering. I wonder if our doodles say anything about who we are? Alfred Adler would probably agree but I’m not so sure what Sigmund Freud would make of my innocuous scribblings.

And now there’s a home for those among us who doodle with a distinctive flair: