“Just in Time” vs “Just in Case”

One lens I’ve found myself toying with over the past few months is “Just in Time” vs “Just in Case“. Been wanting to share but I haven’t found a good angle or entrypoint to illustrate what this lens is all about and how is it relevant to you. But I’ll try and start somewhere.

Let’s use JIC x JIT as a shorthand.

I’m going to explore a couple of points.

  1. JIC living is driving us crazy.
  2. How to shift more into JIT living.

The most concrete example that I can use to start explaining this lens is perhaps: your browser tabs.

How many tabs you have open? How many of those are “just in case I need it“. How many articles you click and then let sit, or thought: “Oh this seems interesting / important / useful. Might come in handy some day. But I got no time / bandwidth for it now / it’s not actionable now. Will read / follow up / unpack / explore later.”. JIC runs on FOMO.

Articles, tutorials, posts, news, latest reports, tweets, threads, books, playlists, episodes. You click through, you take screenshots, you clip to your note taking app, you bookmark, you send to Readwise.

How many “one day I’ll have time to do it” are now in your backlog? Don’t they gnaw on your mental RAM? Do you have this disturbing feeling that you are snoozing on life?

When you snooze, you are almost always operating in JIC mode.

What about JIT?

You might be familiar with JIT compilation in computing.

In computing, just-in-time (JIT) compilation is a way of executing computer code that involves compilation during execution of a program – at run time – rather than before execution. Most often, this consists of source code or more commonly bytecode translation to machine code, which is then executed directly. A system implementing a JIT compiler typically continuously analyses the code being executed and identifies parts of the code where the speedup gained from compilation or recompilation would outweigh the overhead of compiling that code. (source)

The “Just-In-Time” practice also made its way into software development in the 1990s when the Agile Methodology was introduced.

The paradigm itself originated in Japan’s manufacturing industry in the 60’s:

Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, also known as just-in-time production or the Toyota Production System (TPS), is a methodology aimed primarily at reducing times within the production system as well as response times from suppliers and to customers. Its origin and development was mainly in Japan, largely in the 1960s and 1970s and particularly at Toyota. (source)

So now, what is “JIT living“?

This is when you run into an issue and you find the resource you need to address it. You have a clear goal and problem to solve; to apply the information and skills to. Debugging code, creating reports, attending to emergencies.

You go out and find just the right amount of right information to attempt to solve the problem. And in most situations in life, this is not a difficult thing to do. We have access to unlimited data and information at our fingertips that we can process and use to handle anything life brings our way.

So living in JIT mode serves us pretty good most of the times.

What are we doing, really?

Let’s first step back and get to know two concepts.

First: Tacit knowledge and Explicit knowledge.


Image I: Pyramid of knowledge (source)


Image II: Explicit and Tacit Knowledge (source)


Image III: Explicit and Tacit Knowledge (source)

I won’t go into too much detail into them. I’ll just share three images and hope they are self explanatory. This article also gives a good overview, sufficient for the context of this post.

When we think about learning, we usually refer to the process of transforming Explicit Knowledge to Tacit Knowledge.

There are many theories and models around how learning happens and I haven’t done the proper research nor have formal training and credibility to talk about them in this post. But these models usually illustrate how the learning process happens — from the most shallow level to the deeper level. E.g. from being aware of or knowing something intellectually, to acquiring / internalising the skill or wisdom.

Explicit Knowledge also exists in different timescale. News, for example, rarely matter in a month.

Second: Johari window


Image IV: Johari Window (source)

My current layperson’s take is that JIC largely plays in the acquisition of Explicit Knowledge: data and information. JIC is where we sift through the noise to find the signals. While JIT is the process where we (are forced to) transform these into Tacit Knowledge by applying the Explicit Knowledge we have acquired.

One core human desire is to seek control and reduce uncertainty. When we consume in JIC mode, we want to increase our areas of “known to self” and reduce our blindspots.

As a consumer:

  1. We are spending too much time operating in JIC mode, hoarding Explicit Knowledge that might never be transformed further in the direction of Tacit Knowledge. After a certain point JIC becomes noise. There are diminishing returns in knowing more about something you actually already know enough about. Resistance loves JIC.
  2. JIC is hypnotising. Just like eating, it’s easy to shove more “food” into our heads — causing indigestion issues. Learning or staying informed turned into infosnacking. We work hard but we don’t work smart. Working hard is easy and it’s easy to associate busyness with being productive. Being in motion feels good. Working smart is not that intuitive; It takes more awareness and effort.
  3. Despite what our brain would like to believe, we won’t ever have perfect information or picture of anything. Everything around us is highly compressed and subjective. There are way too many things we cannot perceive. Everything is incomplete.

