Losing Time to Catching Up

August 17th, 2010

I have, over the past couple of weeks, come to realize how much time I lose to “catching up” with where I think I should be. Something about the process of doing something you already think should be done (answering email, listening to those old podcasts, reading those articles you bookmarked) takes longer. I think that people already have a hard time estimating how long a task will take, but I would like to propose a new rule. I don’t have a set ratio yet, but catch up tasks seem to take something like 1.25 times the amount of time they would have taken if I’d just done them first things first. Maybe this is just me realizing all the wasted time I’ve left sitting on the side of the internet’s yellow brick road. But over the past couple of weeks I’ve caught up on a lot of things (alas still not up to date on emails, several people are now nodding their heads, should they happen to read this space). What has struck me is that things that were spiraling out of control, as soon as I caught up on them, seemed almost effortless to maintain. Now, I’m about to go into another semester, so who knows, but with an internship, the managing editor position, working at the computer lab, and looking over the job postings, it’s not like the summer has all been a romp through a field of wildflowers.

So, do it now in one hour, or do it later in an hour and a quarter. Your choice. Am I being too conservative with this? Does it sound crazy? Do you get stuff done faster when you wait until the last minute?

Total Attention Meltdown

June 1st, 2009

Preface: I just finished reading this article on attention and found it to be fairly good, despite the usual “but maybe we are all just charting a bold new way of organizing the human brain” ending.

After the completion of my first year of law school, I had two weeks before things really started up again in earnest. I began this two weeks by reading two books in two days. This, rather obviously, made me feel like I had my attention span all neat and tidied up. I had goals that I wanted to accomplish over the summer, and I was going to set them up and knock them down. This was followed by two and a half weeks of seemingly barely being able to pay attention to anything at all. I didn’t post here, despite having subjects that I wanted to write about. I didn’t write out any of the ideas for fiction that I had been carefully putting away in the ideas.txt file on my hard drive, unwilling to tackle them in the full flush of a school semester. I made a to do list, and I did the things that I absolutely had to do because someone was waiting a few hours down the line expecting me to have them done. This was, I was sure, no way to live life.

Over the course of a year of getting back into school, I had carefully weeded the many distractions from my life. I still got distracted while studying. I still surfed the internet more than I wanted, but when I had to, I could focus much more than I had while working at an ISP. When you are on a phone with a person helping them get Outlook going, there is a certain amount of poddling around the internet as a whole that is understandably acceptable. You have configured Outlook so many times in the past that you may divide your attention, even with the loss of attention quality that this entails. When reading a court case, the same does not hold true. You must be thinking about it, or the words will get you nowhere. I had refilled my RSS feed with many of the things that I had carefully removed over the year. I had played a few flash games. It was relaxing, but it needed to end. Then I came across the article above. Of course, I didn’t read it at the time. I was recommended in a friend’s Facebook message, but I bookmarked it. When I got around to reading it, it was as part of a general reorganization in the hopes of increasing my general willpower and attention span back to school levels. Things can be more relaxing, but I’d rather that they were relaxing on my terms, as opposed by being led around by the nose across the greater internet.

Merlin Mann had some relatively sage advice in the article, as he often does. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, and it really is, but Merlin says one of the best things about attention that anyone ever says. If you spend too much time thinking how you can improve it, or be more efficient, or more lifehack oriented, you will wast too much time thinking about getting things done and not getting them done. First to go from the RSS feed was Lifehacker.com. Sorry Lifehacker. But your useful information ratio is about one in fifty, and the value of that stuff is not so good. You are exactly what Merlin was talking about. Hell this whole post is, in some respect, what Merlin was talking about.

So the new goal is of course to do things until they are done, or something else must be done at that time. This resolution will almost certainly not last beyond my first rem cycle tonight, but hopefully by destroying some of the faster links to distraction that I had on the computer, there will be less of it tomorrow. Another big one I hope to get better at: not pretending that doing a bunch of smaller tasks that don’t really amount to anything will “build momentum.” That never really seems to work. The slow cognitive rebuild begins once again for another ‘net denizen.

To all my friends who are thinking that I owe them an email. I know. That is one of tomorrow’s buckle down tasks.


August 14th, 2007

If there drought isn’t over in Minnesota, it’s getting dented tonight. It’s what you might want to call ‘a for serious storm.’ I’m writing in my living room right now, and periodically every window in the house shakes, almost fast enough to generate a real pitch. It’s hard to tell thought my steamed up windows, but it looks like the storm drains are backing up, and the water is challenging the curb.

I took a quick look in the back yard, which has oscillated between parched and whithered for most of the summer. I get periodic calls from my landlord asking after the state of her grass. This should calm her down quite a bit. I’ll be happy to not have to water. Keeping a lawn green in a drought depresses me. We have better things to do with that water, and a limited supply.

