February 08, 2019
Winter is always a slog for me, and despite my efforts to remain ever optimistic, Vitamin D deficiencies dictate some negativity. This has been a tough week for a whole bunch of reasons. It’s made me think about the types of frustration that are the worst for me. Here’s my top three.
There always seems to be something going on, and somehow all that stuff adds up to nothing. This is my death by a thousand cuts, and it can happen a couple of different ways. Sometimes, there’s just too many externalities and it’s impossible to focus on any damn thing. There’s nothing to do then except accept it, try to deal with or eliminate each externality, and be patient.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” -Herbert Simon
On the other hand, sometimes I’m just trying to do too many things. I’m really good at context switching, so the inevitable danger is to just take this to the furthest degree and context switch on a per-second basis. But managing this much stuff means you’re not actually doing anything. Each task simply becomes a distraction to your other two second tasks. So instead stop. Go for a walk, come back, and pick just the top thing on the list.
The Blank Page
On the other hand, sometimes the opportunity and space to actually do something comes around. You break out the notebook to a new page, open up an empty text editor, get ready and.. nothing happens.
What gives? The blank page is probably the scariest thing there is. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a thousand different exciting crystal palaces in your head, and you want to see them all become real. But working on a half-built castle is so much easier than breaking ground.
The hardest part is starting. Once you get that out of the way, you’ll find the rest of the journey much easier. - Simon Sinek
The easiest thing to do when staring at a blank page is to revert back to the simplicity of distraction. Or to just continue to dream about your thousand castles.
But every once in awhile, I get past the blank page and do something. Sometimes it feels good, but usually it hurts. The act of creating something is just the repetition of failure and correction. It’s building something wrong first, then learning and fixing it. It’s a thousand little problems that each make you feel dumb.
Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. - Apocryphal Churchill
It seems to take a lifetime to get past these types of frustrations. But each has a clear counterpoint that will help:
- To eliminate distractions, construct a time every single day to do the same thing. Make it repetitive and habitual.
- To surmount the blank page, make your first task your to do list. Once you pick a task, don’t deviate until you’ve achieved an appropriate quanta of progress for evaluation.
- Start picking larger tasks that take more than one sitting to complete. This way, the blank page problem isn’t every day, it’s just every time you’re ready for the next thing.
- Define success simply as completion of a task, then learn from it. Give yourself a low bar; if you set the bar too high, you’ll always be too afraid to start.