Thoughts about time

A friend sent me a link to “Your Life in Weeks”, which got me thinking about my changing attitude towards time and ambition. Here were the key points I picked up from the blog post:

  • It’s good to be aware of the passage of time and how limited it is.
  • Measuring your life against famous people’s accomplishments or lifetimes can be eye-opening.
  • You should ideally spend your time doing things that improve your future or the lives of others and that you enjoy. Utility without pleasure or pleasure without utility is okay but not great. Don’t waste your time doing things that are neither useful nor pleasant.
  • Every week can be a fresh start.

I agree with some aspects of these points. I can remember being the sort of person who agreed more, and that’s interesting for me – tracking the changes in my attitude towards time.

2015-07-27a Thinking about time and role models -- index card #time

2015-07-27a Thinking about time and role models – index card #time

I can remember a time when I kept an eye out for the milestones by which other people had achieved a lot: the youngest people who did X/Y/Z, the lists of thirty under thirty, the stats in math and physics of early achievement and momentum.

I moved on from that in my late teens or so, when I realized people used stories like that to beat themselves up, give up, or push themselves to an unhealthy pace. I wanted to find something to tell people who told me, “Wow, you’re so young and you’re already good at computers! I could never do something like that.” For myself, I saw the kinds of lives people sketched out for people who had “high potential,” and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted them. Instead of those stories of young CEOs and world-changers, I resonated more with attention to those who continued achieving later in life, or even started late, like Grandma Moses taking up painting at 78. I liked the stories those lives could help me tell to people who felt they missed the boat. I liked the stories of deep interest, like Isaac Asimov’s decades of writing, and how those stories illuminated the possibilities. I liked examples of older people continuing to engage, like Benjamin Zander.

The books and magazines and newspapers I read were filled with stories of mainstream success, but I found myself more curious about people who had thoughtfully explored alternatives. I liked discussions of frugality and deliberate consumption more than luxury and excess. I liked communities around lifelong learning, experimentation, and early retirement.

2015-07-24a How do I want to feel about time -- index card #time #pace

2015-07-24a How do I want to feel about time – index card #time #pace

One of the things I picked up from looking at other people’s lives was the possibility that you could feel time as abundant instead of scarce – not so plentiful as to be wasted, but enough for the important things in life. Life didn’t have to be a rat race or a hurried rush from one thing or another. I didn’t have to do everything. I didn’t have to have it all. I could do what I can and enjoy where I was.

Still, I was curious about acceleration. I periodically experimented with the productivity techniques that other people liked: making lists of goals, plotting out timelines, looking for ways to accelerate. I found that committing to an artificial deadline or target date to a goal didn’t really resonate with me. I decided not to be my own taskmaster, trusting instead in my shifting evaluations and priorities. I’m nowhere near where my far-past self might have guessed I’d be, but I like where I am. I’m somewhere my far-past self couldn’t even have imagined.

I hadn’t come across Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life until a few years ago, but when I did, I found it in things that I had come to believe about my own life. “It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”

What does it mean to invest it well, though? I remember occasionally measuring my life against the estimate of my remaining days, tallying up what I had done and what I wanted to do. I felt the passing of time in the days and the months. I remember observing the differences in familiar people and in the world around me: my parents’ graying hair, my friends’ lifestages, the shifts in technologies. Back to the tick-tock. I think one of the reasons I’ve found it so easy to keep a weekly/monthly/yearly review (and now a daily journal) is that I don’t want to wake up one day and wonder where all those years went, as people often do.

Something has shifted in my perspective, though. I’m not sure what caused it. Maybe philosophy has helped me let go of the worry about making sure I live a life of great significance. I don’t need to be in history books. I can focus on living life well, and other people can decide how much they want to take from it. Maybe this equanimity had something to do with the day-to-day focus of my current phase. These days, I’m mostly focused on being when I am – not trying to fast-forward or rewind, but rather seeing and making the most of now.

I still want to make something of my life. I want to leave behind notes, tools, and ideas that will make it easier for other people to go a little farther or a little faster. I’ve felt that way for as long as I can remember. It feels a little different now, though. Instead of worrying that I’ll fail or that I’ll choose the wrong path, I know I can keep building and exploring, and that the benefits will grow and grow.

Monthly review: July 2015

Last month, I wrote that in July, I wanted to:

  • Continue to take things easy: Yep, definitely did that. Lots of sleep and video games.
  • Enjoy hermit mode: It’s wonderful.
  • Focus on coding, cooking, and reading: My team won third place at an internal hackathon, yay!
  • Walk as often as possible: Yup, did a fair bit of walking
  • Water the grass and do some more gardening: The boulevard grass is a little brown, but the backyard is flourishing nicely.

My weekly reviews tell me I actually got a fair bit of programming in, which surprises me because I mostly remember July as sleep, Borderlands, and very little writing. It turns out that I worked a lot more because of the hackathon. I also did a little bit of Javascript and Emacs Lisp for personal projects, too. Neat.

This turned out to be a month of experimenting with posting twice a week: a weekly review, and another post. I prefer more frequent writing, and I’m looking forward to getting back into the groove of that as my brain returns. The daily and weekly drawings have been a great way to make sure the days don’t go by in a blur.

I think August will be a good month for working on household projects and getting things ready. Maybe more writing and drawing, too!

2015-08-03b July 2015 -- index card #monthly #review output

Blog posts

Sketches

Time

Category Last month (%) This month Avg h per week Delta (h/wk)
Discretionary – Play 13.7 22.4 38 14.6
Business – Earn 4.6 9.2 15 7.7
Business – Connect 0.6 1.1 2 0.8
Personal 15.9 15.6 26 -0.5
Discretionary – Social 0.9 0.0 0 -1.5
Discretionary – Productive 4.9 3.4 6 -2.5
Discretionary – Family 4.5 2.6 4 -3.2
Unpaid work 7.5 4.8 8 -4.5
Sleep 39.7 36.9 62 -4.7
Business – Build 7.8 3.9 7 -6.6

Weekly review: Week ending July 31, 2015

It was a great week for personal milestones. As it turns out, living one day at a time eventually adds up. Whee!

Also, I made a few nifty prototypes for work. It was fun playing around with different ideas and seeing what was possible. I’m looking forward to seeing what the team does with the new tools, and modifying the tools based on their feedback.

A bit of thinking and writing about time, too. And lots of Borderlands 2 with W-, of course. We’re near the end of the first playthrough. Looking forward to this last mission!

2015-08-03a Week ending 2015-07-31 -- index card #journal #weekly output

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (17.7h – 10%)
    • Earn (9.8h – 55% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
      • Prepare invoice
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (8.0h – 44% of Business)
      • Drawing (8.0h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (0.0h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (8.0h – 4%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (7.5h – 4%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
    • Writing (5.3h)
  • Discretionary – Play (37.4h – 22%)
  • Personal routines (29.9h – 17%)
  • Unpaid work (5.5h – 3%)
  • Sleep (62.0h – 36% – average of 8.9 per day)

Pleasure and utility

A friend mentioned that the Venn diagram in “Your Life in Weeks” resonated with him. The diagram focused on the intersection of what you enjoy and what builds your future: try to spend your time on activities that do both; one or the other is okay, but if something doesn’t address either of those, you should probably stop doing it.

While reflecting on the diagram, I realized that I prefer an X-Y chart instead. It reminds me that there’s a mix of pleasure and subjective utility in everything I do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t choose to do it. Pleasure and utility vary by activity, and even for a particular activity, they may vary based on factors such as time or energy. There are no hard cut-offs or fixed measurements. I can adjust things up or down with attention, too.

2015-07-25a Pleasure and utility -- index card #choice #utility #pleasure #time

2015-07-25a Pleasure and utility – index card #choice #utility #pleasure #time

For example:

  • I can increase my actual utility by double-checking subjective utility against what actually happened (decision reviews, etc.).
  • I can increase my subjective utility by thinking about what I could get out of an activity. For example, co-op gaming turns out to be a fun way to spend time with W- and practise managing small stresses.
  • I can break an activity down into the things I enjoy or find useful about it, and find similar activities that might be more enjoyable or more useful.
  • I can increase the pleasure I get from a useful activity by focusing on different factors
  • I can decrease the pleasure I get from an activity by focusing on the opportunity cost or thinking about what I enjoy about other activities.

Here’s where a few of my current activities are on this chart:

2015-07-25b Utility and pleasure - activities -- index card #utility #pleasure #time

2015-07-25b Utility and pleasure – activities – index card #utility #pleasure #time

This reminds me a little of my reflection on leisure activities (noble, advantageous, or pleasant, following Aristotle’s distinctions). It might be useful to analyze utility (noble/advantageous) and pleasure with the extra dimension of energy/effort.

While the sweet spot of high utility and high pleasure (for me: prototyping and learning) is fun to be in, I also like spending time outside that intersection. It’s not all about “Hell, yeah! or No”. Experimenting with things that make me feel awkward or mediocre might lead to discovering an activity that I enjoy or find really useful.

Lately, I’ve been giving myself permission to focus on things I enjoy, even if they aren’t particularly useful – like playing video games in the middle of the day. At the same time, I’ve also let go of the desire to enjoy everything. Some activities are not pleasant, but they’re necessary. Even as I get through them, though, I’m happy about my growing ability to get through them. I might be annoyed for a few minutes, but I’m happy about the decisions of my past self and the results that I anticipate for my future self. I’m learning to enjoy adapting to my circumstances, even as I know those circumstances will change.

