evaluate before you practice

Time Tips from XKCD:

a comic graph from XKCD asking:
from XKCD: Why It’s Important to Reflect & Evaluate Before You Practice Change


I’ve gotta be honest: I don’t know enough math to really understand this comic ( though I appreciate hearing about it from Karl). I believe the point, though, is that the first step in productivity is to make sure that whatever process you’re putting into place is really necessary. The lifehack threads are full of promises: Lose weight! Save money! Save time! Learn how to relax twice as much in half the time in order to be three times more productive! But rarely do they include the first step: evaluate before you practice.

The problem is that the changes themselves come at a cost. I’m experiencing that right now with my attempts to be more mindful of spending. I have a tiny app that is simply a budgeting record. It records every transaction along with simple categories which theoretically would give me a better idea of where my money is going.

The problem is that those few seconds after each transaction have an awkwardness around them that makes it inconvenient to record the purchase. In addition, being a freelance type with multiple income streams means that my influx of money is not terribly predictable, neither does it always fit into neat categories. Wrap all that into a big “try to be more mindful of your surroundings and spend less time on your phone” general life goal and you have a big problem with establishing a habit.

So I continue to try different methods to set up an environment – a portable environment, since it has to come with me – for keeping track of my money. And it’s going to take time, both in small increments and in the larger scheme of things, trying to understand the ways that my spending habits are currently functioning and how I can improve them.

Take the Time to Evaluate Before You Practice or Change Habits

I’m pretty sure I need to improve my money skills. Trust me on that. But what if I decided to add in time tracking? There are apps that help you log every minute of your day, and many productivity gurus will tell you to do just that. Should that be my next step?

I don’t think so, for one very big reason: time is not an issue with me. I recently spent fifteen minutes writing a short piece, off the cuff, and it turned into one of the most popular pieces I’ve ever written for the specialized audience it was intended for. At the same time, there were articles I’ve struggled for hours over that have barely made a ripple.

Lesson learned: time is not the factor in terms of my writing. If I took the time to track every minute of my day, and then optimized it so that somehow I was dedicating more time to writing…there is no guarantee that my writing would improve.

On the other hand, maybe putting myself in high-pressure fifteen minute production environments would be worth it…

The moral of the story is this: systems tend to self-organize into optimum modes. So before you go changing the habits of a lifetime, check and make sure they need to be changed. It’s possible you’ve set your life up the way it is for a reason.

Put another way: if it works, don’t break it.

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