The Self-indulgence Alarm

"The most dangerous way to lose time is not to spend it having fun, but to spend it doing fake work"  -Paul Graham


Ever wanted to just spend the whole day relaxing, maybe watching a few movies or taking a nap.  It’s your day off work and the agenda is to simply have fun. But when you actually start watching the movie or taking a nap, an alarm starts to go off. This alarm isn’t your usual 5:00 AM wake-up call; it’s more in your head. It’s an alarm telling you that you’re being self-indulgent and that you’re “wasting” time.

Why doesn’t the same alarm go off when you’re working, but not really being productive? Lets look at a very common scenario that most of you have probably experienced.

You have an agenda for the day, a big item on the list that needs to be completed. Let’s say that item is to study for an upcoming exam. You spend the time getting ready by going to the library, looking for a quiet spot. You study for two hours out of the five that was planned, and the rest is spent on Facebook, Twitter and email. But when you actually leave the library, it feels like it was a successful day because you were at the library studying.  Why doesn’t the alarm go off?

As Paul Graham puts it, the most dangerous way to lose time is not to spend it having fun, but to spend it doing fake work. That trip to the library was not fun, but you were sitting there for five hours, so it must be work. You were doing stuff that seems, superficially, like real work.

The world is becoming more and more complicated. Nature and nurture combine to make us avoid self-indulgences such as spending the day watching TV, but what about activities that totally evade our alarms in the form of superficial work?

It’s important to develop new alarms. These can be in the form of metrics measuring your actual output vs. what you planned on achieving. It won’t be easy, but as you do it, you’ll notice your productivity increase by a substantial amount.