The End

The essence of planning is to appreciate your finitude. Whatever you are working on, you have a finite amount of time to do it in. However successfully you complete your work, it will have a finite impact on the world around you, mainly the thinking of your peers. Remember that you are trying to achieve a limited set of goals with a limited set of means. The work is never perfect, but at some point it is finished. You have to learn to recognize that moment after all the other moments have passed. That’s the key.

If you want to publish, say, two papers every year, you will need to finish one every six months on average. The work that lies behind each paper may span many years of reading,  thought and observation. But there must be a six-month period, which I recommend you conceive of as mainly two 8-week periods, in which your goal is to get your results down on paper and into the conversation with your peers. This period does not consists of months or weeks or even days. It consists of the hours — indeed, the moments — you set aside in which to write. Decide in advance how many hours you’re going to give yourself, and when those hours have been used up, demand a very good reason of yourself for why you are not finished. Remember, a failure to achieve perfection is no excuse. Why are you not just done? That’s the question.

Finishing is a skill in its own right. You become better at it each time you do it. And the better you get at it, the more satisfying it becomes. Don’t work to the point of exhaustion up to your deadline and hand in your work in a state of vague confusion and disappointment in your abilities. Rather, do a measured amount work in a measured amount of time and be satisfied, more or less, with the result given the conditions. Next time, work better, or give yourself better conditions. But accept that, this time, the work is done. If you have failed, so be it. As Beckett said, next time you might fail better. More efficiently. With less time wasted in worry.

Learning how to begin means learning how to end. It sounds like mysticism but it is a simple as reaching the last moment of your planned process and respecting it as exactly that: the end.

Related: “Discipline Zero”

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