Sometimes the days when you have the most to do, you get the most done. Restrictions can be a great boost to productivity.
It has been a long week, but I’ve got a lot of stuff done. Still more to do this weekend at the new house though.
Every now and then a wonderful thing happens. I’m not sure whether it is purely coincidence or if there’s some kind of cosmic law involved, but when it comes around the feeling is incredible.
Yesterday I finished reading a book (The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss) and this morning I finished the first draft of a new short story. In addition to that, I completed a load of work tasks that had been hanging over my head for weeks. There was, one brief moment, where I had no pressing need to do anything. All of the boxes were closed, everything was done.
Although it would be relatively easy to build a life without books to read, or stories to write, I wouldn’t like it. This is a light and dark thing, you can’t really appreciate one without having the other to contrast it with, and anyway, who is to say which one is more enjoyable.
It’s a good feeling nonetheless, and whenever it comes around I make the effort to appreciate it.
I had an interesting chat with my wife last night while we were waiting for dinner to cook. She told me that she thought I was going to make it as a writer because I am always persevering. Which is a nice enough thing to say, but it got me thinking.
Turns out that earlier in the day she had been listening to a program on the radio where the guest said that perseverance was more important to success than talent, and that if you persevered then you would succeed at whatever you were working on.
I fully agree with the first statement; hard work is more important than talent. I’m just not so sure about the second statement.
It seems to me a lot like the logic that wealthy people use to justify their own positions and the inequality in society. That they are wealthy because they have worked harder, they deserve it and people who are poor deserve what they have.
Which doesn’t really make sense. Are we really expected to believe that a CEO works harder than a deep-sea fisherman?
It’s an easy thing to believe because we hear it all the time. The trouble is, the people who tend to be invited on radio shows are people who have persevered AND succeeded. There isn’t a lot of attention given to artists who have spent their whole lives working hard to achieve something and then just not. It’s survivorship bias.
I am prepared to accept that the people who succeed tend to have perseverance, but I don’t accept that all people who have perseverance succeed. Believing that takes away from the massively important element of luck.
Which isn’t to say that people should stop trying. I certainly have no intention of packing up my pens and quitting. Maybe I will never have that lucky break. I accept that. But I know that if I stop trying then, if that lucky break ever does come along, I won’t be in a position to take advantage of it.
A few weeks ago I finally cancelled my Facebook account and I haven’t had a personal Twitter account for more than a year. Social media in that sense isn’t anything that I want to be involved in.
Although I hadn’t been using Facebook, cancelling it got me thinking about how we used to operate online before it existed and I remembered RSS.
If you’re not aware of it, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Basically, it’s a way to get the contents of a blog sent to you when it’s updated. You need a feed reader (I am currently testing out Feedbin but there are plenty of others just a search away) and then you just tell it which websites you want to follow. So you don’t have to visit them to see if there is new content.
I stopped using RSS years ago because I was obsessively checking for updates. I had an app on my phone and it was easy to constantly refresh it throughout the day. Which isn’t really how it should be used. This time I will not add any kind of app on my phone. I will also block access to the site on my computer (which I’ll write more about another time) outside certain hours, so it won’t impact my work.
What I hope it will do, is kill that urge to waste time online and also help me to stop feeling as if I am missing out.
RSS is an old technology, but like CDs and like paper notebooks, maybe the old things are better things.
P.S. if you’re interested, the RSS feed for this site is http://jloscombe.com/feed/
Everything feels chaotic at the moment. Nothing is routine, it’s all up in the air.
We are getting close to the finishing work on our new house, but now it seems as if there are a million things to do at the same time.
I am now officially a supervisor at work and I don’t know what that means on top of what I was already doing.
I keep trying to stay away from mindlessly browsing the internet, but every day I fail at it.
Things are changing and if experience has taught me anything it’s that there will be a period of chaos. It might not last for long, but it will be a struggle.
What history hasn’t told me is whether the chaos is real, or all in my head. I am willing to admit that there might not be anything that is truly out of hand, but it appears so to me.
Eventually things will get better and I won’t be able to remember how frustrating this period is.
Eventually, I will decide to do it all over again.
Recently I have been struggling with some of the things I’m trying to do. Mainly, to stop spending time online. It occurred to me this morning, that I never spend much time thinking about why I am trying to spend less time online and that it might be important to do so. Which is what I am doing here.
Why am I reducing the amount of time I spend online?
1. I want to have more time to do other things
We all have the same 24 hours in a day and if I spend 12 of them stuck in front of a computer, or with a phone in my face, then that takes away from time I could spend doing other things. It is time that I could be spending with my family; playing with my children or hanging out with my wife. It is time I could be writing, or reading books.
There are things in my life that I want to do more than browsing random articles on Wikipedia, or finding out what the latest tech news is.
I am not saying that everything online is a waste of time, but, in general, it is a value judgement that I am happy to make. I am better off reading a book, writing, or spending time with my family than almost anything that I could be doing on the internet.
