The Modularity of Life

December 2, 2007

Take writing a paper, for example. Obviously “write a paper” is far too large of a task. But similarly, asking yourself to write each individual letter at a time is far too small of a task. You would very quickly get lost in the minutiae and find yourself just as unable to finish the task at hand.

But there must be some sort of golden mean. Probably for the paper, in the form of the paragraph. Each paragraph should be a self-contained unit that expresses itself almost independently of the rest of the essay. So if you can write a paragraph at a time, you should be well on your way towards completing the paper.

Rabbit rabbit. I don’t remember the first time I learned about that little superstition. And despite everything I’ve learned, I still try to repeat it every month. You would think I could ‘grow out of’ such a silly practice. But apparently not.

But back to the main dish: trying to find the ‘right’ size for different activities. The usual advice from the productivity gurus is to choose an amount of ‘stuff’ that can be accomplished in 25 minutes or less. That’s a little less than a half an hour. If you can do it, you can muster the will to do it for 25 minutes.

How does that number translate into reality, though? And should one always go by some arbitrary number? And why am I being so incredibly OCD about all of this [yay, OCD! I wonder half the time if you’re the reason I’ve gotten half as far as I have. It seems to me that most of the geniuses of the world have had OCD. The difference between them and me [other than the obvious fact that they’re geniuses and I’m not] is that they have harnessed their OCD like a laser, while I’ve let it sputter out more like a leaky garden hose]?

I guess that each individual project should be divided up at the moment that you come across it. But the cool thing [at least from an OCD perspective] is that you can reuse those division-sizes on future projects of a similar variety. In other words, the framework for the projects is modular, and can be adapted to any future project.

Take studying for an O Chem test. If you believe the axiom to ‘just show up,’ then passing an O Chem test simply involves showing up to read the chapters, write the notes, and do the exercises. Pretty simple, when you get down to the bare bones. And those ‘just show up’ activities translate across all tests. So, yes, you will have to do a great deal of planning for the first test [or in the case of right now, the last test, which is the only reason this seems so useless and wasteful], but then you’ll have to do next to no thinking for all subsequent tests. The test will study itself, almost, because you will already have a timeline and action steps necessary to master the material.

And this idea will translate well across all activities. Nine out of ten times you already have all the material necessary to move forward. You just have to put it into some sort of system, and then follow the ingredients. Take ‘self-study’ for example. Something you want to do [in theory] but seldom do [in practice]. You’ve wanted to study physics from Katie’s [and now I suppose your] Villanova physics textbook. You never have because you don’t have the motivation to actually study it. But when you get down to it, you could easily transpose your studying habits from O Chem, or Linear Algebra, or any other class to the study of physics. The only difference is the lack of lecture.

This also applies to reading books. You act like each new book is somehow a new challenge. But it’s just a slight variation on the same old challenge. The activity is still the same. You still just sit down and do the reading. No need to pretend otherwise.

This modularity seems like it’s an important concept. I think you should reread this essay! So mark it for rereading! Duh!

PS – Think about how this applies to fitness! too. And just about everything else [meditation, drawing, etc]. All of life is just the same. It’s just about switching around a few spare parts!

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One Response to “The Modularity of Life”

  1. dave in the back said

    Do you really feel like you’re wasting that much time?

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