So as the title may have suggested, I made a discovery recently. I’m a noticeably worse driver when I’m using my GPS.
At first I thought it was just my imagination because clearly a GPS isn’t that much different than having an eager-to-help friend or spouse sitting right there next to you, telling you exactly what your next turn is going to be in 22 miles, and then reminding you of it when it’s just a mile away, and then reminding you again when it’s 0.2 miles, and then pointing out cheerily that you missed your turn and that you should return to the highlighted route, and then diplomatically refraining from commenting when you do a three point turn in heavy traffic and everyone is honking at you.
But then I started keeping track of things like how much my speed varied or how many times my tires drifted out of a lane and I noticed that yep, empirically, I’m a worse driver when my GPS is on.
Naturally being the inquisitive guy that I am I said to myself, “Self, why is it that you are so much worse at driving when you have your GPS on?”, to which I replied “NOT NOW, WE’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF THIS CORNFIELD FIRST!”
Later, I realized there was a pretty simple explanation for it. See, my particular brand of GPS (which I shall not identify because they don’t pay me enough to endorse them and also I’m talking about how their product makes me bad at things) has all kinds of Good Information it can tell me besides just how to get where I’m going. It can tell me what direction I’m currently headed. Or my elevation. Or my expected arrival time. Or how fast I’m going.
The problem is, I don’t generally need all that information. But because it’s available, I find myself constantly monitoring all of it. Why I feel the need to check my speed on my GPS and compare it to my speedometer, I don’t know. Nor do I understand why I need to look to make sure I’m STILL on the right street, even though I just looked six seconds ago, and I have 83 more miles to go before my next turn. But I do it anyway. And all of this data monitoring, while interesting, takes me away from the Primary Thing I’m supposed to be doing which is NOT DRIVING INTO THAT CORNFIELD.
And then I noticed I do the same thing when I’m writing. I have all these ways to measure things like page number and red squigglies for typos and word count and what not and so forth and because I have deadlines I find myself constantly monitoring various metrics that are all very interesting and useful indicators of progress but are also taking me away from focusing on the Primary Thing I’m supposed to be doing which is NOT WRITING INTO THAT CORNFIELD.
Certainly there’s a time for analysis and evaluation. Is this plot point working? Is that character more than just a stereotype? Am I on track to hit my deadline? Is squiggly actually a word? Are there really that many cornfields in Durham?
But constant monitoring is a trap. It’s a great way to distract yourself from doing and, in the worst case, to deceive yourself into thinking you’re actually accomplishing something when you are in fact hamstringing your own productivity.
Focus is underrated. Metrics have their place. But mostly the way to get where you’re going is to keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your foot on the appropriate pedals depending on your circumstances. Accelerator for road, brake for cornfields.