Sep 07, 2016


Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.
- Rick Warren (sometimes incorrectly attributed to C.S. Lewis)

This account of becoming obsessed with productivity techniques (a) is the most profound (read: most resonant with my present situation) thing I've read recently. I've read it three times now, and each time it's knocked me flat on my ass. This is probably because the author and I have similar interests and similar reservations about said interests. He was into lifehacking. I'm into self-improvement. Tomayto, tomahto.

The piece is full of wonderfully amusing bits, like:

I stuck coloured paper all over my walls so that I was rarely more than 2 seconds away from a surface that could be used to capture important information or ideas.


[My] mind expansion generally took the form of reading more and more blogs about productivity, since this is logically the most productive thing that anyone can do with their time.


I went to a co-working space and shuffled around pieces of coloured card in order to help me visualise and crystallise my thoughts, because there were just so many things that I had to work out.

And finally:

I started trying to maintain a file in Evernote for each new person I met or contacted, with their interests, background, skills, and our history together. I tried doing the same thing in Highrise. Neither initiative worked or lasted, because they were both completely unnecessary for me.

Okay, just one more:

Fortunately I still ended up working and hanging out with some cool people, and was having fun and learning a lot whilst doing so. I was just generating a whole lot of unnecessary dust and noise at the same time.

Plus, the piece has obvious intersections with media I've been consuming lately: Ryan Holliday on EconTalk and Thomas Merton's autobiography. Scott Alexander is right about chronology being a harsh master.

I don't have a clear takeaway here, just a strong intuition that I've been organizing my life improperly (suboptimally? uninspiredly?), and some external confirmation of this in the form of Heaton's post.

I really like systems, plans, grand designs. And I really like introspection – careful consideration of how I've been doing and where I want to be heading.

But all these plans and reflections are tools. I can use them to push towards things I want to accomplish. But just possessing a tool is not sufficient to ensure its proper use. These tools can push in many directions. This, I think, is the crux of it: am I using these tools to push towards something I care about? Or am I using them as a substitute for actual, object-level pursuits?

All these tools can be used to build up a looming edifice. But such edifice is artifice: complicated, elegant, alluring in an alien way. But all scaffolding, rising up, supporting nothing but itself.

[rereads: 2, edits: tightening up the prose]