I know when I’ll be sick, two days before any physical symptoms appear. That’s why I cancelled my free trip, all-expenses-paid hotel, flight included (without cost, without charge), and complimentary unlimited (free) food from the Communitech Code to Win competition two years in a row. Well, last year, it was because I contracted meningitis and ended up in the emergency room for a midnight lumbar puncture, only to discover it was viral meningitis, which requires an intense battery of pharmaceutical remedies including dihydrogen monoxide, hydroxic acid, and extreme sleep. But this year, just two weeks ago, I withdrew from the competition the day before my flight despite having no physical symptoms whatsoever—no cough, no fever, no sore throat, no extreme death, no runny nose, nothing.
Happy new year. You’ll get lost in this post. I’m not sure what it’s really about, so I hereby declare: this is a post about my new year’s resolutions. Keep that in mind.
So why’d I cancel my (free) trip? Was it because Kitchener–Waterloo had a wind chill of −40 °C (also known as −40 °F, in Liberia) and I didn’t want to freeze? (Maybe.) Was it because I really really didn’t want to be in the same province as my ex? (No, she didn’t want to be in the same province as me.) Was it because the trip was free and 100% subsidized (without charge), and I already have a summer internship, so I’m actually saving Communitech money because if I went I’d just eat lots of unlimited free food while ignoring all their precious startup sponsors? (Sure.)
Well, not really. I cancelled because I knew that I’d be sick. Two days before the flight, I came home from class at 3:00 PM, ate lunch, and promptly spent the next twelve hours mindlessly scrolling through YouTube and Reddit. The day before, I cancelled my flight in the morning, then came home from ACM at 9:00 PM and spent the next six hours mindlessly scrolling through ~the World Wide Web~. Then I spent the next three days sick in bed with the flu.
Anyway, this is another post about time management. I mean, that link is the first post about time management, and this sentence you’re reading is part of another post about time management. Alternatively, this sentence you’re reading is part of the second post about time management, and that link is another post about time management. Keep that in mind, but forget the past two sentences you just read, I don’t know why I even wrote that, I wish I had the time to edit these posts but I don’t because I spend too much time procrastinating.
It’s not that I lack self-control. During the moment, every single one of my actions was cold and calculated, sharp as a fork, as rational as 7/11 and as carefully coordinated by the United States government lizardmen as 9/11. I had come home; I had to eat lunch; I had no idea what variational calculus was; and I’m an efficient productive multithreaded individual. Therefore, the logical next step is to fire up some lectures on variational calculus at 2x speed. But before I knew it, the playlist was over and my lunch was not. Since I had been so studious over the past 37 minutes and 40.5 seconds, and humans are just carbonated multiprogrammable megacontrollers, surely I could entertain myself with random YouTube videos until I finished eating?
I finished lunch three hours later, though it still kinda felt worth it, since I had learned three live lectures of content in the first 37 minutes and 40.5 seconds, but the remaining two-odd hours just disappeared. Just two weeks after the fact, I have absolutely no idea what I watched, although I do remember thinking, “Wow, this is highly educational and applicable to my everyday life in society, let’s watch another one,” and now I know that although the Illuminati was banned and dissolved in the late 1700s by the Duke of Bavaria, there is concrete YouTube proof that divers lizardmen escaped dissolution by hiding in the most discreet positions known to humanity at that time: our very own United States government. It was getting a bit ridiculous and I still had an orchestration assignment to do, so I activated a Chrome extension that blocks certain websites, specifically YouTube.
