Being Productive

A common narrative these days says we're inundated with data, communicating in increasingly compact forms and living our lives at an ever more frantic pace. Raw bits hop across the network in millisecond bursts. Synthesis is automatic at the edges—we route and index and discard information with cold algorithmic precision. "I" is a syndicate: a reader, writer, hacker. We can't stop typing lest we let the cursor blink.

In any case, that's the narrative. It sounds like bullshit because it probably is. I, for one, struggle with the opposite problem. I lose whole weeks to coffee breaks, DVDs, and languid conversation. "Technology" hasn't ramped anything up—it's made sitting around more fulfilling.

I shouldn't be so hard on myself. Occasionally I operate at full speed: I'll read a ton, write, do homework, solve difficult problems, and work out. It's not like I'm on my ass the rest of the time, just leaning back instead of forward.

Naturally I've tried to discover how "high gear" operates—what kicks it off, how it is sustained, why it ends.

Just as wealth begets wealth and snowballs snowball, getting things done is about inertia. Not a very brilliant revelation, but true. Once you have momentum—you've gone for a run and read two papers already—you're hard to stop. Your brain works on short time scales; it will learn how to be productive quickly. The "turbo" mentality can be jump-started even in those moments when you seem least capable of it, and the rate at which you learn to operate efficiently will itself accelerate.

At worst this theory explains why energetic people are so energetic. And at best it will get me pumped for the new semester.