“Stop trying to win at your hobbies.”
from The Practice of Groundedness by Brad Stulberg
I’ve been experimenting with productivity hacks for a long time, all the way back to my college years when the Franklin planner (remember those?) were a thing. These days, I wonder whether my productivity quest is doing more harm than good.
On the writing side, tracking word counts, page counts, writing speed, or time in the chair has never lasted longer than two months. On the music side, tracking practice time has lasted longer, but I sense it’s outlived its usefulness. It’s like the creative side of me constantly rebels against any kind of structure I impose on it. Plus there’s the question of whether to count certain things. Do I turn on my timer when I experiment with guitar pieces that aren’t assigned by my teacher? How about noodling on the couch and discovering new chords? Or when I practice my electric guitar instead of my classical one? What If I want to just pick up my guitar for ten minutes and try to play something from memory? Is that “practice” and do I have to stop and set the timer before I start?
When I knit, I don’t encounter these problems. I know there are people out there who track how many yards or grams of yarn they use up, set production goals, and beat themselves up when they miss them. I don’t do any of that, yet I finish plenty of projects without all that tracking because I enjoy the process. I tried to track my knitting for a few weeks and it sucked all the joy out of it, plus I ended up knitting less.
Similarly, I’ve somehow managed to eat a vegan diet for years without tracking how many days I’ve been doing it. Same with not drinking alcohol. Funny how the things I don’t track are the things that successfully become habits. Hmmm….
Maybe I should apply that relaxed mindset to my writing and my music too. To tell you the truth, I’m afraid to because all the “experts” say it leads to laziness. It goes against so much of the conventional wisdom out there. but conventional wisdom has not helped my productivity or my attitude at all. It makes what should be fun feel too much like work.
My guitar teacher isn’t one of those “track all your practice time” people. Instead, he encourages me to use the timer only as a way to guide focused practice chunks. For example, if I’m having trouble with a particular chord change, he advises setting the timer for 5 minutes and focusing intensely on identifying where the problems with that change are, what my body/arm/hand/fingers are doing, and how I can make my movements more efficient, relaxed, and accurate. He also explicitly told me NOT to track my time practicing electric guitar and just enjoy learning it, which I found interesting. I suspect it’s because he knows that when you only track time in the practice room, you’re tracking the wrong thing. Wiggling your fingers by rote for 4 hours isn’t the same as practicing with focused insight for 1.
So now I’m experimenting with loosening up and not tracking so much. I’m not a business manager monitoring KPIs on a dashboard, and I’ve spent too many years as an attorney billing my time in 6 minute increments. Creative pursuits are supposed to be enjoyable, and treating them like work apparently makes me wants to avoid them. I shouldn’t be surprised by that.
I don’t know if getting rid of metrics will improve anything, but at least I won’t beat myself so much anymore. Beating myself up over not “succeeding” in my hobbies — how ridiculous is that?
Interesting link: The mash-up I didn’t know I needed: a Bad Lip Reading version of Hamilton. Don’t drink beverages while watching!