Inquiring minds yearn to know: “How do you manage to manage all those ideas and projects?”
And I say to them: “Well, inquiring minds, yearn no further. The answers are thither. Or do I mean yon? I don’t think thither means what I think it means. Onward to me asking myself a pile of questions!”
Identifying Problems or Bottlenecks or Interesting Technologies is What Keeps Me Going
“Aren’t you busy enough?”
I have an endless list of items on Wunderlist. Before that it was Keep. Before that: Trello and Any.do. All bottomless pits of infinite rolling todos.
Early on, I tended to build up lists and abandon them when I couldn’t get traction. Usually because I’ve moved in a new direction or those things weren’t actually interesting and now I just feel guilty and overwhelmed or I’ve abandoned enough things on the list that it’s time to start fresh and iterate and refine the process.
The vestiges of what my past selves thought was important still haunt the halls of the interwebs, their calls for satisfaction drowned in a sea of more interesting things.
But I’ve come to realize the platform doesn’t matter. Just don’t be afraid to let things go. If it’s important, it will come back around.
“From what well did these once-important, now-shades of productivity spring from?”
I spend a lot of time thinking about the problems in life. More time than I should about things that maybe shouldn’t bother me but do. I wouldn’t turn it off if I could.
Sometimes it’s silly things. Like traffic. Can’t do much about that. I suppose I should try to “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable” or the like. But I could also make an amusing and/or cathartic game about bad drivers. That goes on the list of Excuses to Learn Something New.
Sometimes it’s a legitimate area for improvement. Or an excuse to learn a new technology that’s thinly disguised as an area for improvement. That one app I like doesn’t do something in a way I want. Or there’s too many ads on that website. Or I can’t filter the content in a way I would like. Or I just want to see if I can do that thing the way they did. These things also go on the list of Excuses to Learn Something New.
“Why am I doing this manually? Again? It would be nice to put this to rest somehow…”
Oh, that task. I know that task. That’s the one that fools me into thinking it’s not worth the bother of automation, because it’s so simple. It only takes a few minutes. Just complete me, it says. Fool me ten times, task.
Enough! I’d rather go clip my nails. Or take a nap. Right in the aisle so everyone can see. Or anything. Like try a new technology that might do this task for me. Even though the task might take only a few minutes, I’d rather spend hours learning better ways to conquer/vanquish/(other synonym for victory) it so thoroughly it daren’t require my manual involvement any further.
There’s a chart on xkcd for how long you should spend on these things. I ignore it regularly in the interest of being interested. I’ll find it later.
This may seem like the Ultimate Procrastinator’s Plan, but I’ve found over the years that interest in what you’re working on always yields… interest, even if it doesn’t look like it will up front. I’ll stumble on an idea or make a connection that suddenly solves a problem I wasn’t even thinking about. Or maybe it’s a year before I make the connection. In the end, I’ve not really regretted many of these excursions into Whatiftopia.
Regardless, these manual items go on the list of Excuses to Learn Something New.
“Oh that looks like fun.” And/or “Ooh piece of candy!”
When something catches my interest, it goes on a list of Things With Which to Take Action on Excuses to Learn Something New (the title takes up a good portion of the page. But TWWTAELSN doesn’t roll of the tongue very well).
I try not to be too overzealous in adding, then aggressively prune (with ample zeal) the list at regular intervals. This keeps me from drowning in ideas and feeling like a failure for not having the time or energy to execute on all of them.
Filtering, or How To Manage the Lists
Now that I have an endless list of Excuses to Learn Something New and a TWWTAELSN (that actually rolls off better than expected. Try it out!), it’s time to take action.
“Maybe someone else has solved this problem and I can bask in the glory of having had an idea and finding a solution with little to no work”
First, I check the Google Play store and the interwebs.
If the top few apps/sites look like they do what I’m looking for without spamming me with full-page ads or pestering me for micro-transactions, then I try them out for a few days.
If I find one that solves my problem and the urge to solve the problem on my own goes away or I lose interest, I write that idea off and move on.
If none of the above, I start planning my own solution.
“Does this problem really matter to me?”
If I’ve gotten this far, the answer is probably: “Let’s do it anyway and see how it goes”.
Because I’m stubborn in following through and defending my earlier justifications. And if you point out my earlier justifications were different than what I remember, then my current justification I just made up has just been retconned.
I try not to overanalyze at this stage, because usually the beginning is HARD regardless of the answer to the above, and I slog through it and eventually come out the other side and my enthusiasm for it just explodes and it was all worth it.
“Are the Docs Any Good?”
If I Google for functionality about this language/system/whirligig, I prefer to see official docs pretty high on the list. I won’t reject a tech outright if there aren’t stellar docs, but if there are, I’m definitely more open to diving in.
“Can I align this with my career?”
This one’s tricky.
Part of it is playing psychological games with myself. Can I feel like I’m helping my career if I learn this technology, or will I feel like it’s separate or a time-waster? This latter is how making games with one of the big engines makes me feel. Which is crazy, because making games is the thing that keeps coming back around for me. Maybe I just need to align my career better…
But if I can focus on higher principles like code quality or project planning, I can generally justify it. Or I just call it a “hobby” and light that candle.
Community: “Does anyone care?”
If a framework falls in the interwebs…?
Are there any “How to build X gizmo in Y technology” blog posts/tutorials? Are there coherent questions and answers about this technology on Stack Overflow/Quora? If nobody’s talking about it, maybe it’s not really worth using.
“Would people be interested in reading about this technology I’m pouring my (insert metaphysical reference or bodypart or other resource) into?”
Sometimes I don’t care. I won’t learn and write about a thing just because it’s popular. But if it solves a problem for me, is reasonable to use, has good documentation and community support, well, then if people are interested in reading about my discoveries, that’s icing on the cake.
Yearn on, Inquiring minds. Never be satisfied.
By the way, stop noticing my run-ons. They’re not run-ons. OK, they’re run-ons, but I really tried hard to write them somewhat ironically. Let’s just say I wrote them ironically. Life’s too short to take yourself seriously all the time.