Tim Urban writes “Wait, But Why” which is the blog where calling it a “blog” is one of the great understatements in history. There’s putting a dent in the universe and he’s certainly put a dent in the internet through his mega posts on space, tech, and how to approach life.
Some of my favorite points from the interview were around his own productivity as he’s tried finishing a book over the past few years.
- You really (really) only need a few hours a day: It adds up. It’s clear it’ll add up. If you sit down and write for a focused 3 hours a day you’ll get where you want, eventually. Some days you’ll write less. Some days more. And still, much of the time you’ll just find some other thing to do instead. One thing he’s found effective: have a teammate watching him work from 9am-noon. It’s worth trying all the different approaches to focus if you can eventually find one that works.
- Audiobooks are fine: Both Tim and Lex agree that (1) audiobooks are great for learning and entertainment and (2) physical books are still a better learning experience. But (3) you’ll just get through way more audiobooks than print books.
- Revenge against your procrastination (but it’s too late): When you don’t have the right tools, instead it’s easy to let the day go by doing a little work here, a little work there, and never really getting into a focused state for any good chunk. Until it’s time for bed. Then the distractions are done and you can focus. But taking revenge against your procrastination then means you’re taking energy from tomorrow.
- The dark playground (and how you shouldn’t spend five years there.): The dark playground is the state where you know you have work to do, but you put it off with some “leisure” activity. Scare quotes because the thing you should be doing for fun ends up not being fun and not being productive. You’re not really living life. And it’s easy to go on like that for long spans. Tim Urban says he spent maybe five years like that and kicks himself for the opportunity cost. Some people go their entire lives in that state.
The first step to get out of the dark playground is to recognize you’re in it. Figure out the triggers that take you there. Then learn how and do the work to avoid it.
(Hint: the “work harder” answer might be a trap door straight into it.)