070. I could be going faster
Accelerating past perfect
My friend Matt has been working on a business idea, and we were talking earlier this week about his most recent progress. He said that even though he pushed to ship as fast as he could, looking back, he could have shipped even faster. This is important in the early stages of business: shipping quickly means faster feedback from the market, which provide actionable learnings and increased surface area for success.
I had to ask myself the same question: Could I be shipping faster?
I published a comic yesterday that I’m pretty happy with. I penciled out the layout in a few minutes last week and found chunks of time throughout the week to paint and ink, layer by layer.
However, my first impulse was to complete the entire piece in one day. I could have done it. But instead, I left the work unfinished and shared a draft.
I knew if I sunk my evening finishing the comic, it would eat up the rest of my day and I’d feel stressed about not doing other things. So, I decided to prove to myself that I could start the work and walk away from it.
Theis a self-imposed challenge of 100 words minimum. There are no external consequences for missing a day or publishing shorter than 100 words.
If I had to guess, my average word count is closer to 500-1000 words. I usually take at least one hour to write, edit, and publish my daily posts. It sometimes takes way longer.
I could be writing way shorter and way faster. Then I wouldn’t get stressed out as the sun sets and I still haven’t worked out and I still haven’t made dinner and I still have to post on Twitter, etc, etc…
Yet I can’t bring myself to hit publish on something I’m not satisfied with.
After thinking about it more, it’s partially because that the process of writing is also a process of learning about myself. As Sönke Ahrens wrote, “Writing is not the outcome of thinking; it is the medium in which thinking takes place.”
I can’t speed up the learning because it arises from wrestling with words and concepts. I’m getting a valuable feedback cycle even before I publish.
One of the delicious paradoxes of cognition is that I often don't know what I think until I write it down. I can feel that there is something off about an argument, or something interesting about a topic, but I can't tell what it is until I've committed it to paper.
That makes this Substack worth it for me even if no one else is reading.
Of course, there are diminishing returns. Once I have the thesis figured out, I probably don’t need to spend that much time in the polishing stage. At this point, I can also recognize when an essay is really two or more, so I have an escape valve when I realize I’ve been writing for far too long (that’s usually how my “series” posts start out).
One of the tough things about having time off is that it’s up to me to decide what to do and how fast to do it. Although it’s nice to go at my own non-coercive pace, I know there is also value in doing the opposite of my natural inclination, to push myself past my comfort zone. For example, I can try out this writing app that deletes my work if I stop writing to force myself to time box and focus on just writing (no looking for quotes, checking my notes, etc).
After all, what’s a 100-day challenge without a little more challenge?
As I chipped away at my watercolor comic day-by-day, I didn’t feel much pressure during any particular session. On the final day, I could tell it was good enough to share. It was a different way of working than I’m used to: iteratively rather than all at once under a deadline.
It reminded me of a Navy SEAL phrase: “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”.
Maybe instead of optimizing for speed, I should be optimizing for smoothness.
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Additional reading: there is no speed limit by Derek Sivers