A draft post from a year ago that I didn’t put up then, about a problem that I had forgotten about:
I recently woke up, and do not appear to be aggressively pursuing anything worthwhile, for instance understanding the future of artificial intelligence, or trading my precariously slung dressing gown for more versatile writing attire. I did make some coffee, but am falling down on actually drinking it, and it is on the other side of the room, so that might be a thing for later.
My impression has been for a while that I am just a worse human in the morning, and then gradually improve toward the evening. Such that I can spend hours incrementally trying to direct my attention toward some task and carefully reflecting on why it’s not working and how to improve the situation in the afternoon, and then just do it without problems after about 8pm.
I’d like to figure out what’s so great about the evening, so I can have more of it in the morning. But a problem with my impressions are that they are very vague. It is pretty unclear to me what exactly goes wrong earlier in the day. I can’t point to things and say ‘aha, five instances of bad thing before noon, and none later in the day’. And looking at my own mind at a particular moment, I can’t easily say it is in one state or another, though I often have the sense over the day that it did get somehow better.
(Mental states are tricky—it seems to me that for some of them you can internally point at a quality of it that is clearly there or not, but for other axes the change is more subtle. Like watching a film you can instantly tell if it changed to being in black and white, but it is harder and slower to tell if it changed to really emphasizing Bob’s point of view at the expense of Sally’s.)
I could perhaps log my time using Toggl and look for patterns in what time of day work blocks are, but there are a lot of confounders, like the fact that official work time is in the day and popularly coordinated on social time is in the evening. Or for whatever reason, it feels a bit hopeless.
Given that it is early in the day and I do at least feel like writing, I thought I’d write down what it is like somewhat, so that I can compare to later.
Here are some features of my experience:
- I can’t easily remember if I finished my morning routine as much as I intended. If I did, there was a long while where I had the sense that there was more of it to do, but wasn’t really focused on it. I have a sense of a stack of things that I have intended to do, and set aside repeatedly, that I should go back to. I woke up and got various messages, which I meant to deal with later, but at least one was a person asking me ‘if I had had a chance to look at’ a thing I should probably look at imminently. Then I was doing my morning routine, which I have probably finished (ok, on consideration, I did finish it), but in the process I made some coffee that I should drink. I saw that I should do washing up and take out the trash. And maybe clean up my room, sometime soon. I started to plan my day, which I do every morning, but for some reason do not consider part of my morning routine. Before I finished planning, I started to write to ask someone to help me with an important thing, but then decided I should do it later and finish planning first. I was feeling unwell a few minutes ago, so maybe I should do something about that. I had intended to go to the other room to work, but now I’m not—should I go back? I had intended to ask my housemate if I could use his desk while he’s away. I need to go to the bathroom. Now I’m writing this. There is another larger scale problem in the back of my mind that I wonder if I should do something about. And another one.
- My heart is beating hard, and at about 110bmp apparently. I can see it moving my stomach. I feel a sense of urgency from nowhere.
- I am cold. The house is bright, but feels uninspiring.
- I don’t know what I want to do next. There are some mundane tasks, which I expect to take a long time for no apparent reason, and which I feel some revulsion around. I expect doing them to waste the day, and leave me with a similarly insurmountable pile of mundane tasks, and one fewer day. There are some more important projects, which I expect to take an obscenely long time for no apparent reason, and be unsatisfying, and then if I finish them, for other people to find them unremarkable, especially since finishing them probably involves lowering my standards a lot. I feel less averse to these, but trepidatious.
During the making of this list I wandered off and did something else multiple times
Seeing what I have written, a natural hypothesis is that too many things are going on and slightly occupy my attention, and I’m responding by being overwhelmed rather than organizing them and focusing on one. If this situation is different to later in the day, it could be that the onslaught of things is different somehow or that my own adeptness at organizing them and picking one is different. My current hypothesis is that the organizing them and picking one task is less natural and harder now, because my attention is hard to keep on one thing, and everything seems a little bit aversive and hard to deal with instead of a little bit appealing.
I’ll check further by trying to organize the tasks.
Ok, well notably I didn’t do that. I put on clothes, then I responded to messages, then I looked at the internet. I will try again.
While planning my day, other notes on what goes wrong:
- I have the background sense that someone expects me to do something, which is encumbering and uncomfortable. I think this might be fairly destructive. (I have previously thought that a nice thing about working at 4am or so is that everyone who might be expecting anything of you is asleep.) My guess is that running an organization doesn’t help with this, because for instance my employees expect me to meet with them, look at their work, be at work, respond to their messages. Also, other people expect my organization to produce useful things. If this were a big deal, it would predict things got radically better between about 5pm and 8pm, when people stop being at work or thinking that you might be, and better again at about 1am when people stop being awake. It would also predict that if I do the things that most obviously someone might be expecting me to do, things get better. I’ll try doing them first.
- The plan for my day would naturally include a bunch of small tasks that I feel averse to, though each in itself doesn’t seem bad. It is more the sense that they will eat the day, and I can’t get into anything. So I got a sheet of paper and wrote down many such things, especially the ones where it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t happen this time (for instance, tidying my room, doing my laundry). My plan is to do them as breaks, but not for them to be a main focus of attention. This feels better somehow, I think because I can singlemindedly direct myself at one important thing at a time.
Ok, I made a plan. I feel like it took a long time, and involved various drifting off and doing other things. Now I have four or so small aversive tasks to do, and then I can get to the main deal. If I want a break, I have a list of non-compulsory ideas.
Current hypotheses about key intermediate factors between early hours and worseness:
- Number of incoming things to do or attend to
- Tendency to find arbitrary things offputting instead of nice
- Ease of directing attention
- Sense that people are expecting something of me
- Biological factor to do with recency of sleep
I shall consider this again later in the day.
One hope about letting people see bits of my life in detail is that they will notice that particular bits seem much more stupid than in their own lives. Like one time my friend noticed that I didn’t know that WiFi was all around us, and showed me how to turn it on. Or one time, my boyfriend at the time noticed that I don’t know how to cut or chew meat, and showed me how. So comments expressing disbelief that I don’t do things in an obviously better way are especially welcome (in general, not just on this post).