Solve one problem, then the next

These last two months have kicked my ass.

Which is probably obvious considering that it’s been over a month since I’ve posted anything here. And that post was little more than me whining about how busy I was then.

It hasn’t gotten much better.

I’m writing this at seven thirty in the morning. I’ve been up since four, and working since five. The plan for the rest of the day? Get this update wrapped up by eight, wake up my teenager (ha!), take a shower, then be back working by eight thirty. I have a video meeting/work session from ten to noon, then–assuming I haven’t fallen into a coma by then–I’ve got about another two to four hours of work that I should really get to.

Somewhere in there I need to do laundry and maybe try to clean something. Oh, and I still have about half a garden full of potatoes that I should do something about.

I mentioned before that I had taken on a lot of projects, far more than I could reasonably handle. One thing I’ve tried to do over the last couple of months is both prune that list, but also organize it in some way so that I could keep my bearings.

Roughly, I can lump each of my projects into one of several piles…

  • One-and-done things which can be done in less than a day if I focus on them.
  • Long-term/persistent projects which I can handle given an hour or two a day, or every other day.
  • Big projects which will eventually be completed, but will require an hour or two a day for weeks and/or months.

There’s also another division: some projects I’m doing on my own; and some projects I’m working on with a partner.

It doesn’t seem like much, but thinking about the work I’m doing in this way has helped me dial into my priorities, and it’s really the only way I’ve managed to stay remotely sane.

  • “Okay, this thing will take me four hours and it will be a giant pain in the ass while I’m doing it, but once it’s over I never have to think about it again.”
  • “Alright, this project is going to take several hundred hours, but I don’t have to do all the work myself, and that work that I do have to do can be done an hour or two each day.”
  • “Oh, wow. I don’t even know how long this is going to take, but I’m not on a deadline so…what’s the easiest, most reasonable first step to take here?”

That last statement is one I find myself repeating a lot.

Several of the projects I’ve taken on are both large and also at least a little beyond what my current skill set can handle. That means I often struggle to figure out where to even begin the work. Rather than sit there and be stuck, I end up telling myself that yeah, I have no idea how to do the whole thing, but there has to be something I know how to do. Some single, relatively-simple step which will get me moving in the right direction.

Last night, I watched one of my favorite movies again. The Martian. I’ve probably watched that film twenty times by now, and my enjoyment never wanes.

And one of my favorite parts of the movie is a short monologue which Matt Damon’s character makes toward the end of the film. Part of it I’ll quote here:

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now, you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot lately.

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