It feels like I’m always trying to be as productive as I was in a previous period of my life. In college I remember wishing I was as productive as I was back in high school, and now that I’m a few years outside of college I often find myself wishing I could be as productive as I was back in college.
Measure the raw output or work units produced, my time in high school certainly wasn’t the point in my life where I was turning around the most stuff… but it still feels like it was one of the most productive periods. Looking back, I think one of the key contributing factors was how few responsibilities and requirements I had. Sure, I had to attend school for X hours a day, but outside of those hours (and a dab of homework) I was free to use my time as I wanted. There was a very low probability that I’d be interrupted or otherwise thrown off whatever course I was on (thanks, in part, to the reliability of CATV equipment) which meant that I could spend hours or entire weekends working on whatever I pleased.
Additionally, I didn’t have to worry much about fulfilling any social obligations in high school. Academics provided ample opportunity to interact with my peers, and extra curricular activities provided a great framework for social interactions outside of the classroom but still in a well structured form. I like to think I excelled at this sort of thing.
In college, there was still an expectation that you would attend class but schedules were rarely back-to-back, I couldn’t get my 6 hrs of learning in for the day and have the rest of the day to myself. There were lots of gaps and pauses, periods of time not long enough to get serious about anything but just long enough to need to do something.
Around this time my responsibilities started to rise with a growing fleet of servers in what I might describe as a hostile environment. Things weren’t crashing left and right, but it was uncommon for a week to go by without at least one episode of multi-hour firefighting. A weekend plan to build X may very well end up with being a Saturday resolving the system dependencies someone borked and a Sunday trying to quickly pull something together.
On the social front, college didn’t provide particularly well structured social opportunities for me. It was now up to me to get involved and take a more active role developing a social life which I was dreadful at. I compensated by getting better at working which helped regain some of the productivity lost to social failures but not all of it.
Now that I’m done with college and gainfully employed I expected that my productivity would recover and surpass high-school levels. In my default work state it certainly hasn’t. Currently I work in a extremely interrupt driven environment where the rate at which interrupts occur surpasses the available resources to address them. I believe pretty firmly that failing over is an absolute last resort so I often jump in and help out when others aren’t available.
I certainly can’t categorize the operational environment as hostile (servers/uptime is blissful) but I didn’t anticipate the productivity that could be lost to email and meetings. In general, people get dumbfounded if I don’t show up to a meeting because I think it’s a waste of my time. I’ve also found that not replying to email in a timely fashion leads to confusion that takes longer time to clear up than a quick response would take.
Socially, work provides very little in the way of stimulation which means that I have to try and compensate on my own to fill my social quota. When I was living alone in CA I just gave up on this entirely and I think my efficiency suffered slightly but I do a little better these days. I’ve always struggled, which is a polite word for dreaded, planning social engagements / activities but I’ve realized it as a necessary component, at least in some form, to help balance things out. That doesn’t make it any less of a drag on my productivity though, I’ve gone from showing up to a room where all my friends were everyday after school in high school, to working on projects with friends in college, to today where sometimes I’m able to think of and execute an idea.
I suppose I should really stop trying to rewind time and get back to the productivity I use to have but instead figure out actionable changes I can make to the current state to have a positive influence on productivity.
Good night moon.