How to get big stuff done

When you’re facing a lot of internal resistance, sometimes the strongest way to start a big job is to give yourself a big treat. Such as a motorbike trip.

How to get big stuff done

Some people bring discipline to their work in the way that they schedule it. In willing themselves to do what they propose to do, and when they say they will do it.

Often I find that sort of discipline unhelpful. Even impossible.

I prefer to engage more subtly with discipline.

For example, I like to be disciplined in the language I use. I like to restrain myself from resorting to cliché.

Campsite at The Park, Mt Beauty, Victoria.

This comes from practice. The discipline, at first observed consciously, becomes unconscious, and then working that way feels natural, as though it did not draw upon discipline.

Similarly, when I have it in mind that I need to do something, and experience myself as resisting that doing, I attempt sometimes to crash through my resistance. But I prefer to ease my way through.

I don’t know whether easing through is better than crashing through. What I do know is that easing through gets me through.

An inquiry into wealth

My resistance this season has been principally to reading Adam Smith’s 850-page magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith published his oft-quoted masterwork in March 1776, a few months before 13 North American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

I wanted to read it because it has long provided articles of faith for a certain sort of market fundamentalist, and yet its most quoted sayings are rarely quoted with accompanying context.

I thought it likely that Stanley Jones, a minor character in Bongs For Steve but a more prominent one in its forthcoming sequel, would begin on the book as he sought to mend bridges with his formally unemployed son.

If you wanted to analyse critically the market for work, you might think that traditionalists would quote from Wealth Of Nations against you. And that you might confound their attacks if you could show in advance that you had consumed it.

Entry, Wee Jasper to Tumut Road, NSW.

Stanley is a professor of English literature, and therefore familiar with the archaic styles of classic authors. Even he would have found Wealth Of Nations daunting, however, and not just from its length but also from the trivial detail Smith enters into. The great man builds his arguments on a dozen examples where one or two would have done.

Contemporary misconceptions

Try as I might, I had not been able to complete more than 50 pages in a year of attempting to make Smith bedtime reading, which had meant placing it before all of the entertaining stories in contemporary styles that I could read on the internet.

Hence I resolved that I would embark upon a motorcycle trip as an aid to my reading him, hoping to place myself in locations where I could not reach my preferred entertainments.

Murray River valley, Victoria, upstream of the Hume Dam.

It was an ambitious project as I still had to make time to read the book. Nevertheless it has worked, and as I write I am nearly half way through.

I’ll confess that Dr Jones would not have developed great insight from putting the first half of Wealth Of Nations behind him, and I have doubts about what he will learn from the second half. Smith seems mainly to have concerned himself with rebutting at great length misconceptions that confused his contemporaries much more than mine.

Motorcycling holiday

Even so, I am excited to have conducted this much research for my character, which I can add to a partial understanding of wealth and its sources that I nurtured as an undergraduate and developed when researching my PhD dissertation. Stanley will have a credible background and something to rant about.

And the research has brought me a motorcycling holiday, representing my most extended run yet on the Ducati Multistrada that I purchased about this time last year.

Curves on the Heyfield to Licola Road, Gippsland, Victoria.

I was surprised that I needed to add a seat-bag to the two streamlined panniers and rear top-box the bike came with, but thus equipped the Multi has carried my home on its back with great ease.

It’s an exciting bike to be riding. When 30 years ago I wrote about new bikes for a living, only a dedicated touring motorcycle would have comfortably accepted this sort of load – perhaps a BMW K100LT.

The Multi is lighter by the weight of my 50kg regular passenger, Lizzy. It is almost twice as powerful as that 1000cc BMW, steers much more accurately, and rides on a superior suspension. So that I can ride it, even loaded, on rough winding roads at a more spirited pace than I might have managed on a premium tourer in the 1990s, yet with no diminution in comfort.

Following Pirsig

The Multistrada’s key shortcoming, by comparison, is that its extra inch of suspension movement makes it taller, and therefore harder to handle at stops.

From Melbourne in southern Victoria I got as far north as Gunning, a town on the old Hume Highway east of Yass, albeit by routes much more circuitous than the Hume. The countryside was in magnificent condition, as you can see from the pics. I lucked into magnificent weather. And as expected, the riding freed my brain from the day-to-day anxieties of the starting-out author, rendering it more fertile for feeding new concepts.

Campsite at Bemm River, Victoria.

There were times while contemplating the minimal size of my overnight shelter, barely as big as the bike, when I felt as though I were emulating Henry Thoreau in returning to a much simpler way of living than I had been used to, and other times for which the physical and spiritual journey of Robert Pirsig seemed a more apt analogy. Both adventures brought their protagonists progress from screening distractions.

What’s efficient?

Someone might argue that taking a motorbike holiday of 2200 kilometres represented an inefficient way to read 400 unappetising pages of prose. They might point out that some judges, lawyers, even journalists, will do that at work in a day. And I would agree, with a caveat.

When deciding among optional methods, efficiency is relevant only if it is relative. What we look for is the most efficient method we have. When it came to reading Adam Smith, every other method I’d tried had failed.

Curve on the Yass to Wee Jasper Road, NSW.

This one worked. I’ve read 400 forbidding pages, and I’m nearly half way to my goal of 850.

Is there any task that you have long resisted, and by what method might you come to complete it? Thoughtful answers are welcome in comments.

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