Chipping Away at the Long Queue

Chipping Away at the Long Queue

This Monday morning I was thinking of the things I had to do, deliberately not freaking out about the long queue. But how do I start the process in the first place?

Ok, trying Just start! RrrRrrrRrrrRrrRrrrrrr.

Damn it, it’s not working. So now I’m checking my newly-minted process for clues on what to do next. It’s slightly tweaked from the previous version:

  1. Is it on my mind? Will it take less than two minutes to finish it? Do it, and stop thinking about it.
  2. Is it the next thing that’s due? Do until a good chunk is done. If there’s no explicit delivery date, then don’t worry about it. If there should be a delivery date, then find out when it should be and promise it to someone.
  3. Is it Worth Doing as part of your overall goals? Do that until a good chunk is done.
  4. Above all, don’t worry about the Long Queue…if you’re doing the above three things, you’ll probably be OK.

I’m bogging down on #2. Or actually, I’m doing #1, which is writing down my thought process in this blog post. I have to write one anyway; once this is done, my mind will be a little clearer.

Ok, there are a few things do, none of them with explicit due dates. So what I need to do is set deadlines with a third-party stakeholder. That works for me because once I set a deadline, I feel additional motivation to get it done. I hate letting people down.

The Thing with Responsibility

Here’s the problem: Calling up people and setting deadlines is not a particularly thrillling thing to do. It might be different if I had a team of antsy creatives working with me, every one of them craving new design challenges to push them toward greatness…but I don’t. So the feeling I have is more like the conversation I would imagine a sheep having with the local shepherd; substitute “wool” for “free time”:

Sheep: “Hey man!” Shepherd: “Hey, sheep! What’s up?” Sheep: “Well, you know I’ve been thinking that my wonderful fluffy coat of wool is getting, like, pretty thick. And though I dig it, it’s probably around that time that you should be shaving it all off.” Shepherd: “I’ve been thinking the same thing. I didn’t want to bring it up right away though, since I thought you might be still using it.” Sheep: “Yeah, I know, I know. It HAS been pretty nice, HAVING all this wool. But I know how the world works: you shear my wool, sell it, and in return you feed me. It’s the way of things.” Shepherd: “Ok. How about next Tuesday?” Sheep: “Works for me.”

The problem, in other words, is that being responsible doesn’t pay off in the short term…there, I’ve said it! So let me deal with it in my own way; you “just do it” gurus out there, resplendent in your track pants and cross-trainers, will just have to grit your teeth.

  1. This is a recurring theme (1) (2) in my life. I’ve recognized that the main mechanism that works for me is to have external triggers and responsibilities to unlock my sense of urgency. However, taking this course of action is about as fun as making an appointment to see the dentist. You know you’ll be better off. It’s the responsible, mature, and adult thing to do.

  2. If I had a significant other at this point in time, I could rely on the romance of shared destiny (i.e. persistent low-level nagg—er, affirmation) to prod me into action. It’s an external trigger that I would react to, and because I hate not pulling my own weight, I would start to self-motivate in anticipation of the need. In the latter case, the short term gain is quite palpable ito me: as a unit, we reaffirm our commitment to move forward. This is the kind of responsibility that I like: to my peers As a freelancer, I mostly deal with that sense of responsibility to projects. Taking a step back, I can now see why I tend to establish personal relationships with clients before I start the work…it’s necessary for me to feel that connection!

  3. Unfortunately for me, #2 is not likely to happen in the next 15 minutes. I need something right now.

Getting Unstuck


p>Having now shared this conundrum publically, I’m feeling better. Maybe all I need is someone to complain to periodically. But to summarize:

  • Being responsible is kind of a drag, with all the short-term reward of taking out the garbage. No wonder I’m not motivated.
  • Being in a team or a unit, with a sense of immediate shared destiny, is a motivating context to work in, one that I know I like. But it’s not available TODAY, so I have to come up with something that will work in the short term. All the below could work:

Approach #1 is SUCK IT UP and just doing it without all the navel gazing. It’s the obvious, and simplest solution.

Approach #2 is GAME IT. I could print out a few PCEO forms, but I think what’s needed is more like a pick-up productivity game of some kind. The existing forms are designed to establish longer-term context and record keeping. The Emergent Task Timer is probably the closest thing I have to something like this.

