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Let me give you an example:
Yesterday, I was feeling completely burnt out. For the last couple weeks, I had been pushing real hard on a number of projects, working late nights, and basically strapped to my desk 24/7.
And, it was starting to catch up to me.
But, I had one more project I needed to finish and I really didn’t want to do it.
Now, I’ve learned over the years that the quality of my work is pretty horrific when I force myself to work when I don’t want to. So, instead of forcing myself to work on the project and “get it done”.
I was lazy.
I basically sat around all day, watched movies, ate too much, drank too much pop and was generally a complete bum.
However, as I did that… I also used a couple tricks I’ve learned to prep myself mentally to get ready to hit it hard again.
As time passed, I began to feel more and more naturally motivated to work on this final project. Soon, I reached a point where I was feeling inspired and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to do the project.
THEN, I went to work.
And, instead of me laboring over the project for days trying to force myself to get it done. That night, I stayed up a few hours later than normal and got it all done.
And, not only did I get it done without all the stress and hassle of forcing myself to do it… I got it done days before it was due.
The key is understanding how to tap into your natural motivation and let it build until you’re fully “turned on” and inspired to get a project done.
Now, if you stick with me, I’m going share those techniques with you and exactly what I did to stop procrastinating in these situations.
If you implement these techniques, you can virtually eliminate procrastination (and the stress that comes with it) from your life.
This is Why You Procrastinate
I’ve found two main reasons why coders procrastinate:
- The drama
- The mountain of work
We’re addicted to the drama. Let’s face it… after the initial bliss of learning how to code and feeling awesome because of all the cool things you know how to do… coding gets a little tedious.
Before you know it, you find yourself doing pretty much the same things over and over again for every project. And, you get a little bored.
Procrastinating until the last minute provides a sense of excitement. There’s a real possibility you might not get done in time, that your client will be pissed, that you’ll ruin your reputation and forever be banished from the brotherhood of coders…
See, how easy that is?
It’s easy to turn a little procrastination into a cheesy drama where you get to play the super-hero by swooping in and completing the project just in the nick of time.
Problem is, your works suffers. Not to mention, it’s also incredibly stressful. And, as you get more work, you find yourself bouncing from one project to another in this kind of dramatic fashion… and you get burnt out.
But, that’s not all…
Because, this pattern is fed by another that I call “Mountain of Work” syndrome.
Have you ever looked at a coding project, knowing full-well you need to get going on it right away, and began to see everything you’d need to do in order to get it done… and felt completely overwhelmed? And, as a result, instead of working on it… you put it off?
We all have.
The particular problem for coders is that the majority of the projects we work on provide enough ambiguity that it’s easy to blow the amount of work it’ll take way out of proportion.
Because, frankly, in a lot of cases… you don’t know what all a particular project or piece of a project will entail.
And, your mind will then tend to do what cognitive therapists call “maximize”. It’s worst-case scenario thinking. And, before you know it, your mind has you convinced that there’s absolutely no way you could ever get this project done.
So, you put it off…
But, you also have a sense that if you were just motivated enough, you could probably knock the project out pretty quickly. You just need some energy… some motivation… and that’s where the drama comes in.
Most of the time, coders procrastinate because they know that the drama of doing it last minute will give them the motivation they need to power through this “mountain” of a project.
And, because it feels good when you actually do pull through and “save the day”… this entire pattern is self-reinforcing. Your mind convinces you that this is a good way to go about things… because, in the end, it feels good.
Again, the problems come when you start to get more work. Now, because you have so many projects you’re trying to juggle at once… you start to fail. There’s time when you don’t save the day. There’s times when what you create in those moments is crap.
You notice. Your clients notice. And, it can quickly overwhelm.
I know… I’ve been there.
So, here’s how to get off the roller-coaster and use your natural tendencies to your advantage to get things done faster, perform better, and provide a better overall service.
Here’s How to Stop Procrastinating
First and foremost, you should never work when you don’t feel like it.
Now, I know… that sounds the exact opposite of what you probably think you should do… and what you’ve probably been told you should do…
But, it’s 100% true.
If you force yourself to work when you don’t feel like it, you antagonize your body to fight against. And, you set yourself for a bigger drop-off down the road.
