Solving Non Existent Problems

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:

  1. How many feedburner subs this site has
  2. How many visitors came to this and my other sites
  3. How much I’ve made on Amazon
  4. Stock prices for the 3 stocks I own
  5. What my ebay auctions are at
  6. Facebook
  7. Myspace
  8. How many new subscribers my mailing lists have
  9. My bank account balance
  10. The latest election polls
  11. The news
  12. Comments on youtube videos

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.

  1. Feedburner,Nope. I could check this once a month and just make sure I’m on track.
  2. Traffic,Same.
  3. Amazon,Doesn’t matter. I make only $20-100 per month and I’m not going to pimp Amazon any more if I make less.
  4. Stocks,I’m not going to sell any of my stocks any time soon, so why does it even matter?
  5. EBay,The auction will end at whatever it will end at. Me checking won’t help.
  6. Facebook,I get notifications if anything happens. I’ll wait for those before checking.
  7. Myspace,I can check once a day. I don’t get notifications there anymore.
  8. Subscribers,Again, I’m not even working on anything that would affect my subscribers.

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.

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