Staying on Track: Did I want to do this an hour ago?

Remember: Nobody ever lay on their deathbed thinking “gee, I wish I had spent more time watching TV/reading blogs/at the office.”

There’s a lot to be said for spontaneity — especially in long-term relationships. However, sometimes this spontaneity can interfere with the pursuit of longer projects, esp. if these projects show they payoffs only after long periods of work. When immediate, short-term satisfaction is pitted against deferred, long-term satisfaction, immediate satisfaction usually wins. Even if the pleasure it yields is neither as high nor as meaningful as the deferred satisfaction. To use the categories by Lazzaro, I think it’s then then usually a triumph of “easy fun” (blowing off steam, chilling out, goofing off, etc.) over “hard fun” (challenges, mastery, etc.) or “serious fun” (meaningful, good for others/world).

To use a practical example: When it comes to watching TV or working on a creative project, the TV usually wins. And it’s not only the TV — there are countless other short-term pleasures that might seem tempting … in the moment. Many of these distractions work in the situation you are in — or in which you will be in soon. They have a strong pull component, they are very good at drawing you in. For example, you see the TV and think “I wonder what’s on.” (or you thought it, until it became a habit). Over time, even going home will guide you mentally to watching the TV.

I think one of the best ways to weed out these distractions is to ask the question: “Did I want to do this an hour ago?”

Things you really want to do, but might require some effort when you finally can get to it, you likely think about them during the day. They pass this check. But things that pull you in? Like an iron ball near a magnet, you have to get close to it — in time or space. They influence, they control you, but only when you get near them. They fail this test.

Of course, once you have identified these distractions the question is how to deal with them. In extreme cases, it’s easier to remove the distraction all together (yup, ditch the TV). In other cases, try to avoid them unless you really want to do it. To use the TV example again — treat it like cinema. Make it a deliberate decision to watch a movie (or even an event).

Your creative projects will not profit, however, unless you structure them in a way that you can easily continue with them. Collect your ideas (i.e., your ideas have a structure, you can work with them), make it easy to continue working (e.g., by having a good workplace and by using a ‘downward slope’ (also see book). If you find that continuing your project is hard, it might be that you have lost interest, have come to a hard part where you have to push through (persistence is more important in creative projects than almost anything else), or that the next steps/structure is unclear. If this is the case, deal with these issues first — you are then also working (and advancing) your project.

Good luck.

P.S.: Without wanting to shoot myself in the leg, but did you want to read this blog an hour ago?

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