Me — Procrastination as Efficiency

I’m a person mostly characterized by hyper-productivity. I have to be making the most of my time by multitasking 24/7, if I can help it. I listen to podcasts at 1.25x speed and when I’m relaxing, playing games or whatever because in a way, playing video games feels like a waste of time. Not that I mind, of course, because time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

So I like being efficient with my time. Obviously I can’t be multitasking when I’m doing more intensive things like writing. I can have a podcast on in the background of course, but I either won’t be listening to the podcast or, much more likely, won’t be getting any writing done. So if I’m writing, I sit, sometimes in silence, and write.

But I’ve noticed something, and that realization has led to something terrible. That is the fact that I use my time much more efficiently when I procrastinate my writing, whether its for school, my blog, or just personal projects I’m working on. If I’m working on a project when the deadline is a week or two away, I get distracted very easily, because I know there’s no pressure. Anything I get done now is ahead of schedule, so I don’t even need to work. This leads to me wasting a lot of time trying to write but not being able to work up the discipline to hunker down.

On the flipside, if I wait for the last possible moment to write, I can crank out whatever it is in minutes. Take blog posts for example. I have them set to publish at 5am, so often I’ll end up writing them at 11pm the night before, literally the last thing I do before I go to bed. It would put my mind at ease if I got it out of the way in the morning, (especially on Sundays like this one where I didn’t actually do much else), and yet I didn’t.

You see I’ve noticed that I’m far more efficient when I don’t get to work until there is only one time slot I have free between now and that deadline. No, I never let it get to the point where I’m chugging coffee as I vomit words on the screen at 3am the night before my 8am class, but when this happen it does tend to cut into my sleep schedule and it often makes the next morning harder to bear.

This has led to a strange moment where learning something about myself has actually been to my own detriment. If I never realized how much easier it is to write when I don’t have any more time to write, I probably wouldn’t let it happen as much as I do now, which is to say, pretty much always. When I wait for the last moment to write, I’m often tired and my priority turns into getting it done so I can go to sleep rather than creating a masterpiece. As a result, I do think it harms the quality of whatever it is I’m working on, but it’s a tough habit to get out of.

I’d like to come up with a solution that allows me to be efficient with my writing and proactive so that I can relax as the deadline approaches, but working up the discipline to complete a project well before it needs to be done is tricky, as I’m sure you would agree.

At the same time, perhaps it’s just a professional work habit I just need to learn how to live with and get better at. Maybe I can find ways to better prepare myself for working on things at the last minute, such as outlining or officially dedicating time slots in the day towards work. Who knows.

 

Me — Overcoming Doubt

I know the everyone gets moments of doubt. That feeling of uncertainty where you don’t know if the choices you’ve made are right, and you don’t know what you can possibly do to keep moving. I’m lucky in that those moments are rare for me. I consider my being a writer a given, and that someday, somehow, I’ll be making a living telling stories.

But after watching The Wind Rises, I had that terrible thought. “How can I be so arrogant as to even attempt to construct something to rival this?” The movie gave me ideas—amazing ideas I’m very interested in exploring—but ideas that end up being shadows of their origin.

It really makes me wonder. If people like Hayao Miyazaki exist, why bother? Even if I end up writing something amazing that is on par with the greats, the world will still be the same. It basically doesn’t matter in the slightest whether or not I do write anything worth experiencing. There’s no hole that needs filling—there’s no shortage of great writers, and it would be ridiculous of me to assume that I would be the person to fill it if there was a hole.

But at the same time, that line of thinking doesn’t help. When moments like this happen, it’s important to remember that you have not just had an epiphany that you’re the worst and will never amount to anything. You’re just not letting the optimistic side of the argument have their say. It can be hard not to give the nihilist the wheel when falling into that pit, because it’s so easy to just think of how much things don’t matter.

You’re right, nihilistic Kollin. The chances of you being successful enough to make any tangible influence on the world are minuscule at the very best. But there are two glaring flaws in your argument. The first is that giving up isn’t an option. It simply isn’t. So entertaining that is silly. You would feel way worse for not trying than you do for trying and failing. The second flaw is that you don’t actually care about making an influence in the world. All you want to do is tell cool stories people love. So really, nihilist Kollin, your entire argument is moot.

