Going into this, my hypothesis was that by tackling my unproductive habits, like watching TV or flipping through popular images on imgur, and substituting these with relaxing but productive habits, like learning a little bit of code through experimentation or reading up on work topics, but mostly reading and listening to books, I would end up getting a lot more done, writing in particular, because of the extra ideas that I would be able to get out of these new habits.
And this held true for the first week or so, when I still had a clear image of what I was doing, and I was still fresh and motivated.. but as the weeks went on, I ended up spending a lot of time and energy on making the decision to read, or listen to an audiobook, so that when it became time to work, I had a lot less mental energy to spend. I was experiencing decision fatigue in the afternoon, as I was making work related decisions at work, and then coming home and making decisions to eat healthy and read books, over defaulting to a habit.
It also impacted my mood negatively some days. Because I was focusing very hard on not watching any TV, I would opt out of TV-related conversations, and if someone else were to watch TV with me in the same room, I would be quite annoyed (I share a studio with my girlfriend who was not joining me in the experiment). And just not getting the same amount of humor in a day, and possibly the fact that it kind of tricks me into feeling like I’ve had sufficient social interaction on days where I didn’t talk to anyone outside of work.
Reading about different topics, in particular philosophical ones, proved to just as much spillover distraction as watching TV, just in a different shape. If you’re caught up in a good TV show, you’ll feel a desire to keep watching a lot of the time, even when you need to work. When I was reading, I ended up not being able to put unrelated ideas out of my mind.
Perhaps as a by-product of the disappointing final results I ended up not posting about it sooner, and with the my 11 day trip that followed right after the last day of the experiment, and the transition into working again when I got back, it’s now been over a month, almost two, since my last post.
Things That I Could Have Done Better
If I had finalized a healthy eating habit first, with a few clear options that don’t rely too much on outside factors (some of the healthy dishes I like to get from the market are not available consistently because the vendor is not there every day of the week) completely substituting reading and listening to audiobooks, learning some code with TV series and other shallow entertainment would have gone smoother, and it might have had the positive effect on my work that I’d hoped it would.
Another thing that could have helped, is if I had stocked up on books that were inherently interesting, energizing, and maybe a little bit funny, to me. Not necessarily all qualities in all books, but a few options that meet one of the criteria, so that I could choose whichever book would be the best for a certain time. One of the things that I turn to TV shows for is to be mesmerized, entertained and when I was reading fiction or non-fiction that I honestly enjoyed reading 100% through and through, it was a complete non-issue. When I had to force myself to keep reading and it felt like work in and of itself, it negatively impacted the amount of work I was doing.
Not sure I should have tackled the Infinite Jest audiobook in the beginning. It is 40+ hours long. The book makes you reflect on a lot of interesting things, and although I enjoyed many parts quite a bit, the fact that it would take over 40 hours to get to tell yourself that you completed one book combined with the slower parts of the book makes it maybe not an ideal choice for first book to read.
I have probably added some extra stuff to a sort of backlog of useful information in my head that could lead to more, or better, ideas in the near future.
While I still struggle to stop in the middle of a TV-series marathon, it is now a lot easier for me to choose not to watch it in the first place. Which means that I can more easily convince myself to do work earlier in the day, and even use it as a reward for doing other, more productive things, like writing and doing other work.
I found it easier to commit to hanging out with people and go out and actually experience real things(except when I was reading fiction that I got completely hooked to).
Will I be trying to do another similar experiment in the future and take even more care in how I set it all up? Trying to incorporate the lessons I learned this time around? Perhaps. Or I might just start adding a little reading to my daily habits as I gain some further momentum with my daily routine.
My next experiment will probably be about freeing up the absolute maximum amount of mindspace by creating a routine where all food and other small choices are already planned and taken care of before the day even begins.
Alternatively, I’ll try keeping a journal about beating procrastination. Where I would write entries every time I successfully get to work, and then read the last entry about how I beat procrastination every time that I’m struggling to get started.