[I’ve tagged this as a draft because now that I’m about to hit ‘publish’ I’ve seen more that I can add to it once I put it together, which has a delightful self-referential humor to it. Well, you’ll see…]
I’ve been refocusing pretty hard on my programming chops and projects over the last couple/few weeks.
Now, before I continue I feel the strange compulsion to say that I don’t suppose any of this is actually new information. But having come to a more clear (and therefore simple) understanding of the phenomenon itself definitely helps me to deal with my unENDing frustration in trying to shoot off in 19 directions at once.
There’s this illusion in my head that because in theory the time exists to pursue several different things during the day, that I could actually do that in practice.
On paper it seems like there’s MORE than enough time in a single day to write for a couple hours, code for a couple hours, then head down to the shop and get some frames built, then round out the day by defusing for an hour or three with a video game or two.
But attention doesn’t work like that. And it’s really taken me banging my head against a fucking wall over and over again for years…well, decades really, to figure this out.
The time you spend doing a thing isn’t the time you spend doing a thing.
The time you spend actively engaged in a pursuit is not only a fraction of the time you spend thinking about it, but a small fraction.
With my various programming projects for instance, if they’re front and center in my head, they’re really front and center. I can code for a few hours at a time. But the active task of programming is really the process of taking structured notes on what I’ve been thinking about for the rest of the day and testing those thoughts against reality to see what works and what doesn’t, then making necessary adjustments.
If for instance, I end up with a mental log jam resulting from a design consideration I’d either not anticipated or just straight up gotten wrong, I have to stand up and walk away, sometimes to a whiteboard, sometimes just to go wash dishes so I can reconsider the problem and make adjustments to that weird 4d model I have in my head (which is something I’m going to have to try and put down some day.)
Once I have a new picture ready, ready enough to screw around with, THEN I head back to the compiler and test it against reality.
It’s the time I spend NOT writing software where I’m actually doing the lion’s share of the work.
Picture a bell curve graph representing mental energy spent on a pursuit. Now let’s say the middle….1/4 or so actually represents the time “Engaged in the Active Task” with the mental energy tapering off in either direction. You can’t actually fit four of those in a day. Hell, it might not be practical to fit two of them.
This is why wasting time on engaging but ultimately superfluous pursuits is so damned dangerous. I mean, if you’re not trying to accomplish anything then sure, have at. Go watch your fucking sportsball or your favorite series and let it dominate your mind and your conversation. More power to you if selling your human potential short and drooling backwashed light beer into the couch while watching other people perform to their limits so you can staturbate with your buddies is what actually makes you happy.
I…for my part spend a fair amount of time playing video games. (What, you thought I was claiming high moral ground with that last paragraph? Please. I’m as guilty as any.) It USED to be that I’d soak up a dozen hours in a stretch several days a week. But rather than trying to eliminate/reduce that time for its own sake (which induces a strange phenomenon I’ll call an “Engagement Vacuum”) I’ve muscled it into a corner by intentionally focusing on things I enjoy much more.
My current obsession in that sphere is Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a phenomenal work of art. The outgrowth of that, with regards to this post, is that it’s infected the rest of my project thinking. I’m in the (slow and laborious) process of building a cyberdeck (more on that elsewhere.) I’ve got components ordered to duplicate, near as reasonable, one of the standard radios that show up in the environment (though I still don’t know how I’m going to build the shell.)
When you’re that focused on something it just gets in to everything.
So you’d do well to pay attention to where your attention goes when you think it’s not going anywhere.
I couldn’t figure out where the hell in there to put these couple paragraphs, so I’m just adding them to the end.
As I wrote this my brain had ‘my writing process’ as an abstraction on the back burner. It occured to me that this is one of the things at the core of my continued (and endlessly harped on) frustration with writing longer pieces. I really don’t think about (or more properly stated, dwell on) individual writing projects, be it these rambling blog posts or the longer form fiction I keep fantasizing about writing.
In order to move forward in a meaningful way in building this skill set I need to be able to chew on these projects while I’m not actively typing. Trying to reason it out here on the page I’m thinking that means I need to consider higher level structure, much the way I do with software. Spend some time thinking about what I want to accomplish then coming up with a structure and go top-down with it. Of course this is in stark contrast to the way I write, which is entirely bottom up; start typing and see what comes out.
It’s interesting stuff that I’m excited about getting to the bottom of (or at least deeper in to. I expect it’s effectively bottomless.)