Removing Options

A few years ago I visited the Dominican Republic, and its island-mate, Haiti. Dominican Republic is a relatively poor country, but Haiti is far poorer. In fact, it’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

I met a nice family on the plane to DR and asked them if they’d give me a ride with them downtown. Sure, just help cover the gas. I happily agreed, but the amount they asked for gas was a few times more than it should have been. It was cheaper than a tax, so it was still okay, but it was just a little bit shifty. The security guard at the restaurant I went to every day was nice and friendly, but near the end of my trip he was just a little bit too aggressive about trying to get me to have my female friends in America email him. As I explored the old city, a guy told me that he was an official tour guide with the city and would show me around for absolutely nothing, just because it was his job. I knew it was a scam, but I’m willing to endure awkward situations, so when he very aggressively asked for money at the end, I told him that he should have asked in advance and gave him nothing.

I don’t mention all that to imply that I was a victim of any sort– just that that’s the type of place Santo Domingo was. I had some good times there, too, but my experience was colored by this atmosphere of hustling and weaseling. After all that, I bought a bus ticket to Port au Prince. Being poorer, I figured that people would really be trying to get money from me there, but I should go visit anyway since I was so close.

My experience in Haiti couldn’t have been more different. No one tried to overcharge me once. I had to argue with my Couchsurfing host to accept money for gas after she drove me around all day. She refused to accept money for the food that she cooked me every meal. I walked through the ghettos and was greeted by smiles, especially from the children.

Why such a big difference? I’m sure there are a lot of contributing factors that my short three week visit didn’t reveal, but I think that the biggest factor is that Haitians don’t have much temptation. In Santo Domingo there were visible signs of wealth from a small subset of the population, and advertisements everywhere for things to buy. In Haiti there was nothing like that, at least that I saw. It’s not that they didn’t know that nice cars and flat screens exist– it was just that obtaining them wasn’t an immediate enough prospect to cause craving.

A few days ago I installed Nanny for Chrome, which is like Leechblock for Firefox. You can specify which sites you are allowed or not allowed to visit during different periods of the day. Productivity has been really good recently, and I wanted to make sure it stayed that way.

At first I blocked Reddit, Hacker News, and Facebook. Then I thought about it for a minute, deleted those entries, and added another one to block every single web page. In the whitelist section I then added back only the ten or so sites I need to access to work on SETT. The rule goes into effect at 11am and stays until I go to sleep.

I did this because I thought about DR and Haiti. It’s not a few specific sites that are the problem, it’s that my brain will look for an escape if one exists. If my main distraction sites are blocked, I’ll come up with something I absolutely need to buy on ebay or something I absolutely need to learn on Wikipedia. If every single site is blocked, though, I don’t really even feel that desire. The prospect of distraction is completely eliminated, so I don’t subconsciously turn to it.

This may sound like a subtle thing or something that wouldn’t work for you, but I bet that it would. Give it a try. I’ve only been going for a few days, but I haven’t been distracted once. I’ve had impulses, but as soon as I remember that I can’t act on them, I get back to work. It takes no will power to stay focused, because it’s not really even up to me. There’s nothing else to do.

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All of this awesome productivity has been channeled towards building a theming system for SETT. It will probably be a month or so before it’s opened up to all SETT users, but I’m very psyched about it– it’s about 10x easier than making a theme for WordPress, almost as flexible, and more powerful in a couple key ways.

If you have a SETT blog and are experienced with making themes, contact me. I may give you early access to help test it out…

Also– I know I’m way behind on emails. I’ve been really focusing on this theme thing, but will catch up within the next week.

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