12 June 2016

What does it mean to half-ass something? It means to do less than you’re able to do. To cut corners. To be mediocre. To sacrifice “being effective” for “being efficient”.

I have a hunch that half-assing any task is not worth it. That it is better to just drop, abort and cancel tasks and obligations which we cannot do at maximum quality.

Lets look at an example. A young professional usually has a demanding job and personal relationships, but may also have other hobbies and obligations. They might enjoy doing sports, following up with TV shows, cooking, taking care of a pet, traveling. When you add up all of these, it is a lot. If they try to do all of these to the greatest extent possible, they simply would not have enough hours in the day.

If they drop one of the these projects, then suddenly they have more freedom and capacity to dedicate to their other activities others.

I believe that it is more rewarding to spend our effort in making things that are already good to be great, instead of getting mediocre things to be better.

If the same yuppie has multiple projects at work, are they more productive than if they have a single project? No. They may be more busy, but having to split their attention causes a lot of overhead. Every time the yuppie switches their main focus, they are not productive until they get to remember all the details.

They are half-assing both projects.

Instead of having 8 or 10 productive hours, they only have 6 or 8. And that’s a generous estimate. Furthermore, since they only spend less than half the time and effort on each project, they don’t get far. It would take at least double the time to complete each project.

From the employer’s view point, this slowness is bad. Widgets and features take longer to reach customers, and time is money. The manager might delegate one of the projects to another employee, or to ask the yuppie to do their projects in serial, and not in parallel. Doing the two projects in serial is more efficient and will result in earlier completion date for both projects. All features and all widgets will reach the customer sooner if the yuppie does them in serial.

Here is the caveat. Both the yuppie, and their employer need to be chill. If they worry about the next project, they will not focus on the current project and will make things slower.

To know the second project is there but to not worry about it requires discipline. This is hard. I am often a bit ADHD, so it is easy for me to get distracted. And when I get distracted, I essentially forfeit my time. Of course, I take breaks. But I like it best when the break I took helps me return invigorated to my activity, instead of getting me to switch my focus away from the task.

Trying to do too many different things at once and half-assing is not practical. But even more against it, I think it is a bad way to live. I get satisfaction of doing things well. And that’s the best reason for me to simplify and to do fewer things better.

One of the moments I remember fondly, is when I finished writing my master thesis. It is an OK thesis, it is not the most amazing one in the world, and it doesn’t even stand out among the other theses written in the same year. But to get it done, I worked harder than I ever had worked before and getting it done was the largest, most sophisticated achievement in my life until then.

I did not half-ass it. Not according to my abilities then. I worked as hard and as thoughtful as I could, and then more. If I need to do something similar now, I can half-ass it and get a better overall result. But I like to grade myself against the limit of my abilities. If I am not reaching it, life is dull.

What I yearn for is life that’s full of moments where I reach beyond what I thought was 100%. The full-ass life.

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