2. It becomes a compulsion that I struggle to control
I am not very good at maintaining balance with things like this. I tend to swing from one extreme to the other. I get caught up in a cycle of constantly refreshing pages, wasting entire days. I have tried, but I can never seem to achieve a comfortable balance.
It’s not just bad stuff though. When I eat healthy, I eat super healthy, but as soon as I try to find a balance, it all falls apart. That is why I can’t do “cheat days”. I tend towards the more destructive behaviour pattern, but can usually hold myself in check if I don’t waver.
Which means I have a choice: I can either be all in on wasting time online, or I can be all out.
Why am I switching to analogue tools?
1. I believe they produce better results
After what I have said about the internet and wasting time, it should be clear that I am prone to distractions. When I say analogue tools, I don’t necessarily mean analogue. What I actually mean is tools that have one purpose, one task for which I can use them. So, pen and paper are analogue tools in both senses of the word. However, I would also count the Alphasmart Neo 2, which I use to write second drafts, as an analogue tool, because the only thing you can use it for is writing.
I am prone to distractions, so trying to write on a device that also has free access to the internet, is a recipe for disaster. Analogue tools are less distracting and that should mean that they produce better results. It stands to reason that what I write will be better if I am not distracted by other things.
Which is good, because analogue tools also tend to be slower. When I write on a computer I can get around 2,000 words an hour. With pen and paper I get about half that. When I write slower, I tend to produce better quality. However, in order to still produce the same quantity, I need to spend more time actually writing, which takes me back to 1. I want to have more time to do other things.
It is not only creative tools that are better. I consume better in an analogue format: I listen to full albums on CD, whereas I skip around endlessly when I have access to a streaming music service. I take in information in books better when I read them on paper, as opposed to on an eReader. I also get to enjoy cover art for both.
I have flip-flopped between analogue and digital for task management and am now back on analogue, using something like a Bullet Journal. I am considering switching back to DVDs rather than streaming. I am looking forward to having physical photographs rather than just looking at them on a screen.
There are other avenues where analogue could be an improvement. It is an area that I am still exploring, but based on current results, I believe that being analogue first is the way to go.
2. They are often cheaper
Now that all apps seem to be switching to a subscription model, it is cheaper for me to buy notebooks and pens rather than pay a monthly amount. This isn’t a criticism of app makers, they need to make money as well, but cost is a consideration for me and I would rather spend my money on a notebook and pen than a collection of pixels on a screen.
There is also the upgrade cycle, which shows no sign of slowing. I have lost count of the number of times I justified a new computer or phone because I needed it to run the latest version of an app. I don’t have to worry about that with pen and paper because that technology is as mature as it’s likely to get. Since I stepped away from the brink of becoming a fountain pen user, it is even cheaper.
Also, I can buy things second hand. CDs are a lot cheaper than Spotify when bought this way, with the added bonus that I could sell them on at a later date if I decide to.
I need to remember that there are reasons for me doing these things, that it isn’t just an arbitrary test of my willpower. Not only will it make the process easier, but it will also allow me to make future decisions that align with my philosophy.
I tend to think in terms of the “Analogue Method”, even when that name doesn’t quite fit. It is still a work in progress. There are still many digital tools in my life.
To begin with, ask; What is the earliest version of this I can roll back to?
Using music as an example, I was paying for a streaming service. The earliest version of listening to music that it was reasonable to roll back to was records, and I certainly liked the idea of that.
The problem is that I don’t have a record player in my car, and that is where I do most of my music listening.
The earliest convenient version then was CDs. Once I’d done that, I saw that there were many benefits which I hadn’t expected.
- My car is older, so the ability to stream audio from my phone is an aftermarket add-on that takes a long time to start working. CDs are instant.
- I listen to full albums now, instead of skipping between every song that exists.
The sound quality is better.
- If I buy second hand CDs then they are cheaper.
- I own the music, my ability to access it isn’t based on paying a subscription, and will not go away once I stop subscribing.
It is difficult to think of many negatives.
And as time goes by, I will apply this approach to other areas of my life. It is surprising how few digital tools are an improvement on the analogue version that existed before.
Our ways of thinking, perceiving, and acting, we now know, are not entirely determined by our genes. Nor are they entirely determined by our childhood experiences. We change them through the way we live – and, as Nietzsche sensed, through the tools we use.
The Shallows, Nicholas Carr
When I first started writing stories I used paper and pen. That was the most natural way for me to work.
Years later I moved onto a computer and then that became the natural way to work.
Now I have returned to using paper and pen and I can see that using a computer for so long has changed me.
When I’m using a pen I write longer sentences more slowly. I feel more connected to what appears on the page because I have put it there.
Writing on paper was not a specific goal I had when I began to change the way I used computers. My main ambition was directed at the way I consumed, rather than created. But it is a welcome side-effect. I enjoy the process of creation a lot more now.
It has also made me question my goals regarding consumption. If it is the medium, rather than the content, that is the problem, then is there a different way I can consume?
This morning I set up an RSS reader so I can see if that works for me. It might not, or it might need more tweaking. Maybe I will need to print the things that I decide to read.
It’s possible that I don’t have to quit the whole internet and instead I can find a way to use it that works for me.