When I was at university, I read a book called ‘The Dice Man‘ by Luke Rhinehart. I can’t remember if it was recommended to me, or whether I just came across it on Amazon. It doesn’t matter; the only thing that’s important is that I loved it. I absolutely devoured it in a small number of sittings. Now, don’t get me wrong, ‘The Dice Man’ isn’t particularly well-written (sorry, Luke) but the premise itself was very compelling. In a nutshell, the central character of the book runs his life on the whims of a die cast. He writes out a number of options (up to 6, or maybe 12, if memory serves) and then he acts out whatever the die/dice choose for him. At the beginning of the book, he plays it conservatively with the options he jots down, but as he begins to enjoy more and more the freedom of not being in control of his own actions, the options become more and more “out there”, leading him down paths that he never would have trodden had he followed his normal routines and habits. It’s a good read, despite its duff prose.
So enamoured was I with ‘The Dice Man’ that I began to live it, mostly as an experiment on which to base my end of year project on in the middle year of my Graphic Design degree. I called it the Dice Diary. It was easily my favourite project of my entire course, even if the output now looks a little rough the edges. A girl I was seeing at the time, who happened to be a keen photographer, got roped into helping me out, taking snaps of me doing some pretty weird shit in some pretty weird places. Not *that* weird, though. I promise. Think more on the lines of “Brush your teeth” “in front of the number 27” “at 9.24am” – each of these options being part of their own lists which the die was to choose from. If memory serves, this ended up being in front of a spray-painted 27 on the side of a skip – a perfect place to brush your teeth, I’m sure you’ll agree. Another dice roll had me dancing (badly) in the library. The will of the die even infiltrated our private life too – we rolled it to determine where we would go away for the weekend. It chose Oxford, which hit our student loans pretty hard, but it could have been worse… if we had rolled a 6, we would have ended up going to Barcelona.
That project, and the times I used the die to determine what I was going to do that day/night/weekend, were brilliantly exciting times. Having the control taken away from you, to a certain degree (you still determine the options after all), allows you to just go with the flow, taking it all in stride. The die determined we eat at a place called Mongolian Wok in Oxford (I don’t think it’s there any longer) and it was one of the best meals of my life. And it was an experience that I perhaps never would have had, had the die never chosen it for me.
So why do I bring all these ancient memories and old projects up? Because I’m doing it again. Kind of. These days, my options for entertainment and ideas for personal projects go well beyond 6, or even 12… and, well I can’t find any dice. So step forward random.org and a lengthy list of things I want to do, and projects I want to crack on with. And yes, you guessed it, writing a blog post was on that 20-strong list, and the random number generator (RNG from this point on) chose it for this hour of my day.
I made my own rules. Each randomly-chosen activity is only to last an hour before the RNG is “rolled” again. I also liberally mixed “entertainment” activities with “project/work” activities, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to crap out of the RNG’s whims if it just chose a whole day of taxing work challenges for me. And clearly, there will be days when I’ll be on a freelance booking and this kind of crazy, laissez-faire lifestyle will seem like a distant memory again. But so far today, the RNG has instructed that I: watch Mad Men, do some training on Lynda.com, play Paper Mario: Sticker Star on 3DS, write a Worth 1000 Words story (not published yet), get on the treadmill, work on our long-neglected A to Z Project and write a blog post. And I’ve not shirked any of them. Making this day infinitely the most productive (but still enjoyable – Mad Men and videogames!) of the year. There’s something about the authority of leaving the decisions up to the RNG that allows you to cut through the procrastination, of the overwhelm of wanting to do so much with your day that you’re paralysed to do any of it.
It’s certainly worked for my productivity today at any rate, and it’s something I’m keen to explore. Not tomorrow though, as its my birthday and my fiancé has already planned it all out for me ahead of time!