Every once in a while, I’m confronted by irrefutable visible evidence of the gap between the kind of person I might aspire to be and the one I’m stuck being. The most recent embarrassing instantiation of this gap was the appallingly strong answer to the question, “are we the kind of family who can handle buying in bulk?”
No. It’s a no on that. Decidedly, we are not those people.
Faced with a “Family-Sized” box of graham crackers intended for the baby of the household, the two adults in the house managed to eat somewhere in the neighborhood of ten servings a piece over the course of a week. On a particularly bad evening, I took a whole sleeve and a glass of red wine to bed with me while grinding through a stack of student writing.
The end of the box (and the baby’s snacks) offered a clear sign: I cannot handle foods with “cracker” in the title in anything like a responsible manner. They are so tasty to me that they override my ability to eat mindfully. Other things I can handle in moderation: chocolate, not a big deal; fried stuff, easy-peasy.
Other signs and signals can be a little harder to read, but they’re still present. When working on writing, there’s a fairly clear inverse relationship between mornings I have Facebook open and those when I push through good paragraphs. The problem with Facebook and Twitter is that they are just too easy for me to consume. For me, social media is like those graham crackers--who can eat just one serving? Who logs in for just five minutes?
Like many Nevadans this week, I have found the temptation to obsessively check the news overpowering me, such that I terrified the sleeping dog by throwing my phone across the room. I needed to physically get the thing away from me in order to plan my class for the next day.
But even on the best days, it’s too hard for me to be a mindful consumer, and so it’s better to not even be tempted when I’m trying to do my creative work. Sometimes this means putting my phone in another room; at work, I may need to close the office door; other days I choose to write in the miracle coffee shop that has resisted pressure to provide wifi.
The other grown up in my house is writing a dissertation this year, which is a particularly daunting kind of writing project. One recent week, he bemoaned a lack of writing productivity. Specifically, he wasn’t getting much done in the afternoon. Now, because I happen to know this particular dissertation writer pretty well, I suggested a piece of evidence for his consideration. Is it because you come home and putter around in the afternoons? For him, the house is a productivity zapper, each potential distraction is overwhelmingly temping to him. Though I appreciate coming home to folded laundry, far better for him to stay at work and write.
Mindless time-suck habits are particularly insidious because they make us feel bad at the end of the day when we reflect back at how the hours have been spent. Unlike truly fun goofing off—sneaking out to see a matinee or taking a mid-day break to see a friend—mindless productivity killers often aren’t even that good. To flog this metaphor a bit longer, graham crackers are off my diet, but they aren’t really a treat, so there’s little pleasure in having eaten them.
All of this boils down to a fairly simple question: what are the things that are so easy to do—too easy to do—that we don’t notice our doing them?
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote