Avoidance stew


Newsletter #33

Here’s how I make most decisions for the product I’m building:

  1. Open 37 tabs on a topic and obsessively read everything — On my first go, I generally read to learn the boundaries and considerations for a topic, not really to understand anything deeply at this point.
  2. Talk to people in Slack channels and Facebook groups to learn their thoughts on the topic — This provides colour and context. It also helps level set expectations. Often, the articles I read in step 1 are written from a “perfect world” perspective. Talking to real people reminds me that there’s no such thing.
  3. Avoidance stew — After steps 1 and 2, I usually still have no idea what to do. So I repeat the steps while watching Netflix for days. I call this avoidance stew because I passive aggressively avoid making a decision, while stewing on it passively.
  4. Something clicks, and I make a decision — Sometimes there’s a single thing I can point to that causes everything else to fall into place. More often, it’s a combination of steps 1, 2 and 3 that does the trick. By this point, I tend to be pretty sure of the decision I’m making. I understand the trade-offs and considerations deeply, and am at peace with the decision.

How long this process takes:

Reading obsessively takes 3-6 hrs.

Talking to people online takes 1-2 hrs.

But avoidance stew can take anywhere from a day to two weeks. For massive decisions, this can take 3-6 months.

Avoidance stew takes time because my subconscious is at work

If this process involved me constructing a McKinsey-worthy decision framework, then actively filling it up with every data point I can get my hands on, it would be called obsessive sushi, not avoidance stew.

The magic of avoidance stew is that it gives my subconscious mind time to do its thing — Watery understanding coalesces into something more substantial, and key factors and hidden fears bubble to the top and into the forefront of my consciousness, finally ready to be articulated. Ding!

This is delicious, insightful sorcery. And I have no control over any part of it. My subconscious does whatever she wants, and I am at her mercy.

All I can do is keep feeding her information and give her time and space to do her magic.

Avoidance stew actually sucks

The previous section makes avoidance stew sound like wondrous wizardry, but actually going through it sucks.

While in avoidance stew, no decisions are made and work cannot progress. I am immersed in something that’s completely foreign and I can’t make head or tail of it.

This makes me feel guilty, lazy, unproductive, dumb and insecure.

Seriously, it sucks. And it’s no wonder people prefer to rush into decisions rather than get stuck in avoidance stew.

Here’s what I tell myself when I’m neck-deep in avoidance stew:

  • I’d much rather be stuck in avoidance stew than rush through it and make the wrong decision.
  • Have equanimity – Being able to coexist with negative feelings and be okay that they’re there is an important skill for long term decision-making and being satisfied with life.
  • It’s nice to have tough decisions to make in the first place. It means I’m doing stuff that matters.

Balancing avoidance stew with a bias toward action

At this point, you might be thinking that avoidance stew sounds like a massive waste of time, and I’d be much better served by a bias toward action.

And you’re not wrong. But the better answer is “it depends”.

Avoidance stew is the topic of this post, so I talk about it at length here. But that doesn’t mean I always do this and always move at a glacial pace.

Sometimes, when it makes more sense, I choose action: I charge through the stew, move fast and break things.

It all depends on the decision that needs to be made.

If you’re wondering when to pick stew versus speed, I can’t answer that for you. But here are some questions you can ask yourself that might help you make that decision:

  • Is my decision difficult to reverse, thus necessitating me getting it as right as possible from the start?
  • Can I learn faster and better from failing 5 times quickly or 1 good stew?
  • Are other people involved? Would they trust you more if you delivered 5 broken versions quickly or 1 version slowly?
  • What’s the true reason I want to decide quickly? Is it ego and unwillingness to sit with discomfort?

I’m sitting in stew right now

After the launch of our plugin and some minor success, we’re now planning the next steps. We want to add templates and allow people to design their newsletters with ease. We also want to create a paid version of our plugin.

And yes, you guessed it. I have no idea how to do any of that.

And so, for the past two weeks, I’ve been eyebrow-deep in avoidance stew.

I’ve been fixing little things, adding small features, and creating a roadmap then editing it over and over and over again. But we haven’t made any significant steps forward.

Thankfully, things are beginning to coalesce and I can kind of see what we need to do next. Being in avoidance stew sucks, and I’m looking forward to coming out of it.


🔥 Highlights from this week

💔 Lowlights from this week

  • Avoidance stew!

✅ Completed this week

  • 95% done with our Sendinblue integration
  • You can now add header images to your newsletter. [If you are reading this as an email, you might have noticed my new newsletter header. This was made possible by this feature! 😬]
  • You can now use WordPress’ schedule post to also schedule a newsletter.
  • A bunch of small bug fixes and UI improvements.

🎯 Goals for next week

  • Finish Sendinblue integration
  • Finally finally get started on UI for big new features

🤔 Product thought for the week
We’ll be introducing the concept of building a newsletter theme. I like the idea because blog themes are something people already understand, so calling newsletter design options a “theme” really helps people quickly understand the feature.


🍊Fresh From the Interwebz

How online forms are a reflection of society and how some people are “othered” – explained in a delightful webcomic

My friend Tim shared this comic with me last week. It made me reflect on how society subtly fits us all into pre-defined boxes and how thoughtlessly it casts aside the parts of us that don’t. Thanks Tim!

Link to article →

How Google puts a positive spin on its monopoly

It’s always fun to read internal documents from big companies. This article from the Markup talks about Google’s internal communication policies and how they’re careful to avoid monopolistic vocabulary, all within the context of the company’s recent antitrust hearing.

One part of the presentation, subtitled “Communicating Safely,” advises employees on which terms are “Bad” and “Good.”

Instead of “market,” employees may say “industry,” “space,” “area,” or simply cite the region, according to the presentation.

Instead of “network effects,” the presentation suggests “valuable to users.”

And instead of “barriers to entry,” substitute “challenges.”

Link to article →

Thinking in bets

These are notes on a book called Thinking In Bets, written by professional poker player Annie Duke. Lots of significant but under-appreciated concepts! I haven’t gotten around to reading the actual book, but this article was illuminating.

In the long run, the cumulative effect of being a little better at decision-making like compounding interest— can have huge effects on everything that we do.

We don’t win bets by being in love with our own ideas. We win bets by striving to calibrate our beliefs and predictions about the future to more accurately represent the world.

In the long run, the more objective person will win against the more biased person.

Link to article →


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