Approach #3 is VENT and GO. Which is the purpose of this post…I’ve set a one hour time limit, too, so I don’t spend all day on it. Theory is that I just feel like complaining or talking to people, sharing some frustrations. Once it’s out, then I’ll feel OK and can get on with Approach #1.

Approach #4 is GET SHEARED. Call up some people and make some commitments to getting things done by a certain time, then drop into project management mode. This is like #1 except it involves other people setting expectations. Works if you like to deliver to expectation.

Approach #5 is COVET THE FUTURE. Look at my work schedule in the future, and expected revenue. Compare against the new computer you want and the vacations you’d like to take. Be material! I’m way out of practice here…I’ve been pretty content. Maybe I shouldn’t be.

Approach #6 is CONVOY. Sometimes I just need to know that other people are working on cool stuff for ME to want to do something. This is where working in a shared space with other freelancers would be nice. Instant Messaging can create a good environment for that too.


Doing the responsible thing is sometimes counter to our nature. It’s like offering to drive someone to the airport when you really don’t want to, or saying that you’ll have that second helping of beans just to be polite. This is a terrible way to live, but hopefully you don’t have to do it all the time.

I think it’s possible to transmute the energy-draining aspects of responsibility into something more immediately worthwhile by finding other feedback mechanisms. I’ve just realized that this is one of the main premises behind the whole Printable CEO™ series I’ve been doing. This suggests many new approaches.


  1. Senia 17 years ago

    Great post!

    You’re hilarious and great when you do dialogue!
    Like in Mumble, Mumble, Thinking Negative, the above sheep dialogue, and the Ulrich the Bee Story.

    I went back and looked at your original Printable CEO post, and so many different people get so many different things out of your PCEO form – it’s the best!

    Yes, asking for responsibility is sometimes such an unreward!

    I’ve reacently been thinking about sometime similar to this – that it’s sometimes hard to be good.  It just is.  But there are really good rewards to being good.  They’re just not always immediate.

    It seems that a large part of what you’re talking about is wanting to be accountable to someone – to somehow increase the accountability without necessarily immediately increasing the responsibility and the stress factor.  I wonder if maybe being accountable to a friend would work for you.  Come to think of it, I’ve been doing this without caling it such for the past few months.  It involves me and a friend calling each other or emailing int he morning, and asking “What is the one priority, the one thing, that you most want to accomplish today?  What will you be most proud of having done?”  And then we each answer this question.  Let me know please if you decide to try it – please let me know how it works for you.

    And most importantly, there is more to life and there is more in life – and it’s like only after getting through those hings that you’re doing now… only after that can you discover the next, the great, the wonderful things ahead!  A musician sometimes can’t get to writing a new song until he puts the finishing touches on the song still in progress in his head!

    (Thanks for letting me leave such a long comment!)

  2. bonder 17 years ago

    Why not come up with a game where you score points for getting things across the finish line?

    Hey! What about a board game?  Make cards of all the things you need to do with a number of points for completing the work.  The tasks need to be independent—no sense making a card that can’t be started or completed because something it depends on hasn’t been pulled yet.

    Shuffle up the deck, then start drawing cards and doing the work on each card.  You are not allowed to draw again until you complete the current card.

    The advantage here is that if you can’t what to start on, take the decision out of your hands.

    Anyway, thought I’d share that crazy idea. :)

  3. Dave Seah 17 years ago

    Senia: Thanks for the comment! that’s an interesting analysis about accountability, reward, and responsibility. I think there might be something to working with the “right” person or persons. I’ve thought of this as having a “shared mission”, which includes the mutual betterment of all involved parties. There’s a good measure of trust involved with that too. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that sense of trust AND the sense of shared mission. If you’ve found such an arrangement with your friend, cherish it! I think it might be very rare!

    Bonder: I love the idea of making a board game-based management system…I’ve had something like this in the back of my head, since I started playing more board games. There’s a lot of interesting information management and design that goes into them, and a well-designed game board provides a few good things: (1) strategic and tactical assessment at a glance (2) procedure and (3) clear rewards and victory conditions. I think we’re on the same wavelength!