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Do whatever you can't stop thinking about

March 6, 2020

Update: For some reason this post ended on the 1st place of the front page of Hacker News.

Since the start of the year, I’ve been making mistakes with with my free time. I’ve been spending some of my leisure time on wrong activities.

Wishing to improve in the open-source department, one of my New Year's resolutions was to become more active with Rails contributions. I would learn about Rails internals, help people with their issues and get feedback from Rails core team members. The plan was to work at least 30 minutes on Rails every day and I was using a habit tracker tool in order to ensure that.

However, I've noticed that doing that significantly drains my energy. I'm not excited about doing maintenance work and it doesn't make me jump out of the bed in the morning.

I haven’t realized how bad it was for my energy, until I decided to work on a side project last weekend. It made me super excited. The process of turning something from my head into reality will never stop feeling magical. I was eager to wake up and work on it. Working on it didn’t feel like work. Hours passed without me noticing. I wasn’t tired, I was excited afterwards. I've neglected my other habits because of it.

This was such a contrast to pushing myself to maintain Rails. That’s when I remembered having read about managing personal energy from "How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big". I’ve read it, but haven’t thought about it much until now. Experiencing such a difference in excitement about something I do in my free time made me remember it.

To the experts, what looks like hard work from the outside, is play from the inside.

Naval Ravikant

The basic idea of personal energy management is that you should focus on increasing your personal energy and lifting up your mood in your leisure time, instead of working on things that drain your personal energy. Hobbies should lift your mood, not drain you. This makes you better perform all the other tasks.

I think the difference in my experience comes from the source of motivation. I am not intrinsically motivated to work on Rails. If money wasn’t the issue, I would probably not start working on maintaining it. The hidden motivation was external and it was rooted in the desire to make it more easy to find the next job.

Building a side project, on the other hand, is something I can imagine myself doing, if money was not the issue. That’s why I should probably spend my leisure time doing that.

Because every minute spent doing something other than what you love most today is a minute you’re more likely to regret when you’re 80.

Julian Shapiro

Another useful tool, for deciding what to work on is the Regret Minimization Framework: Project yourself being 80 years old and thinking whether you would regret your current decision. That's how Jeff Bezos decided to work on Amazon. It's a useful tool for prioritizing over long-term and rationalizing decisions that make no sense in the short-term.

Never work on anything you would regret looking back on your deathbed and spend as much time you can on doing whatever you can’t stop thinking about.

Want to talk more about this or any other topic? Email me. I welcome every email.