2021-11-29 & 2021-12-01
So I realized this morning how bad it is that the place where I have the maximum volume of distractions is the same place where I kid myself that I’m going to be productive.
It’s not a particularly new or breathtaking realization. I just caught myself trying to win a battle I’d set myself up to lose.
Writing software is one thing. That I pretty much HAVE to do there. 3 monitors, a beefy computer, a couple other servers kicking around. Lots of network nonsense and such. It’s the place to do it.
But the social media dicking around (my primary distraction now that I’ve largely got the gaming thing cornered to one little section of my life) also happens in the same place.
I’m just not sure how to do it, how to separate the temptation to take the path of least resistance from the…inspiration to action, for lack of a better piece of phrasing.
There are a couple of angles of attack, as I see it:
- Create a space where I CAN’T (reasonably) be distracted by my pet indulgences.
- Be intentional about purpose and time.
- Clear mental state from obligations (by completing them) so focus is actually focused.
It resolves down into physical setting and mental setting. I’m not sure there’s a third, but I’d love to hear it.
Creating a distraction free space is an unachievable platonic ideal, to be sure. But it’s a direction worth pulling in. That’s one of the reasons I hit the cigar lounge with the laptop (plus, a stout cigar like…oh… looks down an MJ12 Maduro on an empty stomach really helps me think.)
What I’m NOT going to be able to do, even a little, is somehow split my office, my “computing environment” if you will, into multiple logical spaces. It’s just not going to work. To sit at the computer and work is to be in the world of the internet distraction.
“What about disconnecting your computers from the internet while working?” Won’t work. Too much of what I work on, in the programming world at least, has to do with directly interfacing with the network. Yes I could conceivably block certain websites. But that kind of self-trickery doesn’t really hold up to a determined distractosaur. It’s too easy to do and therefore undo.
What I’ve been planning since I moved in is to put a (perhaps not so) little writing desk in the library. But they’re so fucking expensive I haven’t pulled the trigger on one. The “secretary” style ones are nice enough and would probably work well. But I’d really like a nice old-school rolltop. Problem with THOSE is how tough it is to even FIND one that’s worth taking seriously.
The ones at the local furniture store are a couple thousand (fucking OUCH) and I’d considered actually doing it. But…I went in to take a look at the one I recall seeing and…it’s just trashy on close examination. The drawers are pressboard. The little door fronts don’t line up right. It’s just crappy.
So the search continues.
I envision that working because I’d use it for longhand writing, list making, planning and such. Put one of my 2×4 foot blackboards in there, a few fountain pens (I’ve been ACHING to get THEM back in play. They’re all dried out now sadly.)
If I could figure out some kind of simple stopgap measure to make the idea work, so I wasn’t plunging in to the tune of what’d likely be $3k for the full setup, I would. Maybe I could cobble something really simple together in the shop, put a dark stain on it and see if I’d actually DO it first.
Hmm… my computer setup does involve two separate desks and a corner table in an L formation. Perhaps it would be as simple as cleaning one off and dragging it into the library. Not the kind of thing I want. But it might be enough of a step in the right direction to be useful. I could always put “any old shelf or table” back in the original’s space. Then I’d just have to buy a chair of some kind that wouldn’t violate the aesthetic.
Okay that sounds like a plan:
- Clean off the desk
- Move it into the library
- Set it up with notebooks and such
- Build another blackboard (Those cost about $15 in materials)
- Head in THERE in the morning instead of the office.
Now for the second part
“An idle brain is the devil’s workshop” – (H. G. Bohn, “Hand-Book of Proverbs,” 1855)
Distractions happen when I’m without concrete purpose. Unfortunately for me that’s something close to my default mode, having a real hard time prefering “what can I do?” to “what do I want to do?”
As a result I sit down at my computer when I get up in the morning and “noodle around online for a bit” that can some times last until noon. On those days it seems as though every time I glance at the clock an hour has passed.
I don’t like to blame the way my brain works for my failings. But at some point you’ve got to admit that the way you’re wired isn’t something you can abstract away in order.
Take my previous post, here: http://iwilson.net/the-new-things/
Part of the open “interested in everything” thing, which is more true than you might think.
The way that dovetails with purpose and drive is in how it leads directly to a lack of natural prioritization. If you’re interested in lots of things, it’s pretty difficult to think of one pursuit as being more important than any other.
