Between Curious and Frantic

I’ve been upset with my output lately. Just overall. For a few months, I felt I did a good (at least decent) job posting inspired content on this site. I was also learning steadily and making good progress on my programming. But in recent months, less so. I tried to focus on specific projects, but I couldn’t stick to any of them for long. As such, I didn’t produce anything particularly interesting. In short, I went from curious exploring to frantic jumping between projects.

Maybe the reason for this is that school has been coming to an end, which means I have had to spend more time studying for exams recently. It’s reasonable to think that the slow mounting daunt of final exams would increase pressure and dilute focus. But really, I was working diligently for school before, and I managed to stress myself with exams more than enough in the past. The amount of free time I have also hasn’t changed for the worse. So I deem this an internal issue.

I think the problem is very clear: I piled up more and more tasks to work on at the same time. In effect, this hinders my progress since I can’t really focus on any single one of them, and thus I can’t do good work. To progress, I need to decide. I have to do one thing at a time.

Some things I just have to reject for now. That’s OK. I have to learn things step-by-step, one after the other. I have time for that. In fact, I can only maximize my skills if I can focus. But I can’t focus if I hastily attempt to master all skills at once. I want to be good at a broad range of tasks. But to be really good, I have to go deep as well. And from my recent experience, it seems obvious to me that I need a different approach. Now is the time to pick out a small set of challenges and really dive in. I have to fundamentally say no to all other enterprises that might distract me.

It’s also important that I let things pass. Over and over again, I have accumulated endless piles of bookmarks and notes on what to read and what to write. It’s great that I have this much to think about, but it’s also distracting. All of these reminders that I constantly jot down for myself–any systems that I try to develop to organize them–I’ll have to give up on that. So far, I’ve been doing this collecting out of fear of missing out on some valuable information. But building up such a backlog is not productive. Even worse, it simply diverts focus.

My strategy is this: don’t fixate what topics to work on, but fixate everything else. Then, don’t make any changes to the fixed set. I’m not going to rule out whole topics by themselves. Rather, I want to set myself a framework of conditions that make it easy to stay focused on the work that I want to do.

For example, no more text editor switching. Emacs is about good enough for all I need. And there certainly are no alternatives that would boost my productivity enough to make up for the distraction that the switch would incur.

Second, no more Rust (I know, I’m deeply torn myself). I want to improve my foundational knowledge. For 90% of that, I don’t need to sharpen my understanding of any fancy new languages. Instead, I’ll just stick to C and focus on content instead of language.

Third, no more HN (this will probably turn out as less HN in practice). Sure, HN is great for discovering things and also pretty good entertainment, but, really, it’s a distraction most of the time. If I need to find good material on a topic, I can just use HN to search for it directly (I already do that since Google search doesn’t work anymore). If I want to explore, then sure, I can use HN deliberately. But exposing myself to the plethora of fascinating projects that HN has to offer too often isn’t healthy (for months now, breakfast and HN have been coupled tightly).

I’m also deleting some of the stuff on this website that I don’t think is actually very interesting.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll probably think of more rules in the future. In that case, I’ll update this page. I’m putting this out here to hold myself accountable and to get better at getting things out there (something I generally want to improve at). Have fun exploring.