Ultra-efficient mode – Today’s entry will be relatively short (OK, not as short as I thought... I guess I got carried away), but I just wanted to write something. Let’s face it—the site has been rather moribund lately. But this will hopefully change in the coming days. Why? I am switching into high-gear. I am going into ultra-efficient mode.
I’ve had enough work to keep me busy lately, but I can’t say that I have been working efficiently. But I received some news the other day that turned the hill of work before me into a mountain. The news is that my translation of my professor’s history of Korean literature is going to be published by a publishing company in England. I haven’t discussed the process very much here because nothing has been certain, but it appears that the company has decided to publish it (and that I am the last to find out), so I’ve decided that it’s finally OK to say something. I will post details when things become clearer, but that may take a while. In fact, I may not write about this again until the book is actually finished.
As good as that news is, it also means that I have to prepare the index/glossary as soon as possible. I’ve never prepared an index before, so I’m not really sure how to go about doing it, but I figure the best method is to just pore through the manuscript and pick out significant terms, works, people, etc. I spent quite a bit of time doing that today: I got through about thirty pages (the entire manuscript is nearly 850 pages) and have 150 index headings so far. This worries me a bit, because if I continue at this pace I will end up with almost 4,500 index headings, and that seems like a lot. But I’m guessing (and hoping) that the number of index headings per page will go down as I progress.
Even after I finish listing all the headings, I need to come up with concise definitions for all terms that need defining (thankfully not all of them will). That’s going to be the hard part, and I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to it being finished, but not to doing the actual work that it will take to finish it. But I guess that’s always the case.
Needless to say, this is on top of all the work I already have to do, so it quickly became clear that it was sink-or-swim time. The fact that I am even writing this journal entry should show that my idea of swimming is not to work every waking second of the day. That’s not really necessary. I have plenty of time during the day to get done what I need to get done, but only as long as I make efficient use of that time. And, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t been working very efficiently lately.
For me (and many others, I’m sure), the bane of efficiency is the internet. It’s so easy to get distracted by the bustling stream of information flowing down the highway that one click might mean an hour of lost time. So I’ve reinstated my primary rule of working at home: no internet browsing before five o’clock in the evening. This does not include using the internet for work, like accessing online dictionaries or doing necessary research (although I have to be careful with that too), but it does include things like chatting on ICQ. I check my email twice during the day, once in the morning and once at lunch (and then again in the evening). The rest of the time is devoted to work. It’s amazing what you can get done when you just buckle down and get to it.
There are certain people whom we say “thrive under pressure.” Well, the fact is that everyone thrives under pressure—the whole point of stress is to propel us into action. Yes, we all have breaking points, but a reasonable amount of pressure is almost a requirement for human beings to get anything done. Some people are capable of generating this pressure internally—we call these people “motivated.” Others aren’t so good at generating pressure and have to rely on external pressure. These people (like me) end up being procrastinators. We procrastinate because we don’t feel the pressure until a certain point, which usually comes very late in the game.
When we talk about “finding ways to motivate ourselves,” what we really mean is finding ways to create pressure, either by figuring out how to do it internally or by manufacturing an external source. All of the rules I make are one way I create an external source of pressure. No internet browsing before five o’clock. It’s a simple statement, nothing more. But just making that statement—just putting my foot down—is enough to create pressure. See, I’m a big stickler for rules. Unless I feel that a rule is unjust, I abide by it. I think a lot of Korean drivers hate me because I stop at red lights, even if that red light is at a deserted intersection in the middle of the night. I refuse to throw trash on the ground no matter where I am—if there is no garbage can around, I will keep the trash until I get home. This is just the type of person I am. So when I make a rule for myself I usually stick to it.
The problem, of course, is that rules I make for myself carry less weight than rules created by society (and thus backed, at least in theory, by the weight of the judicial system). You’ll notice that I said above I was reinstating this rule. Yes, I made this decision before, but it didn’t last. The interesting thing, though, is that for me it’s never a gradual relaxation of the rules. It’s not like I’ll stick to the rule and then, a month down the road, start browsing the internet at half past four, then four o’clock, and so on. What usually happens is I arrive at a point where I have finished a major project and suddenly don’t feel the need to remain in ultra-efficient mode. So I suppose it’s fortunate (I guess) that this is probably not going to happen until I finish my dissertation. Yes, I have that much on my plate right now. It makes my head spin when I stop to think about it, so I try not to.
