A Two Minute Poem

I was bored the other day and was trying to get myself to do something; anything! I decided to give myself two minutes to write a poem. It didn’t matter how short or unrefined it was (good thing). It was only important that I wrote something. 

What I came up with probably should have only taken one minute. It’s short, circular and has no deep meaning. But it felt good to accomplish something anyway. 

I have two minutes

To call the muse

And have her show me verse.

So any lines 

I here put down

Must naturally be terse.

Set Tiny Goals To Accomplish Anything

I have more project ideas and things to write about now than at any other time in my life. But I can’t seem to get very many of them done or even started. I look through my notes every day and think, this is a good idea. I’ll start on that today. But by the end of the day nothing has happened.

There are three things that seem to cause this:.

  1. The complexity of a project overwhelms me.
  2. I have no idea why I wrote something or why I think it’s important.
  3. I missed my peak motivation time and can’t get myself started.

It’s great to have a broad overview of the thing you’re trying to accomplish. But it can be overwhelming to take on the whole thing at once. I try to get it completed today or I’m afraid I won’t complete it later. I end up not starting a lot of things because I fear not finishing. The irony is that I’ll never finish it anyway if I never start. At least there’s a chance to finish a thinig if you start it.

Instead of getting bogged down in complexity, you just have to sit down and think of the individual steps that it will take to get a thing done. Break a project down into tasks that can be accomplished quickly. If those individual steps seem too big themselves just break them down into progressively smaller chunks until they seem doable. Then start doing them. This even works for projects that don’t have a known outcome or proceedure. Once you start working on something, its purpose and meaning will start to unfold.

Sometimes you just have to sit and think about things. Some of my ideas are just random thoughts, phrases or observations. On their own they don’t go anywhere. That’s when deeper thinking comes into play. My mind generated these ideas for a reason. Now I need to mull them over and try to find connections with the other data lurking in my mind. Once a connection is made, those ideas become something real and actionable.

But even if I can see the next step and it’s small enough to accomplish, I don’t always buckle down and do it. If it gets late in the day I get tired. I do my best work between 5 am and 11:00 am and then again between 7:00pm and 10:00pm. Outside of those hours I’m often tired and unmotivated to do anything that takes real thinking. When I’m at work during the day, I try to schedule my activities so I’m doing planning, programming and design during my peak hours. I try to spend the afternoon hours doing any rote work and attending meetings.

Outside of work hours it’s always a struggle to juggle exerecise, spending time with my family and trying to be creative. I often find myself just wanting to watch TV, read a book or play a game. These situations are almost impossible to get out of. The trick is to avoid getting into them in the first place. Even when I’m tired and unmotivated it’s not too difficult to write a list of things that can be done tomorrow. Then, I set a calendar appointment to do those things early in the morning. Or I plan to do them in the evening so my mind is predisposed to getting things done at night rather than binging on netflix. When I know what I have to do and I have a list in front of me, I move faster and get more done during my peak times.

Ultimately, getting stuff done, for me, means breaking projects down into tiny component tasks, thinking about what I’m actually trying to do and then executing on those tiny tasks early when I’m still fresh and motivated. Now if I can just remember to do this each day, I’ll have no problem.

Fear is a Unique Motivator

Fear is a unique motivator. If we find some abnormality in our body we go to the doctor because we fear what it could be. We fear old age so we just continue acting like children. Or we fear failure so we avoid ever trying to succeed.

Why don’t we take care of our bodies and optimize our health before we get sick? Or why don’t we mature early so that old age isn’t a transition but merely a continuation of our youth? Perhaps we could put forth continuous effort in our endeavors so we have such a large body of work, we’re bound to succeed somewhere?

Instead, we wait until events are upon us and then react to them. Usually with poor results.

Great Ideas Are Hard to Come By

When I get a great idea for a project that would be satisfying to complete, my first reaction is often to shelve it and not start. Two things drive this:

  1. An unfulfilled idea means I still have the potential to finish it. If I start on it, I might find I lack the motivation and drive to finish it. It would become another idea in a huge slush pile of ideas that never came to fruition.
  2. If I start on it, I might find that the idea itself is flawed.

The irony of the first excuse is that if I never start a project or play with an idea, there’s a 100% certainty that it will never get done. The slush pile is already started. The goal is to eventually get one or two things out of it.

The second driver of inertia is itself a flawed idea. An idea may well be bad. But I’ll never know it if I don’t work with it and see what it’s made of. The fact is, most ideas are going to be bad. It’s in the formation of a glut of ideas that you end up with one or two that are home runs.

The lesson I have to keep teaching myself is that ideas are a dime-a-dozen. Great ideas that are unique and useful are much harder to come by. But you can’t have the great ideas until you sift through all of them, good and bad. You don’t automatically know which is which. You have to research, experiment and think. Ultimately, most will fall to the slush pile. But first, you have to make sure they belong there.