7 GTD lessons from cigarette smokers

Smokers do something that’s quite remarkable that nobody really talks about: they smoke a lot of cigarettes.

A heavy smoker can finish a pack a day. That’s 7,300 cigarettes a year.
At 4 minutes a cigarette, that’s about 486 hours a year.

If they started at 17 and became heavy smokers at 23, they would have smoked over 200,000 cigarettes by the time they’re 50, and spent over 10,000 hours at it! And some people smoke MORE than a pack a day!

What’s the point of all that?

Smokers have mastered the art of getting things done. The problem is that this skill is primarily subconscious, and limited to the realm of cigarette smoking. The good thing is, we can scrutinize it, become conscious of the game mechanisms involved, and apply them to our own lives- whether you want to get fitter, write more, or simply be adequately hydrated.

1: Always have your pack with you.

A smoker with a pack of cigarettes smokes more than a smoker without one. Similarly, if you need to drink more water (and you do), keep a bottle of water with you at all times. If you’re a writer, have a notepad on you. If you’re a songwriter, get a recording app for your phone to capture those melodies that pop into your head at the strangest times. Some heavy smokers go so far as to keep several packs in several separate locations. As Les Brown says, “It’s better to be prepared and not have an opportunity, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared!”

You’ll never know when inspiration strikes- when a fleeting momentary impulse flickers in your mind like a careless spark. Be prepared for it, and indulge it. Leave your running shoes by the door, with your socks and running gear prominently displayed. Don’t sabotage yourself by depending entirely on fallible things like memory and initiative. Accessibility is the name of the game.

The inverse law applies- if you want to do less of something, put it away. Out of sight, out of mind. If you’re working towards giving up cigarettes, learn to start leaving your pack at home when you head out from time to time. If you’re trying to diet, keep snacks and goodies out of reach- don’t even stock them up to begin with. Discipline is overrated- accessibility is key.

2: Take frequent smoke breaks.

Smokers don’t finish entire cartons of cigarettes by setting aside a couple of hours for smoking time every day- few people have the luxury of that much free time. They smoke in frequent, short bursts, using them as punctuation throughout the day. If you ordered a smoker to finish a pack of cigarettes on the spot, he probably wouldn’t be able to do it (unless he’s Slash, or Vin Diesel.)

It’s a lot easier to get large quantities of work done in quick bursts rather than in huge chunks. If you smoke 10 cigarettes at one go, the pleasure diminishes with each cigarette. Too much of anything (even sex, or chocolate!) gets sickening after a while, and when something sickens you, you won’t be able to do much of it. Figure out the minimum effective dose and stick to it.

If you need 15 minutes in the sun to trigger a melanin response, 15 minutes is your MED for tanning. More than 15 minutes is redundant and will just result in burning and a forced break from the beach. During this forced break from the beach, let’s assume one week, someone else who heeded his natural 15-minute MED will be able to fit in four more tanning sessions. He is four shades darker, whereas you have returned to your pale pre-beach self. Sad little manatee. In biological systems, exceeding your MED can freeze progress for weeks, even months. – Tim Ferriss

3: Make it a routine.

A smoker smokes when he wakes up, after meals and before he goes to bed. That creates a baseline, which can sometimes help you bust ruts. A lot of us already have such standardized routines, whether we realize it or not- just that they aren’t usually productive ones.

I used to get on my computer like clockwork the moment I got home from school, wasting countless hours on Facebook and other endless internet distractions. We all have useless routines, we might as well develop a few good ones. The idea is to make part of your work “mindless”, such that you get some of it done even without having to think about it.

4: Smoke at poignant times.

This is about quality, not quantity- many smokers will smoke thousands of cigarettes, yet still be able to identify their most memorable ones. Writers who write hundreds of pages will describe the same thing, as will runners who go running every morning. Quality moments are precious, and we ought to make the most of them. The trick to maximizing the value you get out of this is akin to learning to lucid dream- develop the habit of appraising your own mental state. Do this regularly- whenever you sit down, for instance- really take the time to ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now, and why?”. After a while, you’ll develop a new level of awareness, and you’ll know when you’re in a state that’s perfect for working. Over time (and I’m personally still working on this), you’ll be able to influence your mental state altogether. The absolute best moments, though, are always unexpected. Which makes it that much more important to prepare for them.

5: Just smoke, damn it.

The perfect opportunity will never come. Many wannabe-writers (myself included) wait for the perfect moment of inspiration, when the day is pleasant, the mind is clear and limber, the environment is idyllic… these moments are rare. Smokers, on the other hand, don’t have such pretenses and delusions. They don’t wait for ideal circumstances to present themselves- they create them, sneaking away from classes, huddle together under an umbrella in the pouring rain… ever smoker will be able to recount a story where he or she lit up a cigarette in the most ridiculous and unfavourable circumstances, just because.

Cigarette smokers don’t suffer from “Smoker’s Block”- they will smoke, rain or shine, in health or in sickness. Sometimes I think smokers even make it a point to go out of their way to smoke when conditions are unfavourable, just as a sort of rebellious fuck-you to the world- smoking in stairwells, empty classrooms and other places where they’re told they’re not supposed to. If you have a passion, you would be wise to take a leaf from the smoker’s book- you NEED to do whatever it is that you’re passionate about- you have to turn into a pressing urge, a craving, something you can’t live without.

6: Smoke with others.

Smoking is both a solitary and social activity. Smokers always smoke a lot more when put in a group with other smokers. There’s a bit of an us-against-the-world mentality- it’s like a global club, a community, and not without its charms. If you’re going to do something, make a conscious effort to surround yourself with other people who do the same. There’s a bit of competition, a bit of mutual support- community has the ability to provoke, challenge and intensify. I was at my physical fittest when I had a pact with a friend to hit the gym every 3rd day- neither of us wanted to let the other down, and somehow things just seem a lot more real you have other people to validate your efforts.  Peer pressure is powerful, and you can leverage it to your advantage.

7: Enjoy it.

This is kind of self evident, but easy to forget. Smokers have it easy (or hard, depending on how you look at it)- a cigarette delivers a direct shot of dopamine straight to the brain. We can do the same with anything else, if we’re crafty enough. Enjoyment, I believe, is directly related to mindfulness- you can’t enjoy something if you’re not paying attention to it.

So pay attention- when you’re hitting the gym, or practicing your instrument- don’t just tune out, focus. Turn it into an act of meditation. Pay careful attention to your fingers, your body, your heartbeat, the feel of the art that you’re creating. When you complete your session, set aside some time to contemplate it- and you’ll begin to build a mental connection with the act, a sense of peace and fulfillment. It’s really addictive.

So in summary:

  1. Keep it accessible, so that it’s never far from your mind.
  2. Break it into little chunks and exploit the minimum effective dose.
  3. Make it a routine so you do it even when you’re not thinking.
  4. Exploit special moments by being aware of them, and prepared for them.
  5. Don’t just wait for perfect conditions- create moderately favourable conditions and wing it.
  6. Exploit peer pressure to your advantage.
  7. Enjoy it.

By the way, please don’t smoke. It’s bad for you. If you’re a smoker and you’re thinking about quitting, you can make progress by reversing the above principles- they all work both ways!

2 thoughts on “7 GTD lessons from cigarette smokers

  1. Pingback: 0101 – 14 days later (update from the light-fires-not-fill-buckets guy) | visakan veerasamy.

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