Confusing the ideal for the necessary

Link post

I had many meetings that day, and a lot of managing issues to attend, so I found myself thinking “I just can’t get any research done today”.

It was not the first time I had thought that thought; but it might have been the first time I applied my main epistemologist’s tool to it: I asked “Why?” For I did have time to work, not that much, yes, splintered, yes, but enough to make progress.

So why was I discarding the very possibility of making progress and working on my research?

Because I had internalized a false requirement: that I needed large chunks of time with no distractions to do research. That it was a precondition to me doing anything worth my time, and so investing little pockets of time here and there was a mistake.

Of course, long sessions of deep work are reliably more productive than 15 minute sprints peppered through a day of meeting. It’s a reliable and reproducible finding, and I’ve experienced it again and again in my own life.

Yet the point here is different. Instead of simply recognizing my lack of ideal condition, and deciding whether it was still worth it for me to do research despite the discrepancy, I automatically discarded the possibility of doing research. I turned ideal conditions into necessary conditions.

And it’s even worse than that. Because I could not even consider doing research despite distractions, I never exercised this specific attention muscle. I never trained myself to go back quickly and smoothly to my train of thought after an interruption. Which means that when I had to make progress despite the constraints and distractions (for example when I had both an important research deadline and documentation/​posts to write), my research suffered far more than it needed to because I was not trained to get the best out of the little time I had.

Which naturally leads to the more disturbing question: how many instances of this kind of thinking am I not noticing? How much am I costing myself by subscribing to necessary conditions that aren’t really necessary, just ideal?