The Process Vs the End Goal …

There are a lot of little things that I want to do. I add them to my lists of things to do and even try to schedule them in at various points. These range from things like reading books to finishing video games to doing some light programming to writing novels and essays. Even updating the blog falls under that, as well as ordinary, everyday things like “Clean the basement” and “Seal the driveway”. But my record at finishing these things is, well, less than stellar. To put it in perspective, you know my list of games to finish? That’s a relatively good success rate compared to some of the other things.

I was musing about this the other day, particularly with respect to programming. I was wondering why I never make any progress on programming; it’s probably the thing that I have the least done with over the most years. And I recalled that while I was interested in the final product — such as a tactical simulator based off of Star Wars: Rebellion, or a personal implementation of Babylon 5 Wars or the Buck Rogers board game — I wasn’t that interested in the process of actually doing it. And programming can, a lot of the time, be repetitive and kinda dull. But I was remembering this while at work on a weekend, doing programming, and programming that included just as much if not more boring and repetitive work. Why is it that I get my work done but not the little things I want to do for fun?

A big part of the answer is that I get paid to do my job, so that leaves me feeling that I have an obligation to do that. The same reasoning applies to my modding Arkham Horror games; I put the time in to set it up and run it because I committed to do it and so have an obligation to do it. I ended up “retiring” from the industrial recreational soccer league I was in because I wanted to do it mostly for fun but felt that I had an obligation to go … and hated, then, not fulfilling that when, say, it was too hot for me to play (or it rained, because someone who wears glasses and doesn’t wear cleats should not play soccer in the rain). So I can overcome the boring and repetitive parts if I feel obligated to do it and see it through to the end.

But it’s hard to obligate yourself to things that you are doing just out of personal interest.

Another part of the answer is options, or distractions. At work, well, I’m generally working. When I do other things, it’s because I’m in a bit of a lull period or in a break and so trying to do something to keep myself entertained during that. When I work on the weekend, I’m in to do something and to make some progress, and so I can’t go home until I make enough progress. So if I delay, that means that I delay my coming home, so it’s easier to stay focused on the task. It also means that the few things that I can do in breaks also get done, because there’s no real competition. So, for example, considering my schedule … or why I don’t do things and how I can do to improve that. Or short blog posts. Or considering my move in that PBF board game. These are the only things I can really do, and so they get done to keep my mind busy while I’m waiting for answers or compiles or just need to think about something other than my code for a while.

At home, everything’s different. I have a plethora of things that I need and want to do, which includes eating and sleeping. So it’s hard to get myself into sitting down and doing some of these things, especially the ones where the process is less fun than the end goal. I mean, I like programming well enough — I’d have to, to make it my job — but for me it’s certainly less fun than watching Star Trek or reading Wing Commander or playing SWTOR. If the process itself isn’t fun, then it’s far too easy for me to pick something that is fun instead of the things that will be fun later, or will produce a worthy result.

Finally, there’s also access. At work, because I have access to the Internet things like blogging, updating games and reading articles/webcomics are easy and at my fingertips. I don’t have to do anything except launch the browser to the normal sites and go. Again, this makes it easy to get into, and provides a filter for what I can and can’t do. At home, however, in order to write a blog post I have to boot up the computer and then launch the site and the relevant sites, or launch the programming IDE or do whatever I need to do. This extra step introduces all sorts of new worlds that I can do in the same amount of start-up time or less, and forces me to have to directly commit to doing it, as opposed to simply being reminded of it and then hopping on.

This seems to explain most of my tendencies. Why is it the case that finishing games is one of the best of these things for me? Because the process is more fun. Why is it that I blog less while on vacation despite having more time? I have to explicitly log in, and it’s easier for me to just boot the system that will let me play games or watch a DVD than to get there. Why is it that programming is the thing that I make the least progress at? Because the process isn’t fun and it requires set-up time.

One way that I get things done is because there are deadlines, which force committment. I’m a procrastinator to the point that I never leave things to the last minute, but always to the next to last minute, just to be safe. I finish essays for classes because there is a deadline that forces me to. I finish my features because there’s a deadline that forces me to. The problem with me, though, is that I recognize false deadlines and so they don’t motivate me, so it’s hard to get that “deadline” effect. And the other option is to try to improve how fun the process is, but that’s pretty difficult.

Well, right now I think I’m going to try the false deadline route, but to do them piecemeal, and try to commit to getting certain small goals finished in the hopes of, well, getting committed to them and thus making progress. We’ll see how that works out.

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One Response to “The Process Vs the End Goal …”

  1. Projects and motivational failures … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] a big part of it is motivational, and what I posted about before: I’m much more interested in the outcome than in the process. When trying to lose weight, I’m interested in losing weight … not in exercising to lose […]

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