Epsilons and all the Little Things that Make Me Happy

I just looked back at http://drjinx.com for 2013. I made 101 posts. There are 52 weeks per year, that is almost 2 posts per week. I a pleased with the result. I updated regularly. I think my writing improved. I know some friends, at least, read my posts here regularly. I spent time thinking about and writing about things I needed to think through. Often it helped. It always felt good to put something up. I think that is success. I won’t make a formal resolution, but a goal for 2014 is 104 post, or exactly 2 each week for the year.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I think I am going to make one. The most powerful lesson I learned last year was the power of the epsilon > 0 philosophy ([1] and [2]) and the 15 (or 30) minute rule. I’ve been preaching the 15 minute rule for a long time, at least when my kitchen has become an OSHA hazard and something must be done to fix it. This year I broadened its applications, and I saw good results. There are a lot of things I need to do that I am scared of. I faced them with the thought that I would just try for 15 minutes. There was a lot of work I despaired getting done, and finding time to get done, but when I decided to just get after it for 15 or 30 minutes, I made progress and I saw it done. So my resolution is to use the epsilon is greater than zero (something is better than nothing) philosophy along with the 15 minute rule this year soon after I realize that my problem is that I’m feeling stuck. And to tell students how this has worked for me when I urge them to try it.

It is both this easy and this hard. Some jobs are so big they overwhelm me. Break them into smaller pieces until you get a piece you can deal with, and then go after that. And then look for another piece. Repeat as needed.

These little pieces of progress make me happy. As do many other little things in my life. On a day to day basis, I think it is the littlest things that often make the biggest difference. Of course it would be wonderful to win the lottery. Or to be offered my dream job. Neither of those is likely to happen to day. But I can buy the ticket and embrace a little bit of unreasonable hope. I can spend 15 minutes on my job application materials, write a cover letter, send my things to someone else to look at and critique, and feel good about getting that done. I may not get started on that book I want to write some day, but I can write a blog post (200 words. Your goal is 200 words. And 100 or 150 is just fine in a pinch). I will be satisfied that I got that done.

1. My original post on the epsilon > 0 exercise plan

2. And a post about an application of the epsilon > 0 philosophy to getting things done.