Date: 2009-01-24 11:16:00
mental debt

I just noticed that I have at least one tab open in Firefox that has been open for at least a year (I can tell because of the content on the page). Of course Firefox persists tabs over a restart, so it's not as if my laptop has been running continuously for a year. However, every time I do restart Firefox, all the tabs I had open get reloaded which takes the better part of a minute. And, it always takes a few seconds to scroll left or right through my open tabs to find one that I'm looking for.

Let's have a quick look at what I currently have open:

I am reminded of a quote I read once that went something like, "To move forward, sometimes you need to close some doors." The idea is that the mental burden of not making a decision takes a little bit more energy every time you think about that decision in the future. It's like accumulating mental debt: Failure to spend the small amount of energy to make a decision now causes you to pay interest on that debt in the future.

Relating to my above situation, every time I Ctrl+Tab through my Firefox tabs and see stuff that I've looked at in the past but don't know what to do with, I feel a little bit more behind in my life. I started 2009 thinking that I'd catch up on some of the pending projects I had going, but for the last three weeks have felt like I've been lagging behind. I find myself thinking "I can't do [x] because I'm so busy" but it's probably just the mental debt of having not made all those decisions about little things in the past that keep popping up in front of me.

This principle also applies to my inbox, where I currently have 2858 messages, 2492 of which I have already read at least once. I have some decisions to make.

Damn, I thought I was bad with 10 or 12 tabs open in the browser usually, and (currently) 86 emails in the inbox. :)
Hunh. I used to be in your state as well, but now I'm not.

I don't keep any tabs open across going to sleep.
I literally have two emails in my inbox.
I don't use my inbox or firefox as an extra todo list.
I let my todo list be my todo list (which sometimes includes URLs).

I know that I'll never get to all of the projects that I'm interested in, so I remove items from the bottom of my prioritized todo list once a week. Those items go into another file of "projects" that I look through every month or so to see if I want to work with them or not. I made a discovery that deleting some of the older projects based on a realistic assessment of whether I really ever wanted to do them was very freeing, too.
That method of rolling off projects at the bottom of the list sounds like a good idea. Maybe I'll implement a "hidden" section on my todo list, which isn't shown by default but I can open up and un-hide back burner stuff that I do want to work on.

/me adds "work on todo list" to todo list
Mental debt. Nice analogy. That, "I can't do x because I'm so busy" feeling is an indication that you are spending all your time servicing your mental debt. Clearly this is not a sustainable situation. You either need to increase your income, or declare bankruptcy. :)
I'd love to know how to increase my mental income!
Greg Hewgill <>