Cropping workloads and deciding what’s important

The FOSS community is amazing, and as often we may hear it has problems there’s one serious issue I’m sure we all agree with; we will always have a need for more contributors. Every project is starving for people – I couldn’t name a single project which isn’t on some level.

What we lack in fleshy human caffeine-to-output converters we make up for with passionate members, and the people who are part of projects are more often than not the insanely dedicated heros who churn enough work to equal more than a few of their peers. A huge number of insanely important projects are usually headed up by single individuals.

In FOSS you very quickly get noticed when you contribute, even if it’s a small contribution to a high-profile project. Once you get noticed other projects may ask for you, people who belong to multiple projects will ask to introduce you to other teams, and before long you realize you’ve gone from doing a couple projects well to several projects poorly. This presents a whole new problem I have recently come to terms with: You can’t contribute to every project.

I got all sour-apples about it with myself, one of those “you idiot!” inner monologues. Last week I said ‘yes’ to another project, and today I sat down and realised I was wasting peoples time. The person who invited me was catching me up, in the hangouts people were being patient while I straightened out my facts, and I contributed nothing. Using my crystal ball labelled “common sense” I divined that I’d probably only get an hour or two a week to offer up. Not nearly enough for the scale of that project, at least when you must budget time like a precious commodity.

In my seat I wrote out a list of projects I have on the go, and realised the number I produced was “too many”. I slumped, because I wanted to contribute to them all and I had to do the worst thing ever: start looking at projects to step back from. It sucked.

The problem with being attached to a project which you’re not really contributing to is that it can be a severe detriment to the people who are actively contributing; they may ask you to take care of a task, and what should have been a 2-day knockout turns into a 2-week slog, causing delays and problems.
So, I’ve stepped back from a handful of projects I had joined up with; No fears for anyone wondering if “you’re next”, since I’ve already sent out messages to the projects I’m stepping back from. Right now, I want to keep focus on at most 3 projects.

I’d rather do a few things well, than many things poorly. Hopefully, over the coming weeks, the projects I’m still involved with will see a stronger push from my end again, and adequate waves will be made.