Return to Busytown


“If your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book, I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary,” said Tim Kreider in 2012, his point being that most modern jobs are as pointless as they are dull.

Well, Tom the Dancing Bug has responded by showing how a Richard Scarry book might look if Busytown had been populated by the kind of dot-eyed, uncreative twerps they’d like us to be.

Remember, this is not inevitable! You can do anything you fancy! Life is absurd! You are free!

★ Tired of the everyday grind? Pre-order the New Escapologist book today.

Plan Your Escape! Part 5: Onward

Welcome back to Plan Your Escape, a New Escapologist blog series by New Escapologist’s Chief Leisure Officer, Lentus Ambulandus.

Escape_planPlan Your Escape describes a methodology for charting a course toward the good life. Thus far, we’ve had five instalments:

Part 0 provided background.

Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning.

Part 2 established your long-term aim: what does it means to live well?

Part 3 showed you how to analyze the relevant aspects of your situation.

Part 4 presented ways to compare potential courses of action.

And here we are. The final post!

So…your overarching aim is to live well. You’ve identified what you want that to look like. And, having thought long and hard, you’ve decided upon the best course of action for getting from here to there.

Surely that’s it…


There’s one more step to complete in order to achieve escapological planning nirvana: you need to actually articulate your action plan. How–in terms of resource allocation, sequencing, and prioritization–are you going to carry out your selected course of action? Think of this as your mission statement, a manifesto-style declaration.

The Elements of a Plan

Borrowing from Part 1, here’s an example of how such a declaration might read:

My aim is to live well through simplicity, self-sufficiency and community involvement. I will achieve this by embarking upon an ambitious plan to become an organic farmer, as follows:

Phase 1: I’ll optimize my finances by maintaining my current job, by embracing scorched-earth minimalism, and by focusing only on core leisure activities.

Phase 2: I’ll quit my job, I’ll move to a place conducive to my long-term goal of self-sufficiency, and I’ll find interim work that pays the bills. No later than July 1, 2017 I’ll purchase a small parcel of land.

Phase 3: I’ll develop an organic farm and I’ll turn my attention to being a productive member of my local community.

Common to all phases is the maintenance of my fitness and my close relationships, because without those things, I am nothing.

My main effort is the accumulation of savings for the purpose of buying land. 

My desired end state is to produce 50% of my family’s food consumption on my farm, and to be a positive force within my circle of influence.

You’ll note the following characteristics, which I consider essential to any plan:

1. A statement of your overarching aim and the enduring effects that you want to achieve.

2. A clear statement of your selected course of action.

3. Broad sequencing of events, or phasing, with dates if possible. Does one thing have to happen before another? Does one aspect of your plan depend on the completion of another? Are there important aspects of your plan that are common to all phases? State them.

4. Prioritization in the form of a stated main effort. This is what you’ll focus your attention and effort on when you have to prioritize among competing activities. It’s likely the lynchpin to your whole plan: fail at this portion of your plan, and the rest cannot happen.

5. A clear and measurable end state. This is the performance metric by which you’ll judge your success. [The end state above is lacking, somewhat, in that “positive force within my circle of influence” is not measurable.]

6. Every aspect of the plan should be there for a reason. After all the analysis you’ve done, there should be nothing in your plan for which there isn’t an explanation, and a trail of bread crumbs leading back to earlier steps in the process.

7. Most importantly, it needs to be a bold statement of intent. When the going gets tough (and it usually does at some point) you want this to be something you can refer back to. “Where am I going? Ah, right. Back on track.”

The Planning Cycle

No plan is forever, and no plan survives contact with reality (as they say). If your analysis was sound, your plan will be robust. It will withstand a certain degree of change. But…but…life happens, and from time to time, you will be confronted with what is known as a significant change to the situation (“honey, I’m pregnant” or “man…farming actually sucks!”). This will, of course, require a plan revision. Which is okay, because you’ll be starting from a position of strength and knowledge.

Even in the absence of significant change, you should review and revalidate your plan on a regular basis. Maybe tweak things a bit. Are you assumptions still valid? Do you have new information? Are things as you thought they were? My wife and I actually take time to formally review our plan on a quarterly basis. Wine and spreadsheets…a winning combination.

