Procrastination, Productivity, and 43 Folders

Today’s tip for all you intellectual types who work in this industry: Make 43 Folders part of your daily reading.

You won’t regret it.

In his own words,

43 Folders is Merlin Mann’s site about personal productivity, life hacks, and simple ways to make your life a little better.

It’s odd how so often the law of GMTA rears its head. I’ve had issues with procrastination since before I knew what the word meant. Similar to what Joshua Newman says:

In part, I blame my job, which is enormously amorphous. There’s very little in the way of procrastination that I can’t somehow rationalize away as at least vaguely productive.

In other words, the problem isn’t that the procrastination expeditions I talk myself into are necessarily bad; it’s simply that they’re less good than what I should be doing instead.

The dangerous thing is that the things that I do while I’m procrastinating often actually do come in handy later. How is a man to break a habit when, at every turn, the universe seems to affirm that it’s a rewarding and positive trait? Sure, it might not be all that important right now to experiment with that weird IE 6.0 CSS quirk or read an article detailing the worst web design mistakes, but the knowledge gleaned from this habitual grazing comes in handy so often, part of me is always piping up, Aha! See? I told you it was a good idea! And you just wanted to do some boring “work.” Pfff, shows what you know.

Getting started can be one royal holy hairy bitch, and if you’re not clever and determined about working through it, it will cripple you.

In the end, I always seem to get done the things that need to get done, and generally by the time that they need to be done. Sometimes it’s just by slogging through the un-fun parts until I can get some momentum going. Other times, productivity hits in wild passionate bursts, when silly mundanities like eating and sleeping just seem to get in the way. Either way, the “getting started” part of the process is always excruciating. Anything else seems more important/relevant/interesting. But once I’m in motion, there’s no stopping me — even when I stop, I keep going, thinking about work. There have been many evenings when my fiancée has scolded me, Babe, you left work 2 hours ago. Stop thinking about that crap, and be here with me now!

What is it about creative technical types that makes it so easy for us to keep going, and so hard to get started?

Anyway, back to the GMTA concept: I used a method very similar to Mann’s “(10+2)*5″ procrastination hack in order to get done. Of course, in this case, it wasn’t just procrastination that made it tricky — at many stages of the development process, other very relevant and immediately necessary tasks came up which demanded my attention. The help file had to be updated for our upcoming 3.0.0400 release, which, given the scope of the changes and upgrades, was no small task. We had a few advertisements that had to be written and designed, and a new logo to be created that had a bit more flair and versatility. With the move to our new address, we needed new letterhead and cards featuring said logo, of course. In the meantime, I was also an active member of our product team, weighing in on any number of important decisions.

But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t struggle with the Big P now and then. As the deadline loomed closer, and the intimidation increased by the second, and out of the cycle of anxiety and self-hatred, I told myself, Ok, you don’t want to work? You want to surf the internet and take breaks? Fine. You can do that all you want, but first, do 15 minutes of importing content. Take a 5 minute break. Then, make the search work, and you can take another break. You don’t have to work on any one thing for more than 15 minutes. After all, even 15 minutes of torture only lasts 15 minutes. Who can’t handle that?

Any time I’ve done this, I find that I only end up taking 1 or 2 of the scheduled breaks, and then working through lunch and leaving late. Once you’re in motion, it’s hard to stop. But getting started can be one royal holy hairy bitch, and if you’re not clever and determined about working through it, it will cripple you.

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