- Birthlines, Part 1: What Is A Birthline?
- Birthlines, Part 2: Birthlines, Digital Sampling, Immersion
- Birthlines, Part 3: If You Want To Win, Stop Trying To Finish
- Birthlines, Part 4: If You Want to Succeed, Start Off On The Wrong Foot
“It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little — do what you can.” ~ Sydney Smith
“I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes.” ~ Sara Teasdale
“Do not wait; the time will never be “just right.” Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” ~ Napoleon Hill
Sidenote: according to The Pedia, Sara Teasdale committed suicide by ODing on sleeping pills, so…someone clearly forgot to read their own writing that morning.
Which reminds me of a funny story from Napoleon Hill. In one of his taped seminars, Hill describes how at one point when he was feeling really down, facing a major problem, he actually went and read one of his own books and (lo and behold) found a solution to his problem. Pretty sweet.
Inspired by Hill, I’ve actually started doing that myself — I read AJATT, my own writing, for advice…a lot of the advice I don’t agree with, but there are some gems in there! If you can get past the self-absorbed, unfunny writing. Haha. No, really. How do do you guys read this and stay sane? Wait, don’t answer that.
Taxes. Kanji. Massive reading assignments. The Big Uns. Big, important, things…tasks…stuff.
We put these off. Because they’re big and important and scary and need to be done right. Need to be done perfectly. Need to be done right. Can’t screw around. This is major stuff, right? No room for error.
“I’ll get round to it”, you say.
“I’ll put it off till the last minute — the time pressure helps me”, you say. [That's true and false...what it is is that last-minute work forces ad hoc timeboxing. It forces us to deal with real time (hours, minutes) instead of "days". "Days" are a meaningless work unit. Unless "day" means 24 actual working hours -- 1440 actual working minutes -- no one has "days" to do anything].
“I’ll do it when I have time…yeah…this weekend…I have the whole weekend…48 hours, I can do this!”
Weekend comes. Weekend goes. Sunday night.
“I’ll start Monday! I needed the weekend to rest. New day, new week, new beginning!”
“Lemme just check some email and Facebook here. Life is about friendship and networking!…”
“Slashdot! I need to learn! I need to broaden my technical and intellectual horizons. A couple of minutes of Slashdot never killed anyone! Micro-managing is unhealthy. Besides, I don’t know how to start.”
“Well, I have meetings and stuff. I’ll do it when I do it. I still have like a month…two weeks at least…I’m totally fine. I have all the time in the world. No need to get riled up”.
“Well, it’s past midweek, and these things are best done at the beginning of the week. I’ll get round to it!”
Day before duedate.
“$&$”! Where’s the “‘#’”#? $’”#$! How do you fill this in? Who’s this supposed to go to? CRAP! I need an extension!”
Gets extension. Promises to start again on Monday. Monday comes.
“Slashdot! I need to learn! I need to broaden my technical and intellectual horizons. A couple of minutes of Slashdot never killed anyone! I got an extension so I still have loads of time. I’ll get right on it tomorrow”.
“OK time to really hunker down! Time to get serious! No more games! But first — Hulu! I deserve a break! I’ve been so stressed out!”
“OK time to start. I’ve got this extension, so I need to get serious about this. Keep it real. But first…this room is a mess. Let me tidy it up a bit. An orderly environment will lead to an orderly mind.”
…Day before extended duedate….
“MOTHER OF PICARD! Oh my…animal reproduction in the feces of mother-fondling moldy bread and other fungal interventions…”
I’m not saying I know any of this from experience 8) . And I’m not saying you do either. But other people pull this kind of insanity all the time, right? Yeah…other people are idiots.
The Cause: Too Much Reverence for the Important
Why does this story happen? Because the procrastinator isn’t serious? Can’t this idiot see the enormity, the importance of the task at hand? We’re talking about [insert important thing here]! You can’t just not do [insert important thing]! It has to be done, otherwise the world will end! You’ll be dead meat! Fear! Pressure!
