The Lies of a Meandering Hobbiest

In a post 2020 daze of hopeful self improvement, I decided to focus the start of this year with a theme (this is CGPGrey's idea). I chose to theme this new winter on Focus. The internet has been eating away at my ability to maintain a train of thought for more than 5 minutes, so I decided it might be time for me to reclaim some of this.

This made me realize that I have a lot of hobbies.

I'm at maximum capacity and every time I start something new, inevitably, time restraints cut out the old. We have a limited amount of time on this earth, most of which is spent working and sleeping or generally providing for ones needs; what precious moments we have to spend on whatever is surely an important activity.

I'm not really talking here about consumption hobbies where you are enjoying somebody else's work. This isn't to say I don't watch what YouTube decides will consume the most amount of my hours and read the occasional book.

I'm talking about active hobbies - active in the sense of the "hob-ee" participating. So like yoyo-ing, or tarot reading, or cross stitching. A task that not only floats the proverbial boat but also requires you to row. For me, I flit between these like a firefly. For a while, I focus hard on it, let it consume me and shape my identity.

One month I'm decidedly engaged in building a chess engine and leaning about bitboards, the next I'm learning a speedrun for Mario 64.

These activities are vastly engaging at the time - but often end up leading to goals unmet. My chess engine remains unfinished. I didn't achieve a sub 20min time in Mario (PB is 22:40 if you're curious). So is it a total waste of my time to pick up that task? Maybe, maybe not.

Setting a defined goals does help to get a metric for progress, but is leaving unfinished things around a very bad thing?

Certainly for my software hobbies, a goal unmet is a product undelivered. Usually I'm not building software to solve actual problems I have, but sometimes I am, and sometimes these things remain half built.

The same is applicable to a lot of the creative things I've taken up. I have a SoundCloud page and have produced a couple of songs I'm happy with, but I have a lot of random ideas lying around now useless.

This is a lot of scraps of papers scrawled with what at the time was a meaningful thing, that is now a lost thought. This is suppose is the burden of the unfinished. When these build up they cause a kind of lingering agony - an ever-growing well of muck that sometimes you cringe at the thought of.

So in the name of focus, what can we do about this whole mess?

At this point I say empty the well. It isn't worth caring about. Baggage is baggage and if you free yourself from it you can do more interesting things. The spark that was in me at the time when I was working isn't there, and that I realized is an important component.

These are the lies. The lie that all of the little hobbies you have are things you'll come back to.

I'm not advocating to stop all the projects you've told yourself you want to finish. But I think we need to better realize the reasons we decided to do this thing in the first place. If the goal is, as it often is, to relax, then spend the time relaxing. Unpainted miniatures and a pile of grey plastic? Who cares, you'll get to it.

But let the projects most important to you grow up.

I think doing this is letting the project itself transcend the world of free time. In some sense, work, yuck. Which isn't to say it can't be relaxing - the state of flow is for many is innately cathartic. By using a different classification we can avoid mixing signals and feeling bad about something that really is just supposed to be fun.

Have hobbies to which you flit and fly between, where productivity isn't the end goal but instead it's learning and just enjoying the peace of the activity itself. If the thing ties a knot in you, and you become distraught at the idea you aren't finishing it, start treating it like work.

When I say treat it like work, I mean start applying time management techniques, and really start tracking the things you need to do. An ill defined goal is the antithesis to productivity, and these are especially common in more creative tasks.

But if you start tracking the things you're doing in, for me at least, they become real. One can start making progress. Making deadlines for yourself. You may learn that perhaps it isn't worth finishing. But we're not aiming in the dark anymore once the thing has achieved this project status, it's now got some defined metric.

I find this idea of classifying your work valuable for focus and also sanity. It isn't sane to look back on every half hobby I spent two weeks doing and think it's something I need to come back to. Just focus on a set of things at hand, and let your relaxation time be just that.

~ devoxel

I'm still trying to figure out what projects to track. And how to actually commit time to these projects consistently. So I'll try to follow up if I figure that one out.

Also it's slightly ironic that the first thing I write on this blog is about hobbies when itself is just something I decided I'd wanted to do for far too long. It has not yet achieved the prized side-project status.