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The importance of detachment

November 1, 2020

All my previous side projects flopped because of this. I looked at them from the perspective of a creator. I was stuck in that role. I didn’t have the experience of all the other people that were supposed to use the end product.

Yet, the ability to detach from one’s product is critical to producing something valuable. Not being able to detach makes evaluation impossible. This applies to essays, drawings, or apps.

I’ve experienced this with the new app I’m building in my free time. Remembering how I didn’t ship anything for months with my previous app, I’ve decided on a drastic change. I’ll use the app as soon as possible. Even with the awful design, I have to use it. I ended up using it after two days of working on it. I knew I’d learn something from that experience, but I didn’t know exactly what.

The great thing about using the app as soon as possible is that it enables many iterations. (In my case, one iteration loop consisted of designing, programming, and usage.) And having a lot of iterations has taught me a lot about design. Even though I’m the only person using the app, I still know what problem I’m solving, and I can assess how well I’m solving it. I’m probably not the only person with this problem, so it will be useful for others if I solve it well for myself.

But this requires some form of detachment from one’s work. To do a good job of assessing the quality of the thing being built, one must stop looking at it from a creator’s perspective.

No one cares how many hours you’ve spent building a feature. If it’s not useful and elegant, throw it away. If the entire app is not useful and you end not using it, throw it away and start over. Find a more interesting problem.

Some things are easier to detach from than others. For some reason, I find articles and drawings hardest to detach from.

It all comes down to practice. As app usage feeds the new iteration of designing and development, reading an article feeds the new iteration of writing. Practice makes it easier.

Detaching is a key part of evaluating the quality of the thing you’ve built, so it makes sense to do it often. For apps, that means constant usage. For articles, reading and re-reading what you’ve written without holding back your criticism.

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