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Chaos, productivity and lint.

Some mornings I wake up with an air of calm self-assurance that carries me through my day. Other mornings my dignity is dead on arrival. Today falls into the second category. Even on bad days, I almost always make it past putting on my trousers before calamity sets in. Not today.

I have high entropy trousers.

If a system is described as high entropy, that means it quickly becomes disorganised. In the case of my trousers, this means that they attract fluff. A lot of fluff. From a distance, I resembled Mr Tumnus.

In a rush, with no other clean pants available and unable to find a lint roller, I remembered some advice about rubbing fabric with washing up gloves to remove lint. I slipped on the marigolds and ran my hands over my shins. It worked! Fluff started to clump together and come off.

Unable to see the progress on the back of my legs, I figured I’d just up the pace and make doubly sure they were clean. Bent over, furiously rubbing my own backside with pink rubber gloves, I suddenly realised two things: my neighbours can see into my kitchen window from their house and prioritising maintenance of high entropy systems is foolish.

Setting to one side the abject horror of the first realisation, the second has some interesting consequences for productivity.

No matter how well I clean them, my trousers will be covered in fluff again by the end of the day. It might seem like a good idea to make cleaning them a priority, but seeing the fuzz return within just a few hours feels demoralising and futile. If you’re choosing between tasks of equal value it makes sense to prioritise those whose positive effects stick around, otherwise you’re doomed to do the same few chores repeatedly.

This sounds good in principle, but it leaves me with furry legs. We can’t always avoid dealing with high entropy systems, but we can choose to spend time fixing the systems themselves than cleaning up their messes. In my case, that means buying an anti-static spray or a new pair of trousers.

Whether we choose to fix high entropy systems or use our time elsewhere, it all boils down to one question:

How can I make a lasting impact?

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