The Tyranny of Easy Things

I have some thoughts about personal time management.

For years I’ve been trying to stay on top of managing my time. This has been of varying success, but for the most part I am pleased with the system (not to say my adherence to it.) I have recently noticed a few problems that I have to address, one way or another. I think these solutions are generic enough to apply to basically everyone.

🔗 Slack

Slack is a huge time and productivity sink. It’s great for when you need to have some kind of remote meeting thing, but a constant water-cooler + ad hoc meeting is not good. At my previous job I could just close the door to my office and get stuff done. Not so at ZR, where I neither have a door nor would that be sufficient, due to the constant activity on Slack.

The first thing I want to point out about this is that Slack (like all human interaction, I guess) is a system where response to a stimulus triggers another response, basically forever. The implication here is that someone asks something on Slack, you answer the question quickly, and they respond with another question, or whatever. While this may be fine, it is often a time suck that rewards people who don’t read docs, emails, or whatever, so it can benefit you to at least add latency to your responses.

So with that in mind, I have been getting in to work lately around 8 and I don’t even open Slack till after my first meeting. It’s been working amazingly well; I am able to work on my personal tasks at a satisfying rate and the world has not collapsed. If I could totally mute Slack except for a few channels temporarily that would be a better solution, but this is fine and maybe better, since I don’t have to pick the channels that are worth interrupting me (hint: none are, you can page me.)

🔗 Recency

There’s this thing where someone mentions a task and my instinct is to do it now, rather than add it to a pile. The result is that small tasks get done and long tasks end up languishing. Some immediate tasks really should bypass any form of system due to how quickly they can be done, rather than go through the overhead of documenting the task, moving it around, etc. But I think this should be considered an exception, rather than a typical or default state.

Furthermore, my current notes system has a landing page where it shows my “working set” as:

  • inbox
  • waiting
  • next steps

This is totally backwards. I should be doing stuff from next steps, rather than dispatching things out of my inbox, by default. Waiting maybe shouldn’t even be front and center, as by definition someone else is handling those tasks. With that in mind I intend to rearrange those a bit, maybe even by hiding the inbox by default.

🔗 Convenience

This one really kills me. There are things I’d like to do with my time: read more non-fiction, practice non-tech hobbies, etc. I end up doing other stuff, like reading twitter, that’s just easier to do. It’s so much easier to pull out my phone than it is to get a book off of a shelf. I could (and maybe should) just get ebook versions of the non-tech books in question (which I have no qualms with) but I feel like I should spend more effort trying to categorically fix this. I already set a time limit on twitter to 30m a day, but that’s just one example. I am going to try to reduce the burden of doing some of the things I want to do and increase the burden of some of the things that are easy. We’ll see how it goes.

🔗 Expertise

One interesting result I’ve noticed is that expertise in almost any topic is a kind of curse; if you are good at something, you are probably going to do a lot of it. In part this is due to it being fun to be good at something, but it also means you get dragged into doing that stuff. This is vague and hard for me to describe, but I feel like being great at something is both really fun and interesting, and then in the quiet moments you can think about how it’s an albatross around your neck.

I’m not sure what to do about this, other than exercize constant vigilance that the thing I’m doing is worth doing rather than just being fun.


If you’re at all interested in the system I use for my notes, it’s based on Getting Things Done, and I’ve found it pretty helpful.

If you are inspired by all these tools that I’ve built, I suggest reading The UNIX Programming Environment.

Posted Tue, Jul 9, 2019

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