And that’s why I spent three more hours mindlessly surfing Reddit. Because YouTube was blocked, so what else could I do? Again, the information I retained two weeks later are the memory of thinking, “I’m glad that I read this post, now if I ever get a boyfriend who’s a doctor with access to class C amnestics, I’ll remember to check for bed bugs,” and the knowledge that snails have thousands of teeth, whose tensile strength is five times stronger than spider silk, which is a helpful incentive when you need to be encouraged to run away from evil snails that are chasing you down. Then I blocked Reddit too, but found myself on Hacker News. Then I blocked that, and found myself on Wikipedia, which I blocked, but found myself on Quora, then Google News, then Yahoo Answers, then Digg, etc., etc. ad infinitum until eventually I found myself on Kongregate and re-installing Flash to play free online games (without cost) from 2007. I remember the screen sizes seeming much larger when I was half my age. That last burst of Kongregate at 2:00 AM turned out to be the only productive activity I did after blocking YouTube, because we ultimately decided on building a spiritual dual to Gravitee for our classical mechanics project, but it wasn’t my idea so I guess it wasn’t productive after all.
Anyway, at that point I realized I would be sick.
On reflection, it was false that it wasn’t that I lacked self-control. None of my decisions made any sense. The only truth is that my actions were as carefully coordinated as 9/11, since neither one was coordinated. Sure, YouTube and Reddit are fun, and Hacker News is pretty interesting, but Quora? Google News? I didn’t actually go to Digg, but I really had to stop and brainstorm for a full minute, “I want to waste my time. What website haven’t I blocked?” in order to remember that Flash games were fun a decade ago. Well, I beat Gravitee Wars and it was not fun at all. It didn’t seem like it would be fun when I decided to play, it wasn’t fun while I was playing, and it wasn’t fun after I finished playing. It would probably have been more fun if I didn’t play, and just sat on my chair, staring at the wall or at my piles of unorganized assignments for two hours instead. So not only did I lack self-control, I lacked it so much that I self-controlled myself (for free) in the opposite direction: it took me conscious effort to waste my time, and I probably ended up unhappier than with the null hypothesis.
(Apologies to FunkyPear, whose games I really did like, in 2007.)
So why did I consciously, purposefully, through much effort physical and mental, strive to waste two days of my time, and then three more (by being badly bedridden, boooo)? I think it’s because I was already sick. The physical symptoms—cough, fever, extreme death—only showed up the day of the flight, but I think I’ve just described my mental symptoms of illness. I somehow never noticed until now, but with hindsight, I can’t remember a single instance in which I became sick and didn’t waste my last healthy day in a similar manner to that previously described. Of course, this might be because my memory sucks now that it’s crammed full of useless information (did you know that snails can sleep for three years?), or maybe I’ve simply wasted every single day of my life, including the last healthy ones before sickness. But if you’ll just increase your confidence in me a smidgen, actually, I don’t care about your confidence in me, I’m confident in myself when I say, it’s not my fault.
The traditional view on procrastination, according to expert testimony from as me and myself, is that it’s a simple failing of willpower. If you have enough willpower, you can convince yourself that submitting that assignment now instead of later will significantly decrease your stress levels, and reading about the phantom time hypothesis now instead of later will not have any positive impact on your life whatsoever. I tend to agree in general, which is why I haven’t been to Hacker News, Yahoo Answers, Kongregate, Digg, or the American Online Portal for many months, due to my impressive willpower. It even seems to apply to this situation: since I’m sick, my willpower obviously drops as I exert more energy to unsick myself, and I end up procrastinating.
It’s still not my fault, but it’s also not true. My getting sick is an edge case, where I seemingly lose all ability to do any productive work. To be realistic, the real reason I haven’t visited any of those aforementioned websites are that they’re not entertaining enough, especially compared to Reddit or YouTube. When I’m healthy, I have no urge to waste my time on these sites, and no great urge to scroll endlessly through Reddit or YouTube either. But when I’m sick, somehow wasting my time becomes a task of the highest priority, and I literally can’t do anything else, also it’s totally not my fault at all, I told you, lizardmen control my body and mind.
I’ve rambled long enough. What was this post about again? Right, new year’s resolutions.
New Year’s Resolution #1: Don’t be sick. If I want to avoid this situation in the future, all I have to do is not get sick. That means getting eight hours of rest every night, following the Canada Food Guide by eating food on plates, getting at least five minutes of sunlight or fifteen minutes of fluorescent light every day, and so forth. But I’ll probably still get sick the day before the ACM-ICPC world finals with my luck.
