DRMacIver's Notebook

Spiraling outwards

Spiraling outwards

I’m going to describe a problem that I have. I have not yet found a good solution for it, and this is why you are getting a very nominal post today in which I describe that problem and think out loud about it.

The problem is this: I start with something small, and then I think “Oh this is really good, I should do it justice”.

Doing it justice makes it… not small. Often it increases the work of doing it by a factor of ten or more. Suddenly it becomes a thing that I need to spent much longer on than I had time allocated for it, and moves it up a project size category.

In concrete terms what happens is that I now have two pieces that started out life as notebook posts and are going to be newsletter issues that I need to finish. They should be pretty easy to finish but I probably won’t have time to do so prior to the weekend.

Often they languish unfinished. This was very much my problem with writing papers. It felt like in order to write an academic paper I had to publish something that was substantially worse than the state of the art that existed in my head, because in order to get to the point where it was publishable I either had to stop thinking about the problem (impossible if I were to be interested enough to finish writing it) or publish something that I felt was worse than I could have done.

This isn’t really a problem for many things which feel like I can just snip off a thread. The notebook is good for that, but often I end up wanting to write things which have a certain minimum size without which they would end up incomplete.

I think part of the problem here is really not that things become large, but that I need a better way to work on large projects. The paper problem felt like a mismatch between the sort of incrementalism I wanted to do and the sort of incrementalism that academia wanted me to do. The newsletter issue problem is more manageable, and I think I just need to get better at managing my draft backlog and allocating more time to it.

Perhaps I can treat drafts as an inbox problem and apply the How to triage your inboxes method to it?