I’ve read before about how willpower and attention are akin to finite resources that get depleted and need to be allowed to recover, and I think that model has helped me realize something about my own cycles of productivity.
My usual behavior around non-work projects seems to go something like this:
- Starting from a relatively fallow period, something catches my interest (it could be anything – software, music, art), and I dive in.
- I have early successes, and this adds to my general level of energy and excitement, and I take on one or more other projects that interest me, thinking that I’ll ride this wave of motivation.
- If I have not been careful or realistic about how much stuff I voluntarily take on, it rapidly gets to the point where I can’t possibly make progress on everything. If I have been careful and realistic, it doesn’t matter, because something else will come along that I must take on, and it rapidly gets to the point where I can’t make progress on everything.
- Suddenly I feel like I’m failing at half or more of the stuff I’ve taken on, and things get set aside, sometimes indefinitely.
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
This can happen on a time scale anywhere from two weeks to three months.
If you’re a software process nerd (or possibly a general productivity nerd), you may have heard of Kanban, a method of process control. One of its central tenets on Kanban is “limit your work-in-progress“. For Kanban, that’s usually expressed at the task level, but I think for some of us (read: me) it might be wise to look at that at a higher level, and limit the number of projects I try to handle.
This is not necessarily a new insight, in general or for me personally, but I clearly need to be reminded.