Pandemic writing practice

About 3 min reading time

Living through a pandemic is rough. I've been thinking about how I spend a lot of time consuming content. After work, I sit on the couch and look at netflix, tiktok, twitter... I refresh the new york times and washington post. I look at hackernews. I'm chasing that dopamine hit.

The brain is a plastic organ, changing over time in response to stimulation. I really enjoy when I'm thinking actively. I enjoy producing. But, just like with my body and exercise, when I don't do it enough... it gets harder.

Don't get me wrong, I spend a lot of time thinking. My job is cognitively demanding. But, I feel like I'm not being as stimulated as I could be across the board.

To break this down, I'd like to start by exploring input to output ratios of various activities. In this exercise, I think it's important to try not to judge myself or others. It's hard. I probably will. When I write the word "TV," I get into a very judge-y, finger-wag-y headspace. I'm not sure that's productive.

Input: like stdin. It's things I take in from the world

Output: like stdout. Talking, writing, drawing, even moving maybe?

I'd like to look at these few example activities with another axis: "CPU load." How much do they make me think?

I want to talk about how I spend a typical work day since COVID.

  • wake up
  • feed the cats
  • turn on NPR
  • have 2 espresso
  • read all news sites
  • Try to get revved up for the day... try to see it as exciting, try to understand what's going to happen.
  • This is easiest when I have a feature i'm excited about or a deadline. It's hard when there's a lot of meetings or i feel like i'm trudging through something exhausting
  • Start working
  • Having meetings
  • Do more work
  • Look at twitter
  • take a walk
  • At some point lunch
  • More work
  • twitter
  • More meetings
  • At some point work stops.
  • Start thinking about dinner
  • Watch some tv
  • cook sometimes
  • watch some tv
  • twitter
  • 20 min on the exercise bike while watching tv
  • shower
  • tiktok


Aside about noticing gaps here

An interesting observation about the chart above... By my own assessment, I don't really have any high output mindless activities... I'm not sure what they would or could be....

What's getting me motivated to make changes in my life is all the "low CPU" input tasks my brain is doing after work. Aside from talking to claire over dinner, I feel like I'm "vegging out." It has a very brain death feeling[1]. Tweet by tweet. Each requiring no critical thought.

I also think it'd be nice to find things to do when taking breaks... I feel like i'm doing a lot of ADD-esq refreshing of COVID numbers.

It's not like I think you should be outputting all the time... It's not like I think you should be in deep number crunching all the time. I think you need a healthy balance! I think it's good to have time to rest. But, I think my outlet for processing stress has been to consume massive amounts of thoughtless media. I'd like to change that.

So what am I going to do? Well, for one, I'd like to start a writing practice. I want to write every day. Not something for others to read. Just to get some output. I think it'll help me think, but I also think it'll be good for my brain. Just like exercise. I'd also like to read more... we'll see where that goes.

I'd like to have a dashboard. It can be spreadsheet for now. It just tracks if I'm doing OK with exercise and writing... or maybe sleep, exercise, healthy balance of IO and CPU load.

I think i need to find some passive input that is emotionally salient too. Like a good fiction book to dig into. Something to do before bed that has me thinking, retaining state

Another thing I'd like to discuss is that there are times where there is no input and no output but there's still CPU activity or memory access. Think about a long walk where you're thinking through something. You're not producing. You're not consuming. Or maybe you are and the read and write streams are just pointed at your brain.... I think that time is important to. I don't make enough time for it. All of this activity ultimately comes from that kind of time

  1. people who watch more hours of TV have faster cognitive decline ↩︎