To the extent that you can't, "Just don't!"

Today I told myself I’d only write for an hour. But I started at 8am and now it’s 6pm, so what the hell happened?

I like diving deep into projects, so I find it hard to switch tasks midway through. Usually I’d try to force myself to do so anyway. But then I remembered a piece of advice I recevied a few years ago. I had emailed Derek Sivers asking him how he balanced multiple projects and had accomplished so much, and he responded:

I thought about his advice and said screw it, I’m going to keep writing.

I’m fond of having done so, because I feel like it’s going to be some of my best work. In fact, the last time I got distracted by a project because of this feeling was last year. Rather than directly working on my startup, I extracted some of the code I used to handle server rendering and created Rouge.js. It ended up being my first open-source project to reach 1k stars on Github (for developers that’s a big deal!). A startup founder then heard about the project and reach out to me, and that’s how I got the contracting job that’s financially supporting me. Funny how things work out.

The reason I’m writing about this now, years later, is because I realized what makes Sivers’ advice so good. It’s about more than context switching, it’s about listening to your instincts. When you feel compelled to work on something, there’s usually a reason for it. The only way you’ll figure out why, is by seeing the work through.

There are, of course, tactics that you can use to context switch. But there’ll be days when you can’t help but work on something else. There’s too much on your mind and you need to get it out. That’s when this advice comes in. What needs to get done will get done eventually, and it’ll all s–l--o–w--y add up into a mix of big accomplishments, but there’s a reason you feel like working on this specific thing today. Rather than fighting your inclinations and switching to a more important project, to the extent that you can’t, “Just don’t!”

[Big accomplishments are] the v-e-r-y s--l--o--w culmination of years of spending a little time each week doing something.
- Derek Sivers