March 23, 2023

So many people on the internet seem to have unlimited time on their hands to accompany their unending abilities. They get involved in all sorts of projects, all of which seem to succeed – or at least make a splash. And they can always investigate and explore, no matter what’s going on.

Where do they find the time?

They always seem to have more than enough. These people perform seeming miracles that would take days, weeks, months, or even years for us mere mortals to accomplish. And they still have time to play around afterwards; to go see a movie, play their favorite video game, cook a five-star meal…

And then there’s me.

I’m sitting there, having been working for a week or two on $project. I’m unemployed, so I have an unusual amount of free time. I can finally do what I want, and actually get things accomplished like those Big Name Internet People.

And then my sister calls.

“Hey,” she says. “You want to set up a Minecraft server?”


Time Management

I’ve been asking for a while if it’s all just a matter of poor time management. Maybe these people know some kind of secret that lets them balance their lives better? Something that allows them to multitask amongst all these projects so they can do more than the rest of us while simultaneously taking three vacations?

I just don’t buy it.

I will be the first to admit that my “work/life balance” sucks. I probably have some diagnosable condition or other; once I start on something, I tunnel in on it until I’m either done or no longer have an interest. During that period, I am totally and utterly focused, and context switching is costly in the extreme, so I just don’t do it.

And yet – somehow – I still can’t get as much done as these Internet Big Shots.

Projects take time. You can’t sit down one day and say, “I’m going to build a fancy new web browser with revolutionary new feature xyzzy!” and have it pop into existence by morning, fully formed. Oh, you might have something that looks vaguely like a start by then, but it won’t be anything to write home about.

And no amount of “balance” or “time management” can fix that rather intractable problem.

As far as I’m able to tell, the best one can do is interleave a bunch of different projects so that one project can progress while another is stalled. Even that has its limits, but maybe that’s what all these übermakers are actually doing? It’s a theory, at least.

Perfection Is The Enemy Of Productivity

No, really!

Seriously, I learned this a long time ago, and still struggle with it daily. Or at least, on any day on which I touch a computer. Even proofreading these blog posts takes far longer than it should, because I have to eradicate every last little mistake before I’m happy, and even then I’m still not happy.

It’s… A Thing.

After nearly twenty years in the industry I finally learned that making things perfect has a singificant cost associated – and that cost is rarely worth it. I need to do thing X. To do that, I need to complete project Y.

And if I ever want to get it done in a timely fashion, I need to ignore the details D1, D2, D3, …, DN, and DN+1

The truth is, those details just don’t matter in the end.

In ninety-nine percent of projects, those details will never amount to anything. Who cares if the message format in my little feedback form system is a perfectly specified JSON schema? It just doesn’t matter; nobody but me is ever going to see it.

Sometimes those might be Famous Last Words, but most of the time it’s the simple truth.

I still struggle with this, though. Witness the fact that I even have a feedback system on this web site. I could have created a throw-away email address and said “Email me!” and called it a day.

Yeah, I didn’t think of that until long after the fact. Sometimes my mind does not work in efficient ways. Luckily I have other uses for that bit of infrastructure, so it’s not wasted time – but still…

As much of a hindrance as it can be, though, perfectionism still doesn’t explain things.

Even when I actively mitigate my tendencies (which I do as a matter of course these days), projects still take too long. I’m not able to reverse engineer some random CPU every week. I’m not putting out a new product every week. I’m not making a million bucks every week!

What gives?

A Theory

I have a theory.

Yes, it’s time for the tin foil hat.

The Theory? These people can’t actually exist.

They’re actually just constructs created by entire teams of people. Ladyada? Bunnie? Ken Shirriff? When people see them out and about, and when they give talks at conferences and the like, those are actors and actresses who are paid very well to pretend.

They’re not people, they’re entire organizations!

I find the thought comforting.

And if you can’t detect the humor, then there is no hope for you.

Perception Is Reality Is Perception

In truth, things are just not as bleak as it may seem. I’ll take the most recent case: the revamp of I feel like I’ve taken forever to get to this point, and that I’ve accomplished very little. I feel like everyone else is running circles around me.

The truth might be slightly different.

I started on the “ update project” less than a month ago.

In that time I’ve learned Hugo. I’ve rebuilt this site from the ground up (no copy-and-hacking of anything but the content itself!). I’ve written two different app servers in Go to handle various bits and pieces that you likely won’t perceive. And it doesn’t end there.

I ripped apart my AWS VPC and completely revamped it. I learned about k3s in the process, and put together a set of puppet classes that can trivially deploy entire k3s clusters. I upgraded my GitLab instance multiple times to get it closer to current (I still have one more major rev to go on that one). That’s just what I remember offhand; there were probably many other tasks accomplished.

And on top of it all, I have an (admittedly useless) art project going on in the background that I hope to blog about soon. I’m just waiting for a couple of components before I can finish it to the level I want – and it also involves more changes to this site, though that particular feature is long overdue.

I even got to stop and play some Scrabble with my parents a few times.

I did a whole lot, I just didn’t stop to blog about every single step of the process.

And that, right there, is quite possibly the difference.

Perspective Matters

Everything is always relative.

If you constantly compare yourself against others – and especially the movers and shakers of the world – you’re going to be disappointed. This is an order of magnitude truer if you have trouble with self esteem in the first place. What’s worse is that you often aren’t actually seeing the whole truth.

In my opinion, there is a very high probability that you are more than you think you are.

You should embrace it.

In the mean time, I have now officially justified to myself that I have done enough work in the last few weeks that I can afford to play some Minecraft with my sister. Yes, I did set that up as well.

Another checkbox that I somehow overlooked.

And so I’m going to tell myself that it’s okay to waste away the last part of today. I’m going to play Minecraft, because I can. And because I’ve accomplished far more in the last few weeks than I would have guessed had I not witten this post.

And tomorrow it will be on to something else!

And maybe someday – be it tomorrow or ten years from now – I will publish something here that will make you think I’ve got more time than is actually possible, just like all those others.

And maybe it’ll even be something you’ll enjoy!