09 Oct 2022

Small Projects

I tend to assume that a new project, like writing something to post here, will take a lot of time. But today I realized a neat productivity hack: What if I tell myself it will only take a little?

Maybe I’ll trick myself into actually finishing it faster! But even if I don’t, I’ll at least have tricked myself into getting started. Often times that’s the hardest part, and it seems less daunting to start something that’s only supposed to take a few minutes than something that’s supposed to take a few hours, days, or more. 1

I don’t think this is just because of time commitments. A project that is supposed to take a long time feels serious, which causes me to have higher expectations. Things suddenly seem intimidating. I cautiously take a step back to try and see the entire thing, which isn’t even possible yet.

Whereas a project that’s only going to take a few minutes or hours… no big deal. “Oh, this? It’s just a little blog post about a quick idea I had…”.

This effect seems similar to how iconic products can start out as “toys”, massive companies can grow out of side projects, and entire essays can come from a few passing conversations.

So maybe the real hack isn’t to tell myself a project will be quick, but to actually shrink the size of the project. If I do this each step of the way, I’ll eventually grow it into something bigger, and in a natural way where I never got stuck.

  1. Bonus: I’ll also procrastinate less. It doesn’t seem that bad to mess around checking the Internet for twenty minutes before settling into working on something that’s going to take a few hours. But procrastinating for twenty minutes on something that is itself only supposed to take twenty minutes feels catastrophic!