TITLE: Playing With Our Toys AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 25, 2005 8:58 AM DESC: On habits, doing things, and tinkering our time away with the toys that promise to help us Get Things Done. ----- BODY: Merlin Mann says this about running and running shoes:
My concern is that there's a big difference between buying new running shoes and actually hitting the road every morning. Big difference. One is really fun and relaxing while the other requires a lot of hard work, diligence, and sacrifice.
He is so right. Have you bought running shoes lately? Ten or so manufacturers. Ten or so models per manufacturer. Prices into the $100s for an increasing number of models. Going for a run each morning is much easier. Oh wait, that's not what he meant. So I disagree with his analogy after all. But I do agree with the real point of his essay, which is better expressed in this analogy: a claw hammer
You can buy a successively more costly and high-quality series of claw hammers until you've reached the top of the line, but until you learn how to use them skillfully, you're going to keep making ugly bird houses.
We can easily be so caught up in the excitement and fun of tinkering with new tools that we never getting any real work done. This separates the contenders from the pretenders in every area of life. It is true of productivity tool contenders and pretenders. It is true of runners and non-runners. It is also true of programmers and the folks who would rather tinker with their bash set-up and their .emacs file than actually cut code. We all know people like this. Heck, most of us are people like this, at least some of the time in some parts of their lives. Starting -- even finishing -- is much easier than living in Ordinary Time. But that's where life is. Some people run as a means to an end -- to lose weight, to "get in shape", to meet cute girls. For them, running may remain onerous forever, because it's just a chore aimed at reaching an external goal. Some people run for the sake of running. For them, getting up most mornings, pulling on the shoes, and hitting the road are a joy, not a chore. They are a part of the good life. The same is true of productivity tool contenders and pretenders. When playing with the latest tool is more fun than getting things done, the mind and heart are in the wrong place. The same is true of programmers and tinkerers. When playing with Linux and .vimrc are more fun than writing programs, being a programmer isn't really for you. When we find ourselves drifting into tinkerdom, sometimes all we need is to work on our habits. We really do want to write code, run five miles, get things done. But the distractions of the world have become a part of our routine and need to be put aside. Changing habits is hard... New Balance 766 shoes, blue and gold trim As for the running versus running shoes analogy, I really do find choosing running shoes more stressful than it could be. Going into a shoe store or browsing through a running shoe catalog is like going to K-Mart and stepping into the shampoo aisle -- instant product overload. New Balance, Asics, Saucony, Nike, Brooks, Mizuno, .... Stability shoes, motion control shoes, racing flats, .... I just want a pair of shoes! I do my best to avoid all the indecision by sticking with the shoe that has served me well in the past, New Balance 766. Even still, that model number seems to change every year or two... (When my local shoe store stopped carrying 766s, I bought a couple of pairs of Asics GT-2099s that worked out pretty well.) Now that I have the habit, running is relatively easy, fun and relaxing. I miss it on my off-day. Merlin closes with sound advice for choosing tools and changing habits:
Making improvements means change and often pain along the way. It's hard to get better, and good tools like these can definitely ease the journey. I guess I'm proposing you try to understand yourself at least as well as the widget you're hoping will turn things around.
When you know yourself better, you will know your motivation better. That makes choices easier, sometimes obvious. I am reminded of a conversation from October 2003, when I ran my first marathon. Several of us her in town were going to run Chicago as a team, which was more symbolic than practical -- we were all at different levels and speeds, so we'd run the race itself solo. One of our group had dropped out of training a month earlier. At a party, three of us were chatting about our training when the guy who had dropped out said that, while he had wanted to do the marathon, he just didn't have time to train -- work and family and outside activities and nagging little injuries had pulled him away. After this guy left the conversation, the third guy -- our most experienced runner -- turned to me and said, "If you want to run..." He paused almost imperceptibly. "You run." I took great comfort in that. I was still a relative beginner, and that statement stayed in my mind for all those days when I might wonder what I wanted to do. Maybe I should go buy a new pair of running shoes... No, let's just hit the road. -----