From Multi-Computer Chaos to Single-Machine Bliss
During the week of 13th to 17th Feb 2023, I came up with a scheme to “manage” my computation. The idea was to use the desktop at office, when at office and nothing else.
I thought about it on Sunday night (12th Feb) and I wasn’t prepared. My primary computer has been a macos machine for more than a year. The desktop I was going to switch to has a beefy graphics card, lots of RAM and was put to use accordingly. Hence, all the environment updates, files, projects etc were on the laptop. Given my approach to emacs management, not much had to be done - clone the repository and run a few commands. Some files had to be transferred to the desktop via a USB flash drive. Some packages had to be installed and configured for Ubuntu manually and took time. The whole setup process took about 3 hours of the Monday morning.
Desktop runs Ubuntu, which was a bit of pain because I am not super comfortable with the OS. I can handle Debian, but Ubuntu is comparatively less familiar. Anyway, by (Monday) evening I was quite sure that I am going to have to make a few changes.
- Keep a physical notebook and pen
- Decide what’s to be done next day before shutting down
- Approximate how much can be done a day
- Prioritize ruthlessly
- Manage communications
First important change was to know what I intended to do the next day.
I don’t plan too much though. I try to keep it casual - for example I want to keep in mind that I will be reading documents and writing about a specific thing. I prefer keeping things out of my mind and in “the system”, but I am not paranoid about “this much is to be done today and in a week and in a year”. I like focus and intention. Life ends, why bother about fine-grained management? It is not for me.
Before turning off the computer, I captured TODO entries. It wasn’t too much trouble but translated into another interesting behavioral update - turning off the computer was a concrete and final choice. I knew that once it turned off, I will be winding up. It was a choice to be made consciously. When not at desktop, I needed pen+book to write things down. My go-to device for such situations is a tablet with stylus. Every morning I looked at the pages and transferred things to digital storage as needed.
For the first day I wrote about two pages. And for the rest of the week I wrote a total of two more pages. I suspect two reasons for less in writing. First, I thought well about what’s to be done the next day. Second, I was writing, thinking, focusing a lot during the “computer time”, brain was anyway not in the mood of writing later. There was one exception when I “needed to write” late at night - many words were written but it must be discounted for.
I like my office, it is a nice place. Usually I am at office for about 10 hours and my waking hours are 14 to 16.
What I do depends on what I feel like that day. Sure, I have figured out ways to help get into certain moods, but the fact remains. For example, it might turn out that the mindset is not conducive to writing in the morning but reading is completely fine. It was more important that I kept a better track of the mindset.
I don’t really care if I cannot finish some of the things I had written down for the day - I would rather stay in the flow and do what I enjoy in the moment. Finer tuning with internal attitudes helped with it indirectly.
When not computing - lunch and dinner hours etc - I just relaxed. The pets are always around, ready to play. If not (they’re cats), I picked up a random book and read a random page. Some examples of such books include TAoCP and SICP.
Usually, I take ~45min walks at night and listen to something - podcasts or music. The listening part had to be given up. It was replaced by internal dialogues. I have some experience with this sort of walks and I enjoy them greatly. Initial 10min are quite weird when the brain frantically tries to think “what to do!” and then eventually settles into something. I either “latch on” to a narrow line of reasoning for the rest of the walk or think without direction. I don’t really care and don’t mind if I forget everything from the walk. I consider this “getting bored” and important.
After the walk, I always read novels, drinking green tea. It has been quite a few years since I’ve been doing this. Sometimes I read less, but I still do. These days I am reading Dune. Nothing changed there except that a bored brain found it even better.
With limited time, I stopped thinking about twitter, mastodon, youtube etc. I just didn’t care. Either there was something interesting or I was getting bored. I still checked them a little near the evening but kept finding them mostly boring. Mathstodon was never boring but it was so much information that I had to filter what is worth reading and have it stored for later reading.
I have mentioned this previously, that I don’t use smartphones. Having no computer except at work meant no way to communicate except via cellular calls and SMS. The great thing is that such a “restriction” is not at all an issue for me. There is no employer sitting over me dictating “availability at all times”. However, I couldn’t talk to friends over chats. I didn’t install Signal on the desktop and had no way to communicate except emails. It was a drawback but they didn’t complain about it too much - nice people.
The experiment has been great. I have found more optimization possibilities and simple scopes of improvement. Having identified what I enjoyed during the experiments, some easy adjustments are worth keeping.
I am going to resume using laptops and tablets at office. They’re just computers and doesn’t really matter if I have one or five of them around.
Away from work, I will not be using tablet for youtube etc - those apps have been uninstalled. The tablet is going to be for reading, music, podcasts.
Laptop usage away from office will be limited to exceptional cases - emergency work etc.
Getting bored during walks, mornings etc is extremely useful and I’ll continue with it. For example, no music and podcasts, reading news, checking social media during gaps.
Tablet is the only device I have IM apps installed on. I’ll keep them around, of course. I enjoy talking to friends, to reiterate. These apps are not for work. Work communication happens elsewhere and I’ve never had work related apps on the tablet. I stopped checking work-things “after work” many years ago.
I will also carry forward some of the behavioral updates such as noting down what’s worth doing today and the next day, making a conscious decision of shutting the computers down etc.
I suspected the limitation to be a rather large change, but it turned out to be nice one. It gave me a rhythm and focus. My days stayed exactly the same - half chaos, half scheduled. The depth of focus improved with proper space for boredom. I suspect I enjoyed it way too much and going to let it trickle in.