The sixth installment of the 7 Spins on 7 Sins series features the sin of Sloth. It's the hardest sin to define, but it comes down to the disinclination to exert any effort. While we associate laziness to this sin, it can also mean the avoidance of any spiritual work as well. Sloth is one of the Five Hindrances found in Buddhism, which sees sloth as the heaviness of body and the dullness of mind which drags one down into inertia and thick depression. But, as the terrific piece by Damien DeVille also demonstrates, sloth can be defined in so many other ways. Damien's post is a wonderful example of how sloth can be disguised as work, and Damien pulls it off with humour and honesty. Thank you Damien for being very un-slothful in contributing this marvelous work! - PS
When Paul told me he’d like me to write on sloth, the first thing that went through my head was, “Why did it have to be sloth?” I pride myself on not being lazy. I pride myself on my effectiveness. I get things done.
I just checked off the last task of the day in Todoist and the app gave me a virtual high five with a serene picture of I don’t know what, and the message “Enjoy your day. Today you completed 19 tasks and reached #TodoistZero!” I do love checking things off the todo list.
A few years ago, I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and fell in love with the idea of getting my lists of things to do out of my head and into a system. For me, this entails making lists of things that I need to do, organizing them, sometimes reorganizing them, categorizing them, and setting due dates on things that have to be done by a certain time. It’s close to the system that Allen describes in his book, but I’ve customized it to a degree.
Allen wrote the book in the nineties, before smartphones, and advocates a lot of paper in his system. Not for me, I’m a modern man. I can’t stand paper, so of course I’ve tried all sorts of apps to do this: Lotus Notes, Outlook, Toodledo, Remember the Milk, 2do, Omnifocus, Things, Clear, Reminders, and lately Todoist. There’s an entire cottage industry for To-do apps out there, and they all do essentially the same thing, keep track of our lists digitally.
So once you’ve nailed down which app you want to use, or which one you’re going to move to next, you make your lists and categorize your items. Tasks are usually part of a project, so you begin organizing them by project. Some tasks have due dates, so you give them due dates. Some have different priorities, so you can give them priorities. And then Allen talks about things called contexts — as in the context of when and where you can get something done. Contexts might be things like, @home, @office, @phone @online, @desk, @computer, or @anywhere, Oh man, you can get crazy, one task can be categorized in a project, as a subtask of another, and it might have several contexts. For example a call that you need to make from work might have the contexts @desk, @office, and @phone.
For a long time, I was on the search for the Holy Grail of task mangers. I’ve spent significant amounts of money on various different apps. I’ve spent vast amounts of time working on my GTD System including, countless hours moving tasks from one system to another, hours learning the syntax of a new application, days and weeks trying to code my own stupid computer programs to interact with said programs because they don’t have the exact functionality that I want. This doesn’t even account for the time I’ve invested in simply organizing my system. And in all that time spent on perfecting the system, I’ve gotten zip, zero, zilch done.
Some may argue that this is a form of sloth.
The dictionary tends to define sloth as purely laziness, and while laziness is certainly a form of sloth, it’s not the only form. Procrastination, unwillingness, idleness, indifference, and even busy work can be forms of sloth. I like to think of the antonym of sloth as productivity. Note that productivity is not the same as work — sometimes people make a big show of how much work there are doing to cover up the fact that they aren’t actually productive. That’s the trap that I’ve sometimes fallen into with my, ahem, system.
As I mentioned, I’ve kind of modified the GTD system for myself. See, David Allen, he’s what I’d call anal retentive. The dude suggests that everything, and I mean everything, needs to be written down so that it’s not in your head so that you can ostensibly get things done. So, when you think of something you need to do, write it down. Need to make a doctors appointment, don’t call them and make the appointment — write it down. Running out of gum, write it down. Did you just remember that you need to floss your teeth? Put it in your system. And then, go back and organize it all…
One can get so caught up in the Getting Things Done system, that one never actually gets things done.
I once had a project for nearly everything in my life. Some examples included:
Monthly Tasks (also admin)
Certifications and Training
25 different projects for different customers I work with
Health and Wellness
And there would be things that sat in those projects for months on end (probably because they weren’t important enough to write down, they’d been mere thoughts not actual tasks that needed doing). I was suffering from analysis paralysis. It’s no wonder that I didn’t get much done.
So, I’ve pared down my system over the last year or so. I basically have four main projects, start the day, daily review, personal, and work. Personal is where anything not work related gets dumped. It does have a single sub project called Birthdays and Anniversary, which should be self explanatory.
Work is a little more complex, because I have a sub-project for each of my active customers, which is about 15 rather than 25 or more. I don’t really put contexts around things, because really, when a task is “Pickup sand at the hardware store” I can pretty much figure out that I need my car, that it’s an errand, and that I can’t do it in my office. It’s a much simpler way to manage my life and it prevents me from getting lost in the trap of over analysis of where a task goes.
But, I still have the ability to be slothful. Today, well before I checked off the last item at 2:30, I was staring down an item called “Expense Reports” that was due at 9:00 AM, and it was well past 9:00 AM. It was like 12:30 PM, and I dreaded the idea of doing this task. See, I’ve just come off a solid couple of weeks of travel, and I had a fist full of receipts in three different currencies. Some of them I can’t even read because they are in French. I truly wasn’t sure how I was going to get these reports done.
So, I started at the item, which was now in red, on my screen. My wife called, and while I was supposed to be on another call with a customer, I chatted to here and confessed that I really didn’t want to do the expense report. She said, “but we get money!” Not exactly, most of the expenses were on the corporate card. This was simply an administrative task that I needed to do and on this fine Friday afternoon, it was not something I wanted to do at all. No doubt about it, I was procrastinating.
If you’re anything like me, having something hang over your head is not a good feeling going into the weekend, so I soldiered on and got that task done. And guess what?
It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I’d made it out to be way worse than it actually was. My old sponsor used to call this “living in the wreckage of your future.” It’s not easy, but I try not to live in the wreckage of my future these days.
Some days I’m more successful than others. Some days, I don’t reach #TodoistZero. And that’s okay. It’s about progress, not perfection.
Damien lives near Annapolis, MD, USA with his loving wife and son. He graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a B.A. in English. In the late nineties he began working at an ISP and taught himself how the internet worked. He has spent working IP networking ever since. He loves to cook and eat. He also enjoys photography, art, music, and cycling. He blogs at soberboots.org and goes by the handle @soberboots on Twitter. Damien has been sober since September 23, 2015.