Taming the Surge of Possibility

SUMMARY: I didn’t get much done this weekend, as measured by my evolving Multiple Goals Tracking form, but that’s OK. However, it’s worthwhile noting that there are a couple of common productivity crises that have loomed: The Surge of Possibility and the Tedium of the Next 150 Miles.

1. Taming The Surge of Possibility

The first type of crisis I’ll call the surge of possibility. This is the feeling of excitement you get when faced with (1) a great new idea or (2) a big block of unscheduled time that gets you SO FIRED UP that you believe you should get moving on it right away. However, when you are a big, big dreamer, this burst of imagination leads to the situation where it’s not feasible to complete your idea quickly. Or, you have no idea where to start, so you don’t. If this happens over and over, a kind of despair sets in, and you wonder why you’re not more productive or proactive.

This weekend, faced with a particularly bad surge of possibilities combined with the block of unscheduled weekend time, I decided I’d try to deal with it in a systematic matter. I had three promising brainstorms:

  1. Combine fresh naan (an Indian bread) with the KFC Double-Down sandwich. This bread is possibly the perfect complement for it.

  2. Create an online version of the Multiple Goals Tracker, because I thought it would be nice to have a centralized version I could edit in my browser. Plus, I wanted to see if I could do it.

  3. Create a diagram that explains the different ways a camera can control light to explain all this F-STOP nonsense.

There’s a big difference between a brainstorm like, “I COULD COMBINE FRESH NAAN WITH A KFC DOUBLE-DOWN AND IT WILL BE PERFECT!” and “I COULD CREATE AN ONLINE VERSION OF THE MGT”. Taming KFC’s salty protein bomb with the pleasant charcoal-tinged elasticity of Indian quickbreads, can be implemented and experienced in an hour. Rolling up an online version of the MGT seemed doable, but I wasn’t 100% sure. In either case, I realized that there was an impulse timeframe that is in effect when I’m chasing ideas. When I’m hit with the Surge, I’m excited and motivated, and empirically it seems that I need to get some kind of result within the next two hours for me to feel a sense of accomplishment, though I’m not sure that’s the word for what I feel. The association I have is that I’ve been able to exploit a local wormhole of possibility, shortcutting much tedious drudgery to get a big payoff. If it takes longer to see “the vision” realized, then I start losing steam because what I thought was a sprint ended up being more of a marathon. Still, I didn’t know for sure. For once, instead of playing Star Trek Online for a mindless hour, I made myself start, telling myself that it would be like using the cardio machines at the gym: it’s only that first 15 minutes that suck. Afterwards, you get into a kind of rhythm and the motion itself is kind of exhilarating.

  • In the case of the Naan/KFC fusion, I decided to save it for another day. The vision is “the salty-but-good meat bomb would probably be better with the right amount of the right bread”. I love Indian bread, and especially plain naan, and I know it’s doable within the two-hour window. Maybe I can get some volunteers to help me with it.

  • For the Quick & Dirty MGT Online, the vision was to use my licensed web fonts in an HTML page, and then use Unit Interactive’s Unify to make the in-browser editing super-easy. It sort of works—here’s the current HTML prototype— but the web fonts aren’t being used when I output to the laser printer. This is bleeding-edge stuff, so I’m not that surprised it didn’t work, but never-the-less I gained only partial satisfaction.

  • For the F-STOP lighting project, the vision was to make something similar to my handgun safety poster from a few years ago. In my mind, the lighting principles are fairly straightforward once you are able to connect the basic idea that photography is the art of trying to capture a huge range of light within a tiny bucket. The problems quickly arose: where do you start to explain things? How big is that tiny bucket? What is the range of light that can be captured? I suppose these are not really necessary if you are just teaching a recipe, but in my information diagrams I try to convey the real foundational principles, so I had some self-education to do. This itself took about two hours, and the results are some lines of text in an illustrator file. I also had to relearn how to take the log2 of a number, once I figured out that this is what I needed to do, which got me down this rabbit hole of just how awful math writing is in general. But I digress…again, I got no satisfaction.


p>The payoff for all this lack of satisfaction? Well, today I am feeling pretty good about having done SOMETHING in the face of the easy choice of not doing anything at all. Goal!

2. The Second 150 Miles

The second productivity crisis to deal with is related to all the Multiple Goals Tracker experimentation I did last week. A familiar feeling arose today as I sat down to look at last week’s results. This truthfully felt like a chore, because there was a certain amount of digging for data and formatting it the right way. Once it was done, and I could see what the week ahead looked like, I felt a feeling of “here we go again.”

This is a common feeling, I think, when we’re starting a new project or kicking off a new habit. The analogy that instantly came to mind was the beginning of a long car trip. I find the preparation and actual start of the trip very exciting. This is enough to carry you through the first two hours or so, or about 150 miles. It’s the second 150 miles that starts to feel like drudgery, and this lasts until you get to your next stop. In my case, my car will do around 300 miles before I get to the quarter-tank level, which is where I like to refill, so it works out.

But consider this: what if you don’t know WHERE the next stop is? If you have a general plan to “be more productive”, this is no more than a vaguely-expressed wish that someday, you can look back to see that you have accomplished things you can feel good about.

Assessing the Next Pit Stop

Taking assessment of what I did know, this is what I came up with:

  • I know that there are a bunch of things on my mind: these are (finally) documented in a day-to-day editable form with the Multiple Goals Tracker prototypes.
  • I know that accomplishing the things in the MGT move me forward, because they are things I need to be “more” marketable and “more” capable. However, that really isn’t a plan.
  • I know that anything I choose to do right now is arbitrary without pressing need. I have tended not to choose arbitrary goals, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to just declare a theme week like Colleen and I do in our Collaborative Wave.

Implementing a theme week is really just that old design trick of limiting your scope. Given that any of the things listed in my MGT silos are not priorities in the sense that I’m obligated to do them, assigning a theme challenge is probably as good a mechanism as any. I really don’t enjoy arbitrary goals in games (I really don’t like playing board games or card games, for example), so this is actually an unusual step for me. I just have to choose the theme.

It’s harder than it sounds. They are all useful, and yet they are all non-obligatory. While there is no wrong answer, there is no right answer either. Apparently I’m conditioned to want to pick the right answer…

Ok, I’m just going to say it’s THE BLOG / MARKETING this week. While there is other paying work to be done, I’m going to try to emphasize getting blog/marketing work for myself done. If I’m sticking to my car trip analogy, I guess I’ve just picked an arbitrary destination. What’s over there? What will I see? We’ll know in a week!