I am going to be honest with myself here: I spend an unfathomable amount of time procrastinating important things. It was especially true this past year, during which I dropped back into college to finally finish. Although I did accomplish some legitimately good things as a result of procrastination – like downloading a small library of academic papers I’ve pulled from various databases and organizing it according to the Library of Congress’s classification system – but at the same time I spent truly ungodly amounts of time on reddit, Hacker News, Twitter, Facebook and lots of other places. Like, truly unfathomable amounts of time.
Retrospectively, it’s kind of horrifying, really. And to think that when I was just a few years younger I would spend lots of time reading and writing… Then, after a relatively brief but intense bout of depression, my procrastination habits changed. The endless, mindless, consumptive scrolling down auto-reloading streams of content to which I’d accustomed myself during this time in my life persisted, and became part of the fabric of my day-to-day existence. On the one hand, I consume far, far more content now than I ever have in the past, but that content is also unstructured. The content that is easiest to consume on a site like reddit is anecdotal, or commentary, at best a short narrative. Short, because, if it wasn’t it’d be “TL” such that most “DR”.
So, for 2016 I am not going to do anything too heroic. To say that I’d stop procrastinating is foolish, because everyone procrastinates in some way. To even set the goal of procrastinating less is probably not going to work either, because it’s not like I’ve quantified how much time I’ve wasted putting off doing necessary tasks. What I can do is make a promise to myself to make the things I do to procrastinate more mindful and active. For example, reading more books or academic journal articles about the things I’m already interested in or want to learn more about takes more cognitive effort, yes, but it also yields greater rewards. Like, rather than watching gifs or indulging a prurient appetite for bad news, about which I’ve already written, I could learn more about the world.
My goal for 2016 is to read forty books, roughly one every nine days. And, for an extra challenge, I want to read seventy-five academic journal articles as well. The challenge with the journal articles is that I also want to take some brief notes on each one: identifying the thesis statement, dependent and independent variables, and mechanisms of action where possible.
Why do this? First of all, my information diet heavily biases short-form content right now. I hope to be more regular with my own production of solid, high quality content if I have more informational “roughage” in my diet. Second, since I started 2015 by “dropping in” to finish the last of my undergraduate degree in political science, and learning a lot of theory behind finance and venture capital – a field which interests me greatly – the menu of information I had to consume and digest was already set. In the last year, whatever time I spend binging on reddit or other sources of “informational junk food” felt justified because I had syllabus on syllabus of difficult readings to work through. Now that I’m basically done with undergrad studies, save for a final essay I’m currently writing, I feel the need to maintain a fairly regimented and rigorous load of reading such that I don’t succumb to an all-junk-food-all-the-time info diet.
You may have noticed that I used a lot of nutrition and diet-themed language in this post. It’s because I just started on Clay A. Johnson’s The Information Diet, a book I added to my “anti-library” (a concept from Umberto Eco I found by way of N.N. Taleb’s The Black Swan which you can read about on Brain Pickings) when it was first released. Now I’m actually committing it, as well as other books books in this anti-library to the positive one, and I’m looking forward to doing so.