A few minutes ago I had a great idea. I'll set up a super backup system. I'll put a 16gb SD card into my laptop, and then have it automatically back up my projects and photos in the background. Then I'll also set it to backup certain things to the internet, and even more to my external hard drive.
A week ago I had another good idea. Apparently the bugs have been ironed out and MacOS can now be installed on my laptop. Perfect. I love Mac OS and I don't have any particular affinity for Windows.
A couple months ago I was in my RV and had a big thought. The square footage is so small in here that I could install marble floors for next to nothing. How fun would that be to have a tiny RV with marble floors? And while I'm at it, I should put some LED lighting in. It's way more efficient than incandescent lighting.
In the end I never did any of these things, and I chose not to for the same reason.
Each of these is a solution to a problem I don't have.
I back up my data. Everything important is on a backup hard drive, and even if I lost it all, it wouldn't really matter. The most important stuff is online.
Maybe Windows isn't the best thing ever, but my computer does 100% of what I want it to. I have it configured exactly how I like it and I'm settled in. Everything I need to do is effortless.
And what do I need marble floors for? How is that going to make my life better? Maybe LED lighting is better, but I generate more than enough power each day to meet my needs.
But aren't these types of solutions so seductive? I would love to spend three days wrestling with my computer, finding the best software, and maybe even setting up an elaborate backup scheme on my frankensteined laptop.
The problem is that if I'm busy putting out a hundred fires that don't exist, I'm ignoring fires that are here and are burning.
That's not to say that everything I do has to be solving important problems in my life. That would be a boring robotic life. But solving problems that don't exist fill that addictive need we have for accomplishment. Solve one and you feel like the day has been well spent, even if none of your real goals have been met.
So here's what I do when I get into a situation that I think might be like I'm describing. I ask myself how doing this project is going to make my life better.
Backing up in three places,not at all.
MacOS,not at all.
Marble floors,not at all.
This habit, which I've also noticed in tons of other people by the way, has a close cousin. Getting info you don't need.
I'm addicted to the computer. No doubt about it and no excuses. I'd throw the thing in the lake if I could, but that would cut out most of my productivity and some of my communication, especially with people in other countries.
Kicking the computer habit is like trying to give up crack, but having it baked in to every food available to you. It's hard to separate the bad from the good.
Last week I realized that a large part of "the bad" is my obsession with checking things that don't matter. Here's an example of what I might check:
I could go on and on. If I got bored for a moment I'd go check one of these things, and usually then move on to the next one. Even when I was doing something productive like writing a post I'd interrupt myself a couple times to check these things.
This is a REAL problem that needed fixing. Whenever I have a real problem I try to come up with a black and white rule for myself to follow to fix it. If it's grey area I'll abuse it, if it's black and white I'll stick to it.
So I decided to not check anything unless it was likely that I would take action based on the new information I found.
And so on...
Now I don't check anything that doesn't require checking. I had to open up my brokerage account to do something and I did glance once at the quotes, and I checked Feedburner once, but other than that I've been good.
I've also cut myself off from sites like reddit and digg. That's a tough one because there is sometimes great info on those sites, but I figure my friends who read will let me know. Jonah showed me a picture of a sad wallaby, so I know I'm still getting the most important stuff.
I'm going to keep doing this for the month and see how it goes. So far it's been great. I find that I am less compelled to be on my computer and when I AM on my computer I'm left with nothing but productive things to do.
Focus is an important thing. Eliminating distractions is one way of becoming more focused, especially when you've allowed yourself to get as distracted as I have.
Man, you just described my life on a computer.
All of my work goes through one of my computers now, and if I'm connected to the net I just make up constant excuses not to get anything done till the last minute...this post is very useful T., fo real!
But I don't know if I can apply such a radical solution like yours...it's really an addiction just checking for things constantly, and also the issue with solving non-existent problems...but it helps to get some hints and know that someone else struggles with the same stuff.
Interesting post! Solving problems we don't have...we're constantly trying to make work for ourselves so we don't have to do the real work. Putting out fires when the real fire is burning your feet. Hmmm...the feeling of accomplishments can often be a guise for what are actually distractions!
LOL Ty, we definitely have different personalities but occasionally I'll read something you've written and think we share a brain.
Good thoughts. These principles speak very strongly to the dangers of acting out of the default. If stepping back and thinking about something breeds a dramatic difference from what you were roboticaly practicing than maybe more stepping back is in order. Good reminder.
This is great! I'm always getting distracted at work by random things. Part of it might be the tedious nature of what I do, but it's also because I'm just so used to getting on the computer and doing nothing at all. I'm going to try using the computer at work to be productive as well! Thanks!
You are suffering from The Attention Crash!
There is something in our evolved behavior that makes us prone to "interrupt-driven" behavior. I don't know what that thing is. I do know that the internet colossally magnifies the bad effects of interrupt-driven behavior in a sort of dual way it magnifies each person's potential impact.
Impact: the internet allows each of us the opportunity to grow an audience of literally a billion people, just one click away.
Audience: We now have the ability to be an "audience" to millions of shows, all running concurrently! Yikes!
Give openDNS a shot. You'll be able to block sites you don't want to go to at the DNS level, so it's much harder to cheat.
I've done this with my machine in the office for the past year and it's had a big effect on my productivity.
Also, you might want to start running or do some sort of activity every day for at least 30 mins. For me, it's made a huge difference in my ability to focus.
Damnit - forgot to mention this:
"Jonah showed me a picture of a sad wallaby, so I know IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m still getting the most important stuff."
This is probably the funniest line I've read on your site. Almost choked on my water :)
Man... the post is losing me subscribers! Maybe it's a good thing I can't check my stats. :)
Sean Oliver: I pretty routinely avoid the news / TV for more than 30 days. If I didn't, I agree it would have a huge impact. Seeing TV for the first time after 7 months in the world without it was an offensive experience.
First of all, I'm finally over 1000 readers on Feedburner. That's in addition to the 500-700 readers that just check the site every day.
The "missing area" is when I stopped using Feedburner for around a year. I didn't really have a complete grasp on how RSS worked back then. The second tiny gap was when I made some changes to the site (linking words in my bio and putting summaries on the front page). I forgot to put the Feedburner stuff back on for a few days, but notice how after that the slope increased? Pretty cool.
UPDATE: I've posted lots of updates since I originally wrote this blog 2 years ago. If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, check out this post comparing Betterment vs. Wealthfront ETFs and this one on Peer to Peer lending.
My wife Sue and I have been mulling over how to most effectively deploy cash in the current economic climate to generate decent returns without taking outsize risks. We've honed in on six main strategies, which I outline below in descending order of risk.
Since everyone has a varying amount of cash to invest, I'm going to specifically call out ways to deploy small amounts of cash in some of these strategies, as I want this post to be really actionable for anyone. The most important part is to just get started, and the biggest barrier to doing that is you thinking "I don't have any money to invest." So get yourself out of that mindset and jump into the world of being an investor, even if it's just with $25 (yes it's possible, below), $100, or $1,000 or $10,000, or whatever. I also recommend putting money aside every month to invest; that's a great way to get started.
Riskiest: Angel Investing