Here’s a full disclosure: I’m one of the laziest persons I know. A multiple world champion in procrastination. If I don’t have a degree in it, it’s only because I can’t get around to buying one.
When I started working on my latest startup, Criticue.com, I had been working full time in a rather intense environment that I had gradually grown tired of. At some point I decided to start a side project and hopefully make it into something.
So every day I’d come back from my day job and spend an hour or two on Criticue. It had taken me over 4 months to create a minimal working version I could launch in December last year! Since then I incorporated, got some seed funding and along with my team I’ve been constantly pushing out incremental improvements to the service.
Now, you know I’m lazy. I’m not a particularly patient man either, so what made me persist? Lacking an inborn talent for persistence, I focus on technique instead.
1. I set humble goals.
My very first version of the site was a mere landing page asking people to join the beta program. A post on reddit, however, attracted over a hundred beta testers in two days. It gave me a push to keep working.
Then I created a very, very basic MVP and gathered feedback, which was nearly all positive. This gave me even more of a push.
Even now, we try to push updates to production as often as possible, not only to get feedback from users but to keep ourselves motivated. Seeing the tangible results of our efforts is a wonderful reward.
2. I ask for support.
A dozen or so people have been involved since very early stages and I have been staying in touch without overloading them with information. I also listened to their ideas and discussed them thoroughly using the constructive elements to drive change.
Backing of my support group proves invaluable whenever I start having doubts about the project and start losing motivation and focus.
3. I avoid greener pastures.
More often than not, my mind behaves a bit like a stubborn mule. If I force it too much, it digs in its hooves and refuses to do anything at all. If I let it roam free, it goes places it likes rather than focusing on the task at hand.
A mixture of pleasure and pain is the way. I don’t want to lose track of my progress so I set daily goals in the form of a TODO list. I stick to the list as much as possible without being too bureaucratic.
There’s a nice trick I use to avoid getting distracted with new ideas. Whenever my mind comes up with something like “I got a better idea, do it now, do it, do it”, I write the idea down on my TODO list and go back to the task at hand. My mind thinks “Ok, I see, we’ll do it later” and calms down. Very gullible, I know, but this is the way minds often work. :)
Also, I do allow myself to work on useful tasks that are fun (such as coding!) to take a break from non-fun, more urgent ones (pr & marketing!). This alleviates the tension but you need to be careful and avoid being overindulgent.
4. I clean my plate.
Thinking *too much* is counter-productive. Just having a task in front of your nose and focusing on it is how you get things done. This is easier than it sounds.
Think too much, do not. Do you must. Yesssss.
One good trick is using the pomodoro technique. If you haven’t come across this, you might find you truly love it. It’s simple and it really works for many people.
When faced with an apparently insurmountable task I no longer commit myself to finishing it on the spot. I say: “OK, let’s spend just 25 minutes working on the nightmarish bug and then we’ll see…” This gives a sense of freedom. So my silly mind is like “OK, I can take 25 minutes of this but no longer” and I’m like “Yeah, sure, just 25 minutes, we have a deal”.
Then I start working and what usually happens is this: I get so immersed in the work that my mind doesn’t mind. Then after a while it starts whining again and I pat it on its proverbial back and let do its bidding for a while.
When I notice it relax, I go back to: “OK, how about just 25 minutes of bug fixing, just 25 minutes, promise?” and the story repeats itself.
A typical mind can be easily fooled like this.
5. I breed useful habits.
This is probably the most important bit. I make sure to create repeatable conditions and associate them with productive work. Things such as the place I work at, how it is arranged, how I start my working day (or working evening) and how I finish it, are all important.
Since I quit my day job, my daily routine has looked like this: I wake up at 6am for a jog, shower, eat breakfast, play with my daughter for a few minutes and arrive at our office at or slightly after 8:30. I make myself coffee (a crucial part of my routine!) and after a few minutes discussing things that need to be done I immediately start my first pomodoro. No email, no reddit. I start working on the first task there is to work on.
Days that start with this automatic routine are usually very productive. On the rare occasions I have to skip any of the steps, for example if I have to skip the morning jog, I find myself slightly confused and have to think harder than usual what to do next. And once you start thinking, the animal of your mind kicks in with its various ploys.
There’s a great book about the psychology of habits ‘The Power of Habits’, I highly recommend it.
How do you deal with procrastination? Please share your thoughts with our readers.