The web is absolutely covered in reviews of consumer products. People write them for free because they are just dying to tell someone, anyone, about whatever outrage has beset them with their latest purchase. I have resisted the temptation for years, but I made a discovery today that torqued me off enough to warrant a post.
When I had kids, I went through my house doing all the baby-proofing things responsible parents are supposed to do. We bought boxfuls of gizmos that were supposed to protect our progeny from themselves: toilet seat locks, baby gates, wall socket plugs, window-blind cord roll-ups, and dozens of hidden hooks and locks to hold closed whatever could be opened. Most of these things were easy enough to install and use, but others required whole weekends of measuring, marking, drilling, screwing, screaming, cursing and random trips to the hardware store and/or pharmacy. The worst of these were the anti-tip brackets – hardware that would essentially tie big furniture to the walls, so a kid wouldn't pull a bookcase down on top of themselves by climbing on it. Our boys outgrew the need for most baby-proofing years ago, but the anti-tip brackets had to be reinstalled on everything when we moved four years ago.
When you've put that much effort into doing the "responsible thing," you feel entitled to a little smugness. You think: "At least this is one thing that will not hurt my kids. I've done everything I can."
We decided to have our wooden floors refinished, which required moving all those big bookcases and cabinets and hutches that had been dutifully attached to the walls. So I walked around with my ladder and a pair of scissors, ready to cut the plastic straps that held the furniture in place. I grabbed one to cut it . . . and it shattered in my bare hand. Not just broke – shattered, as in dozens of pieces dropping to the floor. The strap that was supposed to keep a two hundred pound slab of pressboard from crushing my sons skulls just shattered in my bare hands. WTF?
I went around to the other straps, and found all to be exactly the same. Some had already broken on their own; others were intact, but would break with the touch of one finger. The plastic that once was supple and strong had someone fatigued and degraded, so it now had the tensile strength of a potato chip.
I could expect a plastic that was exposed to extreme heat, or constant light, or some other weird conditions, would eventually become brittle. But this was after a mere three years inside a climate controlled house, hidden from light behind big furniture. What could possibly have done in this plastic? And why in blazes would plastic like that be put into child safety devices?
A day into my resolutions, and I'm already learning things . . .
My caffeine dependency is greater than I realized. I find myself watching the clock, waiting for that last hour to go by before I get another cup of coffee . . . especially right after lunch. It's not that I'm sleepy -- I just feel the compulsion to go get that extra lift. I'm almost positive now that over-caffeination contributed to myÂ concentration problems.
Just committing to stay in the chair for a set period of time had a positive effect on productivity. I noticed how often the compulsion to get up and walk around was prompted by momentary delays, like a login process taking thirty seconds. I did not find staying in place to be as difficult as I expected. It made me much more aware of distractions from my workday, though; I became a lot more irritable when the kids would come barging in, and I'd find myself watching the clock as phone calls and other household distractions impinged on my attention. Even with close attention to my time, I figure I lost at least an hour of productive work time to nonsense.
If you're going to break a habit, you need to figure out ahead of time what behavior you will replace your compulsion with. It's a lot like directing a child: it's a lot easier to tell a three-year-old to "come over here and build with me" than "stop hitting your brother." Inhibiting a behavior is harder than redirecting it to something else. I wound up replacing my Scrabble interludes with writing blog notes, but I don't think that will hold up forever. I probably need to find some eBooks to put on my Treo PDA.
Interestingly, by staying more concentrated on my work during the day, I felt less inclined to be pleasantly distracted by things like Scrabble. Distractions tend to adhere to the distractable. Once I was in my work groove, I just wasn't in the mood.
The end of the work day is a very bad time to plan to do an important-not-urgent task that you don't want to do . . . like writing your billing notes for the day. I just don't have the psychic reserves at that point to gear up for it. I may have to move that task to the beginning of the following day, when I have more gumption to tackle it.
Scheduling an explicit time to do particular tasks is an excellent way of finding out that your excuses for "not having enough time" were largely just that: excuses. When I consciously set aside the time to work on certain SKS duties I dread (like porting the website to a cheaper provider) I found out that I really just didn't want to do it. It was dreadfully fascinating to watch my mind spin out new rationalizations for not doing it, once the time obstacle was removed. Once again, I have encountered the perils of trying to rely on willpower at the end of the day, when willpower is at low ebb.
The biggest payoff from all this was the level of my conscious awareness of what's going on. All the constraints I had implemented were making me very aware of what I was doing, every moment of the day. Even though it felt tight and constraining, it also felt wholesome and good. "Now the eyes of my eyes have been opened . . . "