Be productive in a meaningful way

Let me tell you a little about myself— I love starting new projects. It’s so much fun to come up with a new app idea or blog post idea and begin to work against it. New things are really fun for me, because there’s tons of possibilities and there’s no structure to it yet. The problem though is that I basically have what I call squirrel brain — I am drawn to something and then unfortunately two seconds later I’m distracted by something else new. Then it happens again and again. I end up bouncing around from project to project, much like a squirrel darting around in a busy park.

This is a real problem. It’s a problem because then nothing ever gets done, which means that I don’t make any meaningful progress. Instead I am left with the illusion of productivity. I can point to a bunch of projects and ideas, but I can’t really point to anything that I’ve actually shipped or finished. That’s fun if it’s just they’re just hobby or side projects, but when my livelihood depends on me actually shipping, then it’s clearly a problem. To solve this problem in my life, I’ve used these two strategies that have proven to be useful. Hopefully they’ll help you be more productive in a meaningful way!


STRATEGY 1: VISUALIZE THE WIN

If you really care about what you’re working on, then it’s likely that you really care about the outcome and end result too. I know that when I start a new project, I’m really enamored by what it could be one day. I love the idea of sharing a new app or a new blog post because it might have a positive impact on someone. That positive impact can’t occur though if I never finish what I start, though.

There’s a lot of research that shows that if you visualize finishing something, you’re far more likely to actually do so. They did this study with runners, and when the runner visualized the finish line (and especially when they could physically see it in sight), their pace improved and they were able to push through to the end. Our brains really like to complete things so we get that internal push to keep going when we know the payoff is near.


STRATEGY 2: REMEMBER YOUR PAST ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Even if you’re like me and you get distracted easily by new projects, you’re likely to have at least finished some in your life. Or at least finished things that you’re proud of, and that were difficult to do. Maybe it was getting your college or masters degree, or finishing reading a long book (with a boring middle part), or whatever it is. You’ve almost certainly accomplished things to be proud of.

That got me thinking about all the things I found a way to finish. I focused in on the apps that I’ve either written entirely myself, or helped to ship through a team effort and decided that I would celebrate all these past wins by literally creating a wall of accomplishment in my office.

My desk is pushed up against a wall, and I decided to use sticky notes and create a huge list of every single app that I have published or helped publish. I put everything up there— contract job apps I’ve finished, apps that I published through Capparsa, and other apps I’ve helped at previous jobs. All together it’s 14 apps and projects that I’ve started, finished and shipped.

Whenever I am discouraged or getting bored because I’m in that “boring middle part” that feels like trudging through a swamp, I can literally look at the wall ahead of me and see that I’ve done it before. I’ve shipped these 14 apps, and it’s something I can feel really proud of it. Knowing that, I feel much more capable of finishing whatever it is I’m working on. It helps me make the decision to complete one more task, and get one more step closer to that finish line.


IN SUMMARY

Hopefully with these two strategies, you can make it through the hard part of any project or idea or whatever it is you’re working on. It comes down to these two key things:

1. Visualize the “win” at the end of it. How will you feel when you’re finished?
2. Remember your past accomplishments. You’ve certainly done other things in your life you’re proud of that were difficult. Channel that same energy into your current work and add to your list of trophies!

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Good luck!