0431 – your priorities are what you do, not what you say you’ll do

My subconscious doesn’t seem to grasp the idea that I’ve done over 400 vomits. I write “242” instead of “422”, and yesterday “340” instead of “430”. It’s amusing.

I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday, and I was discussing my general akrasia and (relative) unproductivity. And he said something that hit me particularly hard, in a good way.

He asked how I typically start my day, and how I manage my time, to which I admitted that I typically don’t really start on my top priority tasks until the later half of the workday. [1] He matter-of-factly noted, I paraphrase, “So the things that you say are a priority to you aren’t actually a priority?”

Which, if I resist any attempt to explain away, I realize must be true. I mean, it might be an oversimplification, there might be something in the way, blah blah blah, but ultimately reality doesn’t give a shit, and from reality’s point of view, if a person says something is important but nothing happens about it, it’s not important.

Uhh. I feel like I’ve walked over this ground many, many times before. With repetition, these ideas are closer to the forefront of my mind, or they’re more a part of my thinking than before (when they were truth-in-boxes). But if progress is still elusive (and to be fair, I have made a bunch of progress. I’m just constantly trying to be more effective, to do more.)

I guess the challenge here is to hold contradictory ideas in my mind. (I’m stealing this idea from Adulthood Is A Scary Horse.) What I’m doing right now is jumping between them, back and forth, without quite holding both in my head at the same time.

  1. If I say that something matters to me, and I’m not doing something about it, that means I’m blocked in some way, and I should identify that blockage and remove it. After all, if that something really matters to me, it’s worth doing, right?
  2. If I say that something matters to me, or I talk about doing something that matters to something beyond myself, and I’m not doing something about it, that means that for all practical purposes, the world will interpret it to mean “it doesn’t really matter to him, he’s just saying it”.

Brain in your head, feet in your shoes. If they’re not working in tandem, nothing makes sense and everything is crazy.

Uh, so what now?

It’s interesting. I wanted to go to bed early last night and wake up early. But at about 11pm, I felt a strange compulsion to pick up this 1000-part connect the dots puzzlebook that my wife has, and I sat down and starting connecting. I tried to be disciplined about it and connect 1-2-3-4 and so on, and I did that up to about 100. And then I started skipping around, which is a great way to make sure that you have to subsequently trouble yourself going over earlier spaces multiple times to make sure that you didn’t miss anything.

Once I started, it was like a challenge to myself to complete it in a single sitting. And I did, I completed it. I persisted. Was that something to be proud of? Uh. Again, it’s like being really good at your 2nd highest priority. It’s a sort of pyrhhic victory. I can acknowledge that I made progress on something, but if it’s not on my highest priority, I’m sort of wasting my time. I’m being suboptimal. And being optimal is a valid option here, so where I can I should pick that valid option.

Also, minor lesson learnt in a visceral way– if there’s an order to be followed to prevent double-work, follow that order. Unless I have a really, really good reason for screwing around, apart from “let’s screw around and see what happens”. [2]

Anyway, the point is… I went to bed later than intended. But I woke up at 7am when my alarm went off. In contrast, my alarm also went off yesterday when I had some time-sensitive work I wanted to, but I went right back to bed.

There’s a really important question in there that I need to figure out the answer to. Why is it that sometimes I can’t wake up even when I’m trying to will myself to wake up, in a very deliberate sense, and yet sometimes I can lightly think about waking up, and then react so ‘positively’ to the alarm? (My definition of “positive” is still a rather bleary-eyed, fumbling sort of thing. Unlike Bear Grylls, who apparently calls his alarm clock his “opportunity clock”.)

Anyway, I suppose for the time being I should just try to repeat what happened.

Also: Writing word vomits are important to me, so I write them everyday. Prioritizing my work is important to me too, and I’m going to do that every day too from now on. There are some next steps there to make sure I stick to it, I’m adding that to my to-do.

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[1] I tend to spend a lot of the start just flaffing around, doing less-important tasks. I have all sorts of explanations and justifications in my head– maybe I’m not warmed up yet, or maybe I work better in the evening… but I also know that none of these explanations are iron-clad. They’re all after-the-fact, made up. And the fact that I’m not as productive as I want to be has bothered me, even if nobody’s talking to me about it. I know this. I think about it all the time. (Which is unproductive… at least until I finally do something about it.)

Here I find myself thinking of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the places you’ll go!”. “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes,” he wrote. I find myself thinking… the brains-in-your-head part isn’t a problem. It’s the feet-in-your-shoes bit that usually get me. I don’t have that practical, bodily intelligence of ‘moving my feet’. Extraverted Thinking, in MBTI terms. I should probably read the whole thing and maybe do a vomit/review of it.

[2] UNLESS “screwing around” is a completely valid option– that is, I somehow happen to have a chunk of free time and I’m more interested in screwing around than completing something. But this is becoming less and less probable– I spent a lot of my life screwing around, and so I feel like I’ve learnt a lot of what there is to be learnt about screwing around. In contrast, I have a lot to learn about completing things. So I should more often than not prioritize completing things. This may change one day. I will know when it does.

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