And now it’s the next morning. Everything has cooled down, which is fantastic, as I’m biking in to work later, when the sun will have had a better chance to make things miserable. The GF and I just got back from a wedding in Michigan, and the house is a mess. And with that, what I’ve thought of as the summer crazy season is done. Now comes the fall and I’m going to apply for grad school. I hope to convince myself that this won’t be crazy busy too.

Newest Bestest Waste of Time

March 21st, 2007


I’m late to the party again. This post I’m linking is old. Thankfully most of this party, the twitter part, is not one that I want anything to do with. If twitter really does take off, it might just be a sign that we should let global warming or a meteor strike step back in, so that nature can go back to the drawing board.

Seriously, are people that insecure about their own actions? I know I post some banal stuff on this blog, but at least I take the time to think through the banality. And does someone really need to know if I’m doing my laundry? If they did, wouldn’t it be faster to just call me? I have a cell phone, now.

The perceived utility of this thing is such that even if it did only what it was supposed to, and human nature will make sure it won’t, it would still be destructive. We don’t need to make the cultural signal to noise ratio worse.

Q: “Did you hear what Bush said he would fight the subpoenaing his aides?”

A: “No! I was reading that one of my friends was going to the store to buy cat food, and another was going to see 300, and another had a strange pain in his left side that he didn’t think was serious. He probably pulled a muscle. Oh! And my roommate just twittered that he’s leaving the apartment…”

Dear God. Please, all of my friends, do not use this thing. I will write you a letter, I will read your blog/myspace/live journal page. I promise. I’m only half lying.

More/Less Productivity

January 8th, 2007

Today I did a little more puttering around with productivity software. Shea had mentioned a piece of software called Midnight Inbox. He mentioned that it was related to this not quite cultish, but clearly with a following, book called Getting Things Done. I started to realized that the stuff I had been looking at frequently owed a lot to this system, and that it might not be for me. I’ve got Midnight Inbox on my hard drive now, and am looking it over, but I’m just not sure it’s going to be for me. The way of thinking about the individual tasks seems like it’s almost a great idea, in that way that misses the mark just slightly, and thus seems to be totally wrong, for me I should hasten to add.

Anyhow, I looked more closely at OmniOutliner, mentioned in a previous post. It is starting to seem more like what I was looking for, and just didn’t show it in quite the way I wanted. It does what needs to be done, I just always want things to look a certain way, and software developers seldom see it the same way.

Part of my frustration stemmed from the fact that it was an unregistered version. So, the company may well be earning a little of my money. A pity I can’t get this one expensed… There are people at work who could use this sort of thing. People like me.

New Year, Less Efficient

January 7th, 2007

So, going into the new year, I thought it would be good to have a program on hand that let me go into a little more detail than iCal. Sure, the real problem is that I have the attention span of a small rodent. I also have a touch of OCD. (I’m just as bad as everyone else, but isn’t it annoying as hell when people self diagnose like that?) I have a hard time writing when there’s anything in my RSS feed. That’s bad. Anyhow, I started digging into some productivity software. I looked at Task List and OmniOutliner. The end result was a lot of spent time, and the sinking sensation that this could take way too long.

It’s so easy to set out trying to become more efficient and then waste weeks not getting any goals done, but trying very hard to set up to get goals done. I’d really like something that has iCal, but a few of the functions of the two programs I just mentioned, there’s Kinkless for OmniOutliner, and that is almost there, but it doesn’t do it’s own calendar, yet still leaves you thinking, why can’t all of this be done in iCal. So I looked into 10.5. No deal. They’re adopting a bunch of stuff, and of course pretending no one gave them the idea. (Multiple desktops? We swear Linux has never done that…)

So I’ve decided to muddle through with iCal for a while. There’s no sense in learning a whole new system, when the old one was close. I’ll use that stuff… oh yeah, paper, and take notes in files. Maybe I’ll keep OmniOutliner around. that might be ok. Anyhow. I’m going to write.

All of this thanks to 43 Folders who curse/bless me with their productivity suggestions, I waste time.

One of the hardest things, I think, when trying to write while holding down a regular job, is holding yourself accountable. I’ve set many goals over the past few years. Few of them have been met. It might be that I was setting my sights to high, it might be that I’m lazy. I’m not sure which it is. I think part of it is that sometimes I sit down, start to write, and the world falls away for a while. I come back a couple of hours later with somewhere between one thousand and four thousand words from that. Generally speaking I find it better when it’s less. The few times I’ve done four thousand words in two hours it has not been very special. Anyhow, I’m digressing, those times when I just sit down and write are great, but I have the attention span of a lemur most of the time.

To this end I’ve tried setting myself a goal that has a solid deadline, 60,000 words in the main project by the start of 2007. I then figured out what that meant on a daily basis, and set up to track how I was doing against that number, so that if I fell behind I would know how much slack I needed to pick up. So far it has been… less disappointing than other methods. As an experiment in productivity, I will have to wait until the new to see if it bear fruit.

On an just slightly related note. 43folders makes me wonder what the balance is between being productive, and just thinking about being really productive. At least I’m thinking.

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