It’s 6 a.m. on launch day and, after staying up all night, I’m still working furiously to finish my online course so I don’t disappoint the 132 people who pre-purchased.
“Why do I keep doing this?,” I thought. I would like to think I’ve matured in 15 years, but I’ve been repeating the same all-nighter-before-a-deadline pattern since college.
This is different. It’s not a college exam, it’s my first product. And, just like the exams, I vastly underestimated how much time it would take to make this product.
I hate all nighters. They wreak havoc on my body. I wish I would have done this whole thing differently.
As I look back on this project I can see 10 things I wish I had done differently and hope I can do differently the next time.
1. Spend less time planning.
What? Surely you mean spend more time planning, Adam.
Nope. Planning, for me, is the thing I do to convince myself I’m not procrastinating, that I’m actually getting shit done.
I’m great at planning and organizing. But if I’m honest, I only do that to avoid actually doing the Work.
It’s a form of Resistance, as Steven Pressfield would say. It masquerades as progress, but in reality it’s just another thing that keeps me from doing the real work.
Two tips for you here:
- Read this post, it’s GOLD for making the project smaller so you can actually get it done: How to Deconstruct A Truly Minimum Viable Product.
- Take a piece of regular 8.5×11 inch paper, turn it sideways (hot dog way, for those of you who remember elementary school) and plan the whole project on that. The physical limitation and visual nature of paper and pen can help a ton.
2. Work on the Work. Every day.
I wasted so many hours on this project. If I had just forced myself to do the real work of creating every day I would have been finished way ahead of deadline.
Instead, I got sidetracked and distracted by all sorts of unimportant but urgent feeling things that pop up.
For me, it’s hard to focus on and feel good about the little victories of doing my 2 important tasks a day. But that’s how the pros manage their day to day — decide on 2 important tasks each day, do those first.
This episode of the podcast really fleshes out this idea: Solopreneur Project Management Skills (FS078)
Freedom can be a double-edged sword. I like not having a set schedule, but if I’m going to get the Work done, I’ve got to schedule, prioritize and break off little pieces every day.
““Productivity tip: schedule, prioritize and break off little pieces every day.” ~ @avclark”
3. Don’t get distracted by what’s loudest.
Every time I sat down to focus, something would happen. My server would go down. A client would email with an urgent need. I would get stuck on a call. I’d have a fight with my wife. And before I knew it, the whole day was gone.
The truth is, I let this happen. Looking back, there were so many things that seemed huge and loud (and out of my control) at the time, but could have waited until the Work was done.
Close your tabs. Turn off notifications. Close the computer and use paper and wet markers. Turn off the phone. Turn off distractions and give your project EVERY CHANCE to be successful.
““Turn off distractions and give your project EVERY CHANCE to be successful.” ~ @avclark”
4. Miniaturize my schedule.
Urgent things tend to overrun my schedule because my schedule isn’t small enough. I give myself way too much room to “be comfortable”.
It’s not enough to say, “Tuesday I will get the Work done.” It will never happen. Because at 3p.m. my mind will tell me there’s still more “Tuesday” left.
My schedule needs to be as close to hourly as it can be. It would have been much harder to wrangle out of “Tuesday from 8a.m. – 10a.m.”
I need to head more toward the “Zero Base Calendar” Caleb talks about on this episode of the Fizzle Show: 10 Tactics to a Better Work-Life Balance (Part 2, FS060).
5. Sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
This sounds like a preference, right? It’s not, if you want to get the Work done. My irregular sleeping patterns were a huge part of why I couldn’t make or stick to a tighter schedule.
If I’m going to create from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. or whatever the schedule is, the non-working parts of my life have to be scheduled as well.
I know all this scheduling sounds depressing. We became entrepreneurs because we wanted freedom from the 9-5, right? That’s what I told myself for five years. And I’m still exactly where I started. That’s depressing.
But the thing that makes us “entrepreneurs” is the work we put out into the world. And that requires Work. I want to turn pro on this.
6. Do the hard stuff first.
Another way of saying this is start with what you’re afraid of.
I used to fill my time with all sorts of non-critical tasks like planning and emailing, all so I could avoid doing the hard work, the creating that was actually on my todo list. It was much easier to fiddle with a keynote design than to sit down, write out and record a video for my course.
Guess which one of those two tasks was the more important? I stayed up all night to finish this course because of little, insignificant, time-wasting non-tasks like fiddling with a keynote presentation design.
If I could start over, I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything until the Work was done, until something had been created.
7. Batch my time.
Just like miniaturizing my scheduling, I wish I had been more deliberate about how I worked. I would have gotten more done if I had grouped together similar tasks.
For example, I wish I had set aside certain times of the week or day for certain kinds of tasks. If the time to check and respond to email is 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., then email should stay closed at all other times. Otherwise I’m constantly pulled away from the Work.
It sounds crazy, but I must do these sorts of things because my mind doesn’t want me to do the Work. I have to out-wit myself.
8. Release in smaller and more frequent chunks.
This would only have been possible if I had done the hard stuff first. But more than that, it builds momentum and a series of small wins.
It’s much easier to wrap my brain around getting one video done and out the door, than to constantly be thinking about the whole elephant.
All I needed to do was focus on the one bite I had to eat that day, but because I didn’t do any of the seven previous things, I was constantly overwhelmed by an ever-growing todo list and a looming deadline.
““Release early and often.” ~ Eric S. Raymond”
9. Be less accessible.
I know, I know. Everyone talks about turning off social media and what a difference it makes. Ironically, these declarations are often made on social media.
But this one is huge. I pride myself on being accessible because I don’t want to be that guy that takes two weeks to email back and acts like he’s too busy to spare five minutes for me, when I know he’s not.
But I realize now, it’s not about the five minutes. I let my fear of being perceived a certain way keep me unproductive because I was continually jumping from one conversation to the next.
Even at the expense of offending some people, I should have turned off all of it—Twitter, Facebook, IM, texting, etc. Just like email, social media and similar interactions should have an allotted time, and ignored at all other times.
Why? Because the Work is more important. And one of the easiest ways for me to avoid the Work is to waste time on social media, even if I think it’s for a good reason.
““I let my fear of being perceived as inaccessible keep me unproductive.” ~ @avclark”
10. Get less advice.
You may not have an issue with this one, but I do. I love getting advice. In fact, I could spend a good chunk of every day, just talking to people and “getting their input” on the Work that I’m not doing.
This masquerades as humility, but it’s just another form of Resistance. Very few times that I asked for advice, did I actually need it. What I really wanted was permission.
The Work will not wait for me to get permission to do it. And I don’t need it anyway. I think I do, but that’s because I’m afraid of it. And I’m afraid of it because the more I put it off the bigger and scarier it seems.
I devoted an entire episode of my podcast (The Gently Mad) to this particular topic: TGM45: Stop Asking, Start Acting.
““Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.” ~ Seth Godin”
Sometimes you (read: “I”) have to do something the wrong way to learn how to do it a better way. Hopefully my experience can save you some trouble.
If I had done these 10 things, I might have still been working at 6 a.m. on launch day, but not from staying up all night.