Not to mention, 99.9% of the time… your work will be crap.
Instead, you learn how to make yourself feel like working. Here’s a few methods I’ve learned to do just that:
1. Focus on something small you can get done right now. The problem of maximizing is in making the work seem like more than it is… so much more that it’s not even worth doing because there’s no way you could possibly ever get it done.
What’s really happening is you don’t feel like working right then. So, you maximize the work in order to rationalize not working on it right now.
To cure that, you need to hit yourself with a dose of reality. For me, the conversation literally goes like this:
Fantasy Me: “OMG! It’s so much work. I’ll never get it done. Why bother?”
Reality Me: “Well, you know, you could just knock out this small piece. It’s really easy and you could get it done pretty quick. That’s better than nothing.”
Fantasy Me: “Screw you Reality Me! I don’t wanna!”
Reality Me: “Right, but you know you need to. And, deep down, I know you WANT to.”
Fantasy Me: “Ugh!”
Now, that doesn’t mean you will immediately feel like working. But, what it does is stop you from continuing to maximize. It injects a little reality into the equation and gets you to come back down to Earth a bit.
This is absolutely critical! You must do this… and usually first.
2. Focus on what excites you about this project. Once you’ve stopped the maximizing and injected a little reality into your thinking… it’s time to start to swing the pendulum the other way.
Remind yourself of what excited you about this project in the first place. Maybe, it’s the topic or content of the project. That is, what the project is about. Or, maybe, it’s the people you’re working with on the project. Maybe, it’s what you’ll need to learn in order to complete the project.
Or, maybe… it’s just the money you’ll earn as result of completing the project.
Whatever it is, dangle a little carrot out in front of yourself to remind you why you accepted this project in the first place.
As you do, you’ll start to feel your natural motivation gearing up. Your mind will begin to focus on the project and not let you think about anything else.
3. Ride the wave. As you start to feel more naturally motivated, let it build a little bit. Let it build to the point you just can’t stand to not go work on it. THAT is when you’re at your best and your performance will be optimal.
And, once you’ve started moving on the project and generated a little momentum… ride that wave for as long as you can. It’s important to recognize just how important that momentum is and find ways to sustain it.
Sometimes, it hits at 11pm at night. Sometimes, it’s 4am in the morning. Sometimes, it’s in the middle of some other event.
You need to organize your life in such a way that, as much as possible, you can immediately go work on a project when the inspiration hits you. Those moments are gold opportunities and you can’t let them slip away.
That may mean having a “sit-down” with your family and friends. It may mean changing some habits. But, whatever it means, it’s important to do everything you can to maximize those opportunities.
Managing Your Motivation
Now, keep in mind… what I just described is not a 5-minute process. It’s not some mental gimmick you can whip out and in 5 minutes feel all gung-ho to go work. It’s more of and understanding of how your mind naturally works and how to tap into it.
In most cases, the above process will take at least a few hours. Sometimes, it might take a whole day.
So, you need to be sure to effectively manage this with your clients. That means working “buffer time” into every project you accept. If you think it’ll take you 8 hours of actual to complete a project, tell your client that it’ll be a week or two.
Because, finding 8 hours to sit down and just code… among all the other things you need to do… is never easy. Factor in the time where you’re not going to feel like working… and finding 8 hours of time where you’re 100% inspired to work on that project is going to take a little bit.
And, although, your client may not immediately understand or agree if you told them that explicitly… believe me… they want you at your best. They want the hours you put in to be motivated and inspired hours… not “feeling forced” hours.
So, you build that time into your scheduling and set those expectations early on.
What’d You Just Say
So, in summary… here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Never force yourself to work when you don’t feel like it
- Instead learn to naturally prod yourself into feeling like working
- Inject reality into your thinking by focusing on someting small you could get done right now
- Remind yourself of what excited you about the project in the first place
- Ride the wave of momentum you’ll create for as long as you can
- Be sure to manage your motivation and set clear expectations with your clients
John Is An Idiot
Completely disagree with me on all this? That’s cool. Why? I’d like to hear how you deal with procrastination. Or, maybe you completely agree… I’d like to know that, too. I’d like to hear about others who’ve used these techniques to stop procrastinating.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below and let’s have a conversation we can all benefit from.