Another rule I’ve made for myself is no Oblivion before at least nine o’clock. A little explanation (and a confession) are in order. Despite my earnest pleas, my brother Matt insisted on getting me a computer game for Christmas (it was a bit late), namely Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. He got it for me, of course, because I wanted it. I did everything short of beg him not to get it for me because... well, because I wanted it. The sad truth is that I am (or used to be) an avid player of computer games. In university, I once spent an entire day playing a game in my dorm room, not leaving my seat once to eat or go to the bathroom. When I went outside the next day the sun nearly blinded me, and the sight of me throwing up my arm and screaming in horror prompted my friends to nickname me “the vampire” (yeah, that’s where that came from, just in case certain people were wondering). Sure I’ve got nothing on the Korean guys who don’t move for an entire weekend, but they’re usually not alive at the end of that weekend either. I might have been able to pull an all-nighter playing games in university, but now I would just fall asleep at my desk.
Anyway, I guess it was about a week or so ago that the game arrived. I opened the package with steady hands and a wary eye, like a recovered drug addict seeing his former master for the first time in a long time. I was calm. I read the manual from cover to cover (I don’t know why, but I love reading game manuals). I waited a day before installing the game. Then I started it up, watched the introductory movie, and... salvation. The game wouldn’t run. I looked on the side of the box. My video card wasn’t supported.
In that moment I mostly felt badly for Matt, if that makes any sense, but I was almost relieved that I wouldn’t be able to play the game. I was disappointed, sure, but I would get over it. What I didn’t realize is that the Devil had not given up—he would have my soul yet. An innocent Google search—the name of the game and my video card—led me to Oldblivion, a program that allows the game to run on older video cards by downgrading the shader technology used. I stared at the screen dumbfounded. Part of me was psyched, while the rest of me pretty much just wanted to cry. I succumbed to temptation, installed the program, and began playing the game. True, the graphics aren’t as nice as the demo videos I had seen, but it’s still pretty amazing. And immersive (especially with the user-created mods that fix some of the game’s flaws). I was hooked.
The arrival of Oblivion probably coincides closely with my drop in creativity, especially here at Liminality. I haven’t touched the game yet today, promising myself that I would first get everything done that I needed to get done, both work and creative projects. So far it’s been working, and I haven’t been suffering from withdrawal. It appears I am capable of exercising self-control when I put my mind to it.
This brings me to a very important point about ultra-efficient mode: it isn’t all about work. It can’t be, because I intend to remain in this mode until I complete my dissertation at the end of this year. If I tried to work non-stop I would burn out very quickly. So it’s more about working smarter than working harder, and it’s also about doing the creative things I want to do in addition to work. It may seem somewhat paradoxical, but I get less done creatively on days when I do less work. You would think that I would be less drained on such days and thus be able to spend more time doing creative things, but this is not the case. I got a lot of work done today and used my time very efficiently, and here I am writing the first journal entry in I don’t know how long. Rather than draining my creative energy, working efficiently feeds it.
And when it comes to Oblivion, I didn’t really have a problem with it cutting into work time, but I did have a severe problem with it cutting into creativity time. Sometimes you just want to kick back at the end of the day and lose yourself in another world rather than actually have to use your brain. But since ultra-efficient mode extends to creative projects as well, I’m cutting down on non-productive time and trying to maximize my creativity during non-work time. Today is technically my first day in ultra-efficient mode (although yesterday probably counts too, since I spent all day at school studying), but so far it seems to be going well.
I’m very optimistic at the moment. I know it will not always be like this, but it’s been so long since I’ve been optimistic, and I have to say it’s quite a nice feeling. This year is going to be a whirlwind—preparing a translation for publication, writing presentations for academic society meetings, finishing my final semester of classes, writing my dissertation, and doing the stuff I actually get paid to do—but I feel good about it at the moment. This really is the final lap now, and I know that I’m going to cross the finish line in one piece. Positivity like this seems to be a rare commodity these days—I hope I can ration it out so it lasts me the distance.
Of course, I will have breaks here and there. I’ll be taking a week off in June to head to Taiwan for That David Guy’s wedding and a bit of travel, and in September another friend of mine might be stopping by on his way to China. And I’ll take days off now and then, like when the Big Ho comes over to astound me with his sausage later this month, or when I head downtown to meet up with Gord (also later this month). But for the most part it’s going to be the whirlwind. And as strange as it sounds, right now I’m relishing the challenge.