In my continuing effort to accomplish the infinite with finite resources, while swimming against the tide of widespread incompetence and lack of organization, I’ve discovered a few central principles that apply to nearly any endeavor. In the interest of turning that tide and getting everyone to push the cart in the same direction, here are the principles of How To Do Anything:
1.PLAN C: The more important a goal is, the more backup plans you should have to ensure it. What, no backup plan? Then you don’t really care if that goal ever happens, do you? This principle is called Plan C because Plan A always falls through, Plan B will probably work but hey ya never know, so you’d better have Plan C.
2. YOUR BUTT’S NOT THAT BIG: Just because a plan has some merit, doesn’t mean it should be undertaken. Perhaps it has high initial or longterm resource requirements, maybe success is uncertain, or maybe its a good plan but you’re already invested in a thousand other good plans. As a friend of mine was fond of saying, “Don’t put anything in your mouth that won’t fit through your butt later.”
3. ONLY SO MANY HOURS IN THE DAY: Your labor energy and ability to concentrate on a project is like your internet connection: it has a bandwidth, and that bandwidth is finite. You don’t go online with dialup then start downloading the entire Star Wars series, do you? Likewise, don’t start writing Paradise Lost on your lunch-hour; you’ll never finish, and you could have actually finished something less ambitious.
4. DID I TURN OFF THE STOVE: Many serious mistakes are made when leaving one area for another. Why are these mistakes so serious? Because you have to retrace your steps to correct what you forgot to do, then retrace your steps again to get back where you were when you realized your mistake. You’re paying double! Take a deep breath when you leave, and think about what you are forgetting. This principle is especially true when leaving an area of high security for one of lower security: like leaving the privacy of the bathroom without checking your shoe for toilet paper, or leaving your gun at home.
5. START THE AUTOPILOT: Processes that can continue unassisted should be the first tasks initiated. Get all those plates spinning first, then you can work on something hands-on while they run. Don’t get stuck waiting for the clothes in the dryer, because you mowed the lawn before starting them.
6. KEEP THE WHEELS ROLLIN: Tasks to preserve or improve the efficiency of transportation have the highest priority. Working on end-projects instead of fixing that leaky tire on the car could result in a massive loss of productivity if you’re stuck on the side of the road. Of course fixing the leaky tire was not on the list of things to do today, but it should actually have been at the top. Likewise, five minutes to fix the wheelbarrow ahead of time saves five hours hauling gravel in buckets (yes this is a true anecdote).
7. WALK THIS WAY: Tasks that will be repeated often, will reward the investment of a little extra time in scrutinizing the process. The slight improvement in your technique of mowing the lawn that saves five minutes, for example, will save cumulative years off your life. The savings in time and labor are literally uncountable, in some cases limited only by how long you live. This leads to the remarkable conclusion that the most mundane tasks are worthy of the greatest attention to detail. I have solved several health problems by close attention to my gait and posture.
8. HUMAN WASTE: In nature, there is no such thing as a waste product. Be like nature. To the limit of the space available, the leftovers from one project WILL facilitate another down the road, or even allow solutions that would never have occurred to you. Furthermore, disposal of waste products is a project in itself, one you won’t have to think about if you can reuse that stuff. I’ve taken this to the extent of seeking out other peoples waste products: scrap metal for cash, veg. trimmings from restaurants for compost and eventually livestock, used fryer oil for making diesel fuel, old palettes for the woodstove, etc.
9. MO MONEY? NO MONEY: Ten minutes thought on how to do something without money will repay you many times over. Most people planning a project make a list of things to buy and how much they will cost, rather than thinking of what they already have to work with. Money is an invaluable tool, but it should be used like a scalpel not a chainsaw. It’s a lot easier to bury a problem in money to make it go away, than to apply a little ingenuity and save that money for something that doesn’t have any other solution. Furthermore if you become accustomed to thinking this way, when the day comes that you have no money (I said when not if) you will not be paralyzed.
10. TWO-FER: Any task worth undertaking, or any item worth investing in, should fulfill at least two different needs, if not more. Don’t get a job whose perks you have no use for; don’t get a car that you can’t put a trailer hitch on; don’t buy highly processed foods, buy raw ingredients and vary the recipes (more than just practical reasons for this one). Even a hammer head has two sides.
11. TIME IS MONEY: The only real commodities are free time and motivation. In general, anything else can be traded for some combination of these two. The only question is: will you live long enough and want it bad enough to get it?
12. REFINE YOUR TECHNIQUE: If you’re sure of the method, start with the hardest part. If you’re still trying different methods, or trying to find a method at all, start with the easiest part and optimize the method before reaching the hardest part. At first, work consistently from start to finish without skipping around, in order to judge any marginal improvements of the method. For example, if it takes ten steps to make a widget, make a few complete widgets before doing the first step to a hundred of them, then the second step to the same hundred, etc.
13. DON’T SCREW UP: It is always harder to repair a mistake than prevent it. Always. A mistake might be a game-ender, even a life-ender. A few moments of thought on the potential mistakes that might occur will save you alot of aggravation, alot of wasted materials, and maybe even a few fingers.
14: ANCIENT CHINESE SECRET: Ok, so this one isn’t mine, but it’s true and it’s on-topic: “In Life, errors are inevitable. The true error is not to correct the original error.” Many times, failing gracefully is 90% of the job; and if you’re graceful enough, no one will notice the mistake in the first place. And then did it even happen?
15. RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB: No matter how hard you try, you can’t drive a screw with a hammer, and you can’t drive a nail with a screwdriver. If you suspect you don’t have the right tool for the job, don’t waste your time. Go to the hardware store, see what the best, most expensive real-deal tool looks like, and make or borrow one, rent one, or just buy the damn thing, finish your job, then return it and demand your money back. When the toolset is complicated, as in welding, painting or carpentry, group tasks together according to the toolset required so you don’t waste time in deploying then cleaning and storing tools multiple times.
16. REALISTIC GOALS: The more general the specification of the goal, the greater the chance of success. This doesn’t mean settling for a half-assed job at the end of the day, but “I’m gonna fix that leak in the ceilling” has a much higher chance of success than “I’m gonna put a new roof on the house,” even though both are approaches to the same problem. There are many ways to achieve the first, and very few ways to achieve the second.
17. And finally, GET OFF YOUR ASS: like I said in #11, the only real commodities are time and motivation, and you’re losing both every second you delay starting any project. Every second of your life has a number on it, and more than likely you’ll be less fit and energetic tomorrow than today. Some goals absolutely have to be started in youth to have any chance of success; if you’re sitting on the couch at 45 and suddenly decide to become an NFL quarterback, the odds are against you. Likewise, the chances of you actually completing anything are greatly improved by starting it. Right F-ing now.