Pre-Optimizing your Life
You're lying to yourself. You know it. I know it. We all know it. just kidding no one cares so chill out a bit (he said to himself quietly)
You can only know the “right” amount of pre-optimization for a task after its complete, which means by the time you figure it out you’re already too late for that knowledge to be useful
I’m not talking about code refactoring or editing a presentation or any other post hoc efficiency improvement process. Those are important. Those need dedicated focus to maximize your code quality and to distill your clarity of vision. I’m also not talking about truly Deep Work that needs to be unbounded and uninterrupted and creative and bursty with sprints of maximum effort.
I’m talking about that thing you’re not doing.
It’s that thing you want to do, but you just don’t have the right way to start it figured out yet. You aren’t sure how long it’s going to take. You aren’t sure if you have the right prep materials gathered or haven’t learned enough. You aren’t sure if you’re going to be able to commit enough time to it to do it justice today (ahhh I’m triggering myself) so you just haven’t gotten it going yet…but you will and of course it has to get done and man it’s gonna be great once you finish and you just need to make sure the you do enough research beforehand and the conditions are perfect and then you’re gonna get it started.
Pre-Optimization is Not Your Friend
Let’s throw some assumptions on the page to start us off because I studied Physics and assumptions are what you have to have in order to build a useful model of the world.
Your life is a multivariable function where everything you do and everything you deal with is represented by variables and coefficients
There exist an “optimal” solution for this function out there that maximizes value for you to which you want to match your life function inputs as close as possible
“Time spent pre-optimizing the conditions for tasks in this function” is a variable in this function (Let’s call it pO(T) to definitely not get it confused with Big O notation)
The value of the coefficient of pO(T) is greater than zero (which implies that optimizing has an impact on the function output aka it’s not a complete waste of time to optimize things a bit)
Clearly this is very silly. This is not at all how life works. but also it kind of does. Either way it’s fun to think about and since all models are wrong, but some are useful we’re going to go right ahead and see what these assumptions can maybe tell us about the nature of optimizing our life functions. Some quickies are:
Maybe you can adjust the coefficients of the different variables in your life to increase the impact of various actions (like if you can make your study time higher quality or make your email time lower stress or your work time more dense with good output you might make your possible “optimal” max value higher
Your inputs (like pO(T)) aren’t necessarily constants so the relationships probably aren’t as simple as “Do more X, get higher value”
There might be stochastic variables (haha is life is random or chancy or both? who knows but let’s keep going), your function might be highly sensitive to the initial conditions (whooo chaos babyyy), and the “optimal” solution might have complex elements and imaginary numbers
There likely exists multiple local maxima and minima that trick you and it’s really hard to discern the difference between those and the global maxima and minima
There’s certainly a temporal component to this thing which makes the math pretty annoying. Wish I was a Flatlander so the math would be easier…but I guess the range of input values would dramatically decrease because Classism & Societal Hierarchies?? I’m really stretching this metaphor rn
This time component definitely impacts our outputs (stop reflexively sharpshooting these conclusions) so our “optimal” input values will change over time as our function changes and we can observe this by solving and re-solving the function using the same inputs at different points in time.
Ok this is only getting sillier, but that last one is cool. It implies that we can empirically find the inputs that get us closer to that theoretical “optimal” solution by trying stuff over and over again.
Which I’ve done. Because I’m an insane person. And that pO(T) input variable keeps pissing me off.
Time after time after time after completing something, I had to accept that I put too much time and effort in pO(T). It just didn’t impact the final result even close to as much as I pretended it did and the incremental time spent there was just a waste.
It turns that scheduling important meetings, responding to critical emails, and reading those awesome think pieces and newsletters (even this one lol), or putting together my calendar for the next week almost always just need an MVP version done fast and not the full cloistered Augustinian Friar Scientist treatment I try to give it.
They just feel like they do. Every time. Whoops.
I’m Your Friend
So how do we process this information other than by shouting into the void?
I guess just like stop attempting to choose the right amount of time.
Just stop. Completely turn off that part of your brain.
I mean, obviously you can’t do that because if we could we wouldn’t be having this problem in the first place. But you can adjust the wasteful pO(T) behavior.
I give you permission to stop your pre-optimization behavior.
Or if you need more aggressive, direct feedback to change behaviors (like I do), I command you to stop trying to make the right decision about pO(T) henceforth! (lol)
Set a time to start. You have 15 minutes to do it. Go.
If you figure out that it really needs more work, you’ll redo it and only have lost 15 minutes of your day.
9 times out of 10 you’ll realize you didn’t need physicist precision to get it done well.
and let’s be completely honest here.
The very fact you’re this wrapped up in wanting to do this thing exactly the right way is evidence that you’re going to be just fine…as long as you let yourself start (he shouted into the mirror).
I hope this added value to your day.
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