“Only entropy comes easy.”Russian playwright Anton Checkhov, as cited in Weinburg and McCann's Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models
The second law of thermodynamics essentially holds that, without new investments of energy, things fall apart — hot things become cold, neat things become messy, clean things become dirty. As physics professor Denis Donnelly put it in a 1986 letter to the New York Times, “all natural processes lead to an overall increase in disorder” (source). This process of inevitable devolution is called entropy, and you and I see it play out in our physical classroom spaces, in the laptop cart, and in our doggone email inboxes.
Things don't have to be messy — your inbox doesn't have to be overloaded — but apart from some kind of energy investment (e.g., someone cleaning the classroom; you teaching your students the procedures for taking care of the room) they will always get that way.
Sort of a depressing law, right? Darn nature.
The things to do with entropy are:
- Accept that it's a thing, and
- Adjust expectations and actions accordingly.
Yup — your email is always going to fill up. So rather than splitting your brain into a million pieces all day by constantly checking it, just check it three times, and when you do, use OHIO. In other words, satisfice it, systematize it, or satisficingly systematize it — just don't be a perfectionist about it because by its very nature it's always going to demand more of your attention.
To pull us back to the big picture, entropy tells us that to exist in the natural universe, we're going to need to focus our energy rather than spend it willy nilly. Autopilot is not going to maximize the long-term flourishing returns on energy expended. If in education there are always more places in which we can expend our energies, then we'll need to expend energy wisely if our hope is to optimize impact and have a life, too.
The second law of thermodynamics, then, is a call to focus. Entropy says, “Figure out what matters most, and then just do that. Ignore or satisfice all the rest.”
So maybe stop worrying about the latest untested edu-fad (I know, I know — the TED talk was really good) and instead dig in to the basic areas of work that we know matter most.
I've been on that path for years now and it sure seems to be helping.