I’ve had an epiphany about productivity, and finally managed to put a finger on a bad habit that’s been eating at me. I have a tendency to be a purposeless user of technology. It’s not a matter of me doing anything particularly wrong, it’s that I am, by nature, indecisive and risk averse when it comes to my use of my time.

When given an idle moment I could make a choice about how to spend the time. I could pick up the guitar, tackle a project around the house, hack on some code or spend some time playing a game I’d really enjoy. Unfortunately making that decision takes a bit of cognitive stress. I’d have to actually allocate that time and consciously chose to not do all the other things I’ve just mentioned. My lazy brain opts instead to take the path of least resistance and thus it’s much easier to flip open the laptop and scan hacker news for interesting tidbits, or refresh twitter for the umpteenth time while I “try to figure out what I should do”. Minutes become hours and then it’s suddenly time to crash for the night and I’ve had net gain zero from my little bit of free time.

It’s an insidious habit and one that’s particularly easy to self-justify. After all, I’m not idly flipping through meaningless facebook posts or watching meaningless television or movies (usually). My twitter feed is well curated with interesting people saying interesting things. Similarly, my google reader is full of articles that have real value. Unfortunately, the 100th article of the day gets me very little marginal return for my precious investment in time which in the long term is crushing my free time productivity. I’ve started to recognize that I have the same habit when it comes to consuming content. When I’m tired and want to veg out, I end up watching tired old favorite movies again and again and spending hours I’ll never regain.

Note that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the technology I’m using. Netflix is awesome! Google reader coupled with Hacker News has been an astoundingly good resource for keeping myself current with trends in technology and has provided me with many, many useful ideas I’ve carried in to work. Social tools, email, and chat all fall into the same bucket. I’ve learned new things, and kept in touch with people who I’d otherwise have lost long ago. It’s not the tools I’m using and I really can’t even blame it on their addictive nature. The culprit is truly my lazy brain.

In the spirit of a new years resolution I’m making a pact with myself to become much more meaningful in my use of technological tools, and more meaningful in how I spend my time. The practical consequence of this is I’m making a pledge to myself to not sign in to any computer, smartphone, television, console or other gizmo without first doing an explicit mental check and clarifying the purpose. If I can’t express to myself the purpose for what I’m doing, I’m not going to sign in. When I complete my task, or session I’ll sign out, log off, etc and take another pause before I start the next task.

Obviously this is going to require some degree of self-discipline but I’m hoping that adding a mental check will be enough of road block that I can short-circuit my brain out of the path of least resistance and make it easier to choose to do something meaningful with my time. I think this will also give me a chance to put some useful restrictions on my consumption of “useful” content. I doubt if I’ll even notice the difference if I halve the time I spend per day reading the articles because I’ll simply filter out more of the irrelevant content. I can put this freed up time to good use, writing, hacking, or doing a thousand other more useful and enjoyable things.

I’m certain I’m not the only one afflicted with this form of NADD . I’m hoping maybe if you’re reading this it helps you reframe your own use of time. Maybe we can all start using our technological tools with a little more purpose and stop letting them nerd snipe our lazy brains.


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