The Quest for Productivity-Enhancing Programming Pants

As you may have noticed, I’m in the midst of a self-reprogramming kick so I can be more productive, or at least not feel “blah”. Saturdays are particularly blah-inducing, because I have oodles of time to myself to think about the many projects I am not making headway on. This particular Saturday, though, I was armed with a new insight from The Now Habit: say “I choose” instead of “I have to”. When I say “I choose”, I am putting myself in charge of MY OWN MISSION and rising above whatever primordial slug-like fears lurk in the darkest recesses of my psyche. Full disclosure: I haven’t read The Now Habit very carefully yet, but I did like the idea of choosing versus whining.

Most of the day had already passed me by when I started thinking about this. I have a ton of stuff that I could be doing to advance myself in the general direction of “better”, and thinking about it made me feel a little sick. So rather than worry myself with that “I have to do all this stuff blah”, I summoned up the energy to say, “I choose to act! I will acquire some comfortable programming day pants!

I should probably back-up a bit and explain. I’ve been doing a lot more programming lately for a client, hammering out the shell of an animated simulation system for a simulated virtual environment. I’d done something like this a few times before, but each time it’s been in a different language/programming environment. This time, it’s using a language I’ve never liked, Javascript, on a platform I’ve never particularly liked, which is the Web Browser. Fortunately, the situation is vastly better now as far as tools and best practices, but I still need to learn them. As a result, I’ve been spending a lot more time coding at home rather than being out at a coffee shop. I need the quiet. I need to be comfortable. I need good pants that flow easily with my movements and thoughts while adequately covering my nether regions during video conferences. I have been forced to wear some less-comfortable jeans while working at home, which were not very conducive to thought-expanding power naps. Having thrown out my only pair of sweat pants last Christmas after my sister pointed out they were (1) gross and (2) over 20 years old, I was in desperate need of comfortable pants.

Yeah, I know this is the equivalent of “cleaning the office” before starting a project, but I needed this. I wanted this. And it was going to be the anchor of a three-task group for the remaining hours of Saturday, February 8, 2014.

Three lousy tasks. My initial immediate reaction was that this was pathetic to try to get just three things done, because I have high expectations of myself despite my ability to perform. Why set myself up for feeling bad later? So I told myself that it was fine to just start with one task, and decide what the other two would be when I was done. Thinking too much about the future and what might be difficult doesn’t help me right now. There is a time for thinking ahead, but not when it comes to just buying a pair of pants. So I busted out one of Aaron Mankhe’s Frictionless Index Cards, which I use because they’re really nice thick cards, and wrote down my focus: buy coding pants. Direction set!

Of course, the first thing I thought of was all the other tasks I had to…oops, I mean “would choose to” do in the near future. First hurdle: stop thinking of the future and get back to the now. Think of the pants! The next hurdle was overcoming the immediate desire to avoid driving to Nashua’s shopping strip down by the border of Massachusetts, where we can entice them with our 0% sales tax and cheap booze. It’s often packed with traffic on the weekend, but perhaps everyone would be watching the winter olympics. It’s already 4PM so I feel really behind already…but stop thinking. Dismiss those thoughts. Future thoughts of what might happen are useless if they aren’t actually next-step make things happen thoughts. They are just fear and emotional resentment crap. Rise about that. CHOOSE. Quell the fear and move into the world. And don’t beat myself up over getting only one or two things done today. Take them one at a time. I know I’ll feel better.

Still, I needed an anchor, so I got one of Aaron’s index cards and wrote down GET PANTS in satisfyingly large letters at the top of it. I then realized I didn’t know where to go get “programming pants”. I’d done some research over the months, and knew that there were companies that made jeans out of pants material, sweatpants printed with denim patterns, tactical pants, adventure pants, and even yoga pants for men. I felt resistance, not knowing if any places near the mall would carry them but there was no sense in waiting. I will just go. The mall had the highest probability of having multiple pants dispensaries. I allocated 90 minutes to this endeavor, which means I’ll be back at 5:30. I have to be comfortable with the discomfort.

