Many years ago I lived in a share house in the inner city suburb of West End in Brisbane, Australia.
Although I prefer to live alone, I appreciated living in a share house with other people because it gave me some kind of socialization during a period of my life when I was largely spending the rest of my time alone working on my online business. It also made the rent cheaper.
One of my housemates and I were talking on the couch one day about jobs and work. Me, being the entrepreneur, noted how I didn’t understand how she could work nine to five every day of her life knowing that it will never change. Each week will be the same over and over again, punctuated by brief holidays, until she retires. A nightmare scenario in my books.
My housemate on the other hand didn’t know how I could deal with the ambiguity in my life. How I could be disciplined enough to get work done without the threat of losing my job, or attempt to build financial security when how much money I made was not guaranteed week in and week out.
Clearly we came from different worlds.
One of the points that really stuck with me was how my housemate treated her weekends. She loved knowing that for two days out of every seven she had no work on. This “time off” was so clear to her, that the idea of doing any work on a weekend just didn’t make sense. She didn’t understand how I could sit on my computer on a Sunday working on a website.
She lived in a cleanly delineated world. Work time was work time. Everything else was not. Although she didn’t hate her job, she never felt a compulsion to “work” during the weekends, a feeling I often had about my “work”.
Although it was clear that my housemate and I functioned on different time zones when it came to how to structure work, play and rest time, I realized that I wasn’t completely immune to this sort of conditioning.
Although I pride myself on my flexibility when it comes to how I use my time, I’m still conditioned to do, or not do, certain things during certain times. For example, Friday nights. I struggle and always have struggled to work on Friday evenings because that is supposed to be a party time or a relaxation time after a hard work of week or school.
This would make sense if I was working a nine-to-five, five-days-a-week job, or studying at university or school, but I don’t. I can party or relax every night if I want to. At the end of a Friday I rarely feel any more or less exhausted than I do on any night because I haven’t been putting in the long shifts, living for the weekend. Despite this, the conditioning remains, and it is very hard to get anything done on a Friday night, so usually I don’t bother even to try.
In a recent podcast interview with Patrick Meninga, who has been known to write as many as 400 articles in a month, he explained how important it is to meet his daily quota. Having this sort of deadline, for example “write 1,000 words per day, every day“, spurred him to create a successful niche website that allowed him to quit his job and eventually walk away with a $200,000 pay day after selling it.
In the past I have used similar deadline motivation to get work done.
When I wrote the Blog Profits Blueprint, a 50+ page document, I committed to a deadline with my launch team. We had a date that we would release my product, and that meant my Blueprint report had to be done at least a week before that.
Once I made the commitment to write the report, which was about six weeks out from the deadline for the launch, I realized I needed a daily quota. I promised myself to spend some time every day writing the report and aim for AT LEAST 1,000 words a day, if possible 2,000.
I made this work by focusing on my quota first thing in the morning. Before starting my normal daily activities I would write at least 1,000 words. Sometimes I would also head to a cafe and do more in the afternoon or evening as well.
I started by writing out the topic headings for each chapter and then just got busy filling out the framework with words. After three weeks of writing at least 1,000 words a day, I finished my first draft of over 25,000 words. Within a week I had added pictures, formatted the document and had a report ready to go for my launch, all done within a month.
The combination of a deadline driven commitment with a daily habit lead to a solid result. I conditioned myself to focus on this goal and knew what I would be doing every morning. Because I did it in the morning, I never had that feeling of guilt as the day drew towards an end and I hadn’t done any writing yet. The quota was always met first.
This article I am writing now has been constructed in two places. I ate my lunch in a food court in Brisbane city, after which I came up with the idea for this article and wrote out the frame work as a list of headlines I would cover. Next I packed up my laptop and headed to a cafe to finish the work.
Cafes are literally my offices. I feel so at home sitting around other people who are talking, eating and drinking while I type away at my laptop. I’ve been doing this activity at cafes in Brisbane and around the world for over ten years. It’s become a comfort zone for writing that wonderfully can be found in almost any city on the planet.
Writing is not the only activity that I have a comfort zone for. Eighteen months ago I completed the P90X training program, spending three months doing one DVD workout every day. I’ve joined gyms before, but never stuck to it because I hate the group workout environment. I like to do this kind of exercise alone at home, and have continued to work out a few times a week with the P90X DVDs since then.
