Once, on a walk with my Father, he mused about a question that I never managed to forget. How high a kilometre is, he had asked. The question wasn’t meant to poke at the international body of standards and measurements — what had struck me the most was my inability to imagine something a kilometre high. I had seen mountains far higher than that. I knew what a kilometre is; it was from our house to the school. Twice that and it was the train station. I could perfectly imagine how far a kilometre would be, but not how high. A sudden invasion into the third dimension made my perception of the unit of distance utterly useless. It was fairly clear that the definition of a kilometre — or a meter for that matter — wasn’t very useful in my imagination.
I never really managed to get around the dimensionality problem; I don’t know if anyone ever does. And it pops up now and then, particularly in the domain of time. I can imagine how much I can achieve in a day of work, but if one asks, I can’t tell how much I can do in an hour. I can plan my life a few days in advance but not a year. I can say with certainty how long my shaving blades will last before I would need to buy new ones, but not how long before I would need to charge my electric trimmer. Granted, I’m not talking about dimensionality from a physicists’ perspective, but it is in a way a problem of reconciling almost orthogonal dimensions — contextual dimensions; Dissonance between the perceived dimension which we operate under, and the ones we operate in reality.
I’m sure most of us urban dwellers, have felt at least a few — if not all — evening in our lives when we didn’t feel energetic enough to cook, so we ordered from a restaurant, even when we had plenty of time to cook. Often the time it takes for delivery is more than the time we would need to cook. I think I can safely say, time is not the only dimension that one is required to occupy to cook something for themselves. In this case, I try to rationalise it as a combination of time and motivation.
The same goes for paperwork. I, for one, haven’t managed to apply for my German A1 certification examination in years even though I am fairly confident in what I need to do, and it probably won’t take more than an hour or so given my ease of access to relevant information but my misplaced notion of such paperwork is one of drudgery that I can’t bring myself to do it. I could call it laziness, but that wouldn’t be anything more than an unhelpful semantic. The dimensionality of the task of filing up forms isn’t of time but of alignment between my perception and what the task is. Although from the onset it does look like something that I can get done in exchange for time.
If I don’t stop myself, I am sure I can talk endlessly about such warranted aspects of our lives, where nothing is preventing us from acting or reacting, we still don’t. From paperwork to hobbies, from fitness goals to trips-to-Goa (which I never managed to visit), these cause a bunch of sharp kinks in our lives; and one of them is procrastination. To be completely fair, I don’t want to tell you to not procrastinate. To be able to procrastinate is, one of the best gifts of civil prosperity. When you feel like solving procrastination, however — we have lifestyle gurus talking on TED(x) for that sort of guidance. What I want to drive home is quite the opposite.
Have you ever woken up on a Sunny Sunday, and felt like baking a pie, or a pizza, or maybe make tacos only to discover you don’t have the ingredients? So you end up postponing it to the next day, and then you’re too tired to do it anyway? I feel it’s not too different from my kilometre problem. We can’t imagine — or don’t take the time to imagine — how we would be on a Monday evening after work, so what we thought we would do in the future just becomes a mis-projection of what we wished to do at that very moment. The mis-projection isn’t a problem, however, if I just gather notes on when & how I feel like baking a pie, I wouldn’t have to leave it to chance to make it happen.
It’s a bit like shopping for pieces of furniture. We use our knowledge of geometry to predict whether a table would fit in the kitchen. But consider a situation where you have to buy furniture for thirteen different possible floor plans and you don’t know which apartment you are going to eventually end up in; at that point, you would probably need to ask questions such as, what’s the biggest common rectangular area in all the plans, or if there are any apartments with rhombic floors. Even treating it as a textbook optimisation problem, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll be able to guarantee the best possible set of furniture for the floor plan you will end up living on. You’ll just have to make do with the information you had at the time of your decisions. Our lives are a bit fuzzy like that, multiple floor plans squashed onto one fuzzy space of possibilities. And there’s no way you will be able to utilise your resources maximally in a consistent fashion, if you try to, you’ll most likely flirt with insanity. Inevitably, there will be times when you will occupy the “dimensions” required for you to act upon whatever you want to act upon, and you’ll get it done. Procrastination is not the act of delaying tasks, not entirely at least. It’s about waiting for our state of being to fit the task at hand, even when that is just an impending deadline. To do any better than that, we would need to predict the future of our state of being to an arbitrary degree of accuracy. One can try; there are fairly established methodologies. I never really bothered much. I just relate my present and future by threading notes across time. No mathematical models, no excruciating self-help advice, just a bunch of sketches, half-written computer code and late-night scribbles — talking into the future from the past; Scattered, unorganised, and postponed to oblivion, until I bake the pie.