Getting out of the house was the next hurdle. I had, er CHOOSE, to wash my glasses because they were gunked up. Then I had to find socks, which meant going up stairs. While I was going up stairs, I saw where I had left my shoes by the front door, which saved me some time. Then I saw the boxes and bags of recycling that I should take out, but then remembered I needed to salt the walk outside first otherwise I’d slip and fall on my butt. I added these tasks to my index card. As I was putting on my socks, I found it interesting how irritated I was with dealing with these little things, and had an idea for making a Dr. Strangelove poster with me in the Peter Sellers role, being irritated in multiple personalities. Since I was on the way out, I pushed that thought onto the card so I could pick it up later if I still thought it was a good idea. A first step opportunity suppressed, which sucks, but bowed to the necessity of being in the moment.

418PM. Trash bagged (was annoying because it was hard to stuff). Found a jacket to wear in the frigid cold. Card pocketed. Then I saw that I needed more CO2 for my Sodastream, and there’s two possibilities: exchange at Staples nearby, or go to the paintball store with one of my adapted tanks for refill. Decisions decisions. Choose the adapted tank, since I couldn’t find my Staples card with the extra gift cash on it. WHERE IS IT? Will have to find it later. It’s now 4:23PM, 23 minutes past the time I wanted to leave, but I’m finally OUT.

The entire trip ended up taking 3 hours. Traffic was bad, but not impossible. I shot through Macy’s, Sears, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Target. Didn’t find any of the pants I was looking at, but came across some sweat pants for $7.50 and tried them on. They looked terrible and lumpy. I then saw some pyjama pants bottoms, regular ones, and tried them on. Went up a size because I rediscovered how fat I am in the ass, which meant that the legs were going to be too long. Remembered that there is a such a thing as hemming tape, which is kind of like flat fabric glue that you iron on high to melt, and acquired some. Success!

Along the way, I dropped by a Fondue store to see what they were doing, explored Dick’s Sporting because I never had been there before (they also refill CO2 tanks, I learned), dropped by the Apple store to look at iPhone 5cs (still pricier to buy than I wanted), checked out the iPad Mini as a possible replacement portable tablet, and then went home with stops at Trader Joe’s and Hannaford for grocery shopping. I gave up on CO2 with the traffic. I had some insights during the trip itself too: it was nice to get out of my hermitage and be among people who were going about their weekend mall shopping. There were tired parents scurrying after their kids, tweens thundering between trendy stores in packs of 10, coupled teenagers holding hands and whispering to each other. I saw more Asian people than I remembered existing in this part of New England, part of a general trend I’d read about more professional Chinese families moving into the northern Boston suburbs from the traditional western ones. I had a passing thought about how I am shaped by old fears, like not wanting to being “wrong” because I associate being “right” with belonging. I sometimes worry about forgetting important things, and my obsession with writing things down on my index card is a reflection of that. As I wandered around the malls and the stores, I wondered what people were seeing in me, and this reminded me of how much of an outsider I can feel like. I heard a good story on NPR about a Jewish man telling of the generational differences as experienced in a traditional steam room, and how son’s generation had learned a kind of grace about living in an ill-behaved world. I bought strawberry kefir and coconut water because it was the sort of thing my sister would buy, and I missed her.

Once I got home, I spent an hour hemming my pants; I was done, more or less uninjured, by 830PM. The day was rapidly running out. I ate a late dinner and looked at my index card once more, and realized that I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get any more done. I was wiped by one lousy shopping trip, but at least I’d chosen to do that one thing. And you know what? Today I am wearing those hemmed pants and they ARE really comfortable. I am also much fatter than I remember, and this has planted the notion of being more mindful about eating and restarting a gym regimen.

Today I have a bunch of errands to do, and a lot of code to write. I’m facing the day at 9AM and am going to get out of the house and head to Starbucks, then to my first podcast recording session of the day. There’s a few pictures I want to take of some gear, this blog post to get finished, and then a bunch of code to get a good start on before I fly out to UCLA for a progress meeting. I have to arrange for shipping more Emergent Task Planner notebooks to Amazon, where they have been out of stock for two weeks. I feel the frustration start to rise again…there is so much to do, and it seems to take away from more enjoyable tasks. But I am learning to think of choosing what to do, rather than just feeling the pressure TO do. One task at a time seems to work if I can keep my own worries and frustrations in check. For me, that one task seems to pick up riders like a bill passing through Congress, but I guess it can work.