In Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman has an essay that describes his experience playing The Sims:

My SimChuck has absolutely no grit.  He is constantly bummed out, forever holding his head and whining about how he’s ‘not comfortable’ or ‘not having fun.’  At one point I bought him a pretty respectable wall mirror for $300, and he responded by saying ‘I’m too depressed to even look at myself.’  As an alternative, he sat on the couch and stared at the bathroom door. … I hope I never own a bed.  But don’t tell that to SimChuck.  Until I bought him his $1,000 Napoleon Sleigh Bed (‘made with actual wood and real aromatic cedar’), all he did was cry like a little bitch.

Now you might be thinking to yourself that this doesn’t sound very productive, but surely, if there’s one thing that we know about computer games, it’s that they’re supposed to teach us the skills that we need to get by in our real lives.  So instead of trying to instill some grit in a Sim, what happens if you apply the same thinking to your own routine?

Take any simple thing that you already know how to do–eat, brush your teeth, dress yourself, answer the phone, write a book (any of the things that you’d think shouldn’t faze your Sim)–take one of those things and measure it along any dimension(s) that you care about.  Then break it into a bunch of tiny moving parts, and try to improve them one at a time.  When you’ve put the process back together, measure it again to see if your changes made a difference.  Revert any change that didn’t improve things.

Programmers call this “refactoring,” but really it isn’t a new idea.  In Walden, Thoreau wrote that “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”  Academics should already know that process is more important than product, as the idea shows up in various guises throughout the canon, but its surprising how few of them act like they know it.  Really, your CV shares the same relationship to a life of research and teaching as a coprolite does to a good meal.

When I return from my sabbatical, the second thing that people are going to ask me is “was it productive?”  I think I’m going to say, “Well… it was byproductive.”  And then we’ll see where the conversation goes from there.