Hi, I'm Nick. This is my blog. I'm a life-long unschooler living in New York. You can find more about me here.

I help run the Recurse Center (YC'S10).

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Don't fool yourself

December 29, 2010

One problem with having lots to do is you can trick yourself into always switching to the next thing without ever really doing anything. It lets you be lazy, since if you're working on something and it gets even moderately difficult, you can think to yourself, "Oh, I need to respond to that email from John," and then switch to Gmail. Then after writing a sentence to John and not knowing exactly what you want to say, it's easier to think, "Oh, I need to plan that event," and switch to thinking about that, than to put in the effort to think clearly enough to finish your email to John.

The same thing happens for me with writing. I sit down to write something, but I'm always just a command-tab away from checking my email (just to make sure nothing really important has come through in the past five minutes). You can train yourself out of this, and you can put up road blocks, but the more things you legitimately have to do, the easier it is to convince yourself that you're not being lazy by leaving the task at hand to start the next.

Of course, in the moment you don't consider the cost of switching contexts, or that the other thing isn't really urgent (your email to John shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to write -- couldn't you put off planning that event until after you finished?) or that you'll use the same logic in another five minutes to jump to the next thing.

Even writing this I'm battling the urge to check Twitter, or Hacker News, or one of my half a dozen email accounts, or something that will give me a shot of information. It's actually even more insidious than just the habitual desire for an info-high; it's the lurking expectation that I should get pleasure on a regular basis absent hard work. That's what's terrifying. I get satisfaction after I write a blog post, but writing a decent blog post is hard. I have to delay all kinds of small pleasures, from having ice cream to learning some neat tidbit on Wikipedia to thinking about one of a dozen other problems I need to solve. And it's so easy to consume in this way, because you don't even need to be fully conscious. You can half-heartedly read a Reddit comment thread, but if you put the same amount of energy into writing you'll have trouble stringing coherent sentences together, let alone composing a worthwhile essay.