Weekly Update (21w11)

Balancing my work schedule, cooking a lot, and planning out my writing.

Happy second day of spring! It still feels way too cold for that, honestly… 🤷‍♂️

I. More more-sustainable programming

Last week, I opened up about my inability to sit down and program indefinitely, the root of most of my insecurities about work and productivity:

When I say “I’m going to do nothing but program,” that doesn’t work. Sure, it helps max out the 3-8 programming hours I can milk out of each day… but it makes me feel guilty using the other 10-15 hours to do anything else, which causes me to feel miserable most of the time instead of using hours productively in other ways.

I was a more than a bit concerned about being that vulnerable, given that—let me check—six of my coworkers currently receive these emails, including every person I talk with on a daily basis. I wasn’t getting as much done as I thought I could or should; is the solution really to admit that straight-out to everyone who’s counting on me?

Apparently it is! Instead of moral condemnation (as the imposter-syndrome corner of my brain kept expecting), one of my coworkers sent this helpful response:

I've still never heard of anyone who could sustain more than 4-5 hours a day programming… The thing to avoid is "grinding" where you're in your seat, but not that productive. This is what leads to burnout, even more than simply long hours. 

So, I decided I’d do exactly that: clump productivity into dense sessions where I run out my entire store of mental energy, and spend the rest of my days doing other stuff without letting work cloud my mind.

This worked fantastically for every criterion except the “sustainable” one. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: boom, boom, boom. In half a week, I hammered out as much work as I’d done in last week’s hyper-fragmented “I’m always working” mode.

But then I got cocky… and, feeling decent after a Wednesday morning work session, decided to do another that afternoon without giving myself time to recover. Five hours later, I basically fell out of my desk chair in a mush—I had done a ton of work, but completely burned myself out in the process. For hours, I could barely string words together; for a few days, I couldn’t bear to look at any code.

So, I have two conclusions from this week:

  1. I work a lot better when chunking work into 3-5 hour intense-focus sessions than when I casually “work” for 8-9 hours each day.

  2. I can’t do more than one of these per day, or I’ll fry my brain for half a week.

Next week, I’ll try applying that advice: I’ll do one big “flow session” per day, then forbid myself to think about work past answering Slack messages and the like.

It feels weird to think about doing 20 hours/week of work for my full-time job, even though the evidence points at this being more productive than anything else! Human bodies are weird; I wonder what research has been done on mental endurance.

If this works without burning me out, I’ll do my own research, gradually scaling up my load until it’s at the highest sustainable output possible. I’ll try mixing programming with less mentally-intensive tasks if I can, too, like product or growth brainstorming.

Again, would love input from any/all of you who have hard-earned experience tinkering with similar things in your own life!

I would explain more about the specifics of my work, but it mainly consists of writing things like this—then thinking deeply about if they’re suitable to a task.

II. My first ever profitable business

So what have I been doing with those reclaimed hours each day? Things that don’t require me to use any intellectual firepower, basically, so that I can recharge easily.

Cooking fits the bill nicely! So I’ve been doing that a lot (Mattea’s still mostly busy with her finals this week), and selling the results to housemates here at Edyfi at super-cheap prices (compared to ordering delivery constantly, at least).

And the work has been appreciated! Two people eat their whole day’s ration from “Caffé Colberg,” while many others get a bite here and there. In total, the profits will be enough to pay off our monthly grocery bills every two weeks—which leaves some padding in the budget for an occasional date or two!

Funny enough, after years of dabbling with small business (including stabs at Pokémon card reselling, a personal website builder, or even writing here), this is the first enterprise that will ever make me a profit (minuscule as it may be). Feels great.

It’s fun to hear feedback—requests, praise, demerits, the whole lot. To some, this is “the best thing that’s ever happened to Edyfi.” Another asked “why [we didn’t] start this in January.” Positive-sum trade is such a magical thing!

III. A bit of writing, and my plans for more

After publishing something every day through the end of February, I’ve been struggling to get anything onto the open Internet. I have a few big topics that I gradually chip away at when I find time to write, but face two problems:

  1. I’m tackling huge and intertwined topics (like “what are mental models,” “what’s the purpose of education,” and other such doozies), which will inevitably lead to complex 10,000-word blog posts that nobody will ever read.

  2. I don’t regularly make time for writing anymore—so, I don’t make any progress.

I’ve decided that the solution to this is to break big ideas into atomic chunks. Instead of posting one exploration which touches on ~10 separate points, I should just publish the ideas on their own! I can still write the big one later, and just link to each post for “more detail” on each point.

It’s like mathematical proof composition: I can prove, explain, or demonstrate each point separately—then tie them together into increasingly greater things.

Going along with this idea, I published part of a long-drafted blog post today: it explains how some amount of “Darwinistic corruption” is guaranteed to exist in a democratic system, even with 100% honest politicians, as long as private campaign contributions are allowed. (Notably, it doesn't suggest a remedy, or contrast other methods: just establishes that the problem exists to some degree.)

Hopefully this method can enable me to get more ideas out the door for feedback, so that pieces of larger proofs are battle-tested before I compose bigger ideas on top! I’m aiming to publish 2-3 of these small blog posts, at least, this week.

Generally: I’ve written a lot over the last 2-3 years—comfortably over 1,000,000 words per year in all mediums, by my estimate. The goal this year is to publish 10% of that: 100,000 words on this blog, by the end of 2021.

So far, I’m around 15,000 words (including this update), so about 2/3 of where I should be. Sounds about right: each weekly update is around 1000 words, so I’ll just need to double that output, which is a bit of a stretch—but totally doable!