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Last updated Mar 2022 Edit Source

He begins working calculus problems in his head as soon as he awakens. He did calculus while driving in his car, while sitting in the living room, and while lying in bed at night. — divorce complaint of Richard Feynman’s second wife

Turned out I was quite wrong about goal setting and productivity. They work, but at a mediocre level, and they are boring. You set goal X, you plan out steps towards this X, and estimate the pace of progress required each day. Productivity makes you feel high, but the meh kind of high.

I’ve realized that for anything that I want to make part of myself, like coding, drawing, speaking another language, I have to go a bit crazy—idée fixe. You gotta lose a little sleep, forget to eat a meal or two, and be oblivious to the passing of time. I haven’t done any of these for a very long, long while. Until recently when I had an idea for something that could help my teaching: I relearned a website framework to build some sort of a web app. Everything took two days, and I was only preoccupied with this one thing during this span of time. It felt good. I felt alive. I knew I was working on something meaningful, and helpful.

Did I ever lose any sleep on my Mandarin journey? Did I ever get obsessed with the keys on the Roland, with scales, with the musical notes? When was the last time I finished a 350-page book in two days?

I’ve been doing it all wrong. It’s not about having a bunch of goals, trying to fit all of them into my day, and calling it productivity. It’s about that one thing you can’t get out of your head. It’s about that one thing you can’t. Stop. Working. On.

Surely there are things that need regular maintenance lest they all fall apart. But for things that make you feel alive, you gotta be a little obsessed.

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