More often than not when exploring a new area/problem I realize that my current direction won’t produce the results I hoped for. The author suggests that I continue to hack away at it to produce a tangible result, so that I have something to show people when they ask how I’ve spent that duration of time. This is a great way to pad your resume, but you aren’t doing useful work, and you’re probably wasting your time.
It’s like committing to every hand in poker. Sometimes you gotta know when to fold your cards.
Indeed. However, I don’t believe that is what the author was saying. Although, I could just been reading my own biases into the post.
To continue the use of your poker metaphor, you cannot play every hand but you also cannot fold every hand. In both cases you walk away a loser. It also matters when and why you fold. Did you fold early or did you fold late? Were you chasing the straight? again? Where I feel the post is lacking is not that the point is finishing but the point is choosing wisely. As is said in almost every productivity book I have read, the point is not “getting things done” but the point is “getting the right things done”. I agree that you must abandon some projects for very valid reasons, but when I am honest with myself, that is not why I abandon most of my side projects. So I tend to sympathize with the OP here. I think what I feel is insinuated but missing from this article is choosing what you work on so that you can and do finish the right things and get the other things off your plate at the right time.
I totally agree with your poker analogy, but there’s another way to look at this too:
Instead of either A) stopping or B) hacking away, you can simply change your specification of the result. That is, choose to produce something that captures at least some of the value you were attempting to gather.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a new program and decided that you’ve gone about it all wrong. Stop “writing the program” and start “hacking away” at a README that explains the prototype, detailing what you learned. You’ll find that this process is far more valuable to you in on both internal (learning) and external (perception) fronts. Writing things down in prose helps crystalize your thoughts and publishing those writings makes people appreciate how you spend your time.
By the way, this applies to poker too: When you fold a hand, you should be making a bunch of mental notes.
Exactly! At work, I tell people I manage that I’m happy with either working code (with tests) or a document explaining why something can’t (or shouldn’t) be done.
The way I see it, there’s no such thing as failure when exploring a new area with a project. Let’s say my project is “let’s see if I can build a complex game in Erlang” and I get 50% of the way there and fail—just can’t do it. My hypothesis was false, but my results (if I had to type them up) would be full of things I learned. No need to have anything presentable.
But if my project was “I want a SAAS that does X, hopefully for passive income/better resume/want a product I can be proud of”, have a concrete plan for an MVP or even the full application, and I just don’t do it, then I agree with the post.
The above dichotomy is really a gray area and maybe a false one, but I hope you get my point. I just think most developers think side projects means the latter thing when for most of us it’s actually the former, so I don’t care about tangible results all the time.
Is it just me or is the title sentence difficult to parse? Is this a correct interpretation of the author’s intent:
Having a habit of not finishing your side projects means you are a busy person; not an unproductive one.
The author never came back to the word “productivity” or what that means to him in relation to side projects so I don’t feel like I can say with convection that my re-wording is correct.
No. The interpretation is: “Having a habit of not finishing your projects, side projects or not, means you are just burning time, not producing something tangible you can point others to when they ask of your achievements.”, where tangible artifacts is one view of productivity, in particular in academia, but also for example when using your github as your resume.
Related ideas are “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and “release early, release often”. I think focusing on “finishing things” encourages you to keep the scope small and work in increments. And I do think this makes for better use of your time.
Or as they say in the theme song of The Ship Show: “What is the main purpose in life?” “To ship, of course.”