The secret to a long life of accidentally being useful
Have enough going on so you can avoid doing one important thing by doing another important thing. That way you’re always ahead and behind!
When I connect with people and we talk about our lives or activities or passions, I regularly get the incredulous response that they don’t understand how I manage to do so many different things. They sometimes ask about how I keep so focused and stay so disciplined and write so many essays and learn about so many different fields and work on a startup and advise other startups and do other things too like have friends and family and fun. They ask how I get myself to do these things and avoid the procrastination trap that they feel like stops them from doing the things they’d like to do. This question is tough to answer because my response is pretty unsatisfying.
The truth is that I’m literally procrastinating all the time.
I’m actually procrastinating right before your very eyes!
The trick is that I just procrastinate by way of doing other things that are interesting and useful.
For example, at this current moment I’m supposed to be getting flights for some crypto events I need to go to, putting together a Webflow template for my startup’s website, reading a book on contract law to make sure I’m not going to build anything illegal, reading another 9 books that I think are relevant to stuff I’m building, mapping out some user flow diagrams for the web3 dApp I want to build, digging deep into some Solidity documentation to answer some technical questions I have, and also meeting people for lunch and dinner and drinks soon.
And instead of doing any of that, I’m writing this longwinded joke about procrastination.
By the end of the day, I’ll probably only get like 3 of these things completed and the rest of them will just sort of sit expectantly on my chest like a house cat staring directly into my soul.
And that’s sort of okay.
The pattern repeats itself over and over again. On good days I’ll start with a structured Eisenhower Matrix full of dreams and on bad days I’ll just have a scrap of paper with some unfocused wish list of items hastily scrawled on it. I’ll roughly order them with the most important stuff first and get after it, and yet without fail there comes some…attention creep. Backstops can help keep the distraction monster at bay for a while and honest reflection about the activities makes sure my To Do list stays mostly on track, but that…itch…to like do ANYTHING BUT the thing I should be doing always creeps in eventually. This (long) piece paints a great picture of that irrational id feeling that wants you to shift away from the chains of focus and I think it is really one of the few, truly universal itches.
But I’ve found that while I can’t stop that attention creep, I can manage the damage it’s able to cause if I always maintain a backlog of interesting tasks yet to be done.
Looking again at my To Do list I mentioned, I’m genuinely excited to do all of these things (even the grind-y ones). They’re all going to help me get closer to the big, scary, ambitious goals I have and the thought of working on them is actually energizing. I do have to reckon with, though, I might just not be genuinely excited to do them in a particular moment.
Being honest with myself about that has helped me align my days with my proclivity for that day. Some days are better for creativity and thinking big things. Some days are better for analysis. Some days are just for reading and reflecting. Some days are for talking and debating and conversing and some days are for producing.
I don’t really know why, but I do know this is true (at least for me).
So while I try to hit at least 1% of progress on all of the tasks each day (and obviously the world keeps spinning so I have to spend time on stuff like bills and follow ups to keep the train on the tracks), the part that really matters, the part where I am actually “productive”, happens whenever I spend the most time on whichever activity fits the natural groove of the day. I don’t nail this consistently and there’s absolutely a tradeoff (mostly a deadline hitting tradeoff) with this approach, I actually think I net out ahead because of the ferocity with which I can attack my tasks when I actually match my dialed in mental state to the right problem set.
This approach isn’t novel.
Like everyone else, I’m just standing on the shoulders of giants. I’d categorize my approach as somewhere between John Perry’s Structured Procrastination and Paul Graham’s Disconnecting Distraction with a healthy amount of Cal Newport’s Deep Work spicing things up.
It seems to work alright for me.
Would love to hear any other approaches that work for you!
I hope this added value to your day.
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