So the tension between getting pressing things done and getting important things done (no, the two do not always coincide, though there is inevitably some overlap) has led me to the little nook of task management known as “habit tracking.” In habit trackers, rather than entering items on a to-do list to be checked off as they are completed, you make a list of “habits” you’d prefer to adopt (work on dissertation 30 minutes every day, eat an apple every day, etc.) and mark your successes and failures, day after day. Some habit trackers (including the one I’m using) also have options to maintain state information, i.e. “current mood,” that stays at its current setting until you change it, and they also aggregate this as data over time, and correlate it to the first body of data.
For the first few days of this week, it worked alarmingly well in the one area just mentioned—getting me to work on my dissertation every day. For the first time in over a year, I have made substantial academic progress once again on my own (rather than someone else’s) work, despite being incredibly overloaded. I have been almost giddy with excitement.
Today, however, the task list forced the habit tracker out of my day while I struggled to keep up with promises I’ve already made to far too many people to do far too many things. The tension is back; there are the things that matter, and then there are the things that I’ve promised to do. Though the promises often seem necessary in any number of ways that I can rationalize, I wonder if it’s time for me to stop promising so many people so many things.
I need to invest more time in the future and less time in the present.
The only problem is that it’s unclear to me whether I can maintain current earnings levels without maintaining current promise levels. I guess this is what they call the treadmill.
As an aside, posting here is one of the habits I’m tracking, and the basic reason why I’m sitting here writing this right now rather than going to bed. There’s a fine line between silly self-domination and transcendental self-liberation.