So how do you stay the course on any particular project. One is as interesting as another at any given time. It’s rare they get to a point where they’re self-sustaining in interest. Sure, “activity begets interest.” But on the front end, before committing to a course of action, the full palate of possible projects is out there waiting to be worked on. And at that point they tend to be of equal attractiveness.
Sure, “focus on completion” is one idea. But that reeks of “Just pick ONE. It doesn’t MATTER which one.” Which, while a useful concept, is not something that has any particular pull. It’s really not wrong. But it has no utility in the face of the magnetic mind in a room full of iron filings.
So the optimistic mornings as they stand, look something like this.
- Get out of bed.
- “Dammit. I’m going to get something done today.” (A resolve driven more by a propulsion from frustration than a pull by encouragement.)
- Sit down in front of the computer.
- checks twitter
- It’s 1:00.
- In the immortal words of AvE: “Focus you FUCK.”
The problem with habits (or, let me rephrase, MY problem with habits) is I tend to give up before they stick. The only real solution I know to that is to keep trying, and add the “habit stacking” pattern to things as well.
Habit Stacking (neat little book) is the practice of taking little habits and associating them with one another to help drive them forward. For instance I always brush my teeth in the morning after I get out of the shower. It’s just how it goes. It’s automatic.
So my morning “habit stack” (sounds too much like “life hack” but I’ll go with it) is really something like:
- Get up
- Head in to office and hit power button on desktop
- Bathroom trip
- Get on the scale (and whine a bit. I haven’t been doing great.)
- Brush Teeth
- Back to office to write weight on whiteboard.
That’s a good place to start putting other things in. For instance I could write my weight in the bullet journal on the month page. On one hand this would help me see the progression (regression.) But on the other side this would be a gateway to sitting down with my planning notebook, where I could do a few things:
- Check the day’s scheduled items
- Add and plan new stuff.
Then if I added that to the end of the day, where I write down what I ate, etc. I’d be bounding the day with planning efforts, which would be something I wouldn’t be able to avoid helping.
Yep. That’s the plan.
Will I fail? Of course. Duh.
Fall down 7, get up 8.
Now for the 3rd part:
I’d planned on finishing this post on Monday when I started writing it but a couple guys showed up at the cigar lounge and I ended up hanging out ’til close. So I didn’t. Totally okay with that. As I mentioned on twitter, I expected/planned for the day to go that way so it’s really fine.
Well yesterday I went down to Barnes & Noble and dragged my big old notebook (that BARELY fits in the inside pocket of my denim jacket) and set up the Bullet Journal framework for December. In so doing I got all jazzed about the things I could get done (in the “what CAN I do” vs “what do I want to do.”)
I didn’t quite “sit down and open the bullet journal before I hit the power button on the desktop” as I’d planned. But that’s okay. I got to it within a few minutes.
One of the thing about focus on projects that occurred to me was that a lot of the “whenever I’m working on someting I’m conscious of all the other things I’m not doing” attitude I fight with comes from actually ignoring the things I’ve got to get done, as I’m judging them on urgency and ignoring their overall importance.
It’s on the likely infinite list of “well DUH, I just hadn’t thought of it before.” So, with that in mind I blasted out a list of things that I kinda….stop myself before getting to in my head. I’ve got an email to send to my financial manager. I’ve got a text to send to cancel my attendance at this Saturday’s party (just…not my thing and I see these guys all the time. My social meter is tapped the fuck out.) I’ve got a toll bill to pay and a couple other things that have been scratching at the back of my head that I’ve been avoiding.
…takes a break to send that text…
So the point is to clear the deck of the things clawing at the back of your mind that demand attention. To do that you have to be honest with yourself about what those things are.
And now that I’m thinking about it I can go through times when I’ve been able to throw myself in to a creative task and times when I haven’t because I just couldn’t commit my mind to it. And…I’m pretty sure that this plays a nontrivial (though not exhaustive) part in that calculus.
Like everything else in here it comes down to reminding myself of these things when I’m not thinking of them.
No. That does NOT mean I have to be one of those side-hustle level “grind all the time” people, constantly looking for what I should be doing next. I think that would exhaust me to death. But a bit of mindfulness is in order.
So that’s really the all of it, I think. I learned a long time ago (well…maybe not so long as I’d like) not to make grand promises of the “everything’s going to be different from now on” template.
You can’t pick and choose major life changes and think they’re going to take root without major side-effects, good and bad. The best you can do realistically is pull in the right direction then start taking measurements and observations and adjusting accordingly.
I think I’ve got a good bead on this stuff.
Pretty excited about it, all things considered.