July 31, 2019

Speed Matters

While Craig Mod’s essay on speedy software has been making the rounds, I was struck by the relevance of an older piece by James Somers about working quickly.

James discusses the way that making slow progress on certain kinds of tasks increases their perceived time cost”, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of sluggishness:

If every time you write a blog post it takes you six months, and you’re sitting around your apartment on a Sunday afternoon thinking of stuff to do, you’re probably not going to think of starting a blog post, because it’ll feel too expensive. What’s worse, because you blog slowly, you’re liable to continue blogging slowly—simply because the only way to learn to do something fast is by doing it lots of times.

That feels very real to me. He also gives the example of how this applies to email, where speedy responses are a double-edged sword:

I’ve noticed that if I respond to people’s emails quickly, they send me more emails. The sender learns to expect a response, and that expectation spurs them to write. That is, speed itself draws emails out of them, because the projected cost of the exchange in their mind is low. They know they’ll get something for their effort. It’ll happen so fast they can already taste it.

It makes you wonder whether Google’s Smart Reply assistance will end up inadvertently increasing email volume by lubricating the response process.

On the topic of productivity and speed, while I agree with most of Craig’s app assessments in his essay, I have to disagree about Things. I don’t think it’s an example of a fast app. Tactile? Sure. Fun? Absolutely. But fast? Only if you haven’t experienced other options.

Don’t get me wrong, I still use Things daily and consider it the best balance of functionality and experience on the market right now, but speed (at least when it comes to task entry) is one of the biggest downsides I find using Things compared to Todoist.


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