“Like a machine”

I operate at a high-level of productivity. I work hard and smart, constantly in pursuit of long term, high-value goals. The average person, and practically anyone in their 20s, would say I’m “like a machine.”

I’m not a machine. Or I’m a machine with glitches.

I am a Level 35 getting-things-done Wizard. I am a successful entrepreneur by many measures. Seems like I must have all of the habits of highly effective people. I am annoyingly disciplined. I always know what I’m supposed to be doing, and how I’m supposed to be doing it. I know what’s urgent, what’s important, and what’s next. I know where the low hanging fruit is.

I know the chores that I can do even when I’m exhausted… and I do them. Achievement unlocked.

And yet I stumble and lose my way sometimes, which is odd. Why would I stumble? Why would I ever catch myself lost in Facebook bullshit or watching cat videos?


I stumble because, no matter how good we get at chasing long term goals, it’s still unnatural, an imposition of will on human nature. Chasing long term goals is an advanced abstraction, a mental house of cards.

The longer I go without satisfying my baser and more hedonistic instincts, the harder it gets to avoid it. I can always forgo simple pleasures for another hour, but the longer I go, the harder it gets. Most basic human urges works this way: for instance, you can always put off sleep for a while, but you can’t do it forever. Eating. Masturbating. And so on.

The longer I work, the more I find I start to feel liked I’ve earned a break. At first it just starts to seem reasonable, but it steadily turns into something I deserve. It’s weird that I would feel “entitled” to abandon my own priorities, but that’s what happens! It starts small, a tiny diversion, and I think, “No big deal, I’ve been good, I’ve put in 67 hours already this week — I have earned this cat video.”

Whatever that means.

But one cat video leads to another, and then a drink, and that’s usually when it falls apart. Next thing you know I’ve been rocking the Xbox until past my bedtime.


“That guy is a machine.” We say this about people who seem to be able to defy their own nature, to resist cravings and comforts in favour of productivity, because it is unnatural. I know that I seem machine-like to many people, but there are people who seem machine-like to me. I may be a level 35 GTD wizard, but I know people who are level 47, 50, 65. Steve Novella (of Neurologica, ScienceBasedMedicine.org, and The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe) is the only person I know personally who defies classification. Despite all my skill, I truly do not know how he does as much as he does. That guy is a machine. And that seems like the highest possible praise ot me.