My Notebook

Creation Consumption and Productivity

2024-04-27 · 4 min readsome thoughts about how people create and thoughts from estoniaWhen I initially went to Estonia I had a bunch of specific things outlined to do—an AI paper, some commits to the local lab repository, and maybe in the down time have a couple conversations.Looking back... I probably only achieved one of those things (a couple very interesting conversations). During Estonia I ended up getting extremely distracted with people. Whether or not this is good is yet to be determined, but still the goals of being "productive" were not achieved.How can I orient my life towards being productive and creating the things that I want?


Keeping Estonia as the example, I feel like my time then was highlighted by consumption. I consumed media constantly (albeit very useful media). Whether it was reading documentation of some random new framework like MLX or diving deep into The Three Body Problem, they all felt relatively productive. At the end though, I really didn't have much to show for it. I would even classify some unorthodox activities under consumption. Talking to people felt like indulging myself, making funny forts, going on hikes, all of them were consuming new experiences.One thing to note though, is that these are in fact necessary for creation. Without inspiration it is extremely hard to create new projects. Talking to people is extremely important to spurring our ideas BUT it isn't actually productive. This is an extremely important distinction to make because so many people get lost in it. One can friend-maxx and experience-maxx all you want but without anything to show it's extremely hard to actually do real things.


Creation on the other hand for me tends to happen in isolation. Thinking back to school and my time skew then, I was almost alone at home for the entire day. This not only got me making really cool projects, it forced me to. To pass time I had to do something, and obviously it had to be making something really cool.Recently, Estonia apart, I feel like college + the summer + adult life has felt like a rush. Getting to experience so much with new people is awesome, with the benefit of actually feeling super productive. In reality though... you aren't productive. Talking to people and creating cool memories is not actually equivalent to creating. Its great inspiration of course but it often leads people in a false sense of security—go through the day to day, meet that new person, attend that other club, do the homework assignment—but at the end it doesn't achieve your end goals. Obviously isolating yourself probably isn't the solution, everyone needs some place for inspiration. Whether its reading more papers in the field or random substacks, consumption is an important part of creation. On the other hand consuming too much is detrimental. You lull yourself into feeling productive while not actually doing anything.


For me at least, the solution is school. Well not literally, but partitioning my time similar to how high school was. During high school I spent literally half the day at home with nothing to do. What did I do during that downtime? Unlike college I didn't have the ability (or didn't want to) hang out constantly. Instead I just sat, read, worked, and was bored.Even now, by partitioning some time (on the magnitude of days, not hours) to doing nothing, I feel like I've been able to become more productive in a sense. Some key aspects of this "down-time" are that:
  1. You can't be surrounded with friends/do other things. This not only lowers your battery but gives you that "fake productivity" feeling.
  2. Be bored. Boredom is awesome. Controlling your attention is a huge part of this—its only a matter of time before you start making something. I might get lost in watching the coolest youtube video or lwhiteistening to a podcast but at the end if I just stay bored & not interact, I have to make SOMETHING. Whether its tinkering with an AI model or cooking, something is going to come out of it.
  3. No music. I know this seems really weird but I find this awkwardly helpful. Whenever I listen to music my mind is enveloped into the sounds and I absolutely love every second. The problem is though that now my downtime, walking between classes, going on the bus, going on long walks, is taken over by processing music. Oh the artist said this... what does it mean? how could it be interpreted? OO cool new riff here. By engaging in silence, it really forces your mind to focus on itself and build on ideas—especially on walks.
This is a little messy but I feel like those were my main takeaways from Estonia and in general thinking about how I work. I'm definitely in an awkward point in life where I want to not only be productive, but also meaningful with what I do. Theres definitely a difference in finishing all your school homework in 3 hours vs spending 3 hours creating a fun app or mini project—and I definitely prefer the latter. Being bored is especially hard in school, because it always feels like there's something more to do—homework, friends, more homework, practice for classes, etc. (now that I'm done writing this, I'll probably take a minute to be bored and continue to try and hack away on trying to read x86_64 assembly)
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