Methodological Structures (1)

It's 11pm and I haven't gotten around to coming up with an idea for a Srs Bsns post.  Or, that's not true.  I spent about an hour brainstorming earlier today, and I'm sure I had a good idea.  But I can't remember what it was. So, instead, I'm going to write about the methodological structures I use to maintain my life -- what they are, what it's like when they work, what it's like when they fail, and what it's like when I'm trying to do something without a structure.

What they are

A methodological structure is a broad category I just pulled out of my ass to attempt to capture the spirit of a variety of things I do to force myself to get work done.


Vows are my favorite form of methodological structure.  These are things I'm required to do, but for which there's no specific consequence for failure.  I have a few incomplete vows, but none in which I have officially failed.  (I have missed a couple of deadlines in the past, but I always caught up, and usually did extra work to make up for it.)

The main benefit of vows is that I haven't ever really failed at them, and I know that, when I vow something, I can make myself stick to it.  I don't vow things lightly, but I do it a lot when it comes to my writing.  It's good for projects where I know I'm going to lose my resolve at some point, because it forces me to keep going for the sake of the vow, even if I (temporarily) don't believe in the project.


Bets are like vows, except that I'm allowed to fail, but there's a consequence if I do.  I've found these to be a lot less effective than vows, because if it ever becomes particularly daunting, I always have an out -- the bigger the bet, the harder it is to rationalize failure, but if I'm in a really bad place, I can convince myself that it's not worth it.

One of the main advantages of these structures is that they give me the ability to plan around my predictable failures.  Bets aren't actually very good at doing that, and I should really stop using them.


To-do lists are a great form of structure when putting together complicated plans on short notice.  I generally make them when I start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do, but still have enough energy to do something.  I find organizing your time in a list can make completing tasks energizing, rather than draining, as long as I don't think too hard about why I'm following the list -- I trust the judgement of my list-making past self, and zone out into the task.

What it's like when they work

I've finished three novels, kept this blog going since September, and maintained reasonably good grades in school using these methods.  They're the primary means by which I feel capable of achieving self-improvement.

What it's like when they fail

Today is a good example of what happens when they fail.  My current structure for blogging involves three scheduled days a week, but there's no structure in my life outside that to prepare me for the work that's coming.  I don't start the Srs Bsns blogs until Wednesday, sometimes not until 11pm.  A few of the Africa posts were researced and written all in one day.

I need to improve the structures I use to compel myself to write well for this blog, but I don't know exactly where to start.  It's difficult to fit things like brainstorming and drafting into my turbulent daily schedule and I don't know how to make clean, coherent vows out of them.  Tasks with no clearly defined end-point are hard to plan for, so I need to learn some new time management techniques to improve in that area.

Trying to do things without structure

I haven't yet found something I can really succeed in without some kind of structure to it.  But I think that's true of everyone -- in many ways, structure is built into every element of our society.

But I grew up with almost no structure at home, and poorly enforced structure at school.  It wasn't until I hit my twenties that I started to seriously work towards creating something resembling a lifestyle -- a word I'd like to explore more later.

I'm going to continue this section of the post tomorrow, exploring how structure is embedded in human cultures, religions and governments, and some of the reasons to shirk that structure and attempt to construct your own.