November 4, 2016

On Advice (featuring just one piece of it)

One weird trick to improve your general condition somehow

I’m perfectly comfortable making wild assertions about which programming technique is better than which other one, but when it comes to handing out general life or career advice, I’m a lot stingier than your average blogger 1. Even if I was wildly successful (I’m not), it’s so difficult to tell, even in retrospect, the difference between the stuff that actually mattered and the stuff that seems like it did but doesn’t 2.

With that said, there is exactly one thing I have done in my life that I would sincerely and wholeheartedly recommend that everyone do, right now.

On Google Docs, I have a file called “Ideas”. Whenever I have some notion or another about anything, I put it in that document. I never delete anything from it – it’s about 22 pages of bullet points by now. Even if the idea is dumb or I was really drunk or it’s in a field about which I know nothing, I leave it in there. Whatever the idea is about; a blog post topic, a scheme to make money with a fancy UI over some open-source library, a business plan for a pachinko parlour, plot outlines for straight-to-amazon self-published erotic fiction novellas. Nothing is too ridiculous or undignified.

That’s it. That’s my whole bit of advice, the only thing I do that I think everyone would be better off doing. On the surface, it looks like I have page after page of dumb theoretical projects (although some I actually did make), but whenever I open it up and read through it again I always find something that makes me tab out and go work on it right now. That, plus it’s neat to have a living record of the sorts of thing you were thinking of back in the day.

I read about this somewhere years back, by the way, but I don’t think I have a chance of finding it again. So, credit to the originator, whoever you are.


[1] If you’ve ever emailed me for life or career advice and received a really vague and guarded answer, well, sorry.

[2] By my reckoning, most “live your life this way” pieces seem exist more to flatter the author’s and the reader’s intelligence and self-worth than provide anything actionable. As an example, I recently saw this thoroughly masturbatory Two Basic Mindsets article linked with sincerity on HN.