So, uh, it’s been a while.
I’m honestly somewhat surprised how long it’s been. One long year since my last post and, to be honest with you, it’s felt much longer than it’s been. Granted, the pandemic didn’t help, but either way, haven’t written much in a while here.
That isn’t to say I haven’t done anything, mind you. I’ve been rather occupied working on my computer science degree, being an Automation Developer for ACM at UCSD and the odd but quite occasional side-project I’ve picked up here or there. Saying "I’m busy" is not a great excuse, I know, but there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s unpack it.
I’ve done a lot
This past college year has been a pretty busy one for me, and one where I’ve definitely learned a lot, and frankly changed a lot. I started off by finishing up my internship, moving into an off-campus apartment, and capped it off with the wrapping up of many of my positions and projects that I’ve picked up over the past few years of college life. I’ve also taken plenty of undergraduate courses that were of various levels of difficulty1, and in the end, it’s been a wild ride. Not gonna lie, I had a small bout of senioritis for a while there, but I think it’s gone now.
I feel pretty good about what I’ve done, to be honest. Continuing my tenure as Automation Developer for ACM at UCSD, I picked up multiple leadership positions as a project manager for some software engineering projects, which were excellent for my development; I’ve learned to be a better communicator, a more understanding person, and just a better person in general. I’ve made many friends (and lost a few) and during all this time, no one would’ve necessarily labeled me as an “unproductive” person. I have been taking up opportunities left right and center, I’ve been doing reasonably well in my coursework, and also spending plenty of time socializing with my peers.2
Even so, I can’t say that I feel entirely fulfilled, and I can pinpoint the exact reason why with basically no deep thinking required beforehand, and it’s the reason I’m even writing this post.
I haven’t procrastinated!
My definition of procrastination is slightly different from most people. Conventionally, procrastination means unintentional time spent doing things considered unproductive, such as doing random chores instead of your homework, or gaming. Personally, I just label that time as what it is—unintentional—and plan to reduce it as much as possible, which I do decently well at.
For me, procrastination involves doing activities that are not part of the main objectives in my life path, and this can involve typically “productive” things, such as side-projects and reading. Think of it as “side-quests”. I love doing side-quests. (much to the dismay of Zelda in Breath of the Wild)
But in the past 2 years, my number of successfully finished side-quests could probably be boiled down to 1 or 2. I recall how, in high school, where I admittedly had much more spare time, I’d pick up a ton of side-projects, and that time was what allowed me to really flesh out my interests in computer science and beyond; I’d edit skits using NLE software like Premiere Pro, I’d play with electronic circuits, help my dad set up VPN meshes, and plenty other things. Without them, all of my unique and interesting knowledge acquired before college would never be.
Granted, college life gave me the avenue to officially pursue my interests during my work time. I’ve done that ability quite well, exploring a few fields I otherwise wouldn’t have, such as philosophy. Even so, I’m not perfectly satisfied; I don’t have the time or the courses necessary to pursue everything I want to do for academic credit. And, in the end, nothing makes me feel less happy than seeing the ever-growing pile of project in my to-do app as I never schedule those tasks in my time. And no, cutting down on my schoolwork is not an option.
So, what to do?
I’m gonna do random stuff
Surprise, surprise, exactly what I did in high school, but there’s an important distinction here.
I’ve said “yes” to many things in the past 2 years, and have followed through as best I could with almost all of them; however, most of the opportunities that I took up were presented to me by others. I absolutely do not regret any of them, and I’ve gotten a lot out of them, but there’s a distinction between doing things that were given to you and things that you wanted to do.
In a sense, I think this is why a lot of critical thinking jobs can seem unfulfilling for some; we’re not necessarily spending a lot of time working on projects we’d be interested in, but rather spending our time doing something we’re told to do. 3 I think when you’re the only one accountable for your creative work, there’s less pressure and more room for failure, and thus learning. I haven’t done much in the way of “my own side-projects” in the past 2 years, and I’d like to do more of that.
Furthermore, I’ve already thought of a couple of things to do over the summer to keep myself stimulated (outside some much-needed rest). Examples include learning Blender for no particular reason to refining my photography skills and perhaps finally coding a little toy website I’ve wanted to make for almost a year now.
Either way, as you can see, these projects are literal side-quests. There’s almost no reason for me to learn Blender to be good at software engineering or computer science. Even more directly, neither won’t making another website make me better at backend development (though it might help in the UI/UX design scape). I just feel like doing these projects. No failure, no goal, just exploration. They’re not necessarily useless, such as Blender strengthening my knowledge of computer graphics, but they’re still not direct objectives to my work or personal life.
And, at least from experience, I find that this kind of exploration is perfect for many of us.
Brains are random
It’s true. Humans learn by doing something random (or somewhat educated based on previous intuition), seeing if what we did worked, and if not, changing our tactics slightly and intelligently to finally achieve the action we intended. This is even how machine learning works! It’s crazy that this iterative process works so generally, and frankly, doing random things almost always seems to yield at least something of use.
We are all in some ways unique because our actions shape the environment differently, and vice-versa. This diversity of views, knowledge, and experiences allows for a larger pool of entropy from which to draw better information. Therefore, the more random things we do or see, the better! Each of our unique toolsets has a place in the world that we can use to then create something that no one else could. This is why success is usually correlated with trying; “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” or something like that. And that applies to creativity, too.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our experiences in one aspect of life affect all others, and in the case of work, our side-projects influence our skillset in ways that nothing else does!
