Serial Monotasking

Let’s see how much I can write in the next twenty minutes. And for these twenty minutes, I only have eyes for you, dear blog. If something else I need to be doing comes to mind, I’ll quickly jot down what it is on the notepad to my side. But I won’t try to do it. None of it. It will have its own time, later. Now, it’s just you and me.

For these twenty minutes, my one and only concern is this one task. This is the secret to my success of late in churning out articles, chapters, a book manuscript, of getting another in the works, of having a somewhat orderly house complete with organized closets, a garden, and a life.

I do one thing at a time. But never for longer than I can handle at that particular time on that particular day.

Some days I can only focus for twelve minutes at a time. Other days, like today, I’ve got more leisure and a longer attention span. So I start off the day with a general list of categories of things to do, by project, and a decision about what a check mark equals, today 20 minutes. Then I decide where to spend the next 20 minutes, set my phone timer, and go. During that time, nothing else matters. When the timer chimes, I give that category a check mark and decide quickly whether to continue there or do something else. Or nothing at all.  If something intrudes entirely I hit pause on the phone and then resume when the interruption has ended.

At the end of this day I can see that I spent nearly two hours on a book project, one hour on a journal I edit, an hour trying to plow through a backlog of email, nearly two hours on a big household project, and some unrecorded time just running errands. And now possibly an entry in my blog. That’s a good summer day.

Today, but not every day, I got a lot of different things done. But I did not multitask. I don’t know that anyone really can multitask—for multitasking is acting in a constant state of distraction, the bane of our times. Just sitting down to a computer to write, on any computer hooked up to the Internet, invites distraction with social media clamoring for our attention, push notifications from news outlets, emails from friends and colleagues, and for many (but gratefully not me, not now) the lure of online games. On top of that, many of us juggle multiple projects. It’s hard to focus on one thing when there are so many other things we ought to be doing.

Hence the brilliance of serial monotasking. As a little Zen saying has it:

Do just one thing at a time.

Do it slowly and deliberately.

Do it completely.

Do less.

Put space between things.

Develop rituals.

Designate time for certain things.

Devote time to sitting.

Think about what is necessary.

Live simply.”

And I’ve got 20 seconds left.


2018 Public Philosophy Network Conference

The Public Philosophy Network is pleased to announce that the Public Philosophy Network’s next conference on Advancing Public Philosophy will take place February 8-10, 2018, at the University of North Texas.  UNT is located in Denton, Texas, less than 30 miles from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Details and a call for participants will be coming soon — but for now please save the date. Please send any questions to conference hosts, Adam Briggle at or Robert Frodeman at

Kettering Review 2016 online

The 2016 issue of the Kettering Review is now available online here and includes essays by Cornelius Castoriadis, Amartya Sen, Albena Azmanova, Merab Mamardashvili, Asef Bayet, and Elinor Ostrom. Here’s an excerpt of my editor’s letter:

Democracy may now seem mainstream, but at heart it is a radical idea: human beings can create self-governing practices out of nothing but their own aspirations and by their own lights. In other words, they do not need the authority of a god, a sacred text, or a tradition to create something new. The people can found democratic structures by fiat and they need only be accountable to themselves. In the mid-20th century, Cornelius Castoriadis (1922-1997) developed the idea that human beings have the power of imagination to institute something radically new, such as the founding of a country. “In a democracy,” he writes in the essay here, “society does not halt before a conception, given once and for all, of what is just, equal, or free, but rather institutes itself in such a way that the question of freedom, of justice, of equity, and of equality might always be posed anew.”

Fascism in the U.S.A., here, now

Let there be no doubt. Just one week after taking office, Trump has turned the U.S.A. into a fascist state. With complete disregard for freedom of religion and dignity of human beings, he is at this very moment detaining refugees in our airports. He has instituted a religious test on who may enter—Christians, not Muslims—sending a message to extremists that the U.S.A. is at war with Islam, not terrorism.

Trump has zero interest in reading or understanding the Constitution, much less in defending it. He has no qualms about violating it at every step. This man is dangerous. He needs to be impeached by Congress. But if Congress will not step up, let’s make clear that he is being impeached by the tribunal of public judgment. Do whatever you can to mobilize, organize, and monkey wrench. And please do so peacefully and with the respect for human dignity that Trump completely lacks.

Why Trump Cares about Legitimacy

Donald J. Trump is clearly worked up over the question of the legitimacy of his claim to the presidency. Yes, he’s in office. He can move into the East Wing, issue executive orders, nominate cabinet members, and all that. But can he create his own legitimacy?


Years ago the president of the Kettering Foundation, David Mathews, said to me: Governments can create public highways and public schools, but they cannot create their own legitimacy. Only publics can deem a government legitimate.

Stupid as he is, Trump gets that. This is why he is fretting and lying about how many people were at his inauguration and about why he didn’t get the popular vote. He knows he needs more than the okay of the system; he needs the okay of the people.

And he doesn’t have that. Saturday’s Women’s Marches around the world just dug that truth in deeper.

In 1989, new civic movements (with deep and long roots) in Central Europe called the bluff of their governments, which had been claiming to be the “people’s” parties. No you’re not, said these new civic organizations. Suddenly, everyone could acknowledge that the emperor had no clothes.And within days these governments collapsed. When people in the U.S. now say, “Not my president,” they are calling the bluff of Trump’s claim to legitimacy.  Of course they know that he won the electoral college vote; but they are saying very clearly that his presidency lacks the authorization of the majority of the people and that rule by the minority is illegitimate through and through.

And they are also nodding to the the fact of Russia’s meddling in our election and the very real likelihood that Trump’s folks collaborated with the Russians in this, which by the way would be treason.

Whether by treason or merely by creating the illusion of public support, Trump’s attempts to conjure up his own legitimacy are sickeningly desperate and, let’s hope, short lived. Maybe this regime will collapse the way that those of Eastern Europe did in 1989. The more we organize, the better the chance.

First Order of the New Order

Who needs any ethics nowadays? From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — House Republicans, overriding their top leaders, voted on Monday to significantly curtail the power of an independent ethics office set up in 2008 in the aftermath of corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail.

The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late Monday, when Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change. There was no advance notice or debate on the measure.

The surprising vote came on the eve of the start of a new session of Congress, where emboldened Republicans are ready to push an ambitious agenda on everything from health care to infrastructure, issues that will be the subject of intense lobbying from corporate interests. The House Republicans’ move would take away both power and independence from an investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries.

It also came on the eve of a historic shift in power in Washington, where Republicans control both houses of Congress and where a wealthy businessman with myriad potential conflicts of interest is preparing to move into the White House.

Continue reading the main story

Making Fun of the Alt-Right

Many of those emboldened by the election of soon-to-be 45 are already firing up their hate machines, one being a watchlist of supposed radical, un-American philosophers. Yeah, here we go again. I’m not even going to link to it. Just note that the attempt is to intimidate and silence genuine intellectual inquiry, especially any that does not fall in line with the new sur-reality.

So, what could be a better time to fire up a satirical parody? None more than now. So I give you a lovely alternative called the Professor Watchlist Redux, whose main aim is to reclaim the word “radical” as something  important and vital to the advancement of human life. Surely Jesus, Socrates, Ghandi, and those that worked in these veins never followed orders as the alt-Right and their henchmen would like us to do.

So, my friends, here’s the new and still-in-progress Professor Watchlist Redux.