Well, somehow I sort of used logic to convince myself to feel a bit better, so that’s good. Good job, optimist Kollin. Thanks… also optimist Kollin? You can go now, me. Argument’s over. You got it, me.

I think everyone’s goal in life is just to be happy, when you boil everything down. What “being happy” means changes from person to person. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the point where I’m satisfied with the stories I’ve told or with the people that have read them. But pursuing that is the only logical thing for me to do right now. Otherwise, I’m just twiddling my thumbs and complaining about how unhappy I am.

You gotta work for it. Don’t let your nihilist steer the wheel, cause he/she will just steer you into calm waters, and there’s no growth or happiness to be found there.

Me — New Job and Feeling Good

I’m in a really interesting spot in my life in that I’m very content. It’s sort of strange that that’s the case, given that I didn’t win the scholarship and I was excited for the prospect of leaving the country for the first time (plus I felt I had a really strong application this year). I also intended to both get my own car soon as well as move out. I don’t think either of those two are likely to happen any time soon, and yet… it’s fine.

I really love my new job. Working around machines and materials worth hundreds or thousands of dollars is stressful, sure, but it suits me far better than my previous taxable job at Target. I’m part of a small team and the things that need to be done take a long time, so on a full shift, I’ll probably be doing a total of four or five things for the entire day. There’s a lot I need to learn, but once you know what you’re doing these things are pretty simple. (Plus having somebody always there to double check whether you’re doing something right is good insurance.)

So, my life is pretty busy right now. I’m at the college for 24 hours a week, and at work 21 hours a week. Not including the homework from all my classes, writing blog stuff, teaching improv, and going to my writer’s group, I’m busy 45 hours out of the week. Nothing to sneeze at, sure, but then you throw in the 10 page research paper due in two weeks (that I haven’t started), the One Act play I’ll need to edit soon, and you know, other things I want to work on… and well, there goes all my free time. I’m trying to get through Hollow Knight right now, but man, it’s a much longer game than I anticipated.

The weirdest thing about my contentedness is the fact that I’m not currently writing any fiction. I left Lisa 3 half finished, Lisa 2 needs to be completely rewritten, and I have interesting ideas floating around in my head that I’m basically not giving much attention. A few years ago I’d have been stressed out by my lack of writing, but right now I feel fine because I’m already doing so much other stuff, that I know my writing would suffer if I tried. Staying up till 2am writing a thing after playing video games because I felt I needed a break was super unhealthy, so not forcing myself to write has been nice.

Added bonus: my job has required me to get up earlier, and since I no longer have any days off during the week, I’m waking up pretty much every day. Yesterday I slept in and didn’t get out of bed until 8:45am! Not feeling tired and having that be the natural time I woke up was the best feeling in the world, because I suddenly had so much time in the day. I hope I can make that a habit, getting out of bed at 11am feels bad.

I also just realized that my 600th post was a few days ago. I’m probably well over half a million words posted on my blog at this point. Go milestones!

Me — Relaxation Allowance

I’ve recently started working on a new data-oriented Google Sheet. I mean, that sentence would probably be true if I had said it any given week in 2018. I’m really excited about this one though because it’s geared towards holding me more accountable towards productivity, and for the two days I’ve used it it’s been great.

Here’s the jist of it—I like not doing things, just like everyone else. Relaxing and playing video games is great, but if I do them when I know I have other things that need doing, it stresses me out. This Sheet is to help me quantify that line. Assuming I don’t have any deadlines (personal or otherwise) that need to be met that day, how much “stuff” do I need to do in order to feel justified in spending the rest of my day doing nothing?

Let’s take an arbitrary (but nice) number, say 10, and call that the number of points I need to achieve in order to allow myself to relax. What earns me points? Well, simple: anything at all that makes me feel better about myself as a Responsible Adult™. Getting dressed is 1 point. Vacuuming is 2 points. Folding laundry is 2 points. Writing Friday’s flash fiction piece is 4 points. So if I do all four of those things, I’m just about allowed to not do anything the rest of the day. (I realize that’s 9 points, not 10.)

