It has been two weeks since I last disturbed your inbox with my ramblings.
I once wrote a piece for Wired about weeks and fortnights and the building blocks of time, I've reproduced it below because even Wired don't feel the need to keep it on the internet any more. David Allen (the Getting Things Done man) invited me to coffee because this piece made him suspect I might be interesting. I think I let him down. We chatted for a while and then, quite abruptly, he dismissed me. Getting Things Done presumably involves not wasting time with people who aren't as fascinating as their columns suggest.
From Wired, June 2010...
I write these columns monthly, around the eighth of every month. And always, without fail, they catch me by surprise. I’ve stuck them in my Google Calendar. I have reminders on my phone. I get a kindly email from Wired a few days ahead of the deadline. I can even watch Warren Ellis on Twitter, kvetching about his own deadline. And yet, still, every time a new one’s due I find myself shocked and surprised. (Hours to deadline: three) I also write a column for a weekly magazine. Every Sunday night I sit down and bash it out, no problem.
I think the explanation is simple: weeks make sense to us, months just don’t. Months are a natural accident, a side effect of planetary interaction and as gnarled and irregular as a tree-stump. Sometimes longer, sometimes shorter; we need to make up rhymes to figure out just how many days they have. Years, months, days -- these are planetary phenomena, instructions we follow.
Try to resist them and jetlag will slay us and the harvest will fail. Where as weeks are a human invention, a cultural creation up there with the wheel and the crossword. Weeks are in service of humanity; regular and solid, they don’t care about the comings and goings of celestial rocks, they’re imposed on the world for our convenience. Weeks are the four-on the- floor kick-drum of eternity.
And that magical seven-day formula has seen off all sorts of other temporal recipes: Soviet stabs at five- or six-day weeks, the various Decimal calendars, the Hermetic Lunar Week, the Javanese Pasaran Cycle, the Etruscans and their Nundinal system, even the Celtic style based on eight days and nine nights. All are beaten under the wheels of the mighty seven-day juggernaut. It just seems to sit right in our heads. (Weeks to my actuarially predicted demise: 1,996)
Which may explain the mini-phenomenon of the “Weeknote”. Started on the blog of design company BERG a few months back, Weeknotes detailed what they were up to that week, what had been going well, what hadn’t. They were just blog entries, updated weekly, nothing more remarkable than that. Except they struck a little chord with people -- and other companies and individuals started doing the same thing.
They seem to have a pattern and rhythm that people like. A few paragraphs about what you’re up to. No need for big insights or revelations, just a bit of sharing and perhaps a moment of reflection. They fit neatly into that globally distributed culture of small creative businesses and people. Individuals and small companies such as these need to share to learn and to find like-minded partners and employees -- the Weeknote matches the rhythms of their work, and the blog and RSS are the perfect way to deliver it.
Twitter’s too fast, too ephemeral to document these kinds of projects -- the weekly blog post is exactly right. It’s even kicked some long-time bloggers back into the blogging habit. The weekly pulse and simple formula unblocks the blocked and gets people writing. The content’s not thrilling -- it’s not going to get anyone a book deal. But it’s precisely what you need to hear if you’re doing similar work.
It helps to see that other people struggle with deadlines and clients, that big projects can fall apart and still get put back together, that finance is taxing but that this or that software package can help. Above all, it’s nice to realise that everyone else is also just making it up.
Come to think of it, Weeknotes are exactly what should get someone a book deal. The collective wisdom of the noters distilled and edited would make one of the few worthwhile business books: people in interesting businesses and professions talking about working life as it’s actually lived, real problems in real time. That would be worth reading. (current listening: “Venceremos” by Working Week)
But, of course, as soon as there’s a pulse, we want to syncopate. We create temporal structures and then we mess with them. The 80s clearly started in about 1982. Eric Hobsbawm’s Long Nineteenth Century ran from 1789 to 1914, his Short Twentieth Century went from there to 1991. And though we move to the tight rhythm of a drum-machine, we relax to the loose tempos of a real drummer. Weeknotes are great, and the week a splendidly useful cultural construct, but let’s not get dogmatic. We all look forward to a short week and a long weekend.
(There are currently 246 of you. 246 is an untouchable number. 2-4-6 is an unusual locomotive configuration, used on Mason Bogie articulated steam locomotives, designed for sharp curves and uneven track. The year 246 was also known as the Year of the Consulship of Praesens and Albinus.)