305: Default Now

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

Last Friday I published an in-depth piece on earning interest on stablecoins, including an overview of how I'm doing it with my money.

Alright, on to the Medley.

Default Now

I'm reading through Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. It's providing useful structure for some of the recent thoughts I had around work, life, and happiness, such as discussed in Forgetto Mori, and Is Productivity a Worthwhile Goal.

One idea the book discusses is how many of us default to using our time for some future outcome. Being more productive so we can have more time later. Working more hours so we can be freer later. Saving today to spend tomorrow.

Some of this is necessary. But when working for the future becomes our default mode, we never get to enjoy the present. And if we're constantly foregoing leisure to build up some imaginary future, then it's hard to say we'll ever stop and enjoy that future we're creating. Just as the diet you start "tomorrow" rarely works, the tomorrow when you'll slow down and enjoy your time may never come.

Instead of focusing on creating some idyllic future, we should try to reorient our use of time in the present. We should shift from a future-focused to a now-focused stance towards life. Instead of always asking ourselves "how can I use my time to enhance my future," we ought to ask "how can I use my time to enjoy the present?"

To embody this transition, we need to adjust from "default work" to "default leisure." As Very Productive People we tend to go into our weeks outlining all the tasks and goals we want to accomplish that week, but that's assuming the highest and best use of our time is to fill our notebooks with checked boxes. Perhaps instead we should start our weeks outlining all the leisure activities we want to do, and then let the work we must do fill in the gaps around them.

Leisure in this sense is distinct from what many of us do during downtime from work. We've lost touch with true leisure, and replaced it with escapism. A good way to demarcate between the two is whether you would put it in your calendar. A long walk with a friend is something you would schedule and look forward to. 20 minutes of doomscrolling on Twitter is unlikely to make it in your weekly planner.

"...the crucial point isn't that it's wrong to spend your time relaxing... it's that the distracted person isn't really choosing at all. Their attention has been commandeered by forces that don't have their highest interests at heart."

Escapes are the easy defaults we can fill time unallocated towards work with when we don't know what else to do. They're a symptom of mental exhaustion from work, but also underdeveloped hobbies and interests. And perhaps even a sense of aversion or guilt towards developing true hobbies.

"... many of us tend to feel that the person who's deeply involved in their hobby of, say, painting miniature fantasy figurines, or tending to their collection of rare cacti, is guilty of not participating in real life as energetically as they otherwise might."

Do you have anything you do, purely for itself, with no intent to monetize it, which you can enjoy without feeling guilty? Even activities like exercise and napping have been coopted into tools for enhancing our productivity instead of ends in themselves. Are you walking because you enjoy going for a walk? Or to check off your 10,000 steps for the day? The current fascination with mindfulness is a particularly funny example of this since many of us are meditating to be more productive. We're practicing now-ness so we can better sacrifice the now for the future. Whoops.

We don't want to completely abandon our future focus. Compound interest is quite powerful and shouldn't be interrupted unnecessarily. But it might be worth restructuring our treatment of time from output maximizing to work minimizing, and from task orientation to leisure orientation. Perhaps the question isn't "how many things can I get done," but "what's the bare minimum number of hours of productive work I can do this week to still make progress while prioritizing my leisure time."

If we can't deliberately carve out time to enjoy ourselves now, I don't believe we'll magically be able to "eventually." There will always be more you can do for that imaginary future, which may or may not ever arrive.

Having a kid definitely helps. My daughter is fascinated by simple things which would otherwise be background noise to us. Plants, patterns, mirrors, and it's always fun to hold her and look at them together. To take a break and appreciate these small parts of life that are so easy to gloss over.

But someday she'll grow out of it and learn to focus on the important things like Asana tasks and Instagram likes. Thank goodness.

Have a great week,

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