This manifesto has been making the rounds over the past few days. A bunch of “Oh, you just need to do things this way” motivational principles, which most people will look at, say “Yes, that’s what I should be doing!” and then either forget about it, or keep beating themselves up about how they’re not doing it. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a little bit of good stuff in there, and some people will find it life-changing. These are largely the people who already thought this way but just hadn’t realized it yet.
For the rest of us, I’d like to take a look at this manifesto point-by-point, to expose some wrongheaded thinking about why we do things in the first place.
1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
This is a little vague, but it kind of makes sense. I’ll leave it be.
2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
This is reasonably good advice. Except that it’s unclear how you eventually decide that something is done, if it’s still supposed to feel like a draft when you’re done.
More importantly though, it brings up the major problem with this manifesto and many productivity-based systems. Getting things done is a shitty goal!
No it’s not, you say. We all have goals we want to accomplish, and to-do lists, and we want to be able to accomplish them, and check the little boxes, and pat ourselves on the backs.
Well, no. If this were truly the case, the ideal scenario would be to farm out all your goals to other people to accomplish for you, and then check the box when they tell you they’re finished. Anything worth doing is worth doing because you want to do it, not because you want it to be done. If you want something to be done, it’s either in the service of something else that want, or you’re wasting your time.
3. There is no editing stage.
Only true if the goal is getting things done. Yes, it’s much easier to finish things when you don’t edit them. It’s also easier to stop listening to/reading/watching/otherwise consuming them, because they suck.
4. Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.
I appreciate the sentiment, but why fool yourself into thinking you know what you’re doing? How about this: accept that you don’t know what you’re doing, and do it anyway, because it doesn’t matter. Unless you do anything involving impressionable children, people’s safety, or you know, like financial stuff. Because then it really does.
5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
Again, a nice sentiment, but ultimately harmful. We “procrastinate” because of the feelings that come up when we think about the things we’re putting off. To avoid those very projects is to do only what comes easy, to run away from the things that help us grow. Yes, you will absolutely get more things done this way, but will they be the things you want to do?
6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
No! If being done is to be a goal, it has to be so that you can do other things. Getting things done is a distraction.
7. Once you're done you can throw it away.
OK, I’m on board with this one. I’d have trouble throwing away my own work once I’ve done with it, but I can see how that attitude would help with both doing and getting done.
8. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
I guess this depends on how you define “perfection.” I’ve often been called a perfectionist, not because I want something to be perfect, but because I want it to be right. I’m still convinced there’s a difference, although I’m the first to admit I can’t figure out what it is.
9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
Yes to the first half, no to the second. While it’s impossible to know what you’re doing if you don’t do anything, it’s possible to do a lot of work and still not have a clue.
10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
Hmm. I guess if you’re not allowed to edit, then yes, outright failure, or even making a mistake means that you’re done. I get the sense this is supposed to be telling me something else. But what?
11. Destruction is a variant of done.
And done is a variant of sneaking your dinner to the dog so you can have dessert.
12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
Will somebody please explain to me what this means?
13. Done is the engine of more.
Yes! Exactly! This summarizes the problems with the cult of done. Since when is “more” the answer to anything?!
There is too much crap out there. I do not want more articles, more ideas, more music, more movies, more more more. I want better! Imagine if every 20-song megastar album that came out in the past year had been 7 songs instead, but all the extra time had been put into making the work more compelling.
Forget the “cult of done.” I’m starting my own: The Cult of Doing It Well and Having Fun Doing It. Manifesto to follow.