There’s a part of my brain that is prone to overthinking. On second thought, it’s a pretty big part of it. The problem with overthinking is that it prevents me from doing what I want to do. It becomes a barrier in me making progress on the things I want to make progress on.
For example I might have a vision of some project that I want to work on. The vision may be something like a refactor of some old code, or adding a whole new feature. I usually have some faint idea of what it will look like but when I start working on it I often get stuck.
I’m coming to realise that the stuckness is me pursuing perfection. Or really spending 90% of the effort on 10% of the work. The reverse-pareto principle. I think it comes from a desire to get something right, where the definition of right is something that is perfect. The problem is that to get something that is truly perfect you can’t think your way there — you have to iterate your way there.
It’s an ongoing process to unlearn these bad habits. I’m trying to instil a new principle of work:
Make many reversible decisions quickly
You learn so much more in the process of doing, rather than thinking. The process of doing is a process of discovery and exploration. The process of thinking is the process of speculation and ivory-tower design. By doing you get your hands dirty with the problem and quickly discover where things will go wrong, and you’re able to make small course-corrections on the way to the solution.
There is still use for big-picture design and upfront thinking — but I do feel that, for me at least, I’m too prone to spending too much time on it, where my time should be split more like 80% doing, 20% thinking. This is the correction that I need to make for myself, mainly because I love the feeling of optimisation and getting things perfect, which gets in the way of me making quicker progress.
My approach to this blog is similar. Unchecked I would spend 90% of the time trying to get the last 10% right and would never publish anything. So I’m making a conscious decision to publish something that is more like a first pass. By doing and publishing, I’ll learn how to write better along the way — become more prolific (even if the “quality” is not as “perfect” as I’d like), and in the long-run my writing will be better.
By exposing myself to potential low-stakes embarrassment I can grow faster. By making many reversible decisions quickly I can iterate, discover, and build faster. Less thinking, more doing.