Balancing Optimized Results and Enjoying the Process
I’ve come to see a flaw in one of my core philosophies. The idea, which I’ve written about on here before, is that standardized routines enable satisfactory results while freeing the mind to think about bigger and better things. The flaw I’ve come to realize with a blind application of this approach is that it can kill the fun of the journey.
I make coffee at the same time every day, following the exact same set of steps. My routine produces the right amount of coffee with the right level of strength, in a minimal amount of time, and leaves me with clean counter. I can do this set of 6 steps in my sleep. Literally. I do it first thing in the morning. I’ve made coffee, gone back to sleep, and not remembered doing it.
The idea of here is that making coffee is now a solved problem. I no longer have to think, and therefore I’m free to consider life’s bigger problems. I can think about what I want to accomplish today. I can think about how to solve a problem that’s been dogging me. I can think about whatever I want, and still produce the black magical elixir of happiness. It’s multichannel multitasking at its finest.
Here’s the rub: because I follow this routine, the act of making coffee no longer provides me any level of satisfaction. It’s not inherently pleasing. I don’t stop and smell the beans. I have freed my mind to think about anything, and as a result I have been “freed” to use my coffee making routine as a time to continue to be anxious about this or worry about that.
I am the parent that handles bathtime around this house. It used to be a big ordeal. I’d regularly request assistance. I’d regularly have to stop in order to fetch forgotten items or go back and re-do steps. I’d have to ask my 1 year old to change positions repeatedly. Through a series of dedicated and intentional process improvements I’ve got a bathtime routine that I can accomplish in no more than 5 minutes, producing a satisfactorily clean child in the process.
Now that I’ve run out of inefficiencies to smooth out, bathtime has turned into a chore. It’s become a thing that I have to do, rather than a thing I enjoyed doing. My child gets to enjoy short tub times, but that’s not the point.
This is not an abandon all hope, ye who enter here situation. It’s not something where the bathwater needs to go, regardless of where the baby is located. Optimization is a good and worthwhile endeavor; but it shouldn’t be blindly pursued. A well-optimized life isn’t the be-all and end-all goal at the end of the day. The solution is balance, above all else. That is and always has been my #2 Life Pro Tip1.
Or, another way of putting it:
The point of life isn’t to optimize as many things as possible, it’s to enjoy as many things as possible.
Quarantine seems like it’s coming to a close. I don’t think I utilized my time poorly at all, aside from possibly getting a little too good at Super Smash Bros. I revamped my site. I read a bunch of books. I spent a lot of evening with my wife and son. I got back into digital drawing. I practiced guitar. I learned some neat coding stuff. I wrote some notes. I wrote some posts. I worked out. I made a bunch of podcasts. I went on walks with the family. I taught myself CAD and built a standing desk.
It’s funny to think now that we went out and bought a puzzle right before all this started so “we’d have something to do during quarantine”. We would never have guessed I’d be writing about slowly coming out of it 3 1/2 months later - into a new world full of expanded personal space bubbles and people drawing smiles on their masks to make things seem less cold and unfriendly.
My Creation of the Week project is humming along. The page itself could use some TLC, but I’m happy to have established a public repository for creative output. I can’t wait to see it in a year, or five.
Top 5: Post-ish Quarantine Activities We’ve Done
- Going to see one of my best friends’ new house, & building a housewarming gift together
- Going to the drive in
- Going on a bike ride on the local bike trail
- Going to the lake 15 minutes from our house that we’ve never gone to
- Going camping with the family
I’d get on amazon so fast I’d get whiplash in my thumbs
My #1 Life Pro Tip is “Walk faster”. Because I want everyone to walk faster. Keep up. ↩