If you've been reading for a while, you may have noticed that I almost never swear. I tend to think that there's a more accurate way than swearing to express anything, but today I couldn't think of a more fitting word.
What is bullshit? Well, it's watching TV. It's browsing the internet mindlessly. It's partying. It's doing busy work. It's hanging out with people not so much because you like them, but because you don't want to be alone. It's eating for the sake of filling time.
Now, none of these things are pure evil. That's what makes this tricky. You can watch TV and learn something interesting, or enjoy the relaxation it brings. You can stumble upon cool sites that you wouldn't have found if it weren't for mindless browsing. You can meet new people while partying. Busy work leads to a paycheck sometimes. Occasionally those random low-key hangouts whose primary purpose is to avoid loneliness elevate into great conversations. And hey, you've got to eat sometime-- why not now?
These silver linings are blessings and curses. They embed some merit into otherwise bullshit activities, but at the same time that merit gets over-inflated and allows us to engage in these sorts of things without the mental repercussions that may come from something like, say, smoking crack. Even now, I imagine that your brain is objecting by saying, "Well, I met ____ when I was partying, so he's wrong about that one. And the other day on Reddit I learned about ______, so that sort of browsing is fine."
It's important to consider the opportunity costs of these activities. What are we giving up in exchange for a remote chance of stumbling across some sort of interesting article?
In the past six to twelve months, I've made a really hard push towards eliminating this sort of bullshit from my life, and wow-- what a difference it has made. For the first time ever, I feel like I'm way ahead on the productivity curve, shipping tons of work, and holding way more in reserve. I write seven blog posts per week, which takes half an hour a day. You don't have to eliminate much bullshit from your day before you have a free half hour. I listen to a Chinese lesson, which takes twenty minutes. I was never much of a TV watcher, but in the span of time someone might watch a single hour-long show, I've written a post and learned some Chinese. Then I spend the rest of the day working on SETT. The types of features that I would have previously taken a week to do get done in a day and a half. The irony is that I'm not even an excellent programmer-- I just don't engage in bullshit.
As a little side project, I'm working on writing a novel. Once every couple weeks I take most of a day off from SETT and I sit down and write 7000-8000 words. On the surface that sounds like a lot, but when you eliminate things like flicking over to Reddit and taking two hour long breaks for dinner, you have time to put that many words down. Whereas in time past it was a serious effort to get down 1000 words per day, now it's par for the course to do seven times that.
I also read around one hundred books a year now. Sounds like a lot, but to replicate this, all you have to do is cut out ninety minutes of bullshit from your day. Rather than browse the web at night like I used to do, I turn off the computer at midnight and read for an hour and a half. On average it takes me about 45 seconds to read a page, which translates into one hundred and twenty pages per night. Probably more like 90-100 if it's a non-fiction book and I'm highlighting as I go. Let's say 110 average. That's 40,000 words per year, and the average book is about three hundred and fifty pages.
Reading and writing are two measurable things that benefit from the elimination of bullshit, but there are more difficult to define good uses of time, too. Habitually hanging out at a bar to avoid feeling lonely is bullshit, but spending time with your friends is probably a good use of time. So is actively going out and meeting new interesting people. So is watching a great movie or documentary once in a while. So is cooking a meal with your wife. I don't mean to say that all non-productive activities are bullshit, because that's clearly not the case.
I'm also not trying to suggest that everyone should eliminate bullshit from their lives. I'm an ambitious guy in his early thirties who has a lot of big goals, so I don't have the luxury of engaging in bullshit. I can't imagine that the point will ever come in my life where I believe that bullshit is a good way to spend my time, but I also wouldn't criticize someone else for doing it. We all have our own life situations and goals. If someone burnt themselves out working and raising a family, and now wants to kick back and watch a bunch of TV, well, I'm not sure I'm in a position to judge that.
