Set your future self up

December 19, 2021

Whenever I’m working on something that spans multiple days or work sessions, I frequently remind myself to set my future self up.

For example, if I’m writing an essay, my process might involve outlining, finding evidence, and then putting everything together.

If I’m on the stage of finding evidence, I’ll set my goal for that work session to be finding all the evidence I need, if not more. That way, the next time I open up the essay, I can get right into putting everything together.

It’s very important that I follow through. If I only find evidence for four out of my five points, then I would have to start the next work session finding evidence for my fifth point — and that’s not good.

Because finding evidence for that fifth point will make me feel like I’ve completed some task (finding evidence), and now I have to start an entirely new task (putting everything together). That’s cognitively taxing, because those are two completely different tasks that require a shift in mindset. So I try to avoid doing that as much as possible.

There is a slight danger to be aware of: caring so much about what you can do to help Future You that it comes at the expense of Present You’s happiness and wellbeing. For me, this usually manifests in forgetting to be present and failing to let myself enjoy things.

Even worse, I find that the Future Me who later becomes the Present Me, tends to worry about an even later Future Me, and on and on it goes.

Tim Urban writes that if we condense a 90 year lifespan into a spoonful of diamonds, we should either be enjoying the current diamond, or doing something to make future diamonds enjoyable. It seems like optimizing for those two factors is the key to a (mostly) good life. Consistently doing that, though, is an entirely different thing. But I suppose that’s the point.