Trying Something Different With the Schedule

When we first started Wait But Why, we put a note at the top of the site that read:

New post every Monday and Thursday

Seemed like a reasonable plan. Two posts a week was challenging but manageable, and for a brand new blog with zero readers, we felt that a clear and consistent schedule was key.

It worked nicely for a while. But then something started to happen that we hadn’t anticipated at the beginning—I started writing really long posts. My natural inclination was to be pretty thorough about everything, but I never planned to dig into each topic to such an extreme level.

As the posts became longer and longer, twice a week was putting me on the verge of death at all times, so we shifted to once a week and changed the tagline to:

New post every Tuesday

Problem solved, almost. The issue is, with more time for each post, my perfectionism kicked up a notch and the posts quickly became even more thorough. I found myself in a weekly battle with my own head, one which I explained a few months ago here. Due to both the behemoth each post had become and a slew of my own vices, I pulled an all-nighter (or two) almost every single week, posts were never ever done on time, and I soon changed the tagline to:

New post every Tuesday(ish)

And that was cute when the posts would go up on Wednesday morning. But in the last six months, things have gone to yet another level, and the posts have become such beasts that many of them have ended up being 2-3 week projects.

It’s not that that’s bad—the two AI posts, for example, took a combined six weeks and over 400 hours of work, but that’s what that topic called for, and it would have been a mistake to shortchange it by forcing myself to do it in one week—but it’s clear that after over a year of Wait But Why being a supposedly weekly blog, another tagline change is in order.

A few thoughts on where we are now and why this change is happening:

1) Right now, I feel guilty doing super-thorough posts that take two or three weeks to do, because we tell people at the top of the site to expect a new post every week. AI was an exception, but for the most part, I’ve avoided topics that seem too big for this reason.

2) There are a bunch of post ideas I have that would make a great two-day project and short post, but right now, that doesn’t feel like enough to warrant being “the big weekly post,” so I end up avoiding those posts too.

3) Even for the topics that do satisfy my weekly posting criteria, given the erratic and variable amount of work each post requires (an amount which is often unpredictable when I choose a post topic), it’s very hard to consistently hit the “week long project” sweet spot, and the schedule has become totally unpredictable anyway.

So A) the current schedule puts me into a bit of a rigid box when choosing post topics, and B) the benefit of it is supposed to be predictability and reliability for the reader, and clearly it has not been delivering on this benefit. Time for a change.

Since “New post every sometimes would confuse the shit out of new readers who discover the site and haven’t been privy to the ongoing drama of my insanity, we’re going to try leaving the tagline off altogether for now. [Update: New readers can just deal with it.]

Posting will happen sometimes. The goal is for this to open up more possibilities for what I can do on the site, without a decrease in productivity. It will be erratic—after a post goes up, the next one might go up two days later or three weeks later—but I don’t expect the overall level of productivity to decrease at all.

And as before, this is a test. If it works well and solves problems, we’ll keep it. If it causes new, unforeseen problems, we’ll change things up again.

Two final notes for you:

1) We love your feedback. Emails from readers consistently make our day (even when it’s not possible for us to respond), and this site is a relationship between us and you. Like any good relationship, communication is key, so make sure to tell us about your experience as a reader—we pay close attention to everything we hear from you. This schedule change is happening partially because of reader feedback.

2) If you want an easy way to know when a new post goes up, sign up for the email listWe don’t send emails very often—about once a week (we sent 40 total in 2014)—and it’s almost always to send you the new post right when it goes up.

  • Wim K

    You take as long as you like, Tim. I’ve never read a WBW post that I didn’t think was worth the wait. Especially the AI ones – those were incredibly eye-opening. And if that’s how long it takes for you to do your research and put together an epic and informative read, then that’s how long I’ll wait. Your posts have such great re-reading value anyway (especially the quasi-philosophical ones like the religion or life partner posts) that whenever it’s been a while since a post, I just dig through the archive and pick an old one to read.

    Also, for the other readers, I’d really recommend signing up for the mailing list. There’s no marketing emails or anything, just reminders whenever there’s a new post/dinner table topic. It beats checking the site 20 times a day and frustrating yourself.

    • Kirsten

      Completely agree. I’ve enjoyed every single one (who’d have ever thought I’d be interested in American Presidents!) and happy to wait as long as they take. I also reread most of them particularly the Bunny Manifesto and Medieval People in Bad Situations when I feel like a good laugh.

  • James Morant

    Completely agree with Wim K. The posts are excellent and well worth the wait regardless of timings.

  • jaime_arg

    I have a tagline for you: “New posts whenever they’re ready.”

  • Jason Kay

    how about “New posts when their good and ready…”
    or
    “New posts at random points in the space-time continuum”
    or the classic
    “Good things for those who wait”

  • Write the best, don’t worry about the schedule—and thank you for the awesome work.

