I am not a consistent person. My past is riddled with jumping from one obsession to another, which continues today. Nevertheless, I’ve found many things interesting, and I know I’ll find many more.
My wife doesn’t like that: it’s too black and white for her. I either read 4 hours a day or don’t read anything at all. Current obsessions: writing and building side projects. Past obsessions: reading fiction, reading non-fiction, Morning Pages, personal knowledge management, doing open source…
As almost every successful person swears for discipline and consistency, I used to find it concerning that I’m not that consistent. I can’t do the same thing for a long time, over and over, because I’ll eventually get bored of it.
There was a period when I tracked all my habits in a spreadsheet, but then I got sick of it since it all started to feel too robotic. Following the routine blindly made little sense, and stopping it made it obvious how much I love doing whatever I feel like doing every day. As long as I’m doing something, I’m happy. As long as I’m not taking the easy path, I’m satisfied.
Naval once said that we should work like lions. We are not made for fixed schedules as we have not evolved in that environment. The world expects us to work our 9-5 jobs and graze all day like cattle, but we are biologically closer to lions as we are predators. We should be resting a lot and then striking the prey. We expect linear outputs for linear inputs. That the person who works 9-5 every day will be more productive than someone who rests and then works like a maniac, but the world doesn’t work like that.
Every life coach out there claims that consistency beats intensity. How you can’t expect to build one product and expect it will be successful from the get-go. One of the most famous indie makers, Pieter Levels, has built 70+ projects (!), and only 4 were successful. Do I need to point out that building that many projects requires a lot of consistency?
I started building side projects in 2015 but have only built three so far, out of which only one is still alive. That’s an average of one project every 2 years. So it would take me 140 years to do the same amount of experiments as Levels. The difference is: I’m sporadic with it, while he is focused on it completely.
The same thing happens with doing any other creative thing online. You can’t expect people to pay attention if you’re not consistent. Putting whatever you do out there sporadically achieves very little. The best creators are prolific. And it takes a lot of time for people to start paying attention. It’s an infinite game.
So how does this fit the “work like a lion” narrative? If you are prolific, doesn’t that mean you’re working like cattle? I don’t think so. My favorite writers don’t force themselves to write every day out of some obligation to their habit tracker. Instead, they allow themselves some rest. I think skipping a day is better than forcing something when you’re not feeling it.
For me, forcing something turns it into labor, which I don’t want to do in my free time. Labor is okay if I’m paid for it, but I don’t want to do it for free in my free time. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve lost interest in doing open source. Trying to contribute to Rails felt like working another job I’m not paid for. Other people might enjoy it more, but I realized that that is not for me and that I could spend my time on things that raise my energy level instead of draining it.
For me, blindly chasing consistency and discipline is a sign of something else. It’s like trying to prove to myself that I can do it, that I’m like these successful people. But, for every successful person who swears in their discipline, there are probably tens of unsuccessful people who were just as disciplined, but failed, and then didn’t write books about it.