DRMacIver's Notebook

The usefulness of things you don't use

The usefulness of things you don't use

Right before writing this post, I took the recycling down to the recycling bins.

Wait, sorry, that doesn't quite convey the right significance.

Right before writing this post, I took the recycling down to the recycling bins for the first time in a month.

This is stupid, I know it's stupid. But I really procrastinate on taking down the recycling a lot. I've tried various systems, and they often work for a time, but basically taking the recycling down is just slightly too annoying. I don't particularly like going down to the basement car park where the bins are in the first place, and then on top of that sorting the recycling into the different bins for it is just quite fiddly. The whole thing takes about 10-15 minutes tops unless I've really let it build up (which absolutely happens), and isn't objectively that bad, but inevitably it's always a task that is easier to leave to later than to do now.

Anyway, the thing that got me take the recycling down is that I've implemented a new productivity system.

Wait, no, don't go! I promise the bit about the productivity system will be really short.

The new system is actually an old system with a twist. The old system is just a simple daily list of things it would be useful for me to do today, which gets shredded without rollover at the end of the day (or, more typically, the beginning of the next day when I remember). I call them day plans. Day plans are very good for me, and I often remember that for weeks at a time and then stop using them. The twist is that I read Slime Mold Time Mold's post about TODO systems earlier and I really liked their point about systems which create pride in your use of them, and the calendar with crossed out days looks perfect, so now I've got a calendar up on my fridge which I cross out days that I've used a day plan. This is day one, so that part isn't really relevant except in the sense that this is the first day I've done a day plan for in months.

Anyway, the interesting thing about taking the recycling down is that the thought process that lead to me taking the recycling down is that I was just coming back from a walk and I had the following sequence of thoughts:

  1. While I have my shoes on I should take the recycling down.
  2. I guess I'll add that to the day plan.
  3. ...
  4. Or I could just take the recycling down?

So in fact I did this without actually using the day plan system.

Does this mean that I didn't need the day plan? No, I don't think so. The day plan was very useful for this, despite not being used for it, because its existence turns the problem of putting off taking the recycling down from one that I can't solve into one that I can. I've talked about such things as existence proofs before - they let you conclude that a solution exists, now all you need to do is figure out what a good enough solution looks like.

In this case the solution was "just do it", but sometimes you do actually need to figure out an alternative solution. An example of this for me recently is sleeping pills. I've talked about my recent problems with sleeping due to anxiety at night. One of my solutions to this is drugs. Initially the doctor prescribed some drowsy antihistamines, because they don't like to prescribe the good drugs because they're addictive. I decided it was better not to argue and just took the prescription, and hated them about as much as I expected - I feel awful the next day.

Yesterday I had another conversation with a GP where I asked for some better sleeping pills. He explained that they don't like to prescribe those because you really shouldn't take them every night due to the addictive nature. I, in turn, explained that god I didn't want to take them every night. Ideally I'd never take them, and that having them beside my bed and never taking them was really the optimal use of sleeping pills in my view.

See, the worst thing about anxiety at night is that it very easily escalates. If you're feeling slightly anxious it very easily turns into "oh no is this going to be another of those nights again? I really don't want to be awake all night, that would be awful" etc. This rapidly turns into a much greater level of anxiety.

In contrast, if there are some sleeping pills next to the bed, the problem is solved. I've put a cap on how bad it can get, because the answer is just that it can get bad enough that I have to take a sleeping pill, and that's not that bad. The problem with the drowsy antihistamines is that it is that bad to take them because the next day is going to suck.

As well as curbing the initial anxiety loop, this also opens up the opportunity to experiment more with other solutions. Get out of bed and have a chamomile tea, put on a Slay the Spire video, read for a little bit longer and try again, etc. A problem that you can guarantee is solved is one you can experiment with, because it lacks the sense of sense of desperation that surrounds a problem that is urgent, important, and possibly unsolvable.

Anyway, the GP was very relieved to hear me say this and prescribed me some better sleeping pills (I've not actually picked them up yet though).

A third example relevant to me today is that I have an absolute rule that I don't have to write anything I don't feel comfortable writing. This month has mostly been writing from the heart, and the process for that is that I rummage around and find something that feels important to write about, and then write about it. Or I safeword out - if the thing that feels important to write about is something where I go "No, absolutely not", I don't, I can just write something else. That happened today, but it hasn't otherwise happened. On the other hand, many of the topics I've written about probably wouldn't have felt safe to write about if I didn't have that out available to me. This is essentially a variant of Believing that you can stop - the ability to stop helps ensure that you don't have to.

I think this sort of situation is very common, and often results in critical things that look like slack getting cut. If I can get things done without the day plan, I don't need the day plan, right? If I can get to sleep without taking a sleeping pill, why do I need the sleeping pills? As a result, often you get rid of the thing you weren't using, and then are suprised when everything gets worse, because what the thing was doing for you was providing you with the ability to not need it.