2011-07-11

Motivation and a Projects-Driven Lifestyle

Not long ago, I adopted a new approach to accomplishing the objectives I set for myself.

The Problem
Like many people with a wide variety of interests that they take somewhat seriously, I often found myself short of time. It started getting difficult to, for example, record an album, plan a series of gigs, write articles, and work out hard, while still meeting my day-to-day obligations such as household tasks and, uh, going to work. Not being able to "do it all" is a problem we all face from time to time. This problem compounds itself the more seriously one takes one's hobbies.

The primary obstacle in "doing it all" is that whenever a significant amount of time is dedicated to, say, working out a lot, that steals valuable time away from writing a great piece for Mises Daily or practicing, writing, and recording new music. One begins to feel that the things one loves to do are in competition with one another. For myself, I began to feel that if I sat down and practiced my guitar technique, I was "wasting time" because it didn't produce anything particularly tangible. In contrast, any time spent writing produced an article; any time spent working out improved my blood glucose levels and overall health; any time spent recording produced an mp3. Unfortunately, everything soon felt like a waste of time. I couldn't finish any mp3s, because my technique wasn't up to par; therefore, time spent recording was a waste of time. I couldn't train for a marathon, because I couldn't set aside enough time to put in the proper miles; therefore, time spent running was a waste of time. And so on, and so forth... It felt like a vicious circle.

The Solution
The solution I devised was to break my hobbies into manageable chunks in the form of projects. (I'm not the first to devise an approach like this. Perhaps the clearest expression of this concept is Frank Zappa's "Project/Object" idea.)

Rather than focusing on what I want to do "in general," I instead decided that I needed a paradigm shift. I know conceive of all my objectives as a series of projects. The major advantages of projects is that they are associated with specific deliverables. Focusing on these deliverables costs nothing, because there is an associated end point. It becomes a matter, not of opportunity cost, but of inter-temporal substitution. This has the rather amazing effect of clearing items off my plate and also allowing me to accomplish more of them.

One way this happens is like so: Because I have made my current workout regimen my primary focus, I know that I cannot seriously dedicate large amounts of time to recording my upcoming Solaris album. As a result, the time I spend on it now is far more precise and focused. On top of that, I don't feel bad about stealing 30 minutes here and there to practice my guitar technique, because the tradeoff between that and recording has disappeared - recording is off the table until I run my marathon.

Furthermore, something new and surprising has arisen from all of this: Ryan Ruins Requests. Unable to dedicate sufficient time to a serious recording endeavor, I found myself recording covers as an additional form of practice, and my output has grown as a result!

The first such project (consciously conceived as a project-as-described) was the Prime Numbers show I played last November. We had a limited time to prepare and rehearse our material, and I had a lot of other things going on at the time. I made the strategic decision to focus on the show, and we pulled it off beautifully. Once finished, I quickly dedicated my efforts toward a second project: finding a new job, which I managed to accomplish in just three months.Next, of course, came my 18-week undertaking of training for the Montreal Marathon. It's safe to say that I haven't accomplished this many things in this short a time period in a long time - if ever.

The Challenge At This Point
Nowadays, I find the major challenge with the Projects-Driven Lifestyle is that when a particular undertaking spans a large enough period of time (like eighteen weeks, for example) Motivating oneself to see it through to the end can be somewhat daunting.

I have recently discovered this about running. My goals and desires haven't changed, but it's getting to be quite difficult to push myself to the top of my game for eighteen solid weeks. It seems like such a short period of time, but of course even seconds can feel like an eternity when they involve hard physical effort.

I may not have devised the perfect solution to this challenge, but of course I'm still working on it. My current theory is that I can likely just sally forth with the discomfort, and it will be over before it drives me totally crazy. At that point, I'll be able to start on my next major project, which will be Solaris.