I ran away

Either I’m on the dumbest vacation ever, or my own subject in some awfully speculative experiment.

Some time ago, I booked myself a flight to Mexico City. (It’s a long story, and not relevant here.) More recently (driven by the confusion and such I mentioned in my last post), panic (or pragmatism?) took hold: now’s not a good time to go on vacation. I spent about thirty minutes with the decision that I’d simply not show for my flight, but then figured that I may as well go, treating it as an “off-site.” (I just today learned that off-site can be a noun. Hooray.) I’ve spent too many days in hotel rooms in faraway places before; the isolation felt miserable, but with the right combination of attitude and discipline, maybe I could get back on top of things, right?

Months ago, LP showed me a chart in Maira Kalman’s And the Pursuit of Happiness, one that Benjamin Franklin made outlining a daily schedule. I was taken by its clarity and rationality, and also by its style — especially the use of semi-colons and braces (what are those called?), and by the use of language, and by the creator’s obvious preoccupation with reflection, personal responsibility, and Doing Good.

I too am preoccupied with these things! And I would like to have an attractive schedule like this to help me convince myself and others that I may be making some progress towards any of them!

I will hold back from sharing here the chart I made this morning. It’s similar, only it was created using Numbers, from the Apple iWork suite. I’ve no clue how to add those amazing braces. ‘Merge cells’ was the next best thing. I didn’t make a ‘questions’ column; I was worried it’d turn into too large of a project. This thing can be iterative anyway, right?

And yet, and yet. Everything was on track until about 4pm, and then somehow it fell apart. By “somehow,” I mean “frustration focusing on the difficult email I was trying to write, and then almost three hours spent playing a stupid mobile game.” I put it down only after continuing to play for thirty minutes while awkwardly tethered to the wall, since the phone’s battery had run down.

So what now, Ben? Do we cut our losses and rejoin the chart at whatever time we emerge from our self-indulgence? Or do we try to make up for lost productivity, by skimping on sleep and fast-tracking “putting things in their places” or “examination of the day”?

Not grasping the importance of this choice at the time, I decided to hold off on the difficult email and instead try to make some progress through the “to check out” items in my inbox. The first one led me to this TED video, Jason Fried of 37signals on why we don’t get much done at work:

I had a conventional office job for about 6 months, 9 years ago. I can’t personally relate to Fried’s (common) hatred of meetings; most of the meetings I have are great. (An observation: Almost never am I being paid to attend. This may be the unfortunate key to enjoyable meetings.) I also get lost when he suggests that the distraction of ‘the social media’ is a lesser-order distraction, because it’s voluntary.

Lost, maybe, because as I’m now in this shoebox hotel room, which is surprisingly successful at blocking out the noise and chaos of this city (the largest, population-wise, I’ve ever set foot in), I’m super-twitchy. Is this just an unavoidable blip on the way to productivity and (then) relaxation?

Or, should I turn off the social media tap? It’s difficult to argue that doing so would make me less productive.

But it might introduce some other problem. For years I’ve been referring to an article I read in (dear, departed) Shift magazine, on the subject of people’s productivity at work. The jist (as I remember it; this was 8-10 years ago) was that now that many people have Internet access on their work computers (8-10 years ago, remember?), they have to employ additional discipline to not “surf” or whatever. The article referred to an experiment involving cookies and frustrating tasks, and how people’s success at dealing with frustrating tasks appeared to be affected by whether or not they had been asked to not eat the cookies that were in front of them. I found a more recent article (not on the subject of work) that mentioned similar research. In it, Dr. Timothy Pychyl of Carlton University is quoted, suggesting that it’s possible for us to exhaust our self-regulatory strength: “One practical example, he noted, is that after a stressful day at work, studies show, people are less likely to exercise and more likely to watch television.”

This post has spun out of control. The end.

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