For the past couple of months, I have been deciding how to spend my spare time at random. I began it out of curiosity. I wanted to see if there was a better way to manage my leisure activities.
A ‘problem’ (if you can call it that) of living today is that it’s just too easy to consume so much stuff for so little cost. I delete as many programmes as I watch from my TV recorder to avoid running out of space. There are website articles that I’d love to read but never get the chance to. I have little piles of CDs, DVDs and books that I have bought and never consumed. I buy video games that see a bit of action for a short while, then stay on the shelf for the rest of eternity.
It’s perverse, because this is all stuff that I should enjoy. They are spare time leisure activities. But when you see piles of DVDs in the corner, ploughing through them begins to turn into a chore.
How do I make the right decisions? Often I decide to tackle the TV programmes first, because I have a finite amount of space on my TV recorder. But I have a DVD that I bought four years ago and have never watched. If I just focus on watching the TV, I will never get round to the DVD.
Making small decisions
Then I thought about something I have been doing for years: shuffle. I listen to my music on album shuffle mode exactly for this sort of reason. I don’t spend too long agonising over a trivial decision like what to listen to. I regularly hear a good mixture of different types of music in my collection. Sometimes I even get a pleasant surprise — a reminder of an old gem that I had forgotten about.
This isn’t life changing stuff. But it does enrich my music listening just that little bit.
Why not apply the same principle further? Ultimately, I want to do all of this some time. It doesn’t matter what order I do it in. Meanwhile, I spend lots of time just sitting there thinking about what the right decision might be. That is a waste of time.
Now, I jot down everything I might want to do whenever I find myself with some spare time. Then I use the random number generator at Random.org to effectively select at random which of these activities I will do.
Incidentally, writing blog posts is one of the items on my list. Hopefully this means I won’t neglect my website for months at a time, as I have done in the past.
Making bigger decisions
I was intrigued to learn about Freakonomics Experiments, a new project from Steven Levitt, the economist behind Freakonomics. The idea, as explained on the Freakonomics podcast, is to research big life decisions that occur on the margin.
People spend lots of time on difficult decisions that we know will affect our lives — we just don’t know if it will be for the better or for the worse. Should you quit your job? Should you leave your wife? For people who are not sure what the right answer is, you can spend ages agonising over the pros and cons, and still be none the wiser.
So why not toss a coin?
The idea seems bonkers at first, and maybe it is. Even if you don’t know what the right answer to a difficult decision is, many people will recoil at the idea of letting their decision be dictated by a coin toss.
I had heard the question posed before: do you feel comfortable about a coin toss determining a major life decision? So I had been thinking about this sort of thing before Freakonomics Experiments. The thought has popped into my head when trying to make big decisions in the past. I don’t think I’m quite yet willing to defer to the decision of a coin toss on those big life decisions.
Yet, why not? So much of our life is determined in large part by luck anyway. Being in the right place at the right time. Being born in the right place at the right time. Knowing the right people. Luck plays such a huge part. Everything that I think is good about my life is only partly down to hard work or ability, if it is at all. You need that big piece of good luck as well.
So why not embrace that part of life that is dictated by luck? Why not just toss a coin? If nothing else, it could save you a lot of time and worry.