Impractical Applications (Avoiding Avoidance Again)

This week wasn’t particularly good for applicability (I mean, come on. A writing exercise on a scary forest, a riff on reading getting in my way—rather not expand on that more than I have to—and a review of a game I played a grand total of once long enough ago that I’m not entirely sure I remember my own character’s name? Not a good jumping-off point), but I’m on an attempt at keeping myself motivated that seems to work pretty well, so let’s go with that.

The backstory? I… have motivation issues. Or more accurately, I have too many tasks, not enough time, and difficult enough that avoidance behavior is very, very tempting issues. Hence the tendency to lose entire evenings to things like chapter-by-chapter book snark, chat logs from back when I was in three games a week and all of them were going well, or archive-binging my own site expecting to pull inspiration for the night’s post out of that. I’ve tried various strategies to work around it, most of them drawing from sources like Reality is Broken (the most complete book on gamification ever to go its entire length without actually using that word), most of which involved a combination of self-bribery and assigning arbitrary scores to tasks, and tended to go belly-up partly due to a difficulty in finding things to bribe myself with, and partly due to the level of record-keeping that the running tallies I worked with involved. And meanwhile, there was still stuff for the company to do, and bits of story to write, and blog posts to put together ahead of time, and yardwork, and this was while the worst I had to deal with regarding grad school was the application process.

But I was watching a program utilize my computer’s unused processing capacity FOR SCIENCE, and I started thinking. The computer and its unused capacity don’t care about values. It gets a work packet, it works on the work packet, it finishes the work packet (or rather, it gets three, works on them, and staggered-finishes them), and moves on. Dividing my tasks into work packets—for instance, working on library school stuff for half an hour, or weeding out all those two-years-inactive patrons whose last name began with the letter A, and calling that a task—seemed like a good plan; I didn’t have to sweat it carefully coming up with values or trying to divide the task into equivalently difficult subportions. Then I’d write down the task I did as part of a list on a little index card in my pocket, and, if I wanted to indulge myself (read a chapter of a book that wasn’t school-related purely for pleasure during a time other than one of my breaks, play video games for half an hour, check out a book or a movie, buy a box of Girl Scout cookies, you get the idea), I’d cross off one of the tasks I’d written down. That was all the tracking; none of the complex spreadsheeting I’d done in an earlier attempt, or that weird thing I was doing with my playlists a couple ideas ago. Write on a card. Cross off things I’d written. During one of my slow periods, I came up with large values for other self-bribery items, ones that would take me a while to get to; that way when the initial rush of keeping ahead of my tallies wears off, I’ll have something to put my efforts toward.

What makes this one in particular work, I think, is that I’m putting a price on my avoidance behaviors. Idle reading? Yes (though it takes a while to add up, and there are times when I encourage myself to grab a book). Flicking mindlessly through the archives of a website? That one’s going to add up fast. I can’t say it’s been a perfect solution yet, but once I buckle down and enforce all my rules, I think it’ll help a lot. And… well, given that in the week or so since I started this I’ve gotten in more studying than I usually do in a week, turned in two assignments, finished two Big Honking Library Projects, and used small easy tasks to take slightly better care of my health than usual? I think this one might work. And best of all? All I need is a pencil and a steady supply of index cards.


  1. Michael says:

    Thank you. I’ve been needing something like this, for much the same reasons. I shall have to try it out :)

  2. Ravyn says:

    Sounds good; let me know how it goes for you!

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