As a producer:

  1. Know that until a JIT context presents itself, JIC’s won’t “hook”. People don’t “get” what it’s for, what you are about, what’s in it for them, why they need it. The ROI is unclear. Inertia too strong. They haven’t seen the magic. it hasn’t clicked. The flip hasn’t switched. It didn’t move the needle internally. Have you helped your audience see how this is relevant? How do you put in more JIT hooks? How can you reduce their cognitive load?
  2. There is commercial incentive to design the world in a way that keeps us hooked. These behavioral hacks: “10 things you need to know before buying Tesla ” are deployed everywhere and have become conventional wisdom by now. They tap into the security hole of our brains — keeping our attention trapped in the cycle of more. More stuff, more information, more promise of shortcuts, more assurance. Do you use these JIC hacks in ways that align with your personal value? With great power comes great responsibility.

OK now what?

I’m not saying you need to dismiss or stop being curious about anything you can’t see immediate value for. After all, creative and interdisciplinary thinking require that momentum and compounded foundation that was built from being exposed to different terrains, perspectives, and contexts.


One might think that constant exposure to new information at least makes us more creative. Here again, the opposite seems to be true. Teresa Amabile and her colleagues at the Harvard Business School evaluated the daily work patterns of more than 9,000 individuals working on projects that required creativity and innovation. They found that the likelihood of creative thinking is higher when people focus on one activity for a significant part of the day and collaborate with just one other person. Conversely, when people have highly fragmented days—with many activities, meetings, and discussions in groups—their creative thinking decreases significantly.

These findings also make intuitive sense. Creative problem solving typically requires us to hold several thoughts at once “in memory,” so we can sense connections we hadn’t seen previously and forge new ideas. When we bounce around quickly from thought to thought, we know we’re less likely to make those crucial connections. (source)

We do too much reacting, not enough responding.

We’re overwhelmed with constant exposure of streams of new information. We scurry around half baked ideas. We grow infinite backlogs; never processed, followed through, and developed.

It is necessary for us to be aware of the unknowns — to index them into a shallow-known; knowing where and when to retrieve it when we need it.

The real unknowns are worth exploring. But circling around in your Arena is just intellectual masturbation.

What I’m proposing:

  1. It’s worth our time to be more mindful about our mode of operation. It’s fine to go an inch into a million different directions as long as you are aware that you’re doing it.
  2. We have more time than we think we have, to work on things that we thought we don’t have the time for, if we can snap out of the trance of JIC.

If I could summarise my own attitude towards JIC and JIT related to information consumption and production:

  • When consuming: quality over quantity. You don’t need more quantity. You need more quality. Acquire those experiences. Turn the firehose down, resurface, digest, apply, focus.
  • When producing: quantity over quality. Quantity improves quality. Iteration over destination.

By training ourselves to switch more consciously between JIC and JIT mode:

  • We become less anxious as the lens gives FOMO a reality check
  • We take more effective decisions and actions, being less distracted and overwhelmed
  • We reassured by the abundance of the right set of resource at the right depth, ready to be retrieved and used
  • And most importantly: we get more sense of accomplishments from focusing and working on something deeply

Closing thoughts

What are some questions we could be asking to enable more JIT into our lives? What are some things we could do to inject more JIT-living?

For random pieces of information you come across from now on, try doing a quick mental check and be curious: Do I need this now? When do I need this? Why am I interested in knowing this? Do I not know it already?

How can we recognise when something is already giving us diminishing returns? I think a good heuristic is: when you can give a 10 minute talk about a topic to a layperson, then you’ll be fine not reading this article. Go revisit your screenshots, flip through your notes, hang out with your drafts. Go create. Unsnooze.

Training yourself to see that line where conceptualising without contextualising or actualising tips into wasteful activity is one of the best thing to spend your time on getting better at.

And a larger more interesting question: how can we enable more tools and affordances to understand our contexts to surface the right information at the right time and free our cognition from having to carry and store less relevant details?

Stray unfinished thoughts

  • JIT learning are usually very specific. Focused on extracting the hows. Relatively clear question / defined quest. I would probably also classify major hobby projects as JIT; anything you’ve been snoozing for a while and taken backseat to your JIC activities.
  • You do need to get exposed to specific JICs a couple of times to enable effective JIT mode when you need to. There is always that place for the “I’m paving the foundation indirectly” JIC. Stacking clay and water on something in case it helps stick things in the future. The key is balance. It’s not either or.
  • Recency and novelty bias. More recent != more relevant != more true. The recent and immediate seem important. but they are illusionally so. Resurfacing older evergreen contextual and relevant content. The anti-feed. Anti chronological discovery engine (one idea I am toying with).

Also published on Medium.

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