Those of you who know me might know that I tend to get obsessed about things sometimes. And by sometimes I mean I almost always have one obsession that lasts about 1-6 weeks where I spend most of my waking hours thinking about, studying, or working on some topic. These obsessions have included statistics, video games, the history of monogamy, Kaggle contests, project euler problems, Coursera courses, work projects, and more.
As part of my goal to increase my output this year, I’ve been trying to deliberately channel my obsessions, picking one for a week. If it works, this experiment will have a lot of positive results:
- Since I’m going to be obsessed with something anyway, picking the right topic has major leverage on my effectiveness
- By deliberately focusing on one thing for a week, I can get a much clearer idea of what I accomplished and how productive I was
- Focusing on one thing significantly reduces the number of choices I have to make
So far I’ve been doing it for one week, and my focus was writing. This didn’t go too well: I posted two blog posts, and did a fairly small amount of journaling. Over the week I wrote just about 3,000 words. What happened?
On the first two days, I was actively thinking through a topic and wrote the posts from scratch. On the next few days, I tried to take some old drafts I’d written before, and shape them up into something publishable. I found it nearly impossible to focus on this–for me, a major part of the fun of writing is figuring things out, and polishing up an idea I’d already crystallized ended up being unworkable. On Friday I stopped trying to brush up old posts and focused on writing up strategy for a current problem in my life, and that was much better. Writing mostly seems to be part of my thinking process, while giving talks is my presentation process.
Despite the low output, doing one thing for the week was pretty informative. Repeatedly writing in different ways gave me hypotheses on what worked that I hadn’t formulated despite years of writing casually, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed the errors in my writing process if I had the option to switch to anything else once things got hard.