Be Clear About Your Not-To-Do List

Falling for the urgent at the cost of what’s important is not the only kind of distraction we can face. For example, it’s a difficult balance to maintain a healthy dose of curiosity while avoiding falling into procrastination.

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I love to learn new things. The process of figuring something out and understanding why it ticks and how is for me a source of joy. I also like to optimize how things work. Just as some people can watch sports for hours, I can lose the sense of time if I’m learning something.

In 2021, I decided to learn Emacs as a side project. Emacs is an all-powerful, completely customizable text editor. It’s been around since the 1970s, it’s open source and is actively maintained. If you manage to configure Emacs right, it can do almost anything you can think about.

So I went down the rabbit hole. I learned to configure Emacs to read and send email. I used it for coding Python. I managed my Zettelkasten-like knowledge system in Emacs. I tweaked the spell-checking system until I was happy with it. I made lots of small tweaks, like making Emacs use real bullets instead of asterisks for outlines, or use proportional instead of monospaced fonts when writing prose.

After a year, I had learned a lot using Emacs. I had also spent lots of time configuring and tweaking. At one point, however, configuring and tweaking were no longer part of learning but a waste of time that was getting in the way of my work. Also, I had to accept that no amount of wrestling with Emacs configuration files would make things like sending calendar invites or syncing with Google Calendar work smoothly enough.

One day I found this quote on Reddit:

With emacs and gnus, one must serve a long penance, after which shit still doesn’t quite work but you’ve achieved a deep symbiosis with your editor/mailer and can tailor it to your very precise needs.

In August 2022, I decided to set Emacs aside. I migrated my Zettelkasten-like knowledge management system, my journaling files, and my text-based project files to a program called LogSeq. For coding, I switched to VS Code. I went back to Apple Calendar for managing my agenda.

* * *

I wrote this because a couple of days ago, after reading a post by one of the Emacs’ folks I used to follow, I felt nostalgic. Maybe if I installed Emacs with a bare configuration file and tried to…

Stop! Why I’m even thinking of doing this? This time, I won’t be learning anything new. This will not improve my workflow or the quality of my work. Emacs won’t solve any specific problem better than my current solution.

So, for the record, Emacs is officially on my not to do list.

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I wrote this story for myself. But I also wrote it because we all have our maybe I shoud reinstall Emacs moments. There are things that may have been helpful at some point in our lifes, but would be a distraction for us today. They would suck our attention away from what’s important. Beware of the siren’s call.

focus distractions procrastination

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