The Middle Heap

A lot of being successful in life comes down to figuring out the right time horizon for each repeating task in your life.

Think about things like laundry or email. It’s certainly not the most efficient approach to answer each email the second it comes in regardless of what else you’re doing, just as it’s silly to wash each article of clothing as soon as it comes off your body. We batch these things for a reason. On the other hand, it’s very easy for a slight disruption in schedule to turn “an appropriate-sized batch” into “an insurmountable heap of bullshit.”

Everything batches differently. Words like “weekly” are nice, convenient ideas – but they aren’t always the correct cadence for whatever you have to do. It would be wonderful if every task reached “peak heap” in seven days, but that’s not how it works.

So, what cadence do you choose? How do you keep it straight? If you’re not doing it on a regular schedule, then you’re using at least some of your mental effort to monitor levels waiting for the right threshold to be hit, and I don’t really want to do that, either.

My personal solution: a “middle heap.”

For any task that should get completely done at regular intervals, I create miniature versions in between. For instance, I like to completely clear my inbox every week. Doing it every day would be absurd, but only doing it once a week creates the aforementioned “insurmountable heap of bullshit” every Friday. So instead, I have a daily routine that does not involve committing to “inbox zero,” but involves responding to a set number of emails. This, in turn, builds in a “monitoring event” so I can gauge the state of things without compulsively checking.

Sometimes you look at a huge task and you don’t start it because you feel like “starting” automatically equates to “committing to finishing right now, all in one go.” But that doesn’t have to be the case! A lot of laundry has piled up? Okay, just wash one load of it. That doesn’t have to be a solemn resolution to “handle the laundry once and for all.” And it’s better than nothing.

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