Personal Easter Eggs

My job is hard. I don't think I would like it if it weren't. Sometimes though, I get frustrated, and rely on a myopic game to keep myself encouraged. I call this game the personal easter egg. I never really thought about it, it's just something I started doing that has really worked for me, and has had a beneficial unintended consequence.

I first read about myopic games in Jon Elster's book Ulysses Unbound. Essentially the idea is simple, the present self makes decisions to introduce restraints on the future self, like when Ulysses ordered himself to be bound to the mast so he could hear the sirens' song without suffering the consequences. My game doesn't involve restraints, but it is a similar type of time shifting.

Here's how the game works. Whenever I encounter something particularly frustrating, like a bit of code or a new technology that I don't feel like I'm getting my head around, I rate it on a scale of 1 to 3 based on how difficult I think the task is. Then I create a private calendar event and put a summary of the problem in the description. This summary varies based on the problem, but generally it's a snippet of code or a link to something. Then I schedule the event based on the scale:

  • Difficulty 1 gets scheduled three months out
  • Difficulty 2 gets scheduled six months out
  • Difficulty 3 gets scheduled a year out

Then I either move on with the task or move on to something different for a while.

I usually forget that I've done this, so when the easter egg pops up on my phone it's always a treat. So far the result has always been the same:

that is so simple.

I look at the thing that was frustrating me months ago and can't believe that it was ever something I didn't understand. This was the intended consequence. Now when I run into a problem, it's not stressful, it's a reminder that I'm getting better. The things that frustrate me now are going to be child's play in a matter of months, and I have an extensive collection of easter eggs to prove it.

The thing I didn't expect has been just as beneficial. As we gain experience and knowledge in a subject, it's often easy to forget how frustrating it was at one point. These easter eggs have really impacted the way I deal with others who are struggling with something that I find simple. They are a reminder that this stuff is hard, and sometimes it might take longer for someone to get something than I think it should. The easter eggs have done wonders for my motivation, but they've also made me a much more patient team member.

So leave your future self some easter eggs, I think you'll find that the simplicity of the things that seem insurmountable now will surprise you. But try to remember that original sense of frustration when mentoring others.