Today's the last full day of my time in Thailand. What I expected to be a dazzling spectacle of a holiday turned out to be quite meditative and productive. Rather than getting caught up in Phuket's crazy night life I spent most of my time in pools, on deck chairs, writing, programming and thinking. I feel like I've discovered a few things.
First, that time isn't just a quantity, it can be measured in terms of quality, too. The quality of one's output is influenced heavily by the quality of time that goes into it. High quality time is focused, long and distraction free. Low quality time is aimless, rife with interruptions and of an undefined length. Until now I've attributed my productivity (or lack thereof) entirely to my own abilities, but I now see that ability is necessary, but not sufficient for doing good work. As the quality of time is largely determined by environmental factors, control over one's work environment becomes a very important aspect of being productive.
Second, very few things are evergreen, maintenance is inevitable and this isn't a problem. My bike provided the perfect analogy for this. Before I left I got it serviced, and the creaking, soft mess I brought in was transformed into an efficient, silent wonder in a matter of hours. My bike's breaks had worn down to near uselessness without my noticing, and the chain had begun to squeak at a level that was finally concerning. How long had I been riding enduring these subtle annoyances / life-threatening defects? But who wants to take their bike in to get serviced? I just want to keep riding. This holiday was like a service for my mind that I didn't know I needed. I do have a fetish for things that seemingly don't require upkeep (case in point, my bike has dynamo powered lights, and of course, my owning a bike at all), but the truth is that almost nothing truly requires no upkeep, and that there is a considerable amount of pleasure to be gained from embracing that and tending to things.
Third, small things are important and big things are simply collections of small things. I found that before leaving I was getting hugely disproportionate satisfaction from simply having a clean desk at work, upgrading the memory on my computer and throwing away old possessions. I used to classify these things subconsciously as too small or unimportant to care about - painful chores that don't bring me any closer to any of my goals, but each of these minor, unquantifiable annoyances creates a little drag and adds a little resistance to everything. Fixing these things also provides one with an unexpected avenue towards self-expression. The state of one's desk can say a lot about you, if you let it.
A corollary to this is that small, incremental steps are the only kind we can make towards anything. Rather than looking for big solutions to big problems I'm finding it far more satisfying to continually look for small actions that can make incremental improvements. This is a very freeing mentality, as big solutions aren't actionable. Thinking small means always feeling productive and empowered.
Fourth, sometimes the biggest gains come from doing 'nothing'. The temptation has always been there on this holiday to spend my down time reading or programming as these are measurably productive pursuits (number of pages read, number of changes committed...), but what does scribbling my thoughts down achieve? What anxiety-inducing problems does it solve? A lot, it turns out. I'm quite aspirational and as such I spend my life living in some imagined future and worrying about whether it will be good enough and wringing my hands about mistakes I've made and mistakes I've yet to make. All that worry is useless, though, and betrays an unconscious approach to life which, left unexamined, has no hope for improvement. Pausing to reflect and think strategically is the only way to solve problems of perception, which it seems to me are the only real kind of problems.