2018 Week 36: Catch-up

Short version: realising that most tasks are either accomplished now, or not at all, has resulted in an increase in productivity for me.

Long version:

I have often thought, when delaying a task, that there will be some future period where, with a little more effort, focus, and discipline, I will be able to “catch up”. Inevitably this does not occur; the put-off tasks diminish in importance, the opportunity evaporates, or an alternative presents itself. Sometimes a project fails altogether. Often failure relieves the burden of the task, but in a generally unsatisfactory way. Worse is when the task lingers as an ugly reminder of personal inefficiency or lack of drive.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve come to realise that there is no “catch up”. There is no mythical time where there will be nothing else to do but go back and do the things that weren’t (seemingly) important or urgent enough. Life keeps throwing more opportunities, ideas, topics, events, projects, courses, and challenges at you. Moreover keeping track of all the undone tasks results in a discouraging and stressful sense of always being behind, of always being inept, and a self-fulfilling sense of being lazy.

Changing to a frame of mind where that opportunity is either taken now or is missed prevents tasks for lingering. This also effectively raises the bar for taking on a task. It forces a decision between two actions, instead of allowing a distraction to insert itself into a day e.g . either I write now, or I play chess and don’t write, but I can’t allow the option to play chess and then write, because “then” is not a time. This helps avoid the dark playground.

Of course there are certain tasks that cannot be completed in one session. Life does require some degree of planning for the future. Some things are better revisited with rest, or reflection, or necessarily have other dependencies which make the task much easier to perform later than now. I, however, certainly err on the side of being less expeditious, and ultimately get less done that I could otherwise.

Finally: there’s a certain irony to writing a blog post about “do it now”, originally titled for Week 36, in early Week 38. Of course sometimes things are worth revisiting, or some time becomes available. Ultimately every inaction charges its opportunity cost with interest, and in this case means that time to reflect on my present is lost to reflecting on the past. This one felt important though.

Writing from Oxford Railway Station

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