Episode 17 – Stay Motivated – Fight Procrastination.
Folks talk a lot about how to mitigate the impact of reactionary workflows, the demands that hijack your day and stop you getting done what is truly important. Advice such as do not check your email first thing in the morning, prioritize the work that is going to get you where you want to be.
When you set out on your new career choice to be a solo entrepreneur you will likely encounter the opposite challenge. Your inbox is populated with messages from folks wanting to sell you something, not requests for your services. Your phone does not ring and when it does it’s a scam call telling you that your bank account is about to be locked unless you take action immediately.
These are difficult times – it is hard to remain motivated when it appears that there is no progress. But with discipline you can turn this into your competitive advantage. Although I searched the internet, I could not find details on how long the solo consultant, coach etc remains in business. But I suspect it is less than a year. Disillusionment sets in, the pressure to pay the bills mounts and you throw in the towel and look for full time employment.
That is why I strongly advocate you prepare a simple cash flow before you start out so you know how long you can last without any income, when you will need to find part time income to pay the bills. If you have the stamina and discipline to keep going you will eventually make progress. Your determination to succeed becomes your competitive advantage.
Of course, this is easier said than done. You are venturing outside your comfort zone which is hard. Procrastination is often the result. An interesting article in the Financial Times, by Jemima Kelly, argues that while procrastination is often thought to be about poor time management, its more a question of poor emotion management. It allows us to, temporarily, avoid uncomfortable feelings such as stress, boredom and fear of failure. And of course, the imposter syndrome.
This can create a downward spiral. When you know you are not following through with things, that you are breaking commitments made to others and yourself, you do not feel good. Commitments made to yourself are particularly easy to break. I will get that done tomorrow, but tomorrow comes and goes and the task is still not completed. Do not be too hard on yourself, everyone procrastinates to some extent or other.
Most folks overestimate what they can achieve in a day. Break large tasks down into smaller pieces that can be achieved in an hour or so. Make things easier for yourself by preparing and eliminating distractions. Recently I have started keeping my iPad, a huge temptation as it has access to my subscriptions to the WSJ, NYT and FT in a desk drawer rather than on my desktop. Out of sight out of mind. I keep my iPhone face down and in silent mode.
But most importantly acknowledge that procrastination is perfectly normal and perfectly OK, you are not a bad person. The second step is to try to stop.
Episode 18 Finding Focus in a Distracting World.
There are habits that you can adopt to help you remain on track and heading towards your goals. Personally I found using a co-working space helpful when I was in Singapore. The separation of home and work, being surrounded by other folks pursuing their dream, even just having someone to talk to occasionally. If you can afford it and there is a co-working space nearby then at least try it for a month, see if it works for you. Since I have moved to Vietnam I am working from home and I find it harder to remain focused throughout the day. That is why I am looking for ideas to help me stay on track.
Last week I shared ideas on ways to find a routine that works for you. This week I will look at how to find focus in a distracted world. “In a world filled with distraction, attention is your competitive advantage. Look at each day as a challenge, an opportunity, to keep your eye on the prize” (Anon – Manage your day to day, Build your routine, Find your focus and Sharpen your creative mind.)
Cal Newman is an author, professor at GeorgeTown university and his own planning system the Time Block Planner. Ctrl+Click here for more information.
Cal advocates the use of daily focus blocks. This method uses the well understood concept of a pre-scheduled appointment. You block off a substantial amount of time most days of the week to focus on your most important creative tasks. Mr. Newman suggests this makes it easier to decline requests for your time “Sorry I am already booked nine to twelve that day”. If people complain that you are slow in responding to an email, you have the ready made excuse “I was busy all morning and I have just now seen your email” Remember my view that emails are rarely time critical except in the mind of the sender.
The pre schedule appointment technique builds on the fact that most folks accept they cannot expect you to reschedule a prior commitment to accommodate them.
Although this time blocking approach is a way to protect folks from corporate distractions it has great relevance to us as solo entrepreneurs as we need to make that commitment to ourselves. I am working on creating course content for courses I plan to make available in Q1 of 2023. If I set aside time to work on this project but then get distracted and make little or no progress, no one else is going to criticise me. No one else knows I was supposed to get something done today and failed. Cal Newman understands this. He says half the battle is resisting distractions. This means no email, no Slack or Teams, no phone. This is easily said and hard to do. Remote working has created a proliferation of communications tools said to enhance productivity but in reality just create more distractions. (Steve and Teams)
Cal suggests you train yourself to ignore distractions by starting small and building up. His idea is to start with small blocks and work yourself up to longer durations. The key is never to give into distractions. If you weaken and quickly checkout Facebook you will never train your mind to believe that only zero distractions are acceptable.
Mr Newman suggests moving to an alternative location for these dedicated time blocks. Maybe a nearby library or park. He also suggests using pen and paper for the task to avoid online distractions. (Dell pop up example). I would add to this – buy yourself a fountain pen. Yes, I know there are many drawbacks. But this is all about mindset. If you do not usually use a fountain pen then the fact that you pick one up to work on that key task puts you into a different environment. A fountain pen does not have to be expensive, there are even disposal fountain pens available.
Working on your own there is a battle between focus versus the twin evils of distraction and lack of discipline. Consider Cal Newman’s time block approach it may be right for you and as mentioned earlier he has a Time-Block planner available to help. To learn more Ctrl+Click here.
Episode 19 Stop frittering your time away
Dan Arily writes about how we all make bad decisions, often irrationally. He is the author of Predictably Irrational which examines how we make decisions which we believe are based on sound logic, but many times are not. I found it an entertaining and informative read. Dan takes us through the buyer’s journey and how we deceive ourselves when making purchasing decisions. As solo entrepreneurs to make a living we have to sell our services. The more we understand how our potential customer’s mind works the more likely we are to close that all important contract. To learn more Ctrl+Click here.