On the other hand, if you have a lot you want to accomplish and you don't feel like you're totally on top of those goals, take a look at how you're spending your time. My guess is that a lot of it is going towards bullshit, and it's up to you to decide whether that's a good use of your time or not.
Heading to Boston/NY for Christmas/New Years! It's going to be cold...
The picture is technically a water buffalo, but I thought a guy (Didimo the Panamanian Cowboy) triumphing over it was perfect.
If I would like to apply this advice, I would have to stop reading your blog, and do something productive, right?
I think this is only applicable if you have found your passion. You, Tynan, have obviously found your passion, and thus doing anything that does not bring you closer to it is a waste of time for you. Meanwhile, the rest of us may not have found it yet. I'd say the "bullshit" silver linings you talk about are things that help us find them. For instance, meeting interesting people at parties broadens your awareness, as does meaningful web surfing. I learned about Power Kiting from such an encounter recently, and that has certainly enriched my life.
There's a balance to be had between productive and consumptive time in your life, and the perfect balance is much clearer to you once you have a passion (I assume). But until then, meaningful consumptive time isn't a waste, I'd say. As long as you are doing it for a reason-either because it makes you happy, allows you to spend time with people you care about, or teaches you something-don't do it simply to kill time.
Very good post tynan. I also tend to refer to these things as bullshit. Lately I've become kind of annoyed at long-winded rationalizations for productivity or how to be productive, Frankly I feel the reason why people aren't 100% productive is because they either don't want something bad enough or haven't made the conscious, present decision, to engage in something amazing right now. Lately I've been taking this approach. "Could I be Doing X right now? and if so Why I'm I not doing it?" If I don't produce a good answer quickly, I immideatily get to work. I used to spend hours watching video games and surfing reddit. But lately I either plan for it or I stop by telling myself 10 minutes of reading a nonfiction book is worth more than the 50 days I have on all my online games combined. This really puts things into perspective.
Occasionally I schedule in reddit or video games, But in a very deliberate and time-bound way, and usually only when friends are involved. Sometimes it better to tell yourself you will only play video games and use reddit when you decide to than telling yourself to never to do it; deciding makes the process a conscious decision and does gives you power over the issue.
I have looked at Eternity for iOS as well, I've tested EternityLite. Seems to be the best time tracking tool currently available for iOS, or anywhere else I can find for that matter. Was looking to see if I could find anything else better before I decided to fork over the $9.99 for the full version.
"I also wouldn't criticize someone else for doing it."
You're criticizing by calling it bullshit in the first place.
One of the best posts for me personally as it's a big wakeup. Your point about the writing hit home, writing a christmas gift story for my gf and it's taken me about a month to get less than 4000 words on paper. Finishing it today, no distractions until it's done starting now. Thanks.
Many books are pretty lame. I wouldn't be surprised if reading the right subreddits is a better use of time information-wise. Not good for your attention span though.
Strangely, I have found that I do less bullshit when immediately darting off to a Starbucks or other coffee store in the morning. At home, there are more distractions. It's too easy to go and get something from the fridge, turn on the TV, take a walk on the beach or whatever. In the coffee shops, there's always a slight buzz of activity, which seems to make me more focused.
'm actually a few days in to my thousand word a day experiment, and it has now occurred to me that the first day's writing probably should have been about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Better late than never.
I listened to good interview with Chris Guillebeau, and he said that he sets his daily writing minimum at a thousand words. Stephen King prescribes the same amount to start, and then recommends graduating to two thousand words eventually. Up until now I haven't had a daily writing minimum-I just write whenever inspiration strikes me, or if it hasn't stricken, Sunday or Wednesday nights.
I consider myself to be serious about blogging, but my writing output doesn't really support that consideration. How serious can I be about something that I don't even do every day?
Sit down before you read this.
We've got to talk.
Look. This is going to piss you off. This is going to look like I'm causing problems.
I'm not causing problems. I'm just pointing out where problems already exist.