Concluding Remarks

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. (Seneca)

I think it’s important that we take time to think about life. Sooner, rather than later. We all have this inner dialogue running in the background, about what’s important, what we want out of life, where we are, and where we want to go. We should strive to bring that conversation forward, and to actually have it with ourselves and with our loved ones, deliberately and proactively. That’s what this series has been about. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Good luck!

William Morris at the NPG

In an excellent piece about William Morris for our forthcoming eleventh issue, Justin Reynolds mentions a Morris exhibition currently at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Alas, by the time the magazine is in your hands, the exhibition will be almost over. So I’m mentioning it now.

William Morris: Anarchy and Beauty will be at the National Portrait Gallery until 11th January 2015. Sounds like it might be worth a look if you’re nearby.

★ Tired of the everyday grind? Pre-order the New Escapologist book today.

Plan Your Escape! Part 4: Which Way To The Good Life?

Welcome back to Plan Your Escape, a New Escapologist blog series by New Escapologist’s Chief Leisure Officer, Lentus Ambulandus.

Escape_planPlan Your Escape describes a methodology for charting a course toward the good life. Thus far, we’ve had four instalments:

Part 0 provided background.

Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning, and outlined the process.

Part 2 focused on your long-term aim: what does it means to live well, and what are the desired effects that you want to achieve?

Part 3 showed you how to conduct an analysis of relevant factors.

If you haven’t read the preceding instalments, please do so, otherwise this one won’t make much sense to you.

But assuming you have read them, and done some thinking along the way, you may now find yourself at a fork in the road. Having determined what it means (for you) to live well, and having analyzed the factors relevant to your situation, you might be thinking of several possible courses of action. The next task is to compare those different alternatives, and select the one that’s best for you.

A Few Thoughts About The Way Forward

When I refer to a course of action, or COA, I’m talking about a possible way forward to achieving the desired effects that you’ve outlined for yourself, and thus, the good life. Returning to the previous posts in the series, we considered an escapologist who wanted a life of independence, simplicity, and health, and figured they might achieve those effects by owning an organic farm. Farming is an option, but only one of many. COA 1: Organic Farm would need to be compared against the other COAs that our fictional escapologist developed during their analysis.

Your COAs may be drastically different from one another. Or they may be variations on a theme, with differences related to timing, the sequence of actions, and so on. If all of your proposed COAs are along a similar vein, it probably means you have a pretty good idea of what you want to achieve, but lack the nuts and bolts of a detailed plan. COA 1: Clean Kill might be the high-risk option whereby you quit your job today and immediately start farming. COA 2: Water Torture might be the more measured approach, where you maintain your shitty job for a few more years and take farming courses in your spare time.

One COA you should always consider is the status quo. This is important, I think, because your analysis may well have shone a positive light on your life, or aspects of it that you want to maintain. Conversely, if the status quo isn’t what you want, then including it among COAs for comparison will surely be the final nail in its coffin.

Finally, much of the discussion thus far has centred on the means by which we make money, be it employment or some other endeavour. While work is a significant part of our lives, it’s not the only part, and the COAs you consider don’t necessarily have to contain a work component.

COA Comparison

My preferred way to compare COAs is to use a matrix with some sort of scoring mechanism. I list my COAs across the top, and list the assessment criteria down the side.

What assessment criteria should you use? Whatever you think makes sense. As a minimum, I’d advise you to ask yourself the following questions:

How effective will this COA be? Assuming all COAs have equal probability of success, how do they stack up against each other in terms of achieving your desired effects?

How quickly can this COA be implemented? And is this important?

How likely is this COA to be successful? How much risk is there? How much of the COA in question is dependent on others, or on chance?

How much ass pain does this COA involve? Because if it’s going to be a lot of work, and cause a lot of stress, what’s the point?

You could use a numerical score (1 = low ass pain, 5 = yer killin me), or you could use a ranking system (of all the COAs under consideration, which involved the greatest ass pain? the next greatest? and so on). Both have their merits, so try both systems and see what you come up with. If one criterion is more important than the rest, consider a weighting system.

To demonstrate how this works, let’s return to our fellow escapologist who wants a greater degree of financial freedom, good health, and a simple life. But imagine, if you will, that their analysis led them to consider three vastly different COAs: 1) organic farmer; 2) minimalist urban barista; and 3) bohemian writer.

