Recently I decided to start making changes in my life, testing ideas and trying new things. The first was starting this blog, and the second was an experiment I conducted over one day, in order to see how my habits affect me.
The experiment was simple – I’d attempt to justify every action I took in one day. Forcing myself to think about why I was about to do something was supposed to make me more productive, and also eliminate the more mindless and benign elements in my life. Even when taking a break, I would justify why, and how I was going to relax. The idea being to have quality relaxation time and enjoyment, instead of spending half an hour mindlessly browsing Reddit and Instagram.
In order to eliminate hindsight bias, I would justify my action beforehand, and write it down. I included the time, activity, and justification. Recording the time helped me realise how long I had actually been working, ending the bad habit of lying to myself about how much work I truly did.
Anticipating some failures throughout the day, I planned on recording the failure when I realised I had reverted to a mindless habit. This included distractions from Reddit, YouTube and checking my WordPress statistics (which certainly don’t warrant checking more than once daily, they’re pretty static).
I wouldn’t record every action though. Some actions are automatic and are for good reason. Any basic need such as food, water, and bodily functions were exempt. I also left out speaking to people and social interactions, which are just normal human behavior, even through social media. Unless it was directly distracting me from a task, I left it out.
How did it go? Honestly, it went quite well. I spent a good amount of time being productive (at least compared to usual). I kept on track most of the day, even if I did forget when I first woke up. I made 32 comments explaining why and what I was doing between 8:40 and 5:30. At about once every 15 minutes, I’m happy with calling that a success.
I finished at 5:30 before having to go to work for two hours. After returning, I didn’t continue recording my actions. By that time I was tired of repeating the same action over and over again, which is the main issue with carrying out this experiment.
The time I spent just relaxing was greatly improved. I actually enjoyed what I was doing, instead of being some sort of mindless social media zombie. I’ve realised I don’t actually enjoy browsing aimlessly, as I have been for a while. Making the deliberate decision to do something enjoyable seems obvious, but I’m only now realising how important that is.
So what did I learn? This trial made me realise how often I’m distracted form what I’m doing. I’m constantly opening multiple tabs, checking Reddit while watching a video or playing a game on my phone while a website loads. My attention span is is next to nothing. I need to fix that. A place to start would be to keep actively paying attention to one thing, as I did while justifying all my actions, and living deliberately.
The goal being to make the conscious decision to work on a task makes it easier to get into the flow of working. I wasn’t checking the time/how many pages I had read constantly. It’s a more effective goal, because there’s nothing to check and distract from work. I’m not worried about when I can to finish, so I’m not constantly checking. My goal is to just make the decision, and then I keep going. There is no problem with Goodhart’s law, the measurement is simply doing the right thing. There’s also no guilt for being unproductive, as I engage in quality relaxation and entertainment, not mindless browsing.
Justifying every decision is tiring, and writing them down it mostly unnecessary work. I will keep going with it, but without documenting each decision. I need to form better habits, so the worst of the mindless actives are removed, and I can reserve conscious decisions for working. The important aspect of living deliberately is knowing what work needs doing and which activities are helpful, so the decision can be made.
Now I just need to apply this to finishing my lockdown project.