The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Archive for the ‘procrastination’ Category

Control the idiots

with 7 comments

Life advice from Jonathan Nolan’s short story Memento Mori, the inspiration for the film:

They were right. Lists are the only way out of this mess.

Here’s the truth: People, even regular people, are never just any one person with one set of attributes. It’s not that simple. We’re all at the mercy of the limbic system, clouds of electricity drifting through the brain. Every man is broken into twenty-four-hour fractions, and then again within those twenty-four hours. It’s a daily pantomime, one man yielding control to the next: a backstage crowded with old hacks clamoring for their turn in the spotlight. Every week, every day. The angry man hands the baton over to the sulking man, and in turn to the sex addict, the introvert, the conversationalist. Every man is a mob, a chain gang of idiots.

This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here’s how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That’s the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.

But then the genius, the savant, has to hand over the controls to the next guy down the pike, most likely the guy who just wants to eat potato chips, and insight and brilliance and salvation are all entrusted to a moron or a hedonist or a narcoleptic.

The only way out of this mess, of course, is to take steps to ensure that you control the idiots that you become. To take your chain gang, hand in hand, and lead them. The best way to do this is with a list.

It’s like a letter you write to yourself. A master plan, drafted by the guy who can see the light, made with steps simple enough for the rest of the idiots to understand. Follow steps one through one hundred. Repeat as necessary.

Your problem is a little more acute, maybe, but fundamentally the same thing.

Edit [2018-09-12]: I posted the above 8 years ago, and it matched the way I was trying to deal with my life then. Now (as of yesterday) I now think this is actually harmful advice, and would not recommend it. Well, if you ignore the metaphor, then at a superficial level, it still holds that it’s a good idea to make a list at the best time that you can rely on unthinkingly, when your thinking may not be very clear. But if the metaphor is real for you, with all these different selves within you, then it can be actively harmful to try “controlling” some of those selves. Instead each needs to be acknowledged and given its (guaranteed, e.g. scheduled) time and space, so that it is not perpetually dissatisfied and trying to forcefully grab control at inopportune moments (and still not satisfied, because the control has not been absolute / with the consent of the other selves). Ultimately these selves have to be in consensus, working together. All of them have to be satisfied. There may be some period of mourning/loss as they realize that they can’t have control *all* the time, but knowing that they will have control by unanimous consent (of all the other selves) at certain times can make up for this dissatisfaction.

In short: the list can be useful, but the “idiots” have to trust it / welcome it; they cannot be controlled by force.

Written by S

Tue, 2010-11-23 at 12:30:51

Posted in procrastination

Tagged with ,

Too mild

with 6 comments

People commonly use the word “procrastination” to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what’s happening as merely not-doing-work. We don’t call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working.
— Paul Graham, The Acceleration of Addictiveness

Also see: Disconnecting Distraction (with a frightening new note at the top).

To be continued…

Written by S

Mon, 2010-09-06 at 13:11:20

Posted in procrastination


leave a comment »

Ogden Nash poem, Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man, with characteristically long lines that leave you breathless.

It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.

One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.

I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as, in a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don’t bother your head about sins of commission because however sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn’t be committing them.

It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you get really painfully bitten
Is by the insurance you haven’t taken out and the checks you haven’t added up the stubs of and the appointments you haven’t kept and the bills you haven’t paid and the letters you haven’t written.

Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of beauty,
Namely, it isn’t as though it had been a riotous red-letter day or night every time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn’t get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forgot to pay a bill;
You didn’t slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let’s all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this round of unwritten letters is on me.

No, you never get any fun
Out of things you haven’t done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn’t do give you a lot more trouble than the unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.


Written by S

Wed, 2010-04-28 at 20:19:05

Posted in procrastination, quotes

No force on earth…

with 4 comments

Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it.
— John Perry, in his brilliant essay Structured Procrastination

Am I the only one who finds the last sentence above not a joke at all? Who has tried for months to send a single email?

(Prof. Perry’s short humorous essay is a true classic of our times, and one I have found much insight from. The trick of being able to do X simply by thinking of a more important Y has helped me many times, whenever I have remembered to apply it, and the essay helps one avoid the wrong tack of minimising commitments. Still, sometimes, there are things X to be done for which no more important Y comes to mind, and it is not clear what to do in that case.)

Written by S

Fri, 2010-03-12 at 15:27:22

The procrastinator’s nature

with 7 comments

I just started using LeechBlock yesterday, and already I know why “How can I block Google’s cached versions of sites as well?” is in the FAQ.

LeechBlock is wonderful. (Install)

There are no results on Google for “LeechBlock saved my life”, but there are testimonials like “Leech block has changed my life”, “Leechblock just saved my life”, and “This application is saving my thesis, and improving my social life”.

If LeechBlock isn’t working for you, you can try more extreme solutions like (on Mac) Freedom and SelfControl. (Found via this post.) But for me, right now, with my current level of work and self-awareness and other devices being employed, LeechBlock seems to be just about sufficient. (Although I do wish Safari were an even worse browser than it is.)

Semi-unrelatedly, also worth reading is Aaron Swartz’s experiment involving one month offline: Before/After.

Written by S

Fri, 2009-08-07 at 23:51:05