  • Tayloor Winscher

    Would you be able to put up a header where you can provide your current project and a general estimate of when it will be done? Perhaps that’s not feasible, but I feel like it could provide the motivation for you to reach a realistic deadline while at the same time giving readers an idea of what to expect.

    Regardless, you feel absolutely free to do whatever you want, Tim. We all love your articles and will continue reading them either way!

  • Jeff R

    Absolutely love this blog. Always insightful and thought-provoking. The short posts are fun but as other have said, waiting a few weeks for something I know will be a high quality post is not a problem. In fact, I kind of prefer the anticipation – makes it that much more fun of a read.

  • Nice one. I think new people to your site will have plenty to read for a while without needing something new every week, and they’ll quickly find out about the mailing list which is a great way to just get a notification when there’s something new.

  • jebmak

    “New post every sometimes” is what I expect from this blog anyway. I’m always happy when the next post comes out, but I never expected it at a certain time (well, except for AI part 2, but that was a continuation anyway).

    Please keep up the solid work. Thanks.

  • Brian P

    I think “New post every sometimes” would be an awesome tagline and you should totally go with it. If people get confused, you can make “sometimes” a link to this page to enlighten them. Keep up the great work.

    • Radu Diaconescu

      I agree entirely on that one.

    • Aina

      totally second that

    • Tim Urban

      Agreed, if I can figure out how to hyperlink part of an image to something. Things are so confusing.

      • Brian P

        I don’t know anything about programming, but http://www.wikivoyage.com has maps that you can click on different parts of it to go to different articles. If it’s possible to view code or learn something from that or however it works, that might be something of a guide. Maybe?

        • jaime_arg

          Here’s the code for the english homepage map.

      • pieter_tada

        Something like this, based on the current size of the image:

        (tip: remove the _ before img)

  • LBee

    “a new post every 1D20 days” 🙂
    whatevery the new schedule is, i don’t really care because i know the next post will be a great read and good stuff takes time.

  • Oliver

    I haven’t bothered to sign up for the email because it gives me an excuse to visit the site. Even when I new post isn’t up I usually find something worthwhile to read. In a nice change from other websites, new reader comments are often enough of a reason to check it out.

    Anyway, like others have said, I have never been disappointed with a new post when I read it. I wouldn’t mind if you mentioned what the next topic will be. I can understand the value of keeping it a surprise at least some of the time, but I think I might enjoy reading your work even more if I have taken the time to consider the topic or maybe even look into it a bit.

  • Aina

    Don’t worry about the new readers, they have plenty to go through in the archives and very soon they’ll want to subscribe to the newsletter anyway. This website is great, and you’ve got yourself quite a large faithful committed set of readers… like you said in an other post, we’re your husbands and wives 🙂

  • Sophie

    Gawd, the subscription listserv is run by MailChimp.

    Mail…kimp?

  • PQ

    Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Any time you post is fine!

  • Adam

    While I can’t say my opinion won’t change after two weeks without a post (:P), I’d definitely prefer you to post erratically, depending on the size of the topic and how much time you can afford to spend writing WBW. New readers have plenty of fun waiting for them in the archives, and this site is truly amazing, so I’d hate to see its quality dip because Tim feels guilty about taking so long with posts.

  • Devon Warren

    I absolutely love the thoroughness you have put into your articles. Specifically the AI and What Makes You You articles are how I found out about the site and fell in love with it. Quality trumps consistency IMHO.

  • Jiri Roznovjak

    What about adding a bar on the top of the page that would show how much of the upcoming post is left and how much is remaining?

    • Tim Urban

      Not a bad idea. Have to figure out a good way to do it, but could be a nice way to give a reader who checks the site some idea of what to expect.

      • achutkrishna

        How about an expected date for the next post? A bar is too burdensome.

      • Eduardo Serra

        You could separate the process in steps like “research”, “draft”, “final version” or something like it.

      • Robin

        yes, this is perfect, you can even work on multiple things at the same time. I really like how Brandon Sanderson (http://brandonsanderson.com/) keeps track of what he’s writing at the time and that seems perfect

    • Josh

      Really like this idea.

  • Nancy York-Erwin

    I have no problem with erratic post timing; it seems fully appropriate for your thoughtful coverage of a subject. I loved (and was/am thoroughly freaked by) your AI posts, but have had a hard time sharing them (and discussing, my goal) with friends because they’re so very time consuming for proper digestion; other favorite posts of yours haven’t been a challenge in that way. So, it’s all good, you’re great, and variety in length and depth is nice for me.

    • sharongee

      Nancy, I agree. I personally will read a very long post and enjoy it (I’m retired), but most of my friends and relatives won’t. I first discovered this site with the “procrastination” articles, which were terrific, thoughtful and not too long. I enjoyed sharing them with others.

