Working on the right problems.

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Essays

I loved this New York Times article about the “busy” problem.

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite”

As I step into the New Year, I’m eager to be mindful of its conclusions, and to draw a few of my own. I was crazy busy last year, especially in the second half of the year. I was working on a few problems that were personally interesting to me, and meeting with start-up companies constantly. I had pitch meetings, casual meetings, phone appointments, to-do lists way too long, and was always doing five things at once. I got enough done, but there were a lot of hanging chads, and it was frustrating.

In designing software, developers will tell you that one of the most important and fundamental truths of programming is to design a program that gets from A to B most efficiently. Knowing when to use a stack, push, or pop method for a list of items is the difference between having to unload/reload the list each time in a loop and just getting the object you need right when you need it. Understanding the power of recursion instead of a regular iterative loop can save you memory, complication, and (crucially) lines of code. Efficiency is elegance.

Developers will also tell you that they need blocks of time to write code, and that it’s not always, or necessarily, 9-5. They know to abhor useless meetings, and they instinctively put a high premium on the power of concentration. We should apply that instinct to everything that we do. Back in the days of One Block Off the Grid and Virgance, our Chairman Steve used to speak a lot about how the hard part of work was knowing which problem to work on. Too often we’re working hard, but not on the right problems. Goodbye to all that. I hope to do less this year, because I want to do more. I have separated my work and personal email, taken email entirely off my phone, and will try and spend at least a half day, if not a full day, a week off the internet entirely to focus on writing, reading, and creative thinking. I’m working on much fewer projects (more on that later), and staying patient and purposeful with my work.

The times in my life when I’ve committed to single-tasking are the ones when I’ve been the most productive, the healthiest, and the most in-tune with my goals. Single-tasking requires the space for reflection, so that we can arrange our priorities and our skills against the insane amount of information we take in every day. So I’ll be taking more time this year. Join me!

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