Here’s how the comparison might look:


If our notional escapologist friend ended up with these results, they should give strong consideration to COA 2. If nothing else, such an exercise will expose the relative merits and weaknesses of each COA. The trick is to choose assessment criteria that are meaningful to you, and based on the end result you’re trying to achieve.

That’s it for this week. In the next and final instalment, we’ll wrap things up by looking at key aspects of your final plan, as well as ways to measure performance.

★ You may not want to be a bohemian writer, but Robert Wringham is one, and he’s written an important book about Escapology. Order your copy of Escape Everything! today.

Can Quitting Your Job Help Stop War?

I love it when treadmill types are bowled over by the idea that a modest income doesn’t necessarily mean a life of wretched poverty.

Think, people. Curb your insatiability. Take responsibility for how you spend and earn money. Develop a moral code. Above all, live well.

Here’s New Escapologist contributor David Gross profiled in the Atlantic:

When he first started his experiment, Gross assumed he’d have to live in poverty to avoid paying federal taxes. He thought about living in a fire spotting tower to pay the rent, and resigned himself to a life of rice and ramen, and “a path of deprivation, sacrifice, and renunciation in the service of my values”.

But then he started doing some research. He knew he wanted to set aside some money for retirement, and that he could probably find enough contract work to earn as little or as much as he wanted, up to the salary he had been receiving.

★ Tired of the everyday grind? Pre-order the New Escapologist book today.

Plan Your Escape! Part 3: So What?

Welcome back to Plan Your Escape, a New Escapologist blog series by New Escapologist’s Chief Leisure Officer, Lentus Ambulandus.

Escape_planPlan Your Escape describes a methodology for charting a course toward the good life. Thus far, we’ve had three instalments:

Part 0 provided background.

Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning, and outlined the process.

Part 2 focused on your long-term aim: what does it means to live well, and what are the desired effects that you want to achieve?

Now the process becomes more specific.

In Part 2, you identified where you want to be, situationally. You now have to consider what lies between here and there. What obstacles do you have to overcome? What things do you have in your favour? What resources do you require? What limitations are you constrained by? And so on.

You need to consider all the relevant factors, and assess what bearing each has on achieving your aim. The simplest way to do this is to ask yourself, for each factor:

So what?

Let me demonstrate.

In responding to one of the comments left by a reader in Part 1, I said that my wife often keeps me grounded by dousing my big ideas with an ice-cold dose of reality. Example: I once had it in my head that I would own a coffeehouse. She pointed out that coffeehouse owners don’t tend to take off on weeklong hiking trips very often, and also said “you know, if you have a customer that irritates you, you can’t just tell them to get the hell out of your cafe”.

I could have avoided that discussion by thinking things through:

Factor: Me.

Fact: I prioritize my free time over my work, and want the flexibility to take time off on short notice.

So what? I need to be conscious of, and limit, my responsibilities.

So what? Limiting responsibility implies avoiding work that requires my persistent presence.

Deduction: Any course of action I consider must focus on project work, or on work that can be done remotely.

Fact: my temperament has been described as mercurial, and my manner blunt and/or acerbic.

So what? I need to either avoid situations that depend highly on relationships, or deal only with people who can take it.

So what? Customer interface, teamwork, and supervisory roles are not for me.

Deduction: I won’t consider any course of action involving customers, subordinates, or collaborative environments.

See? Had I done my homework, there’s no way I would have considered a coffeehouse.

Now let’s pretend I’m the guy who said, in Part 2, that I’d live well by becoming an organic farmer. As you recall, I temporarily parked the idea of the farm, and determined that what I’m really after is a situation characterized by simplicity, financial independence, and good health.

Here’s a notional conversation I might have with myself, in which I examine some of the relevant factors:

Factor: Finances.

Fact: I seek financial independence, which I define this as not having to rely on others for money.

Analysis: This can be achieved in two ways: self-employment, or the accumulation of wealth such that I don’t have to work anymore. Realistically, my current income won’t permit wealth accumulation soon enough: I’ll literally die trying.

So what? All roads lead to self-employment.

Deduction: I need to research business ideas (one of which will be farming) ASAP. In the meantime I need to keep working my day job.

Analysis: Financial independence will be achieved more quickly if I increase my savings rate. There are two principal ways to do this: maintain my current lifestyle, but work harder; or change my current lifestyle.

So what? There’s no way in hell I’m going to work harder. I need to change my lifestyle in order to reduce costs.

