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Archive for the ‘Procrastination’ Category

Lots of people seem to have trouble with focus these days.  From kids texting, tweeting, posting racist comments on the internet, and yelling racist comments into the microphone of their online gaming system of choice to graduate students texting, tweeting, reading for comps, decrying racist comments on the internet, and updating their Facebook status while driving down the freeway, the world is constantly calling for our attention.  In response, those of us who want to get something done have to fight our chronic procrastination, often through attempts to minimize distractions.  Some have employed programs that limit web access while others have tried to recreate the Doogie Howser-esque writing environment of WordPerfect 5.1.

Now, there is another option.

As the developers state, “It’s a distraction-free writing environment that we call “ū—” (pron. “YOOOoooouuuuu…”). And, it’s going to change the way you think about thinking about maybe writing some day forever.”  This unprecedented freedom from distraction is achieved by a careful elimination of nearly everything, “including cruft like paragraphs, lines, and words. This is why ū— only displays the bottom half of one letter at a time. Talk about focus.”

Beyond the ability to focus, the developers recognize that what sets one program apart from another these days is customization.  This is where ū— prevails, offering an “endlessly re-customized combination of options” that includes the ability to:

  • Play non-distracting circus music every time you manage to finish a word
  • Enjoy the minty “DONNNNNNNNG!!!” of a distraction-free wind chime every 60 seconds—just to remind you that you’re really “in the zone”
  • Stay in non-stop touch with The Distraction-Free Community by showing distraction-free real-time Facebook and Twitter updates from your fellow ū—sers
  • Set which affirmations you’d like our lovable “Focus the Clown” to scream at you by random intervals. He’s focus-larious!
  • Set the “Angry Masturbation Break” timer to whatever interval suits you and your distraction-free genitals.
  • Say sayonara to the tick-tock of that distracting clock; “Tojo the Time-Teller” will announce the exact time every seven seconds, occasionally offering distraction-free encouragements in distraction-free pidgin English
  • Ask “Virtual Hemingway” to silently monitor everything you do and suggest when it’s time to try a new customized distraction-freeing setting. But, watch out! He might shoot your distractions and put them on his wall! Ha ha.

With this sort of customization at your disposal, how can ū— go wrong?  Your dissertation will be finished in no time!

Via Daring Fireball and Crooked Timber, which suspiciously quotes the same text as Daring Fireball…

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Sometimes, a spike in blog traffic has a clear explanation, such as a link from a much larger blog or a video that people like to pass around (ending up in some strange locations).  Other times, there will be a day with many more views than those around it.  For these days I would like to say thank you to the graduate student who happens upon this blog and spends an entire morning or afternoon clicking links to my musings on the job market or the transition to faculty life and, from there, clicking links to the pages that I cite.  It is you, the student who chooses to read this blog instead of studying for comprehensive exams, working on your dissertation, or taking a nap that makes this endeavor worthwhile.

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For my entire life I have been battling the chronic Major Procrastination Disorder, which is said to affect 7 out of 10 high school students and 9 out of 10 graduate students.  This disorder tends to flare up when large blocks of unallocated time present themselves to me.  Despite being fairly productive during the academic year, winter and summer breaks tend to lead me to relapse.  Faced with my latest relapse, I have started looking for a partial cure.

Every time that I move I underestimate the workload of cable and internet installers and end up with a few weeks without access to either.  Thus, it was during my recent move from apartment living to home ownership that I discovered the healing powers of a lack of distractions.  Without TV and the internet I found myself filling my large blocks of unallocated time with activities such as reading and thinking.  If this period had been longer, I even suspect that I might have turned to productivity.  The effects of No TV and Internet were much greater than those of a sugar pill, though side effects included  a disconnection with the outside world.  For example, I missed both the announcement that LeBron James was announcing his decision regarding free agency and The Decision itself.  Thankfully, my access to the outside world was restored in time for Steve Carell’s decision.

I am obviously not the first person to find that there is more time for work when less time is spent on trivial things, but what always surprises me is how trivial those things seem when I don’t have access to them.  Sure, it is nice to know what is going on in the world, but do I really need to know which elementary school basketball players are being recruited by my alma mater?  I suspect that I don’t, yet I spend large amounts of time reading about similar things when my access to the internet is unimpeded.  While I don’t want to do anything too extreme, the idea of a tech sabbath is alluring.  If only I could pull myself away from the internet long enough to turn off the cable modem…

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I have been on fellowship for the ’08-9 academic year.  Aside from various revisions and completing other projects, I have two major tasks during this time: getting a job and finishing my dissertation.

The completion of task number one leaves me with a single major task for the current semester.  Unfortunately, I have been clinically diagnosed as a procrastinator per the DSM-IV* definition of the term under the “Work Disorders” heading:

Major Procrastination Disorder

The problem, my doctor tells me, is that I don’t have enough work to do.  While this seems counter-intuitive, I have found that my most productive periods have been when I am extremely busy with other things.  I need to become a structured procrastinator, which is defined as “shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact.”  An illustration may be helpful:

The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Thus, while some may see starting a blog in the midst of dissertation writing to be counterproductive, I am actually trying to use my wasted time more wisely.  And if the blog becomes a chore, I may find myself working on my dissertation to avoid it!

*For those who cannot find this disorder in the DSM-IV, you probably checked the book when you should have checked your gut.

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