The important distinction here is that these numbers are not solid, and this is not a rule. I am not restricting myself from doing whatever I want. Rather, I’m using it as a guideline to test the point at which I internally feel like I’ve done “enough” for the day. In terms of game design, these numbers aren’t supposed to be balanced, they’re supposed to accurately represent the amount of satisfaction I gain from completing certain tasks. If I look at the chart and see that I’m at 8 points, I can look at what I haven’t done and just do it.

This does a few awesome things. The first is that the chart is a good way to visualize all the things that I may or may not need to do. I don’t need to vacuum every day, but if I’m almost at that threshold of 10 points and I haven’t done it in a week, I might as well. The second is that because I’m literally racking up points, it encourages me to be productive I might otherwise not even consider. Reading, for example, is 3 points per hour. I basically never read, but if I genuinely don’t have anything else to do, it’s a good way to actually force myself to be productive.

The idea is that I will, eventually, get to 10+ points every day. Eating a meal is 2 points, so if I’m being a responsible adult that’s the majority right there. But this will actually encourage me to eat three meals a day, and doing nothing besides getting dressed and eating all day won’t be enough to earn me relaxation. Not to mention I’d have to be doing something in the time between eating those meals. Might as well use it to be productive!

So, this is a new thing. I expect the numbers to change significantly on a quarterly basis, but given a very short two days, it’s been awesome. Would recommend.

 

Me — Writing “Enough”

I’m a big fan of stats and information. I love writing stuff down, compiling it, visualizing it, and while I wouldn’t consider myself obsessively organized, I can’t handle disorganization. Most of the documents I have on Google Drive are kept within four sub-levels of folders. My Spear Gate manuscript, for example, is under “Writing > Bigger Projects > Spear Gate”. The presentation I made for my senior project in High School is under “School > Homework > [Name of School] > 2014-2015 > AP English 12”. Yes, I could pull it up on a moment’s notice if I needed to.

One of my main folders is titled “Data”. I keep track of both information about myself, my writing, and the people around me. It’s not something I need. I could delete the whole folder in a heartbeat and never lose anything I would ever really miss. But having all these lists and numbers is something I like to do, because I’m a visual person.

I have a phone app that is something of a journal. Twice a day I tell it my mood and write a little bit about what I’ve been doing. Knowing how my activities affects my mood really helps me get a better understanding of what I enjoy, what tires me out, and what I can and can’t handle.

I had a tough time getting through this month’s Lisa Stenton. I’ve adopted a bad habit of intentionally procrastinating because I’ve (unfortunately) come to the realization that I can work more productively if I wait to the last minute rather than staring at a blank screen knowing I don’t need to work on it today. I did that with Lisa Stenton last night, and it took me about five hours to write the entire second half of the story. Not too shabby, because that’s almost 500 words an hour. But I wrote in my phone journal before and after I did that, and writing for that long made me exhausted. Maybe that’ll help me learn to write sooner than I need to, because I’m not eager to repeat that.

I’ve only been keeping track of my mood and energy levels for a few months, but I’ve already learned quite a bit. Something that surprised me was the fact that I’ll get a little tired before a big day or big event, and I’ll relax a bit afterwards knowing everything is over.

Another thing I’ve found that doesn’t surprise me is that I need to write in order to be in a good mood. If I do nothing but play games for a few days straight, I’ll feel a little down, because the knowledge of the fact that I haven’t really done anything will make me feel bad. So the best way to keep my mood up is to constantly write. Luckily, I’ve only skipped my 500 word requirement four days in February, and a few of those days I’ve written well over 2,000.

So it’s a balance. I need to write pretty much every day in order to feel productive and thus be in a good mood, but if I procrastinate and let it pile up (like Lisa Stenton yesterday) I’ll burn out and it’ll be way worse.

Moral of the story: keeping track of stuff will make you learn. And learning is always cool.

Me — Dear Me, But One Year Ago,

Dear Me, but one year ago,

I find that life is generally a lot easier to deal with when the things coming at you are being handled one at a time. Life is stressful and exhausting when events are out of your control or too big to take on, but when you dice those big things up it doesn’t seem so daunting. Don’t look at the entire ladder and think “Oh boy, I have a long way to go,” because that’s discouraging. Instead, just grab the first rung, and then the next. I’m not going to be a well-known, established author in a day. In fact, that idea is nothing more than a glimmer in the distance. I just have to make sure I know how to stand first. Then I’ll try to walk. Then I’ll start marching towards it.