    • I agree with both of you! I discovered the site through the shorter procrastination articles and I love the longer ones, but it’s hard to get my friends into reading all that text.

  • Shi

    I think most readers are sort of “Will read every sometimes” readers anyway. Maybe some people impatiently await a new post every Tuesday, but the majority of us have our own lives and projects going on. Whenever you post is fine, I will probably read it three weeks later on a Friday. Just keep up the awesomeness 🙂

  • jack gondela

    Do what you have to do to make it work for you. We just lost Andrew Sullivan because he couldn’t figure out how to do it. The future will be sweeter with your voice in it, keep up the great work.
    Thanks

  • sabs546

    I didn’t care much wether or not you actually posted on Tuesday
    I just liked the fact that it gave me a day to check in on the website

    Maybe that should be the new tagline
    Check in every Tuesday
    There might be a post
    Only not as long or crappy sounding like a tv presenter

    It also helps to have atleast a day to expect it
    But I’d still rather you just post when the post is really ready

  • sara

    Thank you for asking! Please post what you want, when you want. This is your site and I am just thankful to have the good fortune of being a loyal reader. For your own health, you should take the time to have a life away from this site sometimes. 🙂

  • I iz a person.

    I like “New post every sometimes”

  • Jochen Kirn

    The email notification has always taken care fairly well for me. I usually don’t check the website directly…

    By the way… the AI topic got somewhat reflected in Germany’s most important weekly news magazine “Der Spiegel”, about how Silicon Valley visionaries want to make the world a better place… and our friend Kurzweil had his mentioning as well with regards to the singularity within the next 20 years. Intentionally or not, they didn’t want to make it scary, and stayed in the Confident Corner.

  • Yelena Key

    Lucky for you, soon you will own a simple A.I. that can take complex nerdy topics and quickly break them down into witty posts using your stick drawings and writing voice.

    Unlucky for us, if the A.I. masters her programming, she’ll still post a week late to sound uniquely you. 😛

  • Chris

    “New posts every sometimes” is a HILARIOUS tagline. Even people new to the site would get it–it’s not to “in”. You should use that before somebody steals it.

  • Dan

    Personally, I loved the AI post and have no problem with waiting. In fact, I’d rather you take your time to perfect things because that’s what really makes your blog shine. I don’t think you should feel guilty in the least. Most importantly, it should remain a project that you love.

  • Dylan

    I’ll visit BuzzFeed for mindless clickbait. Take your time producing incredible articles and I will come back every time to devour them.

    • Katherine

      THIS is exactly what I was going to say.

  • pieter_tada

    How about a ‘Currently working on: ‘, with a percentage showing how far along you more or less think you are on the topic?

  • Valentine

    I agree with Lindsay Chapman. Giving up the schedule is the first step to quitting all together. With no deadline, there is not last minute panic to get it done and no flow. A schedule will make you more productive. However, having that said, perhaps you need a vacation. A couple of weeks of writing short blogs for a backlog may give your enough respite to restore your equilibrium

  • “new post every sometimes” sounds just confusing enough to be hilarious & I’m a fan of that. If I was a new reader I’m certain I’d be intrigued by the site after reading that.

    But yeah, I’m with a lot of the others – I only care about post quality. Do what you gotta do with the schedule to keep that and your sanity high. 🙂

  • Sayantan

    Whatever best suits your perfectionist nature, please do it. No good pulling the standards down to meet our expectations. Yes, while it’s true that I won’t be getting a weekly opportunity to voraciously read a Fermi’s Paradox or an AI Revolution and that I’ll have to settle for some less-than-Wait-But-Why stuff while you get your schedule reorganized, I think it’ll be worth the wait. You have an unusual ability to present the most complex of ideas in the simplest of ways using just numbers and analogies. Keep it up.

  • Josh

    I actually just visit your site through my Feedly reader. So doesn’t matter to me much how often you post!

  • Curt

    Have you considered cutting down on the detailed art work?

    • Rena

      But…but…we love them, don’t we? :'(

  • Rena

    I appreciate the intense amount of research that you do and love reading your posts…just post a couple of funny ones with your commentary, every once in a while please! I love bizarre facts.

    And err…”my perfectionism” sounds kinda douchey, Tim.

  • I acknowledge you for your rigour and your thoroughness. Thank you! I may have only recently discovered this site, but boy am I glad as ever I did. Your ontological and other delving is wonderful.

  • Christian Murga Cotrina

    It does not matter when you post. Please, just do not stop doing it!!!

  • Seeing as this is probably the best blog going you have almost unlimited credit at the slack bank.

  • Brett

    How are you gonna finish anything without the panic monster?

