Self reflection

I am a bad starter. That’s all there is to it, because this trait affects everything I do: homework, personal projects, what have you. Once I get it through my head that I’m going to do something, then I’m extremely good at continuing until the task has been completely crossed off of my list of things to do—but only once I really settle down to do something.

I’ve only found one sure-fire way to beat this personality quirk, and that’s to change the context I find myself in: if I am at school, then I’m there to get whatever schoolwork is in front of me done; if I’m at work, then by $DEITY I work. I don’t believe in being paid to do nothing.

In practice, this has historically made itself manifest by my screwing around until nine or ten in the evening before a particular crisis is scheduled (homework assignment, midterm, final), and then either sequestering myself in the library or in my room (a much less successful solution, but at least I don’t have a computer at that desk) until I had hammered things out, gotten kicked out of the closing building, or had less than three hours to sleep before I had to wake up.

That pattern characterized my entire college career (though it certainly became exacerbated towards the end), and it showed me my fair share of harrowing times. Once I cracked a math problem as I was brushing my teeth in defeat; many times I walked into exams barely conscious, and survived by ouija-board-like powers guiding my hand. One time (by far the worst) I stared at an assignment for hours and couldn’t do a damn thing on it. (I survived that time by the forgiving nature of my professor.)

This singleminded pursuit thing has some serious limitations, regardless of how it generally allowed me to be successful in school. (Nick once asked me how I did so well in college. My flippant, yet entirely honest, answer, was singleminded devotion to academics. It works, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else—you don’t have much of a life that way.) Even overlooking the lack of perspective, though, there’s a bigger problem with it—that has to do with the “single” that starts off “singleminded.”

I have begun exercising regularly, and trying to limit the amount of junk food that I consume. (This, incidentally, is far removed from “dieting.” I’m not drinking as much pop or eating as many snacks, not counting calories or consuming only meat or what-have-you.) I’ve been doing this consistently for the first time in my life… and I don’t have a damn thing to show for it. (sob)

Point is, that is The Task I’m working on right now. I have many other things on my to-do list, but none of them have pride of place—and so they don’t get started, or they get started half-assed and then linger. I have checks I’ve been meaning to cash for days now; I have half a collection of losslessly compressed copies of my audio CDs burned to DVD; I still want to add descriptions to my links page.

I’m not a multitasker, in the big-picture sense. (In contrast, I’m fine at switching between related tasks within the same overall project.) At best I can maintain multiple projects by establishing multiple contexts—but I only seem to really get one task per context, and there aren’t all that many contexts out there for me to set. And there’s a not-insignificant time cost in switching between contexts, especially when they’re at completely different locations.

But, on the other hand, it is quite satisfying to cross major things off the to-do list, even if it takes quite a while to do so.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

powered by wordpress