So I have this thing that bugs possibly only me; when my fingernails get longer than a specific length (let’s call it 1mm), I have to trim them or they drive me crazy. As I type (and I do a lot of typing), they start to do this weird tingle or buzzing and just generally impinge on my awareness, and I can’t focus on my work. And when that happens, a switch flips inside me and I HAVE to trim them NOW.

When I’m on the road, literally the worst thing that can happen to me is that the switch flips and I don’t have my nail clippers with me. I have literally left hotels at stupid-o’-clock and trudged through miles of snow to find a CVS; repurposed random household items and tools into clippers; or begged strangers in the street to take pity on me. I learned from this, and now clippers are part of my absolute-necessities-keep-in-my-daybag-at-all-times road-warrior kit, along with my Codemeter dongle and my d3 dongle and my Notch dongle and my USB adapter thingy and my Ibuprofen.

That nails-too-long feeling (hair-too-long, haven’t shaved, need laundry) happens in my digital life as well. Too many unread or unhandled emails in my inbox. Too many slack messages unhandled. Too many tabs in my browser. Too many icons on my desktop. Too many unfinished patches stacked up in my TortoiseHQ patch queue. Too many unfinished documents and half-begun keynote presentations. Too many notifications on Facebook. That thing where changing one line of code causes all my libraries to rebuild. That 30-second wait where Incredibuild is doing … what, exactly ?

Too much entropy.

What they all have in common is that they impinge on my awareness, and I can’t focus on my work (I still consider my actual work to be coding, although it’s starting to dawn on me that maybe that needs to change now). So every now and then that switch will trigger, and I’ll go on a frenzy of getting to inbox zero or whatever.

There’s two problems with this.

First, there’s a never-ending avalanche of stuff coming in from the outside, and all of it’s important, and it just piles up and keeps coming. Sometimes I feel like I’m spending 75% of my day getting to a place where I can focus.

Second, because I’m in my just-get-it-done-so-I-can-focus mode, I’m not actually focusing on those emails, those browser tabs, those keynotes, those messages. I’m just sweeping them off my mental desk, so to speak. Which doesn’t actually make them go away, they just come back again, and more persistently. Plus, it pisses people off — they know they’re not getting my attention, not really.

I’m wondering whether everyone is the same as me. Because if they are, we’re not really communicating, we’re all just constantly in this frenzy of trying to get our nails clipped so we can get down to work.

I once made the mistake of letting other people use my software; the result was Now I’m trying to figure out how to fix what’s really broken.

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