OK... who's messing with the fourth dimension?

I used to work 90 hours a week. I didn’t do anything else. In fact, at one low point, I was yelling at the microwave oven because five minutes was too damn long to wait for dinner. Then, I quit. I listed 27 reasons in my exit interview. I will save that story for another day. The point is, despite my distinct lack of time, I was still able to produce a novel a year. Now, that I am “retired” from that career, my productivity has not improved. Why not? I’ve got 40 more hours a week… in theory… So I want to know, who’s been messing with the fourth dimension?

Occam’s razor posits that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct explanation. (Simplest is defined as the introduction of the fewest assumptions.) Ergo, there must be a contraction in time because there is only one assumption. Someone’s shortening the hours in my day. However, my scientific training will not allow me to force my data to fit my theory but rather it propels me to examine all the data and let that analysis determine the theory.


So… I needed to gather some data. I decided to do this the way they do time analysis in business. They take really, really busy people and make them write down what they are doing every fifteen minutes in order to “optimize their workflow.” The idea is to conduct detailed activity analyses of key performers throughout the organization assessing schedules and workflows to streamline and eliminate non-essential tasks (like eating and going to the bathroom) in order to optimize operational efficiency.

And people are afraid of science because of the jargon! But I digress…

Then, they code these activities and determine where appropriate modifications could help improve the efficiency of these very busy people. (An inappropriate modification would be hiring more staff or shooting the HR people who make them fill out such forms.) I even made up a table in word to help me keep track. You can download it here.

Note, if someone had asked me to fill out a form stating what I was doing every 15 minutes while I was at my previous employer, I’d have punched them in the nose. I didn’t have time to waste on such silliness. However, now having 40 more hours a week, I understood that I had plenty of time to fill out this form. So I did. For nine weeks.

Why nine? Because (1) I wanted a representative sample that wasn’t heavily skewed by unusual activities (like the two weeks I spent in Kansas at James Gunn’s Science Fiction Workshop) and (2) by week ten I’d gotten bored, stopped taking careful notes and started making %$#@ up. (This is a downside of my new life as a fiction writer… you get paid to make up &^%$ so it gets easy to do.)

Next came the coding of the activities. This is why hard science people roll their eyes at soft science people. (I have been both the roller and the rollee as I have also done geoscience education research and published same.) How do you decide which way to code this stuff? As an example, let’s look at Bubonicon a science fiction convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Is this professional development? Building a brand (i.e marketing)? Or screwing around with friends? I selected professional development.

After all the data were coded, I got to do fun stuff. I made a zillion graphs in excel. Woohoo! Note that while I was doing this, I coded the coding and the excel chart making as professional development too. What did I learn form all these charts, pie and otherwise?

  1. I don’t own a television that functions. My TV watching time was 0%.
  2. I sleep 30-32% of the time. I understand that is what you are supposed to do. However, I didn’t before and I’m not sure this is the wisest way to spend my time.
  3. I spend 10% of my day preparing food. This is much longer than five minutes with Lean Cuisine. I’m also eating fruits and vegetables. I’ll probably die of pesticide intoxication.
  4. I now spend 10% of my time volunteering. Another bad habit.
  5. However, I am happy to report that I am still NOT exercising. Not all the news is bad.

The most important observation is that I spend 20% of my time writing/editing. The significance of this number is that it is DOUBLE what it was before but this has not resulted in any significant increase in my productivity. Ergo… time contraction.

It cannot be me staring off into space, sitting outside with my laptop watching the lizard flick his tongue out at my big toe. It can’t be me listening to the wild mustang herd clomping through the arroyo next to the house. It can’t be watching the Canyon Towhee balancing on the back of the chair scolding me for not refilling the birdbath. It can’t be the humming bird hovering not twelve inches from my face complaining that the flowered hawaiian shirt I’m wearing is false advertising. It can’t be that I got a life.

I wrote during that hour. It says so on my time analysis sheet.

However, given that I now live in the Bermuda Triangle formed between Sandia and Los Alamos National labs and Roswell, NM (Alien capital of the US despite what Arizona says), it is conceivable that time is indeed being warped. In order to test this theory, as all good theories must be testable, I will double my writing time again and see if my productivity increases.

To that end… I built this website and started this blog.

Welcome to my struggle to get a life and write fiction.