warpedvisions.org — Stuff to make you think

The myth of uphill

Friction works against you. It exceeds your ability to progress. It deflates you, stripping your motivation. It’s the hill you see before starting a difficult project. It’s the gravity that pulls you away when interest wanes.

I’m starting a small project for a client today. It’s a simple set of improvements to something I built for them last year, using a toolkit I wouldn’t normally use (but one that fit their uses well enough). I had forgotten a lot about the toolkit when quoting on the work, and by the time I remember it’s clear that there are challenges ahead of me.

When it comes time to start the work I find that I’m stuck. Unmotivated. Paralyzed. I’m staring up the barrel of an uphill battle.

To get unstuck I need to start moving. I need to realize that the problems are soluble and mostly in my head. And the best way to get started is to do something, anything at all.

So I work my way around the edges of the harder problems. I simplify development by working on a scratch copy of the project, isolating and reducing the size of each individual piece. I work outside of the warty toolkit and test my work carefully before integrating it. I carefully break my work down into lists of small achievements so that I can make measured progress hourly. Once I get a piece working I test it, and put it up on the shelf. By the time I finish the small bits I’m moving, and I can attack the mountain without distraction and with gusto.

And the mountain? It was a projection of my imagination. I thought the work was going to be difficult. I believed it. I didn’t feel like re-learning the old, warty tools. I remembered the flaws more than the good qualities. Or maybe it was one of hundreds of other human flaws manifested as part of my fictitious friction. The key was to realize that friction was just a glitch in my perception, that if I shed my perception I could do it, that once I started the work it would be easy. And it was.

In other words: just fucking do it already. It won’t be as hard as you think. And if it is, you’ll be done before you realize it.