I've been thinking about the larger projects we set our minds towards, lately. And there's a feeling, and I think it's justified, that below a certain level of commitment, you will simply never achieve something. You can't learn a language on one hour a day, for instance, and Paul Graham is notorious for saying good quality engineering work (good enough to scale, so you aren't mired in a fixed-size project, unable to do anything for fear of introducing bugs) takes a great deal of time just to start. He thought you couldn't build things well in 15 minute chunks, no matter how many you had, and I'm tempted to agree (with caveats irrelevant to this post).

I don't think you can get a grasp of the world that's at all useful on less than an hour a day. You can read enough news to know how to vote – I don't think that type of thing is tricky. You know what you like, after all (and, as a side note, while I wouldn't want him to actually be president, Kanye West has a better pitch for himself being president than either of the major party candidates). But if you want to imagine the future, and be more right than wrong? You're going to have to get use to asking questions, guessing an answer, checking that answer, and figuring out what led to any mistakes you made. It takes actual effort, but putting in that effort means you'll probably be in the top 5% in no time.

I think it's reasonable to only really focus on maybe two active things and minimal-time thing or passive thing, at any given moment. I recall times in my life where I was truly, ludicrously busy, and I find my accomplishments, in hindsight, remarkable but fundamentally unimpressive, while my character stagnated. Take the time to consider things, improve your approach. Be a better friend, or partner, or sibling. We've all been less than great, at times, so we can all think of things we can do better. But also take the time to improve at your work, or whatever your focuses are. Taking the time to improve makes the whole thing sustainable, and that's howyou get more slack, more done, and more sane. If you aren't getting better results for the same input, or the same results for less input, it's not sustainable. And that's why some things can take a minimal amount of time.

Because you need both time to think and time to engage directly and learn a lot about what you're trying to do! That's the trick. Programming is heavily context-dependent, and that's the usual explanation of why it takes a long time to get good quality work going. Because you need to have all of that understanding and take the time to think about different ways to do something knowing all of the context. You could make choices with less context, but they'd be liable to lead down a blind alley.

And language learning is similar but distinct. It's not even best described as learning. It's an acquisition process akin to developing synethesia. You're building an involuntary perception of meaning when you see a word, or hear a sound. Nothing else can go fast enough to actually comprehend human speech, and if you want to read without needing to take notes in your native language, you can't be using up your brain to think of how to translate everything. You need the massive context, and you need to drill something into yourself with that context. Instead of creatively exploring different ideas, you're building a web of similar ideas as copies of the ones others have, building the toolset for yourself. But the idea is the same. There's a lot to do before you can do what needs to be done.

So instead of thinking about minimal amounts of time to make progress, maybe think about how to maximally immerse yourself in that context. Take notes, of course. Few things aren't made easier when you write your thoughts down. But build increasingly focused environments in general. It'll be good for you.