Long-Term Projects

by Peter Saint-Andre


People I interact with sometimes ask me how I accomplish so much. The last time I gave some thought to it, I wrote a blog post about My To-Don't List - all the things I don't spend time on.

A recent conversation with my friend and &yet teammate Adam Brault yielded another insight: the power of long-term projects.

As an example, in the last week I've had two major specifications on security and internationalization approved for publication as RFCs through the IETF. Yet the security document is something I've been laboring on for about 18 months, and the internationalization initiative started 5+ years ago when folks in the Internet community realized that our old approach (based on "stringprep") was unsustainable. Right now at the IETF I'm also pushing to finish a few other long-term efforts, including definitions for SIP-XMPP interoperability that I began probably 10 years ago.

And that's far from a record with me. I've been helping to build Jabber/XMPP (and, more broadly, open communication) technologies for over 15 years. My book The Tao of Roark was 17 years in the making. I've even written a bunch of guitar pieces and songs that have gone unrecorded for almost 30 years. (That's too long!)

What I tend to do is work on these long-term projects in parallel. At any one time I have several on the front burner and others on the back burner. For example, these days I'm spending a lot of time reading all 7000 pages of Thoreau's Journal in preparation for writing a book about his approach to the art of living; however I also continue to do a bit of research on the side into the subjects of subsequent books I have planned on Nietzsche, Aristotle, and Lao Tzu. On the music front, I'm improving my arrangements and performances of six pieces by Yes for solo electric bass, but I'm also practicing some songs by Bob Dylan and my own folk-rock compositions. And even as I finish up an ungodly number of Internet-Drafts at the IETF, I'm also starting to think seriously about some more future-oriented technology initiatives centered on real-time collaboration.

I don't know if working on so many projects in parallel over such long spans of time is the best way to accomplish a lot in life (I always hesitate to say that my way is the right way for anyone else). And it has its hazards: I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and leave all these projects unfinished. Plus it's important to complete something once in a while, if only to get things off my plate. But for me I find that long-term parallel processing is the most effective and engaging approach to getting things done. Your mileage may vary. :-)

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