My entertainment trial has been even more challenging than I anticipated. I think I set the bar way too high in the original post. As a result I have ended up cheating on the rules almost every day.
I haven’t failed completely, but I haven’t succeeded either. All in all I would say I am about half-way between where I started and where I wanted to be.
Turns out there were three independent habits of procrastination that I had to deal with:
The easiest one was random surfing. I had the habit of checking up on Twitter, YouTube etc. in-between work sessions. But I realized something weird about it. I wasn’t going there for the content – I knew very little would happen between visits anyway. It was more just the reflex of going there that was the problem. And it was pure muscle memory: After doing certain actions, my mouse “wanted” to move to the URL bar and start entering addresses.
So I started to intercept the in-the-moment impulse of visiting entertainment sites. Whenever I was about to start surfing, I would go “oh wait, I’m not doing that now!”, and then stop myself. And that more or less cleared that problem. I think I broke the clicking habit in less than two hours.
The second issue was my habits after finishing my work, and whether or not I kept sitting at the computer. This turned out to be a much harder problem. Turns out it can be pretty hard to “break free” once your brain is in computer mode. This will be something I’ll focus on going forward, more on this below.
The biggest problem though was stimulus addiction. This one surprised and scared me a bit.
My predictions about withdrawal symptoms were spot on. Already the first night I started to feel a strange sensation which I can only describe as feeling “starved”. I started to crave stimulus, and badly. Frankly it shocked me that I felt this kind of withdrawal this early, and this strongly. It probably didn’t help knowing that I was only on day one of thirty. I found this feeling to be directly painful. I guess it was the reason why I started cheating already the next day.
I haven’t cured of this one yet either, but I’m making good progress. Quitting cold turkey didn’t work, but the gradual approach seems to work better. It’s hardest to resist in the evening when I’m tired. That’s also why turning off the computer is so important.
On the plus side…
Despite the slightly negative slant above, I am very happy with the results so far. I have spent a lot less time on entertainment this week than normal, and I’ve barely watched any TV at all. The aimless web surfing is almost completely gone. The only real time waster has been YouTube. Yesterday I added YouTube to BlockSite – a Firefox site blocking plugin – and that seemed to help.
Being starved for stimulus has its benefits too. You’ll find almost anything entertaining. A bird on the porch? Awesome! Family visiting? Let’s play a board game, pleeaase! And I’ve started reading more too, so far I’ve finished one and a half book – I love that.
As I hoped I’ve also spent much more time outside. (A sudden onset of summer helped ) I haven’t increased my gym frequency, but that’s mostly because of the weather too. I prefer long forest walks / runs as exercise anyway.
The absolute biggest impact though has been on my productivity. My lord. The amount of time I’ve spent on working, writing, taking notes, drafting blog posts or thinking about work must have gone up at least 50%, if not 100%. The biggest factor isn’t even the time, but the continuous non-interrupted focus it gives you. Eliminating hours of irrelevant input, it turns out, leaves a void to be filled.
It’s strange but in a sense I feel liberated. Like a burden has gone. There’s less clutter. When you create a playlist of entertainment, you don’t realize how much it actually start to control you after a while. Now I can sit down and have NOTHING to do, and that’s fine. I guess the big change is that I don’t feel like I’m missing out if I’m not constantly doing, watching, reading, listening to something. Missing out suits me fine now.
Next 10 days
My new goal is to spend less time in front of the screen, period. The rule is to suspend my laptop immediately when I’m done working. It’s too easy to just keep sitting there like a dumb sack of potatoes, being useless. Probably 90% of my time waste starts like that.
In reality I have tons of wonderful real-world activities I can do. Books to read, places to go, people to
do see. And in my experience if I immediately turn off the computer and do something else, my work energy is recharged much faster too.
So my sub-trial for the next 10 days: turn the damn computer off.