How to Be Productive in Hell

Quinn Norton
Jul 24, 2014 · 6 min read

Good Morning, and welcome to orientation!

When you first arrive it’s a bit of a shock, we all understand that. Even those of you who know it’s coming usually have the wrong idea of what it’s like, so it’s important to pay attention and get down these procedures fully. You’ll need to understand what’s expected of you. There’s a lot to take in, and many distractions, but it’s important from the moment you hit the mud to develop and maintain your productivity.

To start out, please line up neatly according to the numbers on your forehead. I know they are a little hard to see for obvious reasons, and each one is a 16-digit prime number, but you can coordinate with the folks around you to figure out where your prime fits in.

While you’re doing that, I’ll tell you a little about what you can expect here in Hell.

You’re going to be in Orientation for a while, and that’s fine, most of you will hold together for it without much trouble. If you’ve never knitted before you’ll need to signal the instructors for special Auxiliary Orientation. Do that by crossing your arms and lifting them over your head. Keep them still until you’ve been flagged. Don’t worry, you’ll know when you’ve been flagged. The knitting may seem secondary with all the things you’re going to be memorizing and keeping track of in the coming days, weeks, years, etcetera, but it’s vital to the mission. In fact, I’m happy to announce that we’ve secured enough budget to give most of you a set of arms after Phase Two of the Orientation which you can use for the knitting, full time.

It’s always going to feel like you’re behind on an infinite number of tasks. And technically, this is because you are. But it’s all the more reason to narrow your focus and think about what’s achievable in the now. You’re going to be tempted to lift your head to take in the big picture. Don’t do it. It’s too much to take in, and there’s not anything you can do about it anyway. You never really questioned what you were doing on Earth, and believe me, now is not the time to start. There’s no punishment for falling behind, per se. We all realize that would be somewhat redundant. (Pauses for laughter.) And frankly, Management understands that it just makes more sense to keep up your morale. But — and it’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the physics of the situation — if you fall behind you are going to feel like you’re unraveling. I’ve never seen anyone really get used to that feeling. It’s a lot harder to catch up when bits of you seem to be wafting into oblivion, so better to never fall behind in the first place.

You’re going to spend about 30 percent of your time in transit from one part of Hell to another. We wish it were less, we know it doesn’t ever give you enough time on-site to get everything you need to do done. For now we can’t do much about that except try to make your transit time as useful and pleasant as we can under the circumstances. You’ll be fairly comfortably seated and I’m happy to report the mud usually doesn’t go much higher than your waist. This may seem like a good time to relax, but really it’s the most useful time make sure your paperwork is up to date and organize your onsite time so that not a moment is wasted when you’re there. And, of course, never forget your knitting!

I’ve got three tips for organizing your onsite work: prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! I imagine a lot of you saw that coming. Of course, I don’t mean literally pick the most important things to do — all of what you have to do is vitally important.

Prioritizing for your work here is more like solving a jigsaw puzzle. You need to look at your tasks and sort out your dependencies so that when you arrive on-site, you won’t waste a moment.

That means understanding the order of things. It might seem obvious that if you try to fill out your billable hours before stacking the oranges and boards, the paperwork is going to sink into the mud, but you’d be amazed at how often I have to replace mud-covered paperwork while someone is retrieving their boards from the mud as their oranges are floating away. Most tasks are a lot more complex than that, though. This is why your transit time is so precious. Don’t be afraid to peek at what other people are doing! Especially your more whole co-workers. And if you’re doing well, let other people learn from your example. Hell is a noncompetitive work environment— leave that idea in your earthly past. It’s you versus yourself — and the void of course — but never your fellow workers. We’re all in this together. It’s not like you’re going to be done first, or ever, so there’s no point in competing.

We’ve got a number of well-researched methods for keeping yourself organized. None of them are completely foolproof, but all of them have something to recommend themselves.

Some people really like flashcards for creating discrete lists of tasks. Just looking at a little card the size of your hand that tells you exactly what to do is pretty comforting in the chaos of being on-site. I never really got into them, but I have to confess that a few of our flashcard aficionados are some of the most together people down here, literally. If you want to try it, you can requisition a limitless supply of flashcards, which you’ll receive continuously. But, holding them together is especially challenging along the bumpy rides or when a site flips upside down. I’ve been told your best bet is to tie them together with either a lock of hair or the upper part of your, um, knitting material. The knitting material is a little bit more elastic, if you can, you know, stomach it.

I use a classic Dayrunner. (Holds up notebook.) I don’t have to worry about keeping the pages together, as the opening snaps shut pretty tightly. Hell auto-adds pages as you go along, so there are fewer forms to fill out, which makes everyone’s time easier. The downside is that the calendaring stuff that’s left over from Earth just gets in the way, but if you can ignore that it works pretty well. It requires a subsystem in how you write down things, because it can get pretty thick and you can’t rip a page out until everything on it has been completed. Too many details can cause it to burst open, and then you’re running around trying to catch pages and figure out what order they went in and get the mud off them and so on. Other options include standard legal pads and a few electronic doo-dads I’m just going to steer you away from. We’re up to our necks in the mud often enough that I can’t imagine keeping anything dry enough to work.

Some people, especially the old-timers, write everything on their limbs. They look kind of funny writing over all the older scars, and it doesn’t work that well until you’ve got a few extra limbs. But those are the only people I ever see having a moment to close their eyes in transit, so that has something to recommend it.

Sometimes, and it happens to us all, all your work is going to get lost. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just the way Hell is some days. Sometimes your organizational system slips into a crevasse and it’s gone. Sometimes paperwork goes missing. I know it’s frustrating, and no one hates it more than Management. Just try to move on and get to recreating it as quickly as possible, before the unraveling starts. Remember that the further you get behind, the harder it will be to catch up, but once you are caught up, you’ll be almost entirely like a single thing and you’ll barely feel the tug of the void.

You’re not the passive victims of Hell the Earthly media made you out to be. You’re its very fiber, and that only becomes more true the more knitting you do. You are what Hell is made of, and we never forget that. So let’s get in there and make this the best Hell we can make it.

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection.

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.

Quinn Norton

Written by

A journalist, essayist, and sometimes photographer of Technology, Science, Hackers, Internets, and Civil Unrest.

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.