Six weeks, six months

My heuristic for improvement is: six weeks, six months.

Need to get in shape? (Whatever "in shape" might mean, but that's another topic.) It's going to take six weeks before you notice any changes, before any benefits are apparent. It's going to take six months before you're really building strength or endurance.

Six months or six weeks aren't real, scientific numbers—they're just heuristics. When you start some habit, it takes a solid starting chunk of time to lay the groundwork for improvement. When the habit is solid, it takes another, larger chunk of time to get the results of the habit to some satisfyingly high level. Six weeks and six months are close enough to capture that.


I am relatively out of running shape now (at least compared to past exploits). I was building it up this year, but the last few weeks didn't leave much time to maintain that. OK. Let's pretend it's a start from zero. How long is it going to take to solidify the habit? Six weeks. How long is it going to take to get in competition shape? Six months.

They're both daunting numbers. There aren't any shortcuts. You just have to keep doing it until you're better at doing it. There are matters of technique, coaching, learning, each of which have their place in improvement. But the real magic is buying into maintenance —relentlessly keeping at it until you get to the threshold where you can take on something more and learn to do it better and better.

It works

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Succeeds in Historic First Flight

There are two important aspects of Mule Time: (1) Head down, straight ahead to the end of the row, turn around, repeat; (2) stubbornness, bordering on insubordination.

Mule Time happens when there ain't nothin' left to plan. The plan happened. The doing-to-plan happened. But there's still some work left to do, maybe to a plan, maybe not. It doesn't matter. What matters is knowing when it's time to be a mule or when it's time to be a human and find a better way to get the job done. How do you know? You don't. It's a matter of taste or temperament.

I've written enough about automation, and I've done extensive planning for complicated projects. It's real. I believe in it. I use it. But when you've got a long, boring, grinding problem, you gotta get behind the mule.

Plan time is over

When plan time is over, you have to put away your toys and get to work.

No more messing around. No more diversions. No more delays. No more hiding.

A plan is only as good as its implementation—but not the opposite. A beautiful plan isn't that great if it can't or doesn't get done.

I enjoy planning—if only because it's the best time to try to avoid the mistakes I made last time—but not nearly as much as I enjoy doing. Possibly I like that inflection point even more where the plan falls away and leaves raw doing in its place. It's not about abandoning the plan, just knowing that it has served its purpose and now it's time to move on. Otherwise you end up serving the plan, not serving the purpose.

The Captain's Newsletter, 2021-W14 - Get yr shovel

Read it: The Captain's Newsletter, 2021-W14 - Get yr shovel

What do you do with all those alternate futures you hold in your head? Nothing. They don't exist. They never existed. They never will exist. Take a shovel. Dig a hole. Put those alternate futures in the hole. Fill the hole with the dirt you dug up. Pat it down. Yes. Good. Your alternate futures didn't exist anyway, but just in case, we buried them in the dirt. Now let's all go do the sensible thing and lift up a bottle of our best Irish whiskey and send those fantasies off to wherever fantasies go when they're no longer needed. Also: tomatoes. The newsletter is 50% tomatoes by volume every week.

Subscribe to it: /captain.