Fowl's Blog

Process Mode vs Product Mode

March 07, 2021

It is incredibly easy to loathe learning.

The chief pitfall is getting stuck in product mode; this being the focus on doing to carry out a task until you it the “Done” attitude. It may appear in form of statistics - just think of the 0 flashcards queue in a SRS. You crave for the metrics’ approval, because you have been taught that they are always right, that grades will define you.

I myself am not free of this sin. I might actually be one of the foremost sin-bearers in this regard. I need to get the sweet completion feeling that will allow me to rest and be at peace.

Product is not-so-often you used with a negative meaning, since in the start-up world and productivity addicts product is king. Get a good product and all your wrongdoings will be exculpated.

However, I have a different story to tell and I will do so through a very simple example.


What a beautiful word to utter in an office to get a promotion. What could be better than optimizing something?

Imagine playing a video game and training for hours on end to get better. You read guides, you optimize your build, because the person at the top is using that build and, therefore, if you want to be successful you must dress as he does, swing the word the same way and learn exactly the same skills.

I am not in any mood to drag this metaphor further than this. You should be able to see how joy-sapping that would be, shouldn’t you? Optimizing a game that you are supposed to enjoy, just because it helps you feel better, like you are doing the right thing. Never mind it is a videogame you are playing, not a Google internship. Never mind you should feel at peace with yourself as priority number one.

During our school years, we are told to optimize our time, to follow the homework relentlessly or we will be punished - please do not take this as endorsement for the school is slavery movement, I do not agree with them nor do I want to express my support for them. What I am saying is that there is a large margin to improve the schooling experience, not that I want to destroy the system.

Back on track. School is the first place where we tried to optimize our life, judging our progression and failings with marks. Fun fact: school is not optimized. School is the most inefficient system after your small town’s political scene.

Worship a Product

We are subtly told that grades are who we are, that the metrics are the end, the product we ought to relentlessly pursue.

Well, there are metrics that are really important in life. No one should mistake my article as a “aha! I will beat the system by committing to sloth.” The problem is that we are mostly faced with vanity metrics in school.

Sleep, depth of exploration, enjoyment while solving a problem. There are things we should bait into our lives and they should be our aim. For an aimless life is worse than spending your entire existence in high school.

The product approach steers us towards rate of completion, grades and worse of all trying to just wrap up the product. And do you want your focus to be on finishing your daily learning or on learning something valuable?

The process approach

When I talk about product and process, people get often confused.

Why is it a product approach if we are still talking about the process of finishing the product?

The process approach has the process itself as its final goal. You refine your process based on your important metrics. You do not care [too much] about getting the product done and out of the way. You stumble upon your product once your process is refined.

When you enjoy something - as you might have already noticed with video game addiction - you are hardly capable of stopping. My dear friend Niko managed to turn his gaming addiction into a beautiful learning addiction and he is now one of the strongest learners I have ever seen, if not the strongest.

The process approach is so efficient that you do not need to worry [too much] about the product. By the time you are done with what you are enjoying, the product will almost be fleshed out by itself. Obviously, there still goes thought and care into this. You still do research and you need to persevere in what your are doing. People take the process approach as a “gonna do whatever I want” attitude. Nope, it could not be further from the truth.

You will sweat, you will bleed.

There is no free meal in the world.

Lazy people will be lazy and ignore that, thinking they are striving for greatness by half-assing everything. That is wrong. The process will still be painful. There still will be a lot of suffering on your part, because that is how life works. You need to be almost in pain and uncomfortable to achieve something out of what you already achieved. I felt like puking the first time I met an investor. I wanted to drop my writing more than once, because I was frustrated and not over-achieving. I wanted to drop my small start-up because it was not making enough to feed me. I wanted to drop supermemo because it seemed like I could never get it right.

Did I do that?

No. Because I am not a. little. fucking. bitch.

I am enamored with writing and other stuff, but I had rough moments, when the only important thing was to overcome the obstacle and somehow keep going. I have struggled in the sloshed swamp, with sticky feet that would not leave the ground without agonizing effort. I have faced the fears that made me small to battle against even bigger fears. I failed so many times and I am only 25, without much money or success to speak about. But I wear my few achievements with pride, because I earned them.

And after years of struggling, I understood how this process approach, how taking care of myself in the right way helped become better and better at what I do.

I am writing a book that will change how a web novel is perceived in Italy. And I do not say that out of arrogance. I say that out of sheer confidence in the monsters I faced. I slayed big enough bad maggots that were trying to ruin me.

Now, it is time to shine.

I do not fuss over my book to make it perfect. I go over my process, see what I am enjoying and what not. Then, I try to understand if I am just being a pussy or if there is indeed a wench in the gears; if the latter is true, I will remove it and go on, looking to lubricate the gears of my process, not those of the product. I could not care less about what I write, but I would be damned if I did not care about how I write. Am I not editing because I cannot do that or am I doing that because I am a pussy? Turns out I should be editing before sending to my editor, if the last words of hers are to be trusted. I ask her to give me a mark to understand how good she thinks the chapter is compared to the others - oh my god, the capital sin! - and I have never scored 9 or 10 more than 10 times I think in 350 chapters of our last story. The first four chapters of our new story scored all 9 or above.

[The example above is a good indication on when grades could actually be good. I need to know how good she thinks something is if I want to look deeper in certain parts of my process, like re-reading my chapters with rapt attention]

Therefore, my dear reader, I will simply list my advice for you. Bullet lists are the thing of Evil, but most people like them. Since you may be another not really shining intellect, let me be exemplificatory.

  1. The most important metric is your well being and enjoyment.

    1. However, always ask yourself “am I running away because I am a little pussy or is there a real problem in my process”?
  2. Do not work toward a product just for the product.

    1. You are a human being, treat yourself as such, not as a robot.
  3. Leave aside the lying metrics of completion, and look for the explorer path. The more you dig, the more you find. The more you go into the un-explored, the more you will be able to create something unique.

  4. If you are obsessed with how much you do, compared to how you do, stop and refactor.

  5. To tell if you are product oriented you can ask yourself “How many times did I stop to think about how I am doing against this task, instead of mindlessly trying the same ol’ weapons to slay the big ol’ dragon?”

    1. If you did not recently (<1 week) stop to refactor your process, you failed.
  6. Trust the process. Do not trust the product. A good writer is someone who enjoys what he/she is writing, not one that feels he has to ship his book or make it a certain way because that’s how it works.

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