20. Obsession treadmill

December 14, 2018

I almost didn’t send this post. It feels silly to talk about what goes in my head.

“What if people judge me or think I’m just entitled?”

But then, I was reminded of some advice I received when I just started giving conference talks:

Don’t worry if you don’t have the smartest or newest thing to say. Folks want to listen to your unique view point on the topic. Nobody else can tell that story.

So here goes nothing:

I struggle with doing things passively. When I want to try something new, I get obsessed with it. It’s all I can think about.

That might sound like it would give me immense focus and maybe it does, but that’s not the complete picture.

Here’s how you’d expect your ideal life to go. These are the things I’d like to balance:

balanced

It almost never goes like that.

Let me give you an example:

Back in April, I decided to make videos about React and anything I learn at work and put the series on youtube. I made a video for 10 days straight and then completely stopped.

Here’s a sneak peak in to the process - I would wake up, get started with work and keep thinking about what can be made into a video.

Sometimes the task I’m working on is genuinely interesting and would be fun to share. But most days, it would take longer than a day to reach an interesting place. I stared recycling concepts I’ve learned in the past.

Either way, it would take a lot of time and effort! Kent and Micheal make it look easy. To make a 5min video, I would spend at least 3 hours - building the example, recording and editing.

Until I publish the video, I would feel like there’s something missing from my day. My bar for quality got lower with time, getting a video out was more important than making a good video. After creating a couple of videos that I wasn’t happy with, I just stopped.

You can imagine it wasn’t easy to balance other parts of my life with this.

side-projects

A wise person would say that I should have given myself an easier target like one video a week (a wise person did tell me that).

That’s really good advice, consistency is key. But, I find it really hard to implement. If I don’t do something every day, I don’t feel motivated to do it at all.

This behavior creeps into other aspects of my life as well. Take running for an example, when I started running in August, I ran 17 times that month and then just stopped. In the last 3 months, I’ve gone for just 5 runs.

The result of this imbalance is that I always feel like I’m not working on something else that I should be. I’m constantly struggling to keep up.

I start a bunch of projects and then they just sit there at 10%, waiting to be given the attention they deserve. Pull requests at work, landing pages for side project, unedited videos for a react course, the list is very long.

When I had a new idea, I didn’t feel excitement, I felt guilt for all the ideas that were waiting. That’s just silly.

If you’re thinking - “Siddharth, you just need to be more disciplined”, you’re not completely wrong. At first, that’s what I thought as well.

So, that’s what I did. I got more conscious about how I spend my time and energy, planning my day the night before. It kind of worked, I was able to work on multiple projects but now, all of them were moving very slowly - that made things worse! I felt like I’m making no progress at all.

After struggling to balance for a while, I’ve become kind of okay with the imbalance. Here’s what I realised:

Some of these efforts reap their rewards over time - like youtube. I get some views/subscribers when I upload new videos. But even after that, folks discover them on their own over time.

youtube

Once in a while, someone would come talk to me about a video I uploaded 6 months ago. The videos I made are helping someone even when I’m not. That’s pretty cool!

That graph could have had a steeper slope if I gave it my consistent focus every week, but I’m pretty okay with the progress I’ve made.

Not everything compounds though - like running. Towards the end there, I was running 3.5km comfortably. Now, I really struggle to get even 2km in. I have to start from scratch and slowly build the distance again over weeks. Ugh!

running

Now that I’ve internalised this behavior of mine, I’m wondering if I can use it to my advantage. Instead of trying to be someone else, maybe I can use this quirk of mine.

Devote all my energy to one thing, stick to it for a short while, then jump to the next thing.

I did some research and realised I’m not the only one thinking like this. I’ve linked a few great articles at the end of this newsletter.

Here’s a snippet from Nathan Barry’s blog:

For the last year or so my friend Barrett Brooks has been preaching about how podcasts should be produced in seasons. How a short run of high quality episodes is better than a show that rambles on each week with no end in sight.

You should dedicate seasons of your time to create something truly meaningful. Instead of trying to do everything at once, dedicate seasons of your life to one thing.

I found similar text while reading Atomic Habits by James Clear:

Life rarely allows you to keep all four burners going at once. Maybe you need to let go of something for this season. You can do it all in a lifetime, but not at the same damn time.

One way to manage this problem is to shift your focus from wishing you had more time to maximising the time you have. In other words, you embrace your limitations. The question to ask yourself is, “Assuming a particular set of constraints, how can I be as effective as possible?”

It’s great to get some validation from experts – I’m not completely off track here.

In the last two weeks, I let myself get obsessed with writing good articles. I was able to write 6 of them in this time. That’s 3x of what I usually do!

Now, I can schedule this newsletter ahead of time and allow myself to get obsessed with something else for the next 2 weeks (I think I’m going to make 10 videos again 😉)

I could probably write for another week, but I don’t want to get annoyed with this newsletter. I like having this space where I can share my thoughts with you. I hope you like it too!

The unexpected side effect of this exercise is that I’m not worried about missing out on the other things I want to do. The next fun thing is always less than 2 weeks away. Having my fomo under control has been great!

average

I don’t know if 2 weeks is a good duration yet, we’ll find out with some experimentation.

Hope that was useful on your journey!

Sid

Smarter people who wrote about this:

Nathan Barry - Seasons

James Clear - The Four Burners Theory

Tim Ferris - Batching


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