Task management, or, the way of the wheelbarrow

With current projects ending, I’ve had more free time lately. In confirmation of Newton’s first law, though, I haven’t accomplished many of the “if I only had time” tasks languishing on various lists. I’m thinking of creating a Law of Hiatal Indolence: the more you could, the less you can.

A recursively empty wheelbarrow?

Kind of like operating a nearly-empty wheelbarrow. Empty ones are easy; you’re not going to spill anything. But when you’ve got just one or two things in, less so. (As a Gaelic proverb puts it:
Obair là – toiseachadh : A day’s workgetting started.)

This might be similar to the low end of the bell curve relating learning, challenge, and effort. With ample time and little pressure, nothing much seems to happen.

From experience, I know I don’t do my best work when overwhelmed — which is the other end of that bell curve. Too much challenge, too much stress can lead to discouragement or even physical deterioration.

Virtue and accomplishment seem to stand more in the middle. I can struggle contentedly (more or less) as I work with a cascading style sheet or as I try to figure out the nuances of reflexive verbs in French. I’ve got a context to fit these things into.

Now, about the stretch goals for this quarter...If I had to teach a course in calculus or learn Mandarin in order to keep my job, I’d have far more challenge than I needed. Straining to keep up with the demand, I’d heave along with an overloaded mental wheelbarrow and likely make even less progress.

I’ve turned down a few projects in my years as an independent consultant. Some of them promised more tedium than reward, from my point of view — the sort of thing I see as more proposition than value. Others were clearly projects to which I could bring little value: they called for expertise I simply don’t have. So sometimes I have a sense of what I can and can’t manage with my particular wheelbarrow.

I may have needed to discharge a bit, to empty the cerebral buffers, but I haven’t loaded them with a whole lot that’s new. I’m a big believer in speramus meliora (“we hope for better things,” the motto of Detroit). So until my next outside projects reach the point where they require most of my day, I want to create some additional structure / challenge / momentum for myself. It’s harder for me, I think, to set and enforce my own targets and milestones, though I realize intellectually they’re what I need to do.

In a way, I’m building a wheelbarrow to help define and achieve my personal goals.

Fluorescent-light wheelbarrow by Ivan Navarro

Kids-and-wheelbarrow photo by PhylB / Phyllis Buchanan.
Overloaded wheelbarrow by Thingo / Andrea.
Photo of Ivan Navarro fluorescent wheelbarrow by indieink / Misha Bittleston.