Procrastination gets the best of us. Perfectionism is not too far either. The two apparent opposite concepts go hand in hand: not being able to do certain things perfectly (and you know you can’t) makes you not do them and in the worst cases not even start them, a perfect excuse to procrastinate: “I won’t be able to make a site the way I want to anyway”; “It’s not that I’d become a programmer with 8 h of programming per week anyway”; “it’s not like I could really paint after a few lessons”; “I can’t do pull-ups anyway so let’s just forget about it”. Easy, isn’t it?
I worked on these two friendly foes the entire 2013 – no, I won’t say a word about New Year resolutions, worry not – and found my own ways to actually defeat them to annihilation. Almost, one can never win with fighting oneself but you can have quick victories that push you a bit forward and make you a little better. The process is exponential in my mind so every time I have a little success I consider the next one will be twice as good. And people call me pessimistic …
My approach: screw it! I’ll do everything to the best of my current abilities. How does that translate into practice?
- Don’t fall into infinite research danger. You know that one: “I’ll just read this one book about it and then get to doing”. Do whatever you plan to do with the current skills and then improve. No first draft was ever perfect. Look at the computer, what a beauty became from the monster in the 70’s.
- Set little objectives. Don’t set as objective to re-create Google if you want to learn Python. Think about making a little program to organize your 2.000 PDFs folder (you know, the folder where you spend 15 min to 1 h to find something every single time). Don’t plan to do a website with the quality of WordPress (wouldn’t that be lovely?), just code a simple About me page. Or a CV page, or a blog page (by the way, Dash is really awesome to use but Codecademy brings more learning).
- Act. Write, make a presentation, make the site, do the program. Whatever it is, just do it. Stop thinking and just do. When you actually do, you learn more than when you think about it, plan it on paper or whatever you’re wasting your time with but actually doing.
- You know more than you think. That’s right, I said it. I experienced this ever since university, when I was studying for a week and the night before the exams I had the impression I knew nothing. When I did focus, at the exam, everything came to me naturally. It’s different when you focus on 100 possible topics vs. on 1 topic. Your mind will do the work, just set it free.
- Have faith. This sounds unlike me and no, I don’t talk about faith in the religious meaning (you thought you got me there, didn’t you?). I mean rational faith that whatever you are doing, it will work out if you actually start. Starting is difficult and persevering is just as hard to keep up.
This one is tough. You can’t just screw it, it requires will, passion, energy to get out of it. Sometimes procrastination is a clear indication that whatever you are doing is not something you are exactly interested in but if you prefer to watch Breaking Bad instead of working, it might just mean that you’re just lazy.
My strategy to fight the bastard was to make a list. There are plenty of productivity tools out there (todoist is one that I sometimes use) so if that’s what works for you, go out there and find one that has your name on it. My list is an excel sheet (I still love excel), which looked a little like this:
- Main objective split in little weekly wins. Making that week green was my weekly little pleasure. After a while I think I was pushing forward especially to green my excel sheet.
- Re-plan. If you don’t accomplish your weekly tasks, it’s very easy to become disappointed. Every Monday morning I’d re-plan everything and make sure I also record some wins, otherwise I’d get discouraged and get to the “There is not enough time in a day for me to check all these points so … Breaking Bad maybe?”.
- Make sure you under-plan. There are always things that come up: friends’ anniversaries, something that you need to finish at work, social obligations. So let yourself room where there is no planning and you feel a little bit free.
- Plan your weekends carefully. It’s so easy to get carried away about the huge amount of free time that the weekend promises. So much time to Facebook, watch TV, lunch with friends, sports, coffee, working can come later. Whoa, when did Sunday evening happen?
- Never lose sight of your goal. Easy to forget why you’re doing all that instead of just enjoying free time like normal people (who are these “normal people” everyone talks about, as I only see people who constantly want to do more?).
- Enjoy every little victory. This is the key. Make little celebrations, take breaks for the mind to rest, sleep, eat properly and healthy and exercise. The mind is the happiest when the body is healthy.
I applied this strategy starting with mid July to November. Then I took over a month break from everything (I mean all these outside of my work, I never stopped working). What I managed to do:
- I become a fitness instructor. I took a certification course, I learned two manuals, increased my gym presence and I finally made it.
- I started Firsty, after playing with the idea for almost half a year. It’s now happening and a lot of things need to be done but the whole process is really great. It’s just a unique feeling to build something that comes from your passion and can be called your own
- I got my first PRINCE2 certification and on my way to the next level
- I completed quite a few useful courses on Coursera, Novoed and edX. Every time I study there, I feel like going back to school
The whole point here is that if you actually want to do something, you find time, determination and can build your own strategy to make it. But the question is: do you really want it?