In this article Dan shares how irrational urges cause us to fritter away our most valuable time at work. And what you can do about it. At the start of his article Dan reminds us that checking email first thing in the morning is a bad idea. For many people the morning is the most productive time of day and as email is very tempting you end up wasting your most productive time on email. An experiment with rats provides some insight into why email is so tempting. In the first experiment a rat was given a treat after it pressed a lever 100 times.
This is pretty exciting to a rat. But what was even more exciting to our rat friend was if the treat was given after a random number of presses on the lever. This encouraged the rat to be even more active and press the lever even more. E-mail is the same, most of the time it is boring and routine, but just every so often an exciting, interesting, or beneficial email arrives. So we keep going back to our email hoping that message that will improve our lives has arrived.
Also e-mail gives you the feeling of progress. Answer 10 emails and you get to check some items off your to do list. But was it really the best use of your time when you are at your productive peak?
As an aside – do you hold status update calls? Where your team members update the other team members on what they are doing, what help they need and any roadblocks they are facing. These seem very popular in American companies, and incidentally very unpopular with the employees. They often are scheduled at the start of the week. I cannot think of a worse time for such calls. If you must have update calls, schedule them after lunch. This is the least productive time for most people, they will be very sluggish at any task that requires creativity but will be capable of giving and listening to the current status of activities.
We are not good at assessing opportunity cost when it comes to time. Opportunity cost is what you forgo when you decide to follow an alternative. Spending money on that fancy latte is money you will not have to spend on something else. When it comes to money, opportunity cost is easily understood, less so when it comes to time. When you are doing one thing you are not working on something else. Add to this that we seek instant gratification rather than delayed gratification and it is easy to understand how email trumps working on that 50 hour project, which when completed will deliver tangible benefits.
We are not good at resisting temptation. At a restaurant we know we should eat salads and vegetables, but that steak and fries looks so good. Supermarkets place low-cost items at the check out to tempt you to add a couple more things into your basket. So put temptation behind you. I have removed my email from my taskbar. Two benefits: I no longer see the number of emails waiting for my attention, and maybe more importantly, accessing email now requires three steps. I have to click the start menu, scroll down to my mail app and click on it to bring up my mail boxes. It takes a little bit longer than the single click but if I am going to be disciplined to access my email say 4 times a day then the additional time is minimal. And I can be more focused.
Progression markers are a great way of encouraging you to get started and to maintain progress on that 50 hour project. With a computer it is hard to see progress. You only see the latest version. You could consider saving a new version at the end of each day so you can look back and see your progress. But I prefer the use of paper and pen. And the end of each day records what progress you have made. For example today: I defined the content of a new course offering, prepared a blog and script for an article podcast on my website etc. And then list what you need to do tomorrow to make progress.
Break down major tasks into small steps. If you plan to launch your own website then adding launch my website on your to do list is going to look like a monumental task that can appear overwhelming. programs, make selections, build a simple page. Each task may take an hour or so, tackle one a day and by the end of the week you will see progress.
Episode 20 Finding Time to Think.
We turn to Scott Belsky for our next set of ideas. Scott Belsky is an executive, entrepreneur, author, and investor (and all-around product obsessive). He currently serves as Adobe's Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President, Creative Cloud. He has a web site which has the tagline It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen”
His article is “Tuning in to you” it discusses the importance of setting aside time to think. Give yourself time to be creative. As you are launching your solo entrepreneur career you will likely be busy developing your product offering, building your website, launching your social media platforms that you may not find the time to step back and look at the bigger picture. And if you do not do this you may find that when everything is built it does fit together well. I am one of the worst offenders in this regard. I get an idea and I rush right in and then get frustrated when things get complicated because I did not take the time to plan. I waste both time and money.
Arguably Jeff Bezos is the best long term planner of the digital era. Can you recall when he was famous for not chasing profitability. It took Amazon six years to report its first profit after its IPO in 1997 and at $5 million it hardly counted. Bezos would try to keep his schedule open on Mondays and Thursdays to allow him to explore, learn and think.
Whether you are a busy exec with targets to be met, or a solo entrepreneur working towards the launch of your business you should find time to unplug. Even a couple of hours a couple of days a week. Do you jump onto your smartphone as soon as a meeting ends? Or while you are in the queue for coffee at a conference? Scott recommends that you keep your phone in your pocket, that person in front of you or behind you could be a potential customer.
In this ever on world it’s a challenge to keep your focus and preserve the sanctity of mind to be creative and make an impact in what matters most to you. Your mind is a source of huge potential but you will not see it and take advantage of it if your focus is always on others.
Earlier we discussed the addictive qualities of email. Be conscious of when you are turning to your mobile device for a sense of reassurance. Become more aware of the insecurity that pulls you away from the present. You are working on a project, maybe a slight sense of doubt creeps in, can I really do this? What if my offering is not well received by possible customers. What do you do? You pick up your phone, scan LinkedIn, Facebook, check your newsfeed. Be conscious of when you do this, remind yourself that this is not getting you closer to your goals. I bring myself back to focus with an expression used by a colleague many years ago “Well this isn’t going to get baby a new pair of shoes''
Create windows in your day when you get away from external stimulation. Think about what is important to you over the long term, digest what you have learned and plan. Write down the thoughts that arise during these sessions. If you do not you will forget the ideas that you created. And overtime you will see a pattern emerge that will serve you well as a guide to what is really important for you.
Key Takeaways for this week.
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