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Removing ice from a driveway is like .... everything

by Tom Johnson on Dec 19, 2009
categories: creativity technical-writing

Not having grown up in Utah, when it snows, my first instinct isn't to start shoveling my driveway. So when it snowed last week, I let the snow pile up in the driveway and assumed it would eventually melt. But it didn't melt. Several days later, it still didn't melt. And then it snowed again.

In the course of a week, we had driven over the driveway snow more than 30 times with two cars, impacting it down. The ice hardened with a strong crust. When I drove my car into the driveway, the ice scraped the bottom of my car.

Last night I decided to finally shovel the glacier off. After 20 minutes of hard shoveling and chipping and digging, I came in exhausted and lay down on the couch. I had only finished about a third of the driveway -- the easy part near the garage door.

After resting about a half hour, I returned and chipped away some more. I swung and chopped and pried and lifted and chipped in almost every direction with all my strength. I piled up the big chunks of ice on the side of the driveway.

Chipping away at a glacier that covers my driveway
Chipping away at a glacier covering my driveway

After this second round, I came inside and lay down on my couch again, just as exhausted, this time as thirsty as a buffalo. I gulped down two glasses of ice water and flipped on the TV. I was about to give up on the driveway, as comfortable as the couch was, but after resting 20 minutes I felt the urge to get up and start chipping away yet again at the glacier.

Little by little, I pried up big chunks of ice. I could hardly believe I was actually making progress, but the ice was loosening and revealing the gray cement below. I hit my second wind and gathered more energy with each loosened piece of ice. Digging in the shovel, I pried up large sheets of ice and flung them to the side. One big chunk, and then another, and another. Before I knew it, I finished.

Done (good enough anyway)
Done (good enough anyway)

So much of my life is like this. Had I shoveled at the first sign of snow, I could have easily removed the snow in twenty minutes rather than nearly two hours. But more than a lesson in procrastination, seemingly impossible tasks and projects can be tackled piece by piece, if you just keep chipping away at them. When you get tired, rest a bit until you're ready to return to it. Then keep chipping, and to your surprise, big chunks will start to loosen and separate. You carry them away and use your new-found leverage to chip away at more and more.

Drink water, rest beside your shovel, carry the larger snow chunks to your kid building a fort in the snow. But keep shoveling and shoveling. Before you know it, you'll be done.

I know this isn't a brilliant insight or even that interesting, but it's a little microcosm of my life, especially with IT projects, which can seem so complicated and multifaceted at the start, but little by little they unravel and start to make sense.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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