It’s five a.m., and the world around my house is only just beginning to emerge from the shortest night of the year. What will, in a few hours’ time, be the distant din of traffic is presently a mere hum. Even the birds are too tired to sing. There’s no sound, no email, no phone call and no text messages. This is the time of day to be a writer, in England, in summer.
So what has prompted these mental meanderings? Although I am not one to suffer from a lack of anything to say when I metaphorically put pen to paper (some, like the one who unsubscribed from my Feedblitz notification service yesterday because of “Too many updates”, would say the reverse is true), I couldn’t resist buying “The Writer’s Block” when I saw it on offer for just a few pounds. Packed with photos, short articles and suggestions, this book is meant to kick-start your imagination in order to help you get past -- you’re ahead of me, I can tell – writer’s block.
Well, one of the entries is “Describe one of your bad habits.” After struggling for a while to think of any bad habits (only recently I had my halo polished by a team of professionals), I came up with my worst one (in my opinion at least): staying up too late. At the time I should be going to bed, I make myself a cup of tea and start reading blogs, or writing. And I read. And write. And watch videos. And quickly check my email. And read. And check my email again. And so on, until I realise with horror that it’s 1:30 am. Thus it is that the technology, which makes it easy to do all these things, and my lack of willpower, which makes it hard for me not to do them, conspire to give me late nights, when what I really ought to be doing is what I did this time: get up early, which is my best time for doing stuff anyway.
The basic law of life with technology is that there’s always one more thing, which is my generalised version of Lubarsky’s Law of Cybernetic Entomology: There’s always one more bug (see 21 Rules for Computer Users for 20 further digital insights). There’s always one more website to check, always one more blog to read, always one more email to respond to. Always one more reference to check. This is why Computers in Classrooms can sometimes be weeks overdue. I’m almost ready to publish it when I see an article and think “Perhaps I should bookmark that, as it may be relevant to this issue.” When I embarked on my seminal work, the magnum opus entitled “Managing ICT”, I polished it off in a couple of months with almost no revisions. That’s because it was back in 1998, when research was still partially done in a library (Google had just started as a beta service), and blogs hadn’t even been conceived yet. I’ve been working on another few books and they are taking forever because I keep coming across relevant articles, and people make relevant comments on my own articles and in Twitter.
Like I said, there’s always one more thing.
There’s a wider, deeper, and more important issue here, I think. I was brought up under the tyranny of the maxim “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly”, which is actually logically untrue (if it were true you’d be spending the maximum amount of time and effort on everything you do in order to perfect it; you’d never get any sleep.) But really the only way to deal sensibly with the world of today is to cultivate an understanding of, and putting into practice of, the “good enough” approach. There comes a time when one just has to say, “This may not be perfect, but it is good enough, and spending another hour, or day, or week, on it may improve it, but any benefits of doing so will be outweighed by the cost in terms of the other things I could be doing instead.”
In my opinion, that’s my real bad habit: not having the wisdom, the willpower and, yes, the self-confidence to know when what I’ve done is “good enough”.
See also "Efficiency? Don't Make Me Laugh!"