Almost 20 years ago, I made my last New Year’s resolution. In true geek fashion, it was actually a meta-resolution, and it was that I would make no more resolutions. They’re always a bunch of stuff you feel like you “should” do, tied to an arbirtrary calendar date, with no practical impetus or emotional drive behind them. They fail almost universally, because if the people (and I’m no exception) making the resolutions cared, they’d have done what they wanted when they wanted to, rather than trying to talk themselves into doing things they “should” at the same time as everyone else.
I’m a bit bored with most Internet memes, too. ‘Nuff said.
That makes this post weird. I’ve latched onto one of the memes floating around Twitter (and I’m sure elsewhere): The “Word of the Year”. People are picking a word (in most cases a verb) to focus their behavior in the coming year.
This meme passed in front of me just as I happened to have a few days off and was using it to organize the monstrous pile of projects I try to advance and maintain. I was already coming to some insights about my need for focus and direction. Even more, I was noticing that my pile of projects tends to grow, and I take very few away for any reason, whether that’s the completion of the project or deciding that there are better ways to spend my time.
So I kicked around a few ideas for a verb to focus on. One of the better ones was “release”. That can mean to release – to let go of – a project that doesn’t deserve my attention anymore, or that I’m just not going to get around to. That’s a focus I’m trying to achieve – for example, I’ll save $100 this year on not renewing domain names for projects I’ve decided I’m not going to pursue because their potential return is small in relation to the effort, or because I just won’t learn much from them.
In my work, “release” also carries another meaning – to release a piece of software is to turn it over to your users. (If you’ve never written software, you have no idea of the hubris implied in this act, by the way.) The fact that “release” can thus mean both adding and taking away makes it a compact and potent – almost poetic – verb to focus on. It’s still missing something, though – for example, it my current push to complete the Hundred Pushups program, what am I releasing?
So “release” doesn’t cover all my goals and projects, but the connotation of software release starts me down another path of thought, which is that in organizing and pursuing my work over the past couple of years, I’ve given myself credit for advancing projects, even in small ways. This is good, but when you have a lot of projects, this can lead to advancing many of them and completing none of them. (I shouldn’t say none, if I’m being specific about myself – I completed two sites with my pals at Kickass Labs, and released two of my own, including the self-sustaining GuitarCardio.com, of which I am probably inordinately proud.)
During this fit of organization, I’ve come to realize that I need to move from advancement to accomplishment. I need to complete projects, or drop them. I need to stop nudging things forward on my desktop, and launch them into the wider world.
So, my verb is “finish”.
It is, in a sense, a little morbid. A finished thing is done, dead, no more. There’s nothing else to do with it. This fits for some things, like a project I drop because I don’t see the return in it, or a one-off thing that I complete and never look at again.
It is, in another sense, deceptive. Software is never finished. (People just stop paying for it.) Nor, for that matter, are screenplays. Ditto paintings. There’s always something to add, something to optimize, some other tweak to make. But a software release can be finished, and launched, and hopefully be consumed greedily. A screenplay draft can be bound and sent to agents. Nothing is ever done, but it can be made ready.
So “finish” is kind of a squirrelly word, and doesn’t feel like it perfectly fits everything I do – but as a mantra to assist that shift in focus from advancing my projects to taking them over the line, I suspect it will do well. The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao anyway, but I think “finish” might be the tangent to the Tao that I need right now.