It’s the little things that, once done, tie you over until eventually you realize “Hey, look how high up I am!” That’s when you realize you have a fear of heights, which has a whole lot of other issues attached to it, but first you have to focus on climbing the ladder. One rung at a time.

Things just don’t go the way you plan. And that’s okay. It happens. Pretty much 100% of the time, actually. What’s important is that you just make the best effort you can and then learn from what went wrong. If you don’t know what went wrong, well, that’s a different story. If that happens (when that happens), just keep tabs on what happened. If a similar thing happens again in the future, you can cross reference and learn more about yourself and the process. Learning about how you and the world works by trial and error.

I know that a lot of this is what you’re already doing, but it’s also totally okay to stop and breathe. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done. But, really. A habit of hyper-productivity is all well and good, but once you learn to stop, sit down, and breathe, you’ll realize that most of the time, things only happen at the pace you set for it. You’re only stressing yourself out because you have these grandiose goals, and your expectations for yourself are too high.

Just stop and breathe.

Believe it or not, moments of calm actually help revitalize you rather than discourage you by making you feel like you’re going too slow. I admit I’ve been bad at following this particular piece of advice lately, but at the same time, I haven’t really needed to.

I’m good with where I’m at. Life is stressful enough to keep me feeling productive, but quiet enough to give me the time I need.

Things don’t go as planned. Your life may still pretty much where it is now, but that’s honestly okay. Just keep your eyes on the horizon, keep track of how you want things to change, and take on that ladder one rung at a time. And even if you’re in the same place a year from now, sitting in this same chair at this same desk. That’s totally okay, as long as you’re happy and your eyes are on the horizon.

Sincerely,

Kollin, but a year later? The current one? Whatever.

Me — Constant Improvement

I try to live my life in a state of constant improvement. I didn’t like that I called myself a writer when I didn’t write, so I started a blog. I didn’t like how I dressed, so I changed it. I’ve noticed I can be a narcissistic jerk sometimes, so I stopped… Okay, I’m still working on that one.

Point is, I try to fix everything I don’t like about myself over time, tackling one thing at a time. For the new year, I wanted to read a chapter every day and fit in some meditation time, too. (I had been doing the latter for a good month or two, though.)

But as it so happens, my schedule is pretty tight. I’m 100% busy from basically Monday 8am to Wednesday 10pm. So it can be pretty tough to fit that sort of thing in. Last Wednesday, I allowed myself to skip a day of reading and meditating.

Problem is, I literally haven’t done either ever since.

I’m not that broken up about it, though. I don’t feel like mediating was really doing anything for me. That probably means I was doing something wrong (because a few times I started drifting off to sleep). It did help me learn to just stop overcoming short term anxiety, but that’s basically all I use those techniques for now.

As for reading, it’s still just really hard. I don’t know what it is, really. I’m such a slow reader, and it makes it extremely hard to want to read. And audiobooks are amazing and all, but I’m actually a visual person, so sometimes I will misunderstand or skip things entirely with audiobooks because I’ll accidentally tune out. Oh well.

Does that mean I’m doing a bad job with improving myself? I mean, maybe. But I’m also doing a bunch of stuff still, so dropping a few things doesn’t feel terrible. On one hand, writing (and narrating) a short story every week. I’m also prepping for a big project, which I’m still debating on whether or not to post on the blog (I probably will, but I make no promises).

I know that a lot of people will say “Dude, chill, you don’t have to be productive 200% of the time. It’s not good for you. Take some time to unwind once in a while.”

The problem with that is that part of me feels like I am relaxing a lot, and I just give off the vibe that I’m extremely busy. I would love to get inside the head of the average Joe for a day just for some perspective. How much is my drive to become better is unnecessary?

I’ll admit—I almost didn’t write today. I know nobody is reading this, and I don’t blame them. It’s no cool fantasy story. But I think writing even when it’s hard builds character, and the last thing I want is to get into the habit of skipping blog days just because I’m tired or have nothing to say.

Tune in Friday for content that won’t be a waste of your time!