What am I doing with my life?

I was reading a blog post about procrastination and this quote just stood out and hit me:

In his famous essay You and Your Research (which I recommend to anyone ambitious, no matter what they're working on), Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are the most important problems in your field?
  2. Are you working on one of them?
  3. Why not?

Essentially this boils down to the question:

What's the best thing you could be working on, and why aren't you?

Facing the question

I love how brutal this question is. Just cuts right to the point and doesn't screw around at all. Being that I aspire to make a difference this question seemed to be very important to answer. Here are my preliminary thoughts on it:

Part 1:

I'm thinking that it's highly likely the best work I could be doing involves trying to create a paradigm shift when it comes to UI/UX and the visualization of information.

The other thing is perhaps related to this time management and procrastination helper tool I have been thinking about lately. I feel as though the power that has to help people by letting them regain control of their web browsing time could have a huge benefit to many people.

There is some good stuff in operations research, but I have been out of that field for a while. I can see a lot of value in bringing some of the leading knowledge to a wider audience and using the information for the good of everyone. Specifically I think that many people have difficulty with scheduling and logistics [1], there's a lot of potential to make software that leverages the algorithms from operations research to help people with their practical problems. Right now that expertise is not particularly accessible, making it more accessible would be the goal.

Part 2:

I have been trying to get started on the UI/UX thing and also the time management application, I honestly haven't been doing much with operations research since I left Melbourne although I do think I will return to that at some point. [2]

Part 3:

Basically the biggest problem I have had lately is a combination of being time poor and not having the requisite skills to implement what I want. [3] Also there's been a fair amount of just having to survive, getting good work done when you are struggling with life issues like having to move house is pretty much impossible. There's a tremendous number of talented people out there who are struggling to self actualize due to adverse life circumstances. If you are one of those people, my heart goes out to you, I never realized how difficult it was until last year.

The requisite skills part I do my best to work on whenever I can because I know there's a lot more I need to learn. Keeping up the habit of trying to learn as much as I can whenever I can has helped a lot, as long as I can keep enough free time and energy aside for this I imagine I will be ok. I'm working on learning the skills required for the main projects via working on some smaller projects like the billiards simulator and the footbag website. That way I can hopefully get work towards a tangible goal in the form of a final product and also get some motivation from having a final product in mind.

I certainly could be doing better though and I think this quote really forces me to stare that in the face which is a really good thing. Complacency really is the enemy of high quality work and I certainly know it. I realize that I'm more ready to face this type of question these days, previously I might have avoided it for a variety of reasons. The simple fact of the matter is that I will die some day and that if I just keep avoiding what's important I will gaurantee that I miss my opportunity to leave a positive legacy for the world. Life certainly is too short to make excuses for not making the best effort.

[1]Scheduling and logistics are fundamentally difficult problems so it comes as no surprise that many of the ad-hoc "solutions" people have come up with to these problems are quite substandard. There are people who realize this and want to improve their systems but just don't know how. Of those people who want to improve their systems many get thwarted by not having a well defined process and the toolset to actually go about it. These are the people I think would be helped the most by increasing the availabilty of quality tools. People who are unaware of the issues that arise from sub-optimal systems and processes present a different set of problems. Some are just unaware but some actually resist quantative approaches. Getting these people to accept better approaches to these problems is a tough task but a very important one as a lot of utility hinges on these decisions.
[2]I really want to work on operations research more but I'm making a conscious decision to delay that work because I think the additional mental overhead imposed by context switching would be counter productive at this moment in time. I already have enough stuff that I'm trying to learn on my plate right now without adding an additional discipline of study/research.
[3]Some of the UI/UX stuff would require me to know more about graphics programming than I currently do. GLSL for example has been on my "to learn" list for quite some time now, I'm just starting to look at that for the billiards simulator application I'm working on.