Deduction: one of my immediate tasks is to assess what I’m spending my money on, and slash discretionary spending.

Factor: Time.

Fact: I currently work 40 hours per week, have a full slate of social engagements, and try to squeeze in several leisure pursuits.

Analysis: This is unsustainable, particularly for someone who seeks simplicity. I have little time for focused leisure, or for researching my future business.

So what? I need to load-shed, and create more time for myself.

So what? I need to determine what’s essential, and stop doing everything else.

Deduction: Effective immediately, I will cut ties with people who don’t add value; I will engage in only those hobbies I truly enjoy (hiking and cycling); I will conduct a scorched earth minimalism campaign among my belongings.

You get the idea. As you go through all the factors relevant to your situation, you’ll arrive at specific deductions, or endpoints in your logic. A clearer picture will emerge as these deductions drive and shape your planning effort. You’ll identify realistic courses of action, and eliminate those that aren’t viable. You’ll shed light on required resources, as well as limitations and constraints. And you’ll have a better understanding of your priorities.

Which factors should you consider? The ones that you deem important, and the ones that are central to the problem. The sky’s the limit, but there’s value in keeping it simple.

In Part 4, we’ll assume that we’ve analyzed all of the relevant factors and identified several viable courses of action (COAs). We’ll look at ways to compare COAs and select the COA on which you’ll base your plan.

See you next week.

★ For added inspiration as you plot your escape, you should buy Wringham’s forthcoming Escapology book. Order a copy today.


Lockpicking Imaginary Handcuffs

HOUDINI2-356x500The fine fellows of the Mountain Shores (Un)Productivity Podcast had me on as a guest.

I was there ostensibly to promote Escape Everything! but we had far more fun than that. We talked about Houdini, humor writing, self-help, daily routines, Tim Ferriss, Jon Ronson, Russell Brand, Jane Austin, Henry Miller, David Graeber and many others. Ears must have been burning all over. Not that yours will when you listen, of course. Tune in. It’s a great podcast.

★ Tired of the everyday grind? Pre-order the New Escapologist book today.

Two articles on Quitting

There must be something in the air. Two mainstream press articles about quitting boring jobs.

From the Atlantic:

My friends sometimes approach me with career anxieties, under the false impression that writing about economics makes somebody a good career advisor. My counsel is typically something like optimistic incrementalism. Don’t quit your job, mastery comes with time, job satisfaction comes with mastery… that sort of stuff. […] I never said it outright, but I assumed that my cautious approach was more responsible […] but according to a new study of youth unemployment […] my incrementalist advice, while appropriate for the worst periods of the Great Recession, isn’t so great, overall.

From the BBC:

many of us aren’t happy in our jobs. Only 53% of US workers surveyed by online job-search website, said they liked or loved their jobs, while in France that dropped to 43% and in Germany, to 34%. With discontent that high, at what point does it make sense to leave a boring job and find one that not only pays you well and gives you perks, but also makes you happy?

★ Tired of the everyday grind? Pre-order the New Escapologist book today.

Working hard cannot solve an economic crisis

There has never been a time when capitalism existed without the exploitation of most people, most of the time. My classmates weren’t necessarily aware of this historical detail, but they were aware that working for a living was unlikely to bring them what they want and need. They didn’t aspire to greater job security because their aspirations didn’t focus on work. They were tentative about admitting this at first. That’s understandable, in a country where politicians of all hues claim that being a member of a “hardworking family” is a criterion of citizenship. Yet as my classmates slowly began to admit, most people don’t see hard work as a virtue. Their aspirations focus on getting more leisure: time to spend with family and friends, doing things they consider worthwhile. That might be childcare, but it might equally be creative or craft work.

This is from a must-read essay by social historian Selina Todd, in which she reflects upon her former classmates–now in their thirties–and their current attitudes to work and leisure.

They dreamed of winning the lottery – and concurred that they’d use the money to leave work, spend more time with family, and ensure their children didn’t have to work for a living.

This is a sensible attitude. Hard work causes stress, poor health and early death – above all, it has never solved poverty. We work longer hours now than we’ve done for fifty years, yet the gap between the rich and poor has never been wider. Working hard cannot solve an economic crisis. The fact we are all expected to work so hard is in fact a result of economic crisis: a crisis that did not appear in 2008, but has been with us far longer. This is the crisis at the heart of capitalism: a tension between the 1 percent who control the economy, and want to continually increase their wealth, and the rest of us, who are expected to work ever harder, in order to generate profit and to keep us from occupying our time in meaningful ways like questioning or challenging the status quo.

