Master of Tools

Travelers Notebook by koalazymonkeyThere are an extraordinary amount of really random things that can distract you, right when you were in the middle of a really productive bout of work, that can knock you off of the rails. What can be particularly odd are the situations where you know this has happened, but are not quite able to ascertain why.

The common examples, where you do know why, are things like new and urgent projects being dropped on you from on high with little warning but flashing red deadlines or, more simply, just running out of steam and getting sick. Both of those examples you can at least try to have a mechanism for dealing with – make sure you always have “spare bandwidth” available to devote to the unexpected or to concentrating on unwinding and staying fit.

Suddenly noticing you’ve been procrastinating for an hour or two and sifting the Internet looking for pearls but feeling that all the shiny you discovered was nothing but pyrite and the top item on your task list just got more uninviting for being all the more urgent. That’s just classic akrasia and there are a few strategies to try and avoid the worst of it.

Here is what knocked me off a really productive run three weeks back that took me a week to figure out what was wrong and I’m only just picking back up to speed now: My paper notebook was almost full.

I was carrying around a nice Moleskin notebook. All sorts of random stuff go into my notebooks from notes on blog post ideas to book recommendations to brainstorm scribbles and mind maps. Almost 90% of it is completely illegible (even to me) but the point of the notebook is to allow me to get stuff out of my head long enough to organize it, repack it and pick any bits out of it I want to do more with – ultimately it is an extension of my RAM rather than an HDD.

Moleskin notebooks are lovely objects to hold and use. This is a tool I use a lot and so I don’t mind paying for a higher quality. But they are also not as easily available and there is still a slight mental dissonance about wasting an expensive resource. With the notebook running out (but not actually finished) I simply stopped using it because I was saving the last of the space for something especially important that might come up but not buying a replacement because it hadn’t actually run out.

Pretty dumb, huh?

When I eventually noticed the problem I walked straight into the nearest conbini and bough a 200 yen Campus notebook. The first thing scribbled into it:

Blog Post? Self inflicted productivity blocks <-- NOTEBOOK! Normal acrasia [sic]. Common interrupts. Stupid brain farts!

So I guess that’s fixed then.

The moral of this story is to be careful that you remain the master of your tools and that you always keep a spare handy – you never know when your own subconscious might be sabotaging you because its scared to break its favourite hammer.