Before I delve into the topic of productivity, I want to say that it is an honour to be the first ever Never From Concentrate guest contributor. Shoutout to Rachit and Valentin for providing me with a platform to pontificate on profound subjects and for implicitly endorsing my pseudo-intellectual bullshit. Reading through the archives, it’s admirable to see how the two of you attempt to arrive at clear conclusions about ambiguous issues, particularly when it’s so easy to be a non-committal fence sitter and thereby seek validation from people on both sides of an argument (author’s note: sometimes my self-awareness is exhausting). I hope to be able to hold myself to the same standards as the two of you and use this opportunity to flesh out some concrete opinions. Here we go:
Considering the name of this blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t begin by sharing an anecdote about a Google Chrome extension I used to use called “Concentrate.” The conceit of the tool was relatively simple; I would enter the URLs of various websites that typically hindered my productivity, specify the length of time that I wanted these websites to be inaccessible for, and then try my hardest to be productive. Whenever I opened a new browser tab and my Pavlovian response kicked in—typically, this meant checking Twitter—my browser would redirect me to a screen that showed me a picture of an orange and said “Concentrate.” If I’m being nitpicky, I’d prefer if it showed me some sort of inspirational quote rather than just a picture of an Orange, but like, what is this, TechCrunch?
I don’t have any data to reinforce this, but my best guess is that procrastination is composed of two main elements: (1) an inability to delay instant gratification, and (2) a general lack of interest in a given task. In my case, the “Concentrate” extension helped me combat the former. It gave me an opportunity to regain my perspective and think, “It doesn’t matter if Andy Richter tweeted something funny about a topical internet subject, my exam is in eight hours and that’s objectively more important right now.” Eventually, I bought a smart phone and I once again succumbed to my utter lack of self-discipline.
I read an article a little while ago that suggested that some of this might be out of my control. The author compared an individual’s excessive need to check their phones with a study conducted on rats. The study examined two groups of rats: a primary group who were fed at the same time every day and a secondary group who were fed at random intervals. The first group of rats began to sense a pattern and eventually began checking for food only at the designated time; whereas the second group of rats, unsure of when the food was going to come, began checking obsessively. This sounds a lot like humans, checking our phones obsessively because we are never quite sure when the next ‘ping’ is going to come. In the modern technological age, procrastination is now a subconscious impulse.
Unfortunately, even before purchasing my smartphone, the “Concentrate” app did nothing to combat the latter element of procrastination. It would seem that when I’m disinterested in a subject, I will purposefully go searching for distractions because literally anything else will seem more interesting in the moment. I’m pretty confident in my assertion that I’d rather watch five conspiracy theory documentaries than update my LinkedIn Profile.
I think this supports your point, Rachit, about why people tend to be more creative during periods of procrastination. In a perfect world, nobody would be forced to work towards tasks that they’re unmotivated to accomplish because it is a complete waste of human capital. Economic theory tells us that society is collectively more productive when we’re all allowed to focus on our comparative advantage. For many people, this is the thing that inspires them—the place their brain wanders when they’re doing mindless data entry. I’m not naïve enough to think that this is feasible at all times, but I think it’s worth noting that the person with the potential to solve climate change could very well be too busy analyzing lab samples to ever get to that point.