2015-07-27b Pleasure and satisfaction -- index card #pleasure #philosophy

2015-07-27b Pleasure and satisfaction – index card #pleasure #philosophy

I like being able to step back and think about what I do, why I do it, and how I feel about that. Because I can influence how I feel about something, I can change why I do it, and even what I do. Through little nudges here and there, I want to make things that are good for me both easy and fun. If I can’t, I want to make them extra-useful and satisfying.

Weekly review: Week ending July 24, 2015

Dusted off an old Rails codebase I hadn’t really touched in years, since my former client and my former teammate needed a little help. Fixed a couple of bugs. It was great to have those automated tests.

I wrote some Emacs Lisp code to help me find and fill in missing entries in my daily sketch journal. Given a starting date, it checks the days since then, looking at the filenames in several directories to see if I’ve drawn a daily entry. Then it displays a list of the missing dates as buttons. When I select a date, it sets up the index card template and displays the matching time entries from my Quantified Awesome logs. It’s been pretty handy, since my journaling has been rather sporadic lately.

My sister and my mom have been writing cooking-related posts on Facebook. I realized that I like chatting about cooking, so that might be good common ground. Since I’m still sorting out issues with energy, I’m leaning more towards asynchronous communication (messages versus Skype). I like the undirected general conversation of streams, too.

Oh, and I spent a day running a few errands downtown. It was nice to be out in the sun.

2015-07-29c Week ending 2015-07-24 -- index card #journal #weekly output

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (17.1h – 10%)
    • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Earn (8.2h – 47% of Business)
    • Build (3.5h – 20% of Business)
      • Drawing (3.5h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (5.4h – 31% of Business)
  • Relationships (5.4h – 3%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (2.6h – 1%)
    • Emacs (0.6h – 0% of all)
    • Announce Emacs Hangout 2015-07-15
    • Verify Jen’s public key by calling
    • Writing (1.5h)
  • Discretionary – Play (41.8h – 24%)
  • Personal routines (21.4h – 12%)
  • Unpaid work (17.5h – 10%)
  • Sleep (62.2h – 37% – average of 8.9 per day)

What I’m learning from Borderlands 2

W- and I have been playing Borderlands 2 on our PS3. It’s the first time I’ve seriously played a first-person shooter. I’m more used to turn-based games where you have a little time to think, and I’m not at all used to aiming at moving targets. Borderlands has been surprisingly enjoyable and easy to pick up, though, especially with its focus on cooperative play.

W- plays a Gunzerker, although he rarely uses the action skill to dual-wield guns. I play a Commando, and my action skill involves deploying a turret. The turret is awesome. I like how it can deal with lots of enemies by itself, especially the ones I haven’t even seen. It’s almost like having a third player – one who can aim better than I can. I use the turret a lot.

When W- and I play together, it’s a lot of fun coordinating our attacks, reviving each other as needed, then looting the area and pointing out good stuff or trading what the other person might find useful. The game’s dialogue gives us more fodder for jokes and references. Once in a while, we catch a glimpse of the developers’ thoughtfulness, such as when the characters say something clever when you spend too long looking at your inventory. It’s nice to be able to share those moments.

Sometimes I play on my own to build up more experience and get used to this style of game. Even with the turret as backup, I catch myself tensing. I notice my heartrate increasing a bit and my breath slowing down. It’s a good opportunity for me to direct my attention, breathe better, and then go ahead with the game.

I recently read The Well-played Game: A Player’s Philosophy (De Koven, 2013), an impulse-read from the stacks at the Toronto Reference Library. In one of the chapters, the author made a point about the value of practising quitting. That way, quitting loses its stigma and its emotional charge. Losing is similar, I think. In Borderlands, I catch myself thinking: “Oh no! I’m about to die!” And then I remember that death in the game is momentary and can even be handy. I respawn with whatever ammo I came in with, and the automatic save-points are never too far away. It’s useful to learn the difference between things that are scary and things that only look scary, especially when my brain is getting fooled by external cues.

It’s good to practise quitting, too. I think I’m past the initial intense sprint of new interests. Even if I haven’t finished a mission (and there’s always another mission!), I can move on to other things, like writing or reading.

I’m learning more about my play style, too. In the game, I tend to favour elemental weapons, with a sub-machine gun as my primary weapon. That said, picking enemies off with a sniper rifle makes me feel a little more accomplished. I can aim! When I’m not panicking, that is. I don’t do melee unless I have to, since it’s a little more nervewracking and I sometimes find it difficult to make sure my character is facing the right direction when attackers are moving.

I’m sure I’ll get the hang of this eventually! =)