David Heinemeier Hansson

August 17, 2022

Let it slide

No matter the size of the business, there'll always be an unlimited number of tasks left to do, processes left to improve, and contingencies left to plan. The work is truly never done, so regardless of how much effort is put in, you'll inevitably end the day unfinished. All you can control is what you're willing to let slide. Most days that should be most things.

Letting things slide is not a sign of neglect. It's an acceptance of our finite allotment of time, motivation, skill, and knowledge. It's a recognition that if there are 100,000 things you could do, the difference between getting 8 or 12 things done in a day is not really a 50% increase in productivity, but a rounding error in the grand picture of completion.

When you let something slide, you're not saying it won't ever be important (although that's true more often than not!). You're simply saying "this isn't worth dealing with right now". Maybe because we're unlikely to suffer from risks deemed remote, maybe because the customer base isn't large enough to warrant it, maybe because the headcount of the company doesn't call for it. There are a million good reasons why not to do things.

The dividends from letting stuff slide also accrue to accounts beyond just the one that gives you time for other things in the moment. The less you do, the less you accumulate. Completing tasks usually means producing work, which means work products that have to be considered and carried forward, potentially forever. Plans need to be kept current. Processes need to be monitored. Much of what we do at work is a self-replicating process. Work begets work begets more work.

So stop apologizing for the deliberate act of letting it slide. Embrace it with gusto. Proudly declare that "this just isn't worth dealing with right now". Then resist the temptation to beat yourself up if you were wrong, and something bad does happen. Something bad is bound to happen somewhere regardless of what you do.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.