★ Tired of the everyday grind? Pre-order the New Escapologist book today.

Plan Your Escape! Part 2: Good Intentions

Welcome back to Plan Your Escape, a New Escapologist blog series by New Escapologist’s Chief Leisure Officer, Lentus Ambulandus.

Escape_planPlan Your Escape describes a methodology for charting a course toward the good life. Thus far, we’ve had two instalments:

Part 0 provided background.

Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning, and outlined the process:

1. Identify your aim.

2. Analyze relevant factors.

3. Consider the courses of action available to you.

4. Select the most appropriate course of action and develop your plan.

Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and tackle Step 1: what are we trying to achieve through all this planning?

This is trickier than you might think. On the surface, we all know that the aim is to live well. But we need to look under the hood and see what living well is actually comprised of. Not just what, but also why.

The importance of this exercise can’t be overstated: a clear aim gives us a sense of purpose that informs and guides the remainder of our planning effort, as well as our subsequent execution of said plan.

Our aim is the “where am I going? (and why)” portion of “where am I? where am I going? how do I get there?”

Effects-Based Planning

In preparing to write Plan Your Escape, I asked friends and family what they want out of life. I got two types of response. The overly vague: “I want to be happy”. And the overly precise: “I want to be an organic farmer”, or “I want to own a coffeehouse”, or “I want to live in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean and never work again”.

Both types of answer demand clarification.

To the person who says they want to be happy, I ask “What is happy comprised of?”

To the person who says they want a farm, or a nice house and no work, I ask “Why? How did you arrive at that conclusion?”

Somewhere in between platitudes about happiness and defined outcomes involving farms and houses, lies the essence of the good life: the intangible, descriptive effects that we want to achieve, which we believe will make us happy.

Take, for instance, that person who says they want to own a farm. Do they really? Or do they want a life characterized by attributes that they think farming will provide? Because owning a farm is not an end unto itself. It’s not a what, it’s a how. It’s one possible means among many to achieving a set of underlying effects. Perhaps our would-be farmer envisions a life of independence, good physical health, and contact with nature. Perhaps they assume that farming will be a simple, care-free existence. Perhaps they think organic farming will make their community better.

So instead of saying:

I want to be an organic farmer.

They might say:

My intent is to live well by achieving four desired effects: simplicity, economic independence, community involvement, and good health.

Upon further review and analysis, they may decide that the best course of action is to be an organic farmer. On the other hand, they may decide to embrace minimalism, rent a small apartment in a city with lots of green space, and become an advocate for dedicated cycling lanes on their streets. Both courses of action will achieve the aim.

Establish Your Intent

How do you identify the effects you want to achieve? By asking yourself questions. Start with the one I asked at the end of Part 1:

What do you think it means to live well?

Actually, let’s rephrase that:

What will it mean to have lived well? 

Because that’s really the one that counts, right? I find it useful, because it puts the day-to-day stuff into perspective.

If you’re a visual person, you might use a mind map…start with “the good life” in the centre and work outward from there.

Or, you could project yourself forward into an imagined future where you’re living well. What does that look like? What elements are present? What elements are absent? Why?

The key is to get beyond–or rather beneath–the material, status-based, or situational outcomes that you have in mind. A healthy dose of skepticism comes in handy, and you might just conclude that you’ve led yourself astray. The first time my wife and I really did this, we sold our house. Why? Because a house in the suburbs simply didn’t jibe with the attributes that we saw in our desired future: financial flexibility, maximum leisure, minimum stress.

You may see an entirely different future for yourself. You might throw everything into the hopper and determine that your long-term aim is characterized by strong relationships and economic stability.

The point is that you deconstruct your image of the good life and reduce it to its essence, as opposed to manifestations of that essence. Focus on the effects you want to achieve:

My aim is to live well by achieving a situation characterized by the following desirable effects…

I’ll leave you to it. Next week, armed with your thoroughly considered aim, you’ll start to refine the problem by examining all relevant factors and analyzing their impact.

See you next week.

★ Help fund the forthcoming Escapology book. Order a copy today.

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