It starts out going so well. I'm focused, ideas are flowing, and I'm putting them directly into my code or blog post or weekend project or whatever. The break from inspiration comes when I decide I don't want to work on something right now. Then my brain revolts. This essay is about what happens in my brain when I reject an idea. It comes from the synthesis of many sources which I don't remember, and hopefully it will be useful to you in understanding your own cognitive process (assuming you don't mind slightly-more-flowery-than-necessary language).
If I have an idea, I have to write it down. I am a cyborg, and the pad of paper is my augmentation. Paper does not forget. It does not change what I write. I would change my ideas later on to sound more reasonable, but paper does not change a thing. The pad is an extension of my long-term memory that actually requires less processing to store. It is an overflow file where I can route the excess bandwidth during peak times and come back to parse the logs when things have died down.
Ironically, I am not writing this on a pad, or paper of any kind. I did use a pad earlier, to capture fleeting thoughts during a speech. When high-tech isn't available (for whatever reason), low-tech is well-developed enough to handle some scribbled half-baked notion, as it has been for millenia. While driving, I dictate voice memos to myself (for safety as much as anything). At my desk I use whatever program is at hand -- or a pad, or a post-it note, or a piece of scrap paper, or my PDA... as long as it is captured somehow, I can attempt to salvage it later. While writing this short essay I opened two or three tabs in various background applications as a way to record ideas that were flashing through my mind.
There are three things that can happen to an idea after you have had it:
- it can be forgotten and all potential lost,
- it can be acted upon and made to serve you, or
- it can be ignored, sinking into disuse but not erasure.
The first is unfortunate but rarely fatal. The second is the best case, but it can monopolize your time. The third is the killer; an idea ignored comes back again and again, sounding worse each time but never going away. Know this, that either you will cause your thoughts to serve you or you will be made to serve them. It is a tyranny of the mind, and you must capture them somehow. Otherwise your mind may choose to hold onto its ideas until you are ready to listen again. Even if you capture an idea only to throw it away later on, now it is out of your mind and you can move on with accomplishing other things. If you were not going to act on that idea, then you have forcibly moved it from the third case to the first and avoided the mental fatigue that accompanies an idea that is ignored!
So, with apologies to Frank Herbert:
I must not procrastinate. Procrastination is the mind-killer. Procrastination is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my idea. I will permit it to pass over my mind and through my fingers. And when it has been recorded I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the procrastination has gone there will be nothing. Only my productivity will remain.