Time

“Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.” — Parkinson’s Law

When you were a little kid your teachers and parents probably emphasized the value of hard work. So much so that the act of putting in effort itself was seen as virtuous, rather than working as a means to an end. Certainly motivation is a problem for most people, but chances are if you’re reading the blog the opposite is true. I would be incredibly shocekd if someone unmotivated decided to spend their time reading essays instead of, I don’t know, playing BTD Battles 2 instead. Which would be fair enough, since I would do the same.

A lot of people do a lot of their work on a computer. If you’re anything like me, you probably get distracted easily when you’re working on a computer and encounter resistance. After all, the friction of checking your phone only needs to be less than the friction of the problem you’re working on for you to check it. Checking your phone is easy and worthwhile work is hard, so it’s really easy to waste a lot of time.

Quotas

We think of work quotas as being “spend at least X hours on Y task.” This turns out to be a very wasteful approach. It might be more helpful instead fo set a maximum time limit instead; say, only spending up to two hours of free time a day on your work. Instead of thinking “I want to do vague X, how much time do I need?” think “How much can I squeeze out of T time?”

There’s a reason the people best at what they do are minimalists. Novice writers think “How many pages can I stretch this out to?” The best think “How little space do I need to fit everything in?” Computer noobs think sexy is “Wow, look at how pretty my Windows screensaver is.” Power users think “Wow, look at how much I can do with so few resources and such little clutter.”

Experiment

I’m going to go full circle and try something: a screentime limit. Here are the details:

In principle I think you could omit the general ban altogether and just limit your work. After all, the point of this restriction is to make work more efficient, not because the computer is a boogeyman that will kill you if you stare into it for too long. That being said, I still think a general computer limitation is better:

Note this only works for academics — limiting your exercise time is not likely to work the same way, even though in principle some people do need stop exercising as much (injured people. I learned that the hard way.) This is because when you’re seriously studying there’s only one pace — a full-on sprint. Whereas when you’re exercising there are long days, hard days, recovery days, etc. all with different paces.

Sucks

There are some things that really suck about limitations like this though, at least for me. They are somewhat specific so someone else trying this probably won’t face these.

These really won’t be issues, I’m already thinking of them as features and not as bugs.

I would say on the whole that this experiment is probably a good idea. Part of me is slightly embarrassed that I’m publicly admitting I use the computer so much that I need to give myself a screentime restriction, grade-school style, but in the end I think it would be more embarassing not to acknowledge this problem.