Here’s one of those ADD self-assessment questions:
“Do you have a tendency to start projects and not finish them?”
My gut answer is NO, that isn’t a problem for me. The reason it is not a problem is because I don’t START the projects in the first place unless I have a reserve of energy to initiate them. I’m also fairly comfortable with projects that are “in-progress”, which isn’t the same as “unfinished” in my book.
Perhaps, though, from the perspective of people who believe in projects having a concrete starting and ending point, that my answer would actually should be “YES”…hmm.
My Relationship with Challenges and Resistance
It’s true that there are times when I wish I could resolve troublesome challenges faster, because I tend to not even start them because I associate unpleasantness and unbounded inconvenience/uncertainty with them. I am the kind of person who buys an automatic cat litter box. I loath recycling because I find the task of cutting/flattening boxes and getting them into my car really irritating, because everything falls out and the recycling dumpster is always sticky and full unless I go on Wednesday, which means I have to remember to time it right, which imposes a mental burden on me that I think is stupid. Such details weigh on me greatly, more than I think they should, but the reaction is automatic. I have to expend a lot of willpower to get through it.
There are, of course, projects where I don’t experience such resistance. Cooking is one of them, though now that I think about it I do have a resistance to collecting all the ingredients for my mise en place and doing dishes afterwards. Having to clean the kitchen and clear-off counter space is a resistance that I have to overcome. Peeling and chopping vegetables I don’t enjoy. I don’t like measuring ingredients or looking up recipes, so I tend to rely on intuition and taste. I will spend time testing principles like cooking meat to precise temperatures, understanding how to make a decent roux, and timing how long it takes to get a pan up to temp so I can get a good brown going. Trying a NEW recipe or technique is where I face the most resistance, because I have to learn and internalize a number of new ideas that contribute to the success of the preparation. This is why I love magazines like Cook’s Illustrated, which outline the principles behind excellence so I have a useful metric to apply in my cooking. That transforms the experience into an edible experiment, harnessing all my powers of observation.
The Need for Speed
You know, perhaps it’s the feeling of harnessing ALL my mental powers that draws me deep into a project/task. Every project has a certain amount of mundane clerical work involving gathering and preparation of resources. Tools must be acquired, honed, and placed within arms reach. The tactical action plan, well supported by relevant skill and knowledge, must be devised in the context of an understandable strategic objective that supplies the entire endeavor with overarching metrics and meaning. Once all this infrastructure is in place, then that’s when I can surge forward with the greatest speed and surety I can muster. It is exhilarating, and this is when I feel most “me”. Or perhaps more accurately, it feels like the “me” that I wish I could be all the time.
I also get this feeling from certain games (Quake 3 Arena, back in the day), from running up and down the gears in my car, from brainstorming intensely with my peers, and from certain kinds of music. In most projects, though, the amount of time spent managing and gathering resources far exceeds the amount of time spent in the fast lane. I want my brain to run flat out at the greatest speed, always! FAST FAST FAST!
A Race Prep Approach
This gives me an idea: perhaps I can borrow the idea of having a “pit crew” and a “driver” from auto racing and apply it to my own projects. Clearly there’s the support aspect to every project that I find tedious, and I find it tedious because I want to be RACING. On the other hand, I can also appreciate the competence and knowledge required to provide high-quality support; it’s really important to me too. It’s not easy! My desire to make awesome, excellent projects can perhaps be better served by adopting the right hat at the right time, and by making sure that my “races” happen frequently enough that I don’t become overwhelmingly bored with support work. Before, I have mashed it all together under one hat, and this just makes me keenly aware that I’m “not racing” all the time.
So it might break down like this:
- SUPPORT WORK: Knowledge acquisition, documentation, gathering, invention, process confirmation, time management metric, configuration in context with an upcoming “TEST RUN” and eventually the “RACE” itself.
RACING: When I get to run flat-out and burn up all the resources that the support work has gathered. It’s the big KABOOM. It’s the speed run! The challenge! The test! And hopefully, the big win in the form of a product release or launch.
p>I think it’s an interesting reframing because it’s the RACE STATE, when I get to go full-blast, that is the important context. Without setting that context explicitly, “support work” tends to fall victim to procrastination and distraction, and “the useful work” seems way too small to feel like meaningful progress. I love the idea of prepping for a speed run burst instead. This could have interesting ramifications for the design of a new task motivation system.
Let’s see how the race metaphor can be applied this week. I have plenty of boring projects to get out of the way!