Thoughts on my projects in May 2019 #
I have always worked on projects. It’s a byproduct of having many interests and being very goal-driven that I usually have at least three or four things I’m working on at the same time, trying to carve out an hour here and there from my free time to advance each project when I can. Some of them are creative, like writing and recording music, or writing this blog. Others are technical, like programming or modelling projects, or learning some new theory in mathematics or some other discipline.
It’s only recently that I’ve started to think about where this drive to create output comes from, and to think about its positive and negative effects on me and my life.
In fact it’s only recently that I have been aware that there may be a negative effect of this project-driven approach to my free time, or that it might be some sort of compensatory behaviour masking something else, or that it might not always be entirely healthy.
Ever since I read On the Shortness of Life by Roman stoic philosopher Seneca, I really admired and tried wherever possible to subscribe to this philosophy: that time is not only the most valuable resource we have, it is the only resource we have. Ultimately a career is a long-term transaction, trading time for money and, later, wealth and security in retirement. If you’re lucky there’s also some satisfaction and growth and respect thrown into the mix too. But it’s a trade, like everything, including, if we take the idea to the extreme as Stoics like to, interpersonal relationships, and everything we do that could be considered “leisure”.
This sort of hyperoptimisation and “time-hoarding” can however be very detrimental to a peaceful and mindful existence. While it definitely creates output, and accomplishes things, and I believe on long timescales (years, decades) can provide the sort of satisfaction and achievement that I strive for, on shorter timescales, if you’re not careful, it can create a huge amount of anxiety and tension. The constant pressure of needing to find time, of needing to decide between and prioritise different things, which can often mean relationships with other people in your life and spending time on them, in order to maintain the output and the pace.
In the end, like everything, it’s a question of balance that needs a lot of introspection and learning and failing and trying again in order to achieve. To be able to find time without needing pressure to carve it out for you. To be confident that you will get where you want to go, that you have enough self-discipline and trust in yourself to eventually end up where you want to be.
It’s a balance I’m still struggling with, and I definitely don’t have any easy answers. But there are a couple of things that work for me:
- keep track. Of the hours spent working on which projects, so you have a proper objective record of when you invest time.
- rest. Sometimes rest may even need to be enforced, or scheduled, because it is just as important as productive time.
- accept. That sometimes your day is not going to go the way you planned.
- trust. That on average, and in the long run, you will get where you want to go.
The other, even more difficult, part of balancing projects, is accepting that there are an infinite number of projects you are never going to find time to do. As somebody with a lot of interests, this can be difficult to accept, and one can end up taking on far too many “beginnings” of projects, and end up with all sorts of unfinished beginnings of things that got binned when a new idea came along. So the final suggestion is persistence, sticking to the projects you have chosen, even when you begin to doubt yourself and your choice, because finishing something is so much more meaningful and satisfying than hundreds of never-finished beginnings.
Finishing projects #
It is often said, and in my personal experience very accurate, that the “last 10%” of any project takes as much time and effort as the “first 90%”.