Sunday, May 31, 2020

Diffusion of Competence

"We're with the Ace Tomato Company."
The Pomodoro method is bullshit. 

I mean, maybe it works for other people — and more power to them, if they’ve found something useful — but it's not an effective way for me to get things done. 

John Cleese has ideas about creativity that have been more helpful, especially the part where he encourages people to “keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way.” 

Taking on several projects at once lets me rest my mind against a bunch of subjects. I can bounce between them and make progress faster than if I’d been tackling any of them individually. 

My subconscious comes up with solutions to project C while I’m implementing a solution to project B, and the experience helps me get through project D faster. That way, when I’m composing the email to apologize for the delays with project A, I can remind myself that I wasn’t wasting all my time on Twitter

It also helps if all the projects are big, scary, and unpleasant. You end up solving a huge, unpleasant problems as a method of procrastination; you complete those projects because you can’t bear to work on bigger, more unpleasant problems that are waiting in the wings. 

Telling myself that I’m going to sit down and reconcile the March budget in 15-minute increments leaves me grinding my brain unproductively against a spreadsheet for an entire day. On the other hand, if I give myself permission to ignore time limits while updating my account details on the DMV website, I find that the budget gets reconciled, I’ve ordered replacement air filters, the electric bill has been paid, and I've beta tested an entry for IFcomp.

(This approach is vulnerable to scope creep. Observant readers may have noticed that my example did not end up with corrected DMV information — that would require an even bigger, more unpleasant project to ignore. And that would need something even more extreme once it went unfinished for a while.) 

When I’m at home, I have a list of household projects to work on, and I can safely ignore my work projects. The same thing goes for my home projects when I’m at work. 

The issue that I’m experiencing with the global-health-pandemic-shelter-crisis-lockdown-in-place is that there’s nothing stopping me from taking on too many projects. Across too many domains. 

Work, home, parenting, leisure, cooking, cleaning, and every other part of my life have all been collapsed into a single space. Time spent working on any one project means that time has been taken away from other, equally important projects. I’m spending so much time trying to figure out which project to work on that it leaves me with no time left for getting things done.