Incremental-progress projects

Even more than usual, I’m finding lately that it works well for me to take a big project that involves doing the same type of thing many times, and break it up into little chunks, and do one piece every day or two.

(No advice on any of this, please.)

That kind of incremental-progress is how Duolingo is supposed to work; in the past, I haven’t used it all that effectively, but now that I’m consciously avoiding paying much attention to streaks and leagues, it’s working pretty well and pretty consistently for me. (I know that streaks and leagues help a lot of people stay on track, but they turn out to be somewhat counterproductive for me in the long run.)

And it’s how I’ve been doing my read-my-unread-books project for over seven years now. (Given that I was starting with three decades’ worth of books that I had bought but not read, plus a couple hundred that I rescued from my father’s house after his death, I knew from the start that that project was going to take a while.)

(Tangential side note: That project continues to mostly go well, but I’ve been having trouble lately getting myself to make progress on the big Year’s Bests. I love having them, I love the idea of them, I’m grateful to the editors who’ve put them together—but they are big books, and I’ve never gotten along well with big books, which is why I have so many big books on my unread shelves. I just estimated that I have roughly 1,000 stories left in my unread Year’s Bests. (Though there’s some overlap among them, and I’ve already read some of the stories, and so on.) So I’m embarking on a program to read one of those stories each day, in addition to the other reading that I’m doing. At that rate, I expect to finish all of my other unread books well before I finish the Year’s Bests; but when I run out of other unread books, I’ll increase my pace in the YBs. We’ll see how it goes.)

And it’s how I’ve done my photo-labeling project in the past. After last time I caught up on labeling photos, I let that slip for a couple years, but have gotten back to it recently; I’m now caught up through last fall, and I expect to catch up to present day within a month or two.

It’s theoretically how my piano and guitar learning are supposed to go. I hit plateaus in both of those for a while, where I was playing each of them at least a little nearly every day but wasn’t making progress on getting through the lessons; but I seem to be back to making at least a little bit of progress on both of them these past few days.

It’s how my posting-my-backlog-of-links project is going. I still have a lot of links in my to-post list, but the current batch (which I’ve labeled as “low-effort” because they mostly don’t require me to do a lot of careful framing or a lot of thinking or a lot of writing in order to post them) should be done in about a month. (And I’m mixing in new items as I go, so that the backlog isn’t growing over time.) The rest will take significantly longer. (I’m triaging as I go; I’m ending up posting only about half of the links on my list.)

My latest incremental-progress project has been to work on dealing with my vast amount of old papers. I posted a couple months ago about having finished the first pass on those; now I’m doing the second pass, in which I took the “to triage and file” bin and sorted it into different categories of papers. I ended up with about fourteen stacks/categories (depending on how you count). I’ve now gone through four of those stacks—organizing them, recycling a lot of the papers, putting the remaining papers in labeled folders, putting the folders in hanging files in my filing cabinets. Very pleasing. For this project, I set a recurring task on my task list to spend an hour on it every other day; but in practice, it’s been anywhere from half an hour to two hours almost every day lately.

That papers project is pleasing for a variety of reasons, but the reasons mostly boil down to (a) the feeling of reducing entropy (I’m finding it very satisfying to put the hanging files in my filing cabinet) and (b) getting the stacks of old papers off of my floor and tables and couch and such.

Anyway, so there are about ten stacks left, and I suspect it’ll take me a couple months to get through those. But the incremental-progress approach is working well so far.

(My usual disclaimer: There’s nothing inherently wrong with clutter or with having lots of stuff; my current reduce-my-stuff projects are about reducing the amount of unwanted stuff that I have, not about minimalizing for its own sake. Please don’t take this as an opportunity to suggest that minimalism is inherently better for everyone.)

So within a couple of months, I hope to be done with at least a couple of my incremental-progress projects. My projects list also includes another twenty-five or so projects that I haven’t been working on lately; some of those are relatively close to being done, others I haven’t started yet, some I’ll probably never get around to. But I’m hoping that I can start to apply the incremental-progress system to some of them. We’ll see.

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