The Top Idea in Your Mind

Paul Graham:

I’ve found there are two types of thoughts especially worth avoiding—thoughts like the Nile Perch in the way they push out more interesting ideas. One I’ve already mentioned: thoughts about money. Getting money is almost by definition an attention sink. The other is disputes. These too are engaging in the wrong way: they have the same velcro-like shape as genuinely interesting ideas, but without the substance. So avoid disputes if you want to get real work done.

. . .

Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I’ve found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn’t deserve space in my head. I’m always delighted to find I’ve forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn’t been thinking about them. My wife thinks I’m more forgiving than she is, but my motives are purely selfish.

This is actually great advice for public defenders. It’s so easy to get sidetracked by little disagreements with prosecutors or judges or to take adverse rulings personally and forget what’s really important — doing your best for your clients. If you allow your personal struggle with “the system” and its components to become the top idea in your mind you’re less likely to do all the best things for your clients because those things easily become obscured by those petty disputes that really just don’t matter.

I wonder if this is actually the difference between those public defenders who love their work and do it well for decades, and those who are always in anguish and burn out after only a few years. Those who let go of the petty, bullshit disputes and focus on what matters are happier, do better work, and retain their sanity. Those who don’t, well they have to find something else to do because the work just eats them up.

(Via Daring Fireball.)

Time and lines

This will not be new to you real web pros, but I just discovered Google’s Timeline search. Search for anything in Google, then on the left column of the results page you can choose to see your results in standard view, “wonder wheel,” or timeline. Here’s an example of what you get with a timeline of chicago drinking laws, one for Gideon v. Wainwright. and one for public defender. You can even get a timeline of timelines. The timelines are far from complete, but they are a fascinating way to display information.

In the past couple of years I had the opportunity to work on more and more complex cases as a public defender and as the cases got more complex I found timelines to be the absolute best way to organize the most crucial information in a case. I searched quite a bit for a good (affordable) program to help me create those timelines and to display them in useful and visually appealing ways. I never found anything worthwhile for Windows, but if you have access to Mac OS X, you can’t go wrong with Beedocs Timeline, which is completely awesome.

Timelines are simple but powerful. Look, for example, of how simply this personal timeline conveys a great deal of information about one person’s life. It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? What would a timeline of your life look like?