Finish it

November 06, 2018

When everything is broken—the pipes are leaking, roof's on fire, there's a hole in the wall—everything is urgent. Your resources and attention are getting yanked in 10 different directions, everything needing a fix right now.

I've been in many "everything is on fire" situations like this, and it's taught me a very important lesson: finishing things is the path to progress.

You have to figure out some way to organize the work—its breakdown and how it's ordered—so that once something is done, it won't need to be redone. Sometimes that means only doing half of something, but it has to be the right half: the piece that won't require rework.

(1) Prioritize, (2) start the job, (3) finish it, then (4) do the next most important thing.

The mistake is jumping from one thing to the next, before the original task is finished. Sometimes it's a failure to prioritize—to stop and think, before jumping into action. Other times, it's a lack of familiarity with the problem domain, where there isn't a nuanced understanding of the dependencies and possible ordering between the tasks.

The hard thing is accepting that some things are going to be broken for a while—almost always longer than is ideal. But choosing to do everything at once is a false choice; that is the choice of getting nothing fixed at all.

Sometimes life feels like a game of Whac-A-Mole; if you want to win, you have to hit the mole so hard, it stops coming out.

Note: don't do that in a real-life arcade. 😊