The Distraction Stack

I know I'm not alone in this but I have a secret, people. I get distracted. Fairly easily, honestly.

A recent distraction event was kinda funny, so I wrote it all down, and figured, hey, let's walk through it.

It all started when I had an idea. I didn't have anything major going on at the moment, so I sat and thought about the idea for a while. It seemed good, so I decided to capture it in Obsidian so that I would work on it and mull it over more.

At this point in the story I have a “stack” of things to do that is one item long:

  1. Sit down and write up the idea in Obsidian.

Not too bad, right?

Enter the Distractions!

Unfortunately, Obsidian lives on a computer, which is a big box of things I could do. All the new things came onto the stack, and oddly got handled in LIFO order, or “Last in First Out”, for non-programmers. Basically whatever occurred to me most recently took priority over anything that came before. Here's a description of the events and how I dealt with them, then we'll look at the state of the stack at its worst:

A computer is a big box of things I could do

I sat down and realized that I had written a pretty decent piece on my FreeWrite Traveler, so I wanted to capture that from Postbox and put it into Obsidian as well. This wasn't a big deal, just a few seconds to grab the text. I decided it was good enough to just push out onto my blog, and while I'm at it, to the Midnight as well. That's just a couple of minutes of work. From now on we'll call this text the article, as opposed to the idea which is what put me in my chair in the first place.

I'll clean the article up pre-publication in TextBuddy, of course. TextBuddy is a simple little tool that I love. When I'm typing on the Traveler I make a lot of mistakes that get uncorrected because I'm typing fast without looking at the screen. TextBuddy lets me fix a lot of those with a single command.

But one mistake I make frequently isn't in TextBuddy's impressive repertoire of auto-fixable mistakes. That's okay, TextBuddy lets you write regular expressions to do your own fixes! In fact I'm using TextBuddy to convert the article into Gemini so I can send it to the Midnight, and to clean up Obsidian-specific formatting for exporting my the article to Write.as. So I just need to write a quick regex to fix my common mistake.

Back to the browser, open a tab for Regex101, my favorite regular expression editor these days.

Work on the regular expression, it's not complicated, but I think of some edge cases, test it, expand it, decide it was better before I expanded it, then create the .js file for TextBuddy and put in the original version, make sure it's working right, and it is. Okay.

This is the peak of the stack, and it looks like this:

The Peak of the Stack

When I got to where I was testing the regular expression, this was the stack of tasks I had built up for myself, that I now had to work on from the top down, to get back to my original intention, now eleven items down the list.

  1. Test Regular Expression
  2. Enhance Regular Expression
  3. Un-Enhance Regular Expression
  4. Create Regular Expression to fix a common typing mistake
  5. Use TextBuddy to clean up common typing mistakes
  6. Prep the article for publication
  7. Publish the article to The Midnight
  8. Publish the article to Write.as
  9. Import the article into Obsidian
  10. Write up the idea

The End of the Story

Unsurprisingly, I didn't get all the way back to the idea in that setting. I made it through publishing the article to The Midnight and Write.as when I realized I'd been at my desk for over an hour. On a Saturday. Then I made a little note in my pocket notebook about the idea and went and did real-person stuff for a while.

The Thesis

Capture Ideas on PAPER

This could have saved my workflow in two different ways:

  1. I could have realized the article was in my mind and put a little post-it note on my post-it board reminding me to process the article when I was done with the idea.
  2. I could have written the idea on paper before sitting down at my computer, which would have saved it from the stack.

I definitely lost parts of the idea to the distraction stack above. Which is fine; it was an idea for a side project and not a big deal. But losing ideas is never great. Paper is far less distracting, far less prone to stacking.

When I realized, an hour or so later, how funny this little story was, how impeded I had been by my own ideas, I took out my pocket notebook and wrote up the bones of the article you're reading right now. I drew out the stack. I wrote “LIFO” in weird letters vertically along the side of the stack. And that was all good enough that I could write this up when I was in a mental place to do so.

I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting 100 Days To Offload.

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