I was determined not to do it again, but I did anyway. It’s 6a.m. on launch day and (having stayed 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.
It worked fine then when the stakes weren’t as high. But now I have a family to support and bills to pay and every time I pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline, it wreaks havoc on my schedule, not to mention my health (it takes a lot longer to recover at 35 than it did at 20).
Sure, it’s my first product and I vastly underestimated how much time it would take to make, but you would think I would have learned this lesson by now.
I’ve plowed through half-a-dozen different careers since I was 20, but this whole deadline thing is the common element that connects them all together.
Procrastination is something I’ve never been able to shake. But this time, as I look back over the last 90 days, I see a lot of things I wish I had done differently and hope I can do differently the next time.
Here are 10 of them:
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. Which brings me to number 2.
2. Work on the Work. Every day.
I look at all the hours I’ve spent during the last 90 days. 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 let myself get sidetracked and distracted by all the urgent things that pop up, instead of doing the important things.
Freedom can be a double-edged sword. I like not having a set schedule, but if the Work is going to get done, it must be scheduled and given priority.
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.
4. Miniaturize my schedule.
Urgent things tended to overrun my schedule because my schedule wasn’t small enough. I gave 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.”.
5. Go to bed and get 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 8a.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.
6. Do the hard stuff first.
Another way of saying this is start with what you’re afraid of. I would fill my time with all sorts of non-critical tasks like planning and emailing, all so I could avoid doing the hard work of creating. It was much easier to fiddle with a keynote design than to sit down, write out and record a video for my course. But that’s the only work that mattered.
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 4p.m. to 5p.m., then it 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.
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 interacting with other people should have a certain amount of time allotted to it, but 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.
10. Get less advice.
You may not have an issue with this one, but I do. I love 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. But 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.
As tough as it is, sometimes you have to do something the wrong way in order 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 been working at 6a.m. on launch day, but not from staying up all night.