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Postponing things is good

David Allen once said:

Procrastination isn’t about “not doing”, it’s about “not doing, and feeling crappy about it”.

Lately, as I am trying to recover from a long illness (with mediocre success) I have succumbed to so many sprawl-brain, SOFA-style projects at the expense of working on longer art projects, especially when there is resistance and self-doubt as I hate my own art style.

Knowing when to say “I’ll do that later” instead of “I’ll be right on it” is key to focus, to make progress on longer projects.

That’s why I have the GTD lists in the first place, as a bookmark to my entire life so I can calm my tits for three seconds and get some work done on what I have already at out to do, before I jump on the next adventure. Some new wonderful idea float across my screen? Great, put it on the list so I can get to it later, I’m busy. I’m trying to learn to see the ever growing list of TODOs (currently at 203) as a good thing, as a sign that I’ve been focusing and been selective in what I spend my time on instead of chasing the easy tasks to keep the list short. I’m happy with how my list is organized with stuff I can do in various contexts, stuff that is vs isn’t time sensitive, things that need to wait for the next Debian version in a few years or for when I need ideas for a new script. (In other words, I don’t need to read through two hundred tasks every day; they’re sorted so I know how to find the one I need when I need it.)

At one point a few years into my GTD journey, I actually managed to do it all, to reach zero, and nothing happened. No fanfare, no oboe. So that’s no longer my goal. My goal is to select the right things to work on out of these ideas the lists so dutifully catalogue.

Lately, I’ve been trying Lisperati’s Productivity System For Creators. In short, the idea is that you do normal GTD but you also follow a heuristic for selecting what to work on. I like this approach; it doesn’t fall into the pitfall of many post-GTD systems of kidding themselves into thinking that they are “simpler” than GTD while removing the scaffolding that GTD needs. I’ve had success in the past by using a tag selection method (I often use the “dots and chains” from Final Version on top of my GTD context lists when I’m not sure what to work on) and Lisperati has sort of the same idea. One benefit of GTD is how it reduces stress by helping you realize that what you’re spending time on right now: drawing, writing, programming, reading this text, hanging out with fam or even just trying to sleep when you need rest and your mind is racing—that it’s the best thing for you to do right now and everything else can wait and is bookmarked. This effect is, of course, amplified if you’ve looked over your lists lately and are sure there is no more urgent and burning thing on your mind.

Lisperati’s method, in short, is that you treat “creation projects” (anything that has an audience) specially. You can only have four at a time and they need to be a day-length (maybe blog posts), a week-length, a month-length, and a half-a-year–length. Any other creation project needs to be queued up, placed on hold. If you finish a day project, you can select a new day project. If you finish a week project, you can select a new week project etc.

You log hours on these four categories (for example, all the time you spend on day projects is added together into one number) and when you select what to work on, you select to work on the categories which has the lowest amount of hours logged so far. You also work on non-creation projects normally (Conrad from Lisperati even suggest you work on one every day). The idea is to balance feedback and rewards from releasing and completing shorter projects with longer ones.

So far, I haven’t been able to stick to this at all. I have two problems. One of that I have a hard time logging hours because I don’t always remember to note when I started working on something creative (unlike billable hours where it’s crystal clear when they start. But that’s not a big deal, I can just guesstimate and it’s good enough. The bigger issue is sticking to one project per time horizon. I haven’t been able to do that at all. Sometimes one project stalls or competent and become unworkable, so I swap it out without releasing it (which feels bad—unlike normal GTD where a wontfix is freeing, something that gives you time and makes your life longer—and it also casts doubt on the meaning of all the hours I’ve logged on it), and then if it later becomes possible again (because of an upstream bugfix, or similar), what happens if I swap it back in? Then what was there is going to get swapped out which in turn feels bad. It makes all the logged numbers feel kind of meaningless.

As I am writing this essay, a solution strikes me! Yes, that’s right, dear reader, yet again has the life-changing magic of writing before I think and find myself ending up in an unexpected direction paid off! How about if I just scrap the “one project per horizon” limitation? I lose out on a lot of benefits from Lisperati’s method, so it’s a desperate measure, but I’ll hopefully still gain the main benefit of balancing my time between different time horizons. Maybe, soon enough, I won’t even have to log my hours, just internalize a balance between the horizons.

(The other option, which maybe I also should try, is to instead really double down on the discipline and carefully selecting projects deliberately so I can really dedicate myself to them.)

I don’t know! ♥