The need for personal iRL concurrency


Concurrency… con currency… is that Bitcoin? Badda boom boom tish! Tish tish! Badda.

While I’m on a bit of a tear talking about rituals and metal thought processes, I thought I’d also mention something I started to do as a teenager. I’m not sure if programming made me think this way, but even today I have to see pretty much everything I do through the lens of what I can run in parallel.

(That was supposed to be mental thought processes, not metal. I can’t stand metal music. I’m enamoured with the material in laptops and structural framing, though. I miss Apple hardware back when they used magnesium, that was amazing. But I digress).

Take the morning routine I was rambling about over the weekend. I know that it takes a couple of minutes for the shower to warm up, so I shave my face while waiting. I know it takes me as much time to get dressed as it does to boil water, so I put the kettle on first. The kettle only runs when I’ve pre-ground the coffee the day before, otherwise I start grinding first, then boil the water while I’m tipping the grounds into the Aeropress so the water is the optimal temperature.

More specifically during Covid Times, I only go down to reception to pick up mail while I’m on my way back from buying groceries, to limit my use of shared lifts and hallways. I do an embarrassing amount of my podcast production and listening while cleaning. I watch engineering and Hololive YouTube while I eat and exercise.

And yes, it spills over to IT. I can’t update one FreeBSD jail, I have to do them concurrently in different tabs. Audio-only conference calls—the best kind—are when I also mindlessly sort and organise email.

Doing these things concurrently, and at the same time (as my illustrious dad would say) presumably came from the desire for efficiency. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon or the sharpest spoon in the drawer to realise you complete a bunch of tasks faster if you do as many of them at once. It’s another manifestation of my need to feel like I have control over my environment and circumstances, something that is especially true during These Covid Times.

Unfortunately, it introduces the chance for error. My mental orchestrator is a well-oiled machine when things are predictable and going to plan, but throw a spanner in the works and suddenly all the spinning plates wobble and crash around my feet. The metaphors today are all over the place, like lipstick on a pig. That one didn’t even make sense.

There’s also a sense of paralysis when I have to make a decision about what to do, because I can’t perform tasks in isolation. What could I do at the same time morphed into what should I do, and now its what must I do. Yes, I conform my brain to RFC 2119, like a gentleman. Seeing the world through this rigid framework is frustrating, and leads to dissatisfaction and a sense that I’ve failed if I only perform a single task.

I’m also starting to realise that the gains I thought I was making from these increasingly complex processes are feeding anxiety in ways I didn’t understand until recently. There’s a reason mindfulness exists as a concept; there’s value in being deliberate, and excelling at one thing before moving onto the next.

Learned habits are hard. There are some things I’ll keep doing in tandem, but I need to give myself permission to smell the roses. By themselves, not while attempting to water them or perform gymnastics above them with a conference call going on my phone.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person in bios. Hi!

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