Beating Procrastination - Complications Ensue
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

I waste inordinate amounts of time surfing. The problem, as tech venture capitalist Paul Graham points out, is that surfing looks a lot like working. If you're your own boss, it's worse. You can blow off a whole morning surfing and doing email.

So, Graham now has one computer for work, which he keeps off line, and one computer for email and surfing. That way he knows when he's working and when he's not.

I think I might try that next week, since Hunter's computer is available for the summer.

Labels:

14 Comments:

Ah, that's so true.

But... I'm... networking...
*continues surfing*

By Blogger Carlo Conda, at 12:46 AM  

I read that same article, or that same point awhile back, and it works the same way all those things work: to the extent you're willing to promote the buy in.

In my case it worked astoundingly well for about three weeks. What finally caught me was the whole "needing to get up to google for the thing you were writing." The first few times I stuck to it, but then one time when I came back to the "writing" computer I'd lost the train of thought.

After awhile I backslid. So it goes.

By Blogger DMc, at 10:19 AM  

Also, the whole 'trick yourself into working' thing doesn't work on some people.
Just like 'tricking yourself into waking up early by setting your clock ahead' only works on people who are slow enough to be fooled by their own practical joke every single day.

I don't think I'd be able to fool myself by thinking "I'm working!" when on my work computer and by thinking "I'm playing!" when on my internet computer. Clicking the firefox icon on our computer isn't much different than sitting down on our internet computer. We shouldn't have to use another computer entirely for internet to realize that "Hey, I'm on the internet. That means I'm currently not working." You should know this when you click the firefox icon.

By Blogger Carlo Conda, at 4:11 PM  

It's not a very imaginative point of view for a writer though, now, is it?

We all know that we should eat less and exercise more and that will keep us fit.

We all know that magic shows are illusion and that the lady in the box doesn't really disappear.

Positing a literalist solution to what is a perceptual and motivational problem is like pointing out maybe if you don't want to get wet you shouldn't go out when it's raining.

Obvious, but unhelpful to such a joyless extreme that it makes one wonder why someone would waste the keystrokes to make the observation.

By Blogger DMc, at 5:24 PM  

For some people, the answer to things such as writer's block and procrastination is to simply kick yourself into gear. While searching for other creative ways to fix the problem, they may simply prove to be bandages that peel themselves off after a certain amount of time. Then you're back to checking emails and so forth when you're supposed to be writing.

Also, for many people, writing is their primary job, and treating it like "work that you need to resume" rather than simply "something you should be doing" isn't a bad thing and can be more helpful than some other methods that may (or may not) prove to be temporary.

Either way, I don't believe beating procrastination is an easy thing to do, so the more methods available to someone, the better. I just don't think it's a good idea to lose sight of the "kick it into 6th gear" method.

By Blogger Carlo Conda, at 6:17 PM  

I don't think this one method isn't literalistic. It's simply forcing yourself to write because there's nothing else to do on the computer. It may be a good solution, but it definitely doesn't say much for the imagination of the writer who practices it, nor should it have to.

By Blogger Anthony C, at 6:26 PM  

I have a little widget on my desktop that shows me the amount of time I'm spending online. Like counting calories, it usually gives me a surprising real-time reflection of what I'm doing w/my time.

By Blogger Lokier, at 6:37 PM  

My imagination is fine, thank you, anthony c. It's my application that sucks. A bit.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:15 PM  

I think Anthony meant that the way you manage your work drive shouldn't have anything to do with your imagination.

DMc said that the "kick yourself into gear" method is unimaginative for a writer, and that literalist advice is pointless.
I suppose I agree that these get-yourself-working methods shouldn't have anything to do with our imagination as writers. It's like saying "gee, your house's garden is so bland. You call yourself a writer?"

By Blogger Carlo Conda, at 7:28 PM  

In OSX, I've created two user accounts for my work computer. The regular, all-access account and a screenwriting account, with access only to Final Draft and bare-bones system utilities. When I want to concentrate on writing without surfing, just switch to that user account.

Also, go somewhere to write where wi-fi access is unavailable.

By Blogger Christopher, at 7:54 PM  

Lokier's solution of a counter is also a very good solution, because it's concrete.

Since most working writers spend the majority of their day in the realm of something other than concrete, a nice ticker like that might just be the motivational and/or shaming trick that works.

Everything in Pressfield's "The War of Art" -- which is another great corrective for working writers is about the gap between perceptual and actual success. The idea of "kicking it into sixth gear" is sophmoric. Of course. Why didn't I think of that?

There is a great difference here between the people who "dream of writing" who whinge about their "writer's blocks" and those of us who pump out pages day after day. The level of need, and of remedy, is simply different.

By any measure, Alex, a guy whose work ethic I consider to make mine look like the stabs of a fey dilletante, is not a man who cottons much to "procrastination." I, unlike Alex, don't feel bad if I skip a day writing.

Yet I also produce a lot. On deadline.

Simply put, we're talking about tools at a different level here.

"Kicking it into gear" is not a helpful piece of advice. It's a cliche. And when you face the blank screen day after day, and succeed more often then you fail, it might surprise you haw often simple things like setting the alarm an hour earlier, or making plans to go out that night (thereby giving yourself a deadline) or the computer trick might work.

I think the power of positive shaming would probably work great in a widget. As would a set of "writer's controls" like parental controls that cut you off when you reach, say, one hour of surfing a day.

The point is that it's a complicated stew, and whatever works, works. But there are some things that just piss one off and get under one's craw.

And, "why don't you kick it into sixth gear?" -- that my friends is one of those things.

Sixth gear. Fuck me.

By Blogger DMc, at 8:30 PM  

That's clever, Christopher. How do you do that?

'Cause I actually want email. Just not Web access. Otherwise I'd just unplug the router.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:17 PM  

A couple of points:

The work computer/play computer thing isn't a matter of 'tricking' you. It's about triggers. We all have triggers that influence our behavior, that's why it's harder to sleep with the lights on. People who get up, get dressed, stop for a soy latte half calf with a twist of lime on their way to an office have a whole sequence that triggers 'work time'. Working at home from the same computer you do everything else on doesn't get that. That's also why a lot of writers get an office, it helps to go there and get into work mode.

The separate user accounts works well, I'd advise you also change the background/settings so it feels like a different computer.

If you use Firefox(and why wouldn't you?) I would highly recommend Leech Block. It's very customizable in how you can block sites(certain times of day, time limits, etc.) You can even set it up so you cannot disable it.

Alex, one thing I've found it that we often don't need email as much as we think. Try the twice a day system for a few days, just check it at lunch and at the end of the work day. I'll bet you're still getting in touch with people fast enough.

And finally, my greatest productivity boost has been to move away from the computer as much as possible with the Alphasmart. It does nothing but type and transfers to my computer easily. It's also super portable, damn near indestructible and runs for months on a few double A batteries. You can pick up an older style one on EBay for $75.

By Blogger Whaledawg, at 11:43 AM  

cAlex, you could also be getting too much on your own case. Your brain might need a rest. As much as we'd like to think it, writing is not like working on a production line. You're not doing something repetitive, even if there are some good techniques and knowledge that help you write better than a novice.

Maybe while procasatinating, you're actually solving something or innovating on the unconscious/subconscious level. There's a lot of problems and creativity that occurs when we're not directly working on something.

Never know, by working so hard and getting on your own case for procrastinating, you might actually be getting in your own way of being more productive.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 12:02 PM  

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