New Year’s Resolution #2: Go to sleep. Even if the five minutes of sunlight fails and I end up sick, I could have at least avoided this lingering sense of guilt and loss of self-worth by staying in bed instead of scrambling around searching for obscure web portals from the naughties, and I probably would have sped up my recovery too. I must have thought to go sleep dozens of times, at least every time after I blocked a new site, but due to my lack of new year’s resolutions to guide my behaviour, my thoughts went unheeded. Now, armed with these resolutions, I’ll either not get sick or not feel bad after getting sick, so I think my problem is solved.
There are other aspects of this situation that weren’t due to being sick, that is to say, they were 100% totally my fault. For example, on my identity as an efficient productive multithreaded individual: every single one of those words, when applied to myself, describes an hypothetical object that does not exist in spacetime. In particular, I can multitask, but only with a single thread, and context switches take longer than you’d expect. I know this, I’ve known this forever, if you put a TV in front of me I won’t finish eating until the show’s over, if you put a Dr. Jon Mikkelsen in front of me I won’t finish eating until the lecture’s over, so putting a YouTube in front of me, with videos optimized to be maximally addictive, can’t possibly aid in digestion. (In fact, you’ll find that “Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo,” is one among many solutions to the Euler–Lagrange equations that extremize a certain Google Cloud Functional.)
New Year’s Resolution #3: Don’t multitask while eating. Trying to multitask is so stimulating and exhilarating, I can’t help but seek that sense of pride and accomplishment that I know I’ll never get from successfully multitasking, because I can’t. So I’m not willing to give it up, but at least I’ll get rid of the most pernicious combinations. The main reason more than half my courses were below the class average during the robot summer was because I lived on campus, so without my parents’ sleep schedule restricting my own, I would usually eat dinner from 11:00 PM to 4:00 AM and never go to class.
New Year’s Resolution #4: Procrastinate on something fun. It’s flagrantly shameful when I start browsing Quora to procrastinate while I’m sick, but even when I’m healthy, procrastinating isn’t very fun. You can’t learn anything from YouTube, and Reddit isn’t meant to entertain, it’s meant for lol’ing in your head and upvoting with a blank expression, except for /r/AskOuija, which I found while I was sick and it still remains hilarious for no reason. I can’t remember the last time I played a fun video game (Gravitee Wars doesn’t count), and all my memories of brimming with expectation and excitement as school ended, sprinting home to play the next level of Super Fun Adventure Game 3—you know, what you expect procrastination to feel like—all those memories are from elementary school.
One potential outlet for procrastination is those Chinese light novels that my brother spent all of his Christmas vacation reading. We’d be eating dinner at a family gathering, he’s on his phone scrolling. Watching a movie in a crowded theatre—on his phone, scrolling. Camping out in a rural house with no internet—phone, scrolling. In the shower—scrolling. I started reading with the Zhongwen extension and it’s actually pretty easy. I even learned new words, like 迅猛龙, which means velocidragon. This is a great outlet because I get tired after reading a chapter or two, and I end up getting back to work. Wait, what on earth is a velocidragon??
New Year’s Resolution #5: Ten minutes of Reddit per day. I’ve set up StayFocusd to block both Reddit and chrome://extensions, so I literally have no way out. So far I haven’t had any withdrawal symptoms, other than not posting as frequently, which is really a good thing.
Somehow this post is reaching an end. It’s been an amazing journey. I’d like to thank my sponsors, Docker and the Московская городская телефонная сеть публичное акционерное общество, please stop reading these posts Brandon, otherwise like and subscribe. Why are my new year’s resolutions so short? Historically, all my previous new year’s resolutions (and goals in general) were simply, “stop procrastinating,” with the expected results. This year, I have a realistic shot of achieving all five resolutions and incorporating them into my personal routine. When Code to Win comes around next year, hopefully I’ll still be invited, despite cancelling last-minute every year, and hopefully I won’t be sick, so I can enjoy the free trip, all-expenses-paid hotel, flight included (without cost, without charge), and complimentary unlimited (free) food. I’m so good at writing conclusions.