Procrastination gets the best of us. Perfectionism is not too far, either. The two apparently 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 ways to defeat them to annihilation. One can never win by fighting oneself, but one can have quick victories that push one a bit forward and improve you. 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: 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 70s.
- Set little objectives. Don’t set an 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 awesome to use, but Codecademy brings more learning).
- Act. Write, make a presentation, make the site, and 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 on the exam, everything came to me naturally. It’s different when you focus on 100 possible topics vs one 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 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, and energy to get out of it. Sometimes procrastination clearly indicates that whatever you are doing is not something you are interested in.
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 with your name. My list is an excel sheet (I still love excel), which looked a little like this:
- The main objective is split into little weekly wins. Making that week green was my little weekly 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 straightforward to become disappointed. So every Monday morning, I’d re-plan everything and make sure I also recorded 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. Things always come up: friends’ anniversaries, something you need to finish at work, and social obligations. So let yourself room where there is no planning, and you feel free.
- Plan your weekends carefully. It’s so easy to get carried away by the endless free time that the weekend promises. So much time to scroll Facebook, watch TV, have lunch with friends, play sports, have 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 ordinary 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 healthily and adequately and exercise. The reason is the happiest when the body is healthy.
I applied this strategy starting from mid-July to November. Then I took over a month’s 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, studied from two manuals, increased my gym presence, and finally made it.
- I started Firsty, after playing with the idea for almost half a year. It’s now happening, and many things need to be done, but the whole process is excellent. 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 am on my way to the next level
- I completed quite a few practical 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 want to do something, you find time and determination and can build your own strategy. But the question is: do you really want it?
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