Friday, June 1, 2012

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify?

Ahhh, I just recently got off from my two-day "weekend." The definition of a weekend changes for a restaurant worker, for I work on actual weekends and have mine in the middle of the week. Since resigning from my other job those two days felt like my first actual rest days that I've had in a long time, and is really making me examine my habits once again.

Most notably, I gave myself permission to stray away from my to-do lists and do pretty much whatever I wanted without writing it down. What surprises me is how this seemed to make the tasks more stress-free and boosted my concentration. It's hard to describe the way the stress was alleviated, but it felt like I was enjoying a relaxitive effect by getting away from a lot of burdens that add no value to my life, rather than the relaxitive effect of merely taking a break from productive endeavors.

So the question I have to ask myself is: Were those particular habits and routines actually a benefit to my life?Or am I just inundating myself with a bunch of fluff that distracts me from the most important values?

For example, I have a small to-do lists of routines which I try to accomplish everyday, which includes such thing as engaging in a particular act of activism or writing a journal entry. The qualm I've always had with it is that, upon examination, I've always been disturbed by how much of the day it takes to complete those mere routines. Sure, an hour ain't much, but, given that I'm awake about 15 or 16 hours a day, one hour is close to 10% of my day, probably over that amount if you subtract from my wakeful hours things like driving and only consider hours that I'm actually doing something. I get particularly frustrated when I tackle my routines diligently and with a sense of responsibility and find that my time for the things I really wanted to do is still uncomfortably drained away.

What I enjoyed most about my days off were going to the bookstore in the evening and reading all the way to closing. Just reading and reading and reading, without worrying about any particular plans beyond the reading. My concentration was great, and the enjoyable exercise of my brain made me end the night in a great mood.

In short, I think maybe all these "routines" and productive ventures I write down may be distracting me from the most important values, the ones I really want to pursue. Sure, it's important to be involved in the culture and be an activist, but might I be happier and more effectual if I read and study up, which I would probably enjoy more?

The perspective these past two days has given me has brought this Ayn Rand quote to mind: "There's nothing of any importance except how well you do your work." The reading, in truth, was not just mere pleasure reading, but something relevant to my career. I was reading an enjoyable book on mnemonics, titled Moonwalking with Einstein, and have been getting really excited at the applications this knowledge could have for my career field. In other terms, getting away from all those "productive" routines has really allowed me to focus on what's most important in the present, my career. How much am I delaying my advancement in my career in worrying more about writing a journal entry than I am in doing some studying or special practice for my job? Could I be tackling my values in the wrong way hierarchically?

I certainly want to spend more of my life reading, studying, writing, and cook than I do reading activism-related articles and writing -- psssh -- Facebook commentary on them. The primary matter here, as mentioned before, is getting over a stubbornness to examine some particular things I've been doing.

Here I think I've been too stubborn to examine how certain activities are benefiting my life, and refusing to let go of some things that I believe are a value to me but aren't. For example, Facebook. As mentioned before, I like using Facebook as a mode to gain psychological visibility, because in my present life I don't really have anyone to relate to on the same level as I. I don't know anyone who likes to talk about philosophy as I do, so mostly I'm alone. However, my stubbornness has prevented me from realizing I'm spending time in excess of what would be sufficient for that purpose, and am not doing enough to pay attention to my people in my life or cultivate my character. So much worry about psychological visibility has gotten in the way of nurturing an authentically lovable and valuable human being.

I need to rethink my value hierarchy. Instead of worrying about darned routines, except for ones that are actually valuable (such as emptying my audio recorder every day, which is valuable for ensuring that I continue to both have thoughts worth recording and am acting upon those thoughts), I need to worry about tackling only that which is most important to me, and everything else only if I have time for them. If not, then screw it: At least my days were spent doing the most valuable thing possible.

The whole discarding values thing is a start. Too often do I overwhelm myself with all the possible values I could pursue and refuse to let go of the ones I just shouldn't make time for. In the example of books, this refusal has once led to me garnering a nearly endless reading list, which didn't help at all in choosing what to read next. Excluding things I might choose to formally study, it's been more helpful and productive to just rent books like crazy and read only that which I'm currently interested in, which, while it may not sound productive, has helped me develop into a more voracious reader, someone who always has a book in progress. For studying, of course, a different approach is needed to be more productive, but I found this more spontaneous reading approach to be the best for my habits. Referencing the article linked in this paragraph, I don't worry much about what I'm not reading because I trust in my sense of knowing my values: Tackling my strongest present interest leads me to my highest values, helping me discard the lesser ones, and if I find I've discarded a value I actually want to include I trust in my memory and ability to know my values to lead me back to it.

Could this approach be beneficially applied to my overall productive lifestyle? Could I make allowances for more spontaneity, and have that, like a dog tracking out a scent, lead me to tackling only the most important things in my life?

Really, there are only a few things important in my life. Broadly: My development for my career, my fair share of activism for a better culture, and self-advancement (which includes things such as general self-improvement and finance management). All else is superfluous. Now then, how can I make a more valuable approach?

For one, I think I'd really benefit by the whole discarding values thing. On my to-do lists, I can better keep them up with my best interests by frequently deleting stale items that I leave sitting there. When I think about it, except for projects, time-sensitive things, and schedules, most everything can be completed in a portion of a day, so if I didn't, why do I keep it documented? If I didn't do it that means I found better, more valuable things to do. Perhaps to start I can set a semi-artificial time-limit on how long I keep certain things on my list, like a day or so, before I delete it. If I got to it promptly, I did value it. If I ignored it and let it linger, then that means I judge there's more important things to do.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to modify my lifestyle so that it's entirely dedicated to study, self-improvement, my career, and a wee bit of activism, but oh how to do it is the difficult question! On one hand, experimentation is key, but on the other I've got to be careful not to over-plan, because that can lead into the fallacy of believing there's some kind of psychological sweet-spot that will allow optimal performance, when really what I need is a good dose of discipline. Just do it, in Nike's words.

For now, I'll try imposing the time-limits on my to-do lists, continue getting out of my apartment to nurture a more productive mindset, and continue thinking about the optimal lifestyle. Trial and error, trial and error.

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