  • Dario Vins

    Just Keep the posts coming – never mind they day of the week. Take a vacation at some point as well – we’ll be around. 🙂
    P.S.
    Your e-book is a now present to my fiancee for the Women’s Day (March 8)

  • DeeDee Massey

    I agree with many others that quality is more important than the timing of the posts and the level of depth is amazing. But some of the installments take so long to read (too long for some people), that they might be more effective if divided into weekly posts. An example is the series on US Presidents. A weekly article covering one prez a week is more easily digestible, gives readers more time to reflect/comment/learn about the individual, keeps them coming back to the site regularly, and buys you another week to work on deep research for other monster topics.

    • Ruud van de Kamp

      Hi DeeDee,

      This example is the reason for me to oppose the idea of a weekly episode. The subject didn’t interest me (I’m no US citizen) and I then might be set off from the blog by knowing that the same subject will be addressed the next week(s)

      • DeeDee Massey

        Hi Ruud,
        Part 2 of the Presidents series would have been an excruciating 2 months’ of weekly reminders that you wish he’d just post something interesting already!

        But it doesn’t have to be the only topic posted during that time.

  • wobster109

    Hi Tim, would you consider guest writers? For example, you can pick a smaller topic from your list, and one of us (me! me!) would volunteer to research and write it for you. (I totally volunteer!) You could give us an estimated length that you want the post to be, and we could submit it to you for style/proofreading. You could even have multiple readers writing concurrently, so any week there’s a good chance something would be ready.

    • Tim Urban

      It’s a great idea, but not something we’re doing on WBW just yet.

  • Jidi

    It might be problematic for newer readers as they might quite because of the lack of consistency. So if ya wanna get popular, at least anouce the approximate date of next post. However, I don’t like seeing the deadlines being pushed back like dayz

  • Sabareesh M

    Hi Tim,

    First of all, if this is a post to apologize for the erratic schedule, let me be very clear in pointing out that there are no apologies needed. And I’m sure I am echoing every WBWian’s sentiment here in saying that.

    And secondly, about the posts themselves, it is very evident that each of them require tons of research and hours of editing and streamlining. Hence, to expect the level of quality that each of these posts exhibit, in a short amount of time would be wishful thinking to say the least.

    Therefore, let me sign off by saying that, you take as long as you want and post about whatever catches your fancy, however short or long it is. I am sure that every regular on your site will never be disappointed. EVER!

    P.S : I have never, in all the posts you’ve made, found a single typo or a grammatical error! Pat yourself on the back for that!

    P.P.S : Thank you so very much for the everything and I mean everything!

    Cheers,
    Sabareesh (IND)

  • JK

    I echo everyone’s thoughts saying you don’t need to apologize for this—the posts themselves are more than worth the wait.

    If this allows you to write even longer articles (or more minis), by all means keep this schedule! 😀
    I’d love to see what kind of variety you’re gonna offer should the length be varied.

  • Stella

    Hi Tim,

    We love your posts no matter how much longer it takes. The AI Revolution article is translated into Chinese by some volunteers before the Chinese official website comes up . It becomes so popular and causes a heated discussion online immediately.

    Besides that I personally like most posts and find them quite helpful with the way I think and see the world. And I like your writing style a lot. My friends are also becoming your fan after my recommendation.

    So no worries about the deadline or time schedule. As JK wrote, the posts themselves are more than worth the wait. 🙂

  • Ombi

    I am happy about this change. This way I also will have more time and energy to deal with longer posts, without this – i have to read this now, because the next post is coming! At leat me, I also need some time to digest longer posts, re-think re-read etc.

  • Joel

    I made my first visit here, and the “every sometimes” line immediately made sense to me. This post only confirms my understanding. Thanks!

  • Gokul

    I wondered if you ever slept at all with all the perfectionist articles you churn out. I am thrilled at hearing that your posts will take time and it sort of adds to the excitement somehow. Thanks for your perspective on everything. I love your articles and will continue reading them for as long as they come.
    btw, Have you ever travelled to India?

  • avinash

    This just keeps the excitement going.. Its like one of those flash sales for which you keep eagerly waiting for almost an eternity and when it finally happens ( which u r sure would happen some time), you pounce on it only to come out wanting for more..
    Really luck to stumble upon ur site some 6 months back and what a journey it has been I must sat..
    Keep the unpredictability on and keep rocking.

  • Alex Hunter

    Hi) Could You make a favor for Russian speakers? I want to share your posts which I like in VK.com sometimes, but there is no button)) I’m sure much more russians would be happy to read WbW if they know about it! thank you

  • TrendingWendy

    I absolutely love the long form posts! The two AI posts are definitely my favorite. The thought and research that goes into the long posts is what keeps me coming back. You’ve got me addicted! Any chance you can fuel my addiction with podcasts so I can listen in the car?

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