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Links and other thoughts about management, from Melanie Nelson.
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Happy New Year! This newsletter is a week late. I could pretend that is because I thought no one would read it if I sent it out on December 30, but the real reason is that I was too busy untangling yarn. No, really.

Stay with me - this story is about yarn, but also more than yarn.

I am a very slow and not very good crocheter. I've written before about the value I see in having a hobby I am frankly not that great at, and crocheting continues to fit that bill nicely for me. I've had a nice skein of of wool blend yarn from New Zealand for a couple of years. My in-laws sent it to me as a gift. I finally finished the project I was working on when the yarn arrived (I told you I am a slow crocheter!) and was ready to start the scarf I plan to make with my nice New Zealand yarn. The first step was to turn the skein into a ball. I looked up online how to do this, and sat down on Christmas evening to make a ball of yarn. I made a terrible mistake, and instead of a nice ball of yarn, I ended up with a tangled mess. I spent a lot of time over my holiday break untangling the mess!

It took me a while to figure out a method that worked well for me. I searched for instructions online and read them carefully. The consensus was that you have to keep the yarn loose and you should walk away from the mess whenever you're tempted to take out your scissors and cut the yarn. The yarn is looped around itself and you should be able to untangle the loops without cutting. The instructions I read said to spread the yarn out on a flat surface, and I tried that for several days. I made progress, but not as much as I would have liked. Then, I had to find a way to store my mess without retangling it, so that I could clear off our dining room table for a dinner we were hosting. On a whim, I hung the yarn over my music stand.

This whim turned out to be my first breakthrough. With the yarn hanging, I could more easily see where the loops were tangled and work them free. I made a lot of progress, but the yarn was stuck in one particularly bad tangle. I worked on it for hours (really), and eventually decided that advice be damned, I was going to cut it. This turned out to be the best decision I made in the entire process. Cutting that one bad tangle released large amounts of yarn and I began to see how I could finish this job. Now I have a nice big ball of yarn plus two little balls created from the cut I made and an earlier break in the yarn. I am ready to start on my scarf!

The big lessons I've learned are:
  1. Recriminations are useless. You can learn from the mistake that got you to this place, but you can't go back and unmake it. The only way out is through.
  2. Stop when you feel resistance - that is a sign that a loop is turning into a tight tangle.
  3. Changing perspective really helps. The first big breakthrough came when I hung the yarn up. Suddenly, I could see loops that I could loosen. When I got stuck again, I tried hanging the yarn in the other direction, and more loops became obvious. 
  4. Sometimes advice that is generally correct is absolutely wrong for your situation. I needed to make that cut or I was never going to make any progress.
  5.  Enjoy the process. One of the articles I read on untangling yarn said that it could be meditative. I laughed, but it is true. Thinking about the scarf I want to make got me started on the untangling process, but if I only cared about the scarf, I would have thrown the mess out early on and gone and bought some new yarn! I kept going because I started to enjoy the process. It really was meditative!

Perhaps it is because I spent so many hours working with the yarn and became a little bit obsessed with unraveling the mess, but I started to see the yarn as a metaphor for my life right now. Through a series of decisions, some good and some less good, I have ended up with a bit of a tangled mess. I have a lot of projects ongoing, and over the last year I often felt stuck. This manifested in many ways, but I'll just give one as an example: I want more time to write but whenever I freed up time, it went to something else.

Trying to skip directly to my end goal was like trying to crochet directly from the skein - you start out OK, but quickly end up with a tangled mess. As I worked on untangling the yarn for my scarf, I realized I need to spend some time untangling the mess of projects and other commitments I've got in my life right now before I try to create anything.

Whenever what I say I want to spend my time on is not what I find myself actually spending my time on, I know that something has gotten tangled in my life. I could pull harder and see if I could get through it, but as my yarn experience showed me, that usually just makes the tangle worse.

Instead, I need to take a breath, work some more slack into my yarn, and start untangling the mess. Those five lessons I learned while I worked on the yarn transfer pretty well, I think. 

This Month on Beyond Managing

Another month passed without a post! See the comments above about being stuck. I have high hopes that I'll untangle things enough to write more this year, because I really miss it.

Here's an old post about what to do after you realize you made a bad decision, which is somewhat relevant to today's theme!

Also: I'm running a 50% off sale at my Gumroad store - use the promo code hello2020 and everything in the store is half-off. I am doing that for the little book publishing company I run, but it was too much trouble to exclude my recorded classes, so the promo code will work for them, too.

Things I Wrote Elsewhere

Over at Adjusted Latitudes, I wrote about our first real road trip in the Tesla and what we learned from it.

My favorite Something Splendid post is from that same trip - a saguaro near Tucson.

Things Other People Wrote

I found a new podcast I'm enjoying: Hurry Slowly, by Jocelyn K. Glei. The first episode I listened to was "Who Are You Without the Doing?" 

This essay about how we have not redesigned our lives to fit with the greater longevity we now enjoy really made me think, and has stayed with me. It is kicking around in my head with the ideas from Atul Gawande's Being Mortal about the minimum requirements for a "good day" - I haven't really figured out what these two things are trying to tell me about my life, but I do think they're trying to tell me something and once I figure out what it is, it will be like that moment when I hung my tangled yarn on my music stand and could suddenly see the path I needed to take to get out of the mess.

Here's an interesting write-up of some survey data about Generation X in the work place

The risks of letting your career become your identity.

The replies in this Twitter thread include a lot of good lab management ideas - many of which will transfer to other work environments.

This story doesn't have anything to do with management or productivity, but it fits with my fiber arts theme this month, and if you haven't read about finishing Rita's quilt yet, it is a delightful story!

That's all I have this month. As always - thanks for reading!

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