Doing random things is what makes us creative, and heck, even if you’re not creative, there’s always the infinite typewriter monkey to soothe us; eventually something unique and useful will come out.4
Let’s give this idea a term
Getting to name things is awesome, but unfortunately, the idea of doing random things to improve our creativity is not unique to me.5 Chris Bailey in his book “Hyperfocus” labeled this notion of random exploration with no constraints as “scatterthought”, and I quite resonate with that term; I think it’s quite helpful to intentionally have unintentional thinking in our lives. Sounds weird, but allowing our brains time to think on its own is how we rest, build new neural pathways and come up with new ideas.
This is why I find friends saying that walks are awesome because they take much-needed time to do a mundane activity, potentially in solitude. This solitude gives our brain time to engage in scatterthought that we otherwise wouldn’t if we were on TikTok or YouTube.
Either way, decompressing from work and giving our brains time to process the onslaught of information typical in today’s world is an outstanding way to guarantee a bit of peace and quiet, no matter how hard it can be to disconnect.
Back to the topic
Gigantic tangent aside, let’s get back to the original point; what to do to start procrastinating again. Two-pronged approach: more time and more random stuff!
I think an essential aspect to my desire to procrastinate again is to get more time. And sure, disconnecting from social media helps, but it’s not the silver bullet we need. Sadly, there is a time and place for doing side-quests, and it’s not when we are stressed with work. For instance, I don’t think anyone would start reading a new fiction book during finals week, and similarly so, I wouldn’t expect myself to start doing side-quests during peak school time. That’s why I decided to take this summer as a perfect opportunity to pick this theme up.
Vacations are awesome for R&R and side-quest grinding, so try to time one of them for such an adventure. But mind you, you don’t need a vacation to procrastinate! I sometimes find that people overcommit in their career, giving no time for much else; sometimes stepping down a little can be good for you in the long-run.
Nevertheless, outside disconnecting from work, though, there is a big baddy that still needs to be addressed.
Social media moment
Disconnecting includes social media, and I’m taking steps to reduce that too. By now you probably are aware of my general aversion to conventional social media platforms (TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc.). The only two that have ever had any grip on me, to be honest, were YouTube and Reddit, primarily due to the veneer of them providing some useful information occasionally. But for now, I do need to let my brain think on its own.
It’s definitely not been easy; I still find myself gliding occasionally to these platforms, but thankfully my venture with using RSS has helped reduce the number of times I mindlessly check my social media. It’s gone down to 5 a week for the past 2 weeks from about 906, which is very much an improvement.
So far, however, I’m doing fine in terms of balance, and I certainly have more time in general thanks to the cut in social media, which is always a plus!
How do I scatterthought, though?
The scatterthought part has been more difficult for me to implement, especially since it’s kinda hard to structure unintentional time without being, well, unintentional.
I found scatterthought to be ideal when my brain wanders enough to the point where, eventually, I do pick up something to do that’s fascinating, or think of something new and interesting. The disconnection from sources of information is critical, I think, and it’s definitely a part of these sessions. I think the key technique, however, is to start them off by literally doing nothing. The boredom will get to you and will make you do something else, but since you’re disconnected, you’ll probably do something that isn’t additional work or social media. Thus, side-projects can flourish.
As an anecdotal (and perhaps obvious) example, plane rides for me are one of my most ideal environments to engage in scatterthought. The lack of internet doesn’t help, and when I sit down and am forced to do quite literally nothing for 4 hours, my brain will think of something to do or think. This entire post came out of my plane trip back to Europe!7
Alright, it’s been a long one, and I’m glad you stayed 😁. I’ve definitely written a lot and had a couple of tangents, but I do think I have a good idea of how to procrastinate again. The circumstances are ideal, my mindset is ready, and I’m all equipped with the proper techniques to get those side-projects on again.
Join me, if you like!
I’m sure many of us have to-do lists that are miles long with side-projects that are unfinished, or little hobbies we’d like to pick up that remain untouched. I know I do. This summer, I’m dedicating my time to clearing out as many side-quests as I can, whilst seeing the sights of Europe in the process.
If you’d like and can make the time to, join me in this grand tour of clearing out those side-quests8, and let’s procrastinate together! If you ever want to just have a voice of encouragement or a buddy to procrastinate along with, feel free to reach me, and I’ll be sure to respond!
Every so often, we need a little wandering in our lives. At least for me, summer is a good time to do that (thank God for vacations). I hope you’ll try as well.
Zelda can wait for us to do side-quests a little while longer. So can the world, probably.
I’m looking at you, CSE 123. ↩
In fact, most of the time I’ve spent WAS socializing; out of all the things I’ve done this quarter, social activities took the most amount of time, 200 hours more than even my cumulative commutes this quarter. That’s crazy! ↩
I will concede that I don’t think anyone likes being told what to do, but I mean more to the extent of work. There are some who find more value in life outside of work, such as in their hobbies and family, and thus do not find much reason to be creative at work. Therefore, they might get annoyed by the prospect of tasks being thrown at them without feedback. ↩
Important to clarify that random things refer to truly unique and new experiences you haven’t done before; otherwise, we fall prey to copying what we’ve done before slightly differently.
Granted, osmosis works wonders for solved problems, but in a world where our jobs involve solving (usually) new problems, it’s unlikely copying helps. ↩
The sad reality of scale; nothing is truly unique, but in a microcosm, some things could be. ↩
If you ever want a crushing reminder of how insanely connected we usually are, check Screen Time on iOS. It even spooked me. ↩
Granted, it was a 22-hour long trip with 2 lay-overs and 3 connections, which is certainly a lot of time. And yes, airports have internet, but it’s not good enough to be distracted by content streaming, etc. ↩
Sans the “traveling around Europe” part, unless you’re down 😳 ↩