That’s just the problem. The procrastinator is all too well aware of the importance of the task. And I literally mean “too” aware. Excessively aware. How do I know? Just scroll back up and look at all the parts highlighted in red — those are all the fallacious ideas that the procrastinator has. You’ll notice that they’re vague and very all-or-nothing — a bad combination: extremism based on faulty information.
Our procrastinator is avoiding the important task because it’s important. He doesn’t know when to start. He doesn’t know how to start. It has to be right. There’s a lot of time to do it — all the time in the world, in fact — so it has to be done right. And when he starts, there’ll be no time for play, so he’d better rest now before really hunkering down and going to town on this thing, for, you know…hours…days…as long as it takes. This is all stuff that Neil Fiore talks about.
Far from being lazy, our procrastinator has too much reverence for the important. He values it above even himself. But what he’s finding is that overvaluing important things actually causes them to be neglected.
The (Well, A) Cure
Care less. Give less of a…one of those.
Know less. Do more.
But don’t do it well. Don’t do a good job.
Do not hunker down.
Do not wait until you have all your ducks in row.
Do not get serious.
Because [a crappy job on something important] > [a good job on something unimportant].
[a crappy job on something important] > [a good job on something unimportant]
A gram of gold is worth more than a gram of sand. An imperfect, dirty, uncut, soil-covered diamond the size of a Tic-Tac is worth more than…I dunno…a perfectly polished leather shoe.
Put another way: a trivial amount of work in a nontrivial direction always has nontrivial significance.
Not knowing how to file your taxes, not having your documents, and just taking yourself to the tax office — early in the year — to get help is worth way more than (pretending to) prepare for a perfect surgical strike.
Starting your visa application — incompletely, imperfectly, without all your documents in place — is worth more than almost all the perfectly washed (dried and stacked) dishes in the world.
Go to your SRS. Get it wrong. Miss a few. Miss many. 90% knowledge of 5000 kanji is worth infinitely more than 100% knowledge of 100 kanji.
The bigger and more “important” the thing is, the less seriously you need to take it if you want it to actually get done.
If someone tells you to read 1 page, you can do a nice, perfect read right before class or whatever.
If someone tells you to read 1000 pages…you skim and start and stop and start and stop and start and start and start again in little bursts.
The bigger and more “important” the thing is, the more it will benefit from being done even crappily and partially.
The bigger and more “important” the thing is, the more just starting on it, just nibbling on it will be worth it.
The bigger and more important it is, the less perfectly it need be done.
If it’s big and important, then don’t finish it. Don’t finish. Start. Just start on it. Then go play. Then come back and start again.
Don’t have a deadline. Have birthlines. Decide when to start. Decide when you’re going to touch it for just 1 minute even. And then leave it alone for a while. And then come back. Treat it like Farmville. You don’t hunker down to do Farmville. You just do it. And somehow, Farmville gets down. Oh, Farmville gets done all right. Novels don’t get written; grandmas don’t get kisses. But Farmville? Farmville gets doooone, esé.
Things that aren’t important always get done. So if you want stuff to get done, don’t give it importance. Just give it a minute. 1 minute? You can do one minute of SRS, right? Do 1 minute of SRS and spend the next 20 minutes…drinking chocolate milk, playing WoW, whatever who cares. Just be sure to come back after 20 minutes – but only for 1 minute. Then go back to hookers, blow and WoW.
If you want it to get done, make it fun. If you want to make it fun, make it easy. If you want to make it easy, do it in smaller chunks — timeboxing — and give yourself a small reward for each chunk. Your reward could be a break. I’d go as far as to say make your breaks longer than the chunks if you can.
That’s the basic idea…I don’t have time to go into operant conditioning and rewards and random reinforcement schedules today. We’ll save that for another post! I don’t know that this will instantly make everything perfect for you. I hope it at least helps a bit.
Take it easy (literally). But do take it. Take a nibble. Do something. Anything. If the direction is important enough it’ll be worth it. Something is better than nothing.
This article sucks. This website sucks. But at least the ball is rolling. And that is the point.
[a crappy job on something important] > [a good job on something unimportant]
Now go do a crappy job on something important.