Most mornings I get up and go for a skate before doing anytime else. Again this is an attempt to make sure my exercise is done before everything else on a habitual basis. This leaves the rest of the day free to be as productive (or not) as I like, knowing the important, keep my body functioning activity is done. I tend to listen to audiobooks while I skate too, so I get educated at the same time as I get cardio.
I also have a weekly yoga session with my CrankyAds.com co-founders Walter and Mick (I call these “Walter Wednesdays”). We have a team meeting in the afternoon and then do the P90X YogaX DVD together. Again another habit that we all keep each other accountable to, which I admit would be a lot harder to stick to if I didn’t have the other guys doing it too.
Everybody has conditioning on their time. You’ve formed habits, places you go where you do certain things, times of the day where you are conditioned to perform certain activities, not to mention energy shifts you experience throughout the day that are impacted by how you sleep and what you eat.
When it comes to growing your online business, or for that matter, any personal goal you have, whether that be exercise or study or writing, etc, you need to work with your conditioning to give yourself the best chance of success. That is assuming your conditioning is conducive to getting things done.
If you presently sit on the couch, drink beers and watch TV, that’s not going to work. You’re going to need to change habits. Review your day, in particular each block of time in your day and how you currently use it, and decide where to place the new productive habit you are going to form.
You need to look at your entire life when deciding to make changes. This means you consider working on weekends and even friday nights (gasp), if that works for you. The key is to harmonize your energy flow, emotional state and the rest of your activities, so that when it comes time to perform and implant a repeat new habit that leads to the result you want, you are not fighting yourself.
It’s hard to start exercising if you are exhausted after working an eight hour shift at a job, which is why so many people prefer to do it in the morning. However if you are a night-owl who works on web projects into the early hours of the morning, you might not find waking up early to get exercise done easy (I never have). If you have one habit fighting against another, it isn’t going to work.
In my experience, I’ve looked at changes (or goals) that appear hard, things like writing a report in a month, or completing a 90 day exercise regime, as a temporary experiment. This is necessary because if I attempt a significant change – and anything you really want will be significant – if you see it as something you will have to do for the rest of your life, that is too daunting. You will give up before you reach even the second week.
If you know you only need to write just one report for one big launch, or exercise for 30 days to drop 10 pounds, it’s more manageable. As the saying goes –
the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time
Even if the big goal might take a long time, it’s the habit that gets you there. Gently inserting the habit into your life where it fits best makes it easier to get over the initial hump you will inevitably face, where you just don’t feel like doing it. You are stacking the deck in your favor.
Time management and productivity can be terribly boring subjects unless you enjoy looking at parts of your life as components that can be optimized. I’m not super keen on overly-structured analysis, the way an accountant or economist might look at productivity, however I am a bit precious when it comes to my emotional state and physical state. You might even say I’m a bit of a princess.
In order to actually get work done I can’t be hungry, or missing more than one hour of sleep off the 8 I require a day. I need the right environment and have the desire to produce something and be creative. I have to be in an at least content mood (if I’m feeling depressed work is hard). It also helps if I have some kind of deadline driving me to work, even if it’s just the tug a blogger feels when a fresh piece of content hasn’t gone live in a few days.
I think entrepreneurs in general are a bit like this. We are artists after all, which to run the risk of stereotyping, means we are prone to irrational emotional outbursts (sometimes only visible from the inside), but on the flipside we can release passionate bursts of creativity too. This I believe is also why entrepreneurs are so unemployable. You can’t “work” in a structured environment if your creative process is not structured.
It’s like asking a painter to create something original and amazing and then giving them a pen and a fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire to work with. There’s just not enough room to be flexible. You need the space to “waste time” when you want to in order to awaken those moments where the good stuff comes out.
The important point here is that you are your tool kit. Knowing when to use each specific tool and give yourself the space to do so, is critical. Understand there are best times to do certain things, and that preparation and rest matter just as much. Pick the habits you know you need to inject in your life to get what you want, and then insert them into your life in the optimal place.
If you don’t, you run the risk of fighting against the one person who will always have the ability to defeat you – yourself.
Photo courtesy of Randy Son Of Robert