Outsourcing

Stop procrastinating and just get started

Chip Camden adds another principle to his list of consulting maxims: just get started. To accomplish any task, he says you need to put on blinders and focus on one goal.

 This post serves as its own negative example. I usually write my weekly TechRepublic post on Friday, but for some reason, I was never able to get around to it this Friday. I sat down in front of my monitor first thing Friday morning, thinking about what I would write. "I'll just read through my e-mail first," I thought. My e-mail included my TechRepublic alerts, so I got involved in a few discussions that consumed an hour or so. Finally, I was ready to start writing. Or so I thought.

A client happened to call me at that moment about a problem I had been working on for them. Our exchange gave me an idea about how to solve it, so I said to myself, "I'll just work on this a bit and then get back to my TechRepublic post." Naturally, the idea didn't work, and I spent several hours trying to figure out why not and coming up with alternatives. By that time, the day was nearly over, and my brain was tired.

So come Saturday, I tried to catch up. I'm an object lesson for the first rule in a strategy that TechRepublic member tburkett shared with us a few days ago: "Always begin promptly." If I had just started writing, I'm sure I would have finished this article within an hour or two. But by finding other things to do, I procrastinated and left it hanging over my head all day and all through the night.

Another way to phrase this rule is: "just get started." I should make that number 19 in my list of consulting maxims. Unless you're really short on work, you always have other things that need to be done -- so you can always find an excuse for not working on any one of them. But in order to get anything accomplished, you need to put the blinders on and focus on just one goal. Even if something else seems to be pressing, you need to ask yourself "Is this really an emergency?" before you alter your priorities.

The more flexibility you have in scheduling your work, the more important this principle becomes. If a client is breathing down your neck demanding a deliverable, it's easy to focus on their project (even though you may resent it a little). But when you are free to pick and choose what you'll work on when, you have to become your own boss and lay down the law for yourself. Allocate specific time slots to individual goals and stick to them.

When you have several urgent priorities (which happens to me a lot), sometimes it's tempting to work on each of them a little bit to try to make progress and keep each stakeholder happy. But that approach has several problems, which include the following:

  • As soon as you hit a snag in one project, you're likely to put it on hold and move to another project. This means that you're only giving superficial attention to each problem.
  • Context switching eats up more time than you realize. Becoming refamiliarized with the parameters of a problem and setting up the test cases for it can often take longer than finding and implementing a solution.
  • A breakthrough may only come after a critical amount of attention (without distractions) has been applied to a problem.

Concentrated effort is the key to getting things done. In order to apply that effort, you can't afford to wait until everything else is settled. It never will be. Just get started.

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

32 comments
JLar
JLar

While its worthy of its own number in your original list of 18 Maxims you included procrastination in #10

wengpingc
wengpingc

Thanks for reminding me not to procrastinate. I have a Master Final Year Project that I drag to get it done. This is simply because I am not familiar with .Net and could not make up my mind to use .Net for my project. I must do my work as my mother just passed away on May 2nd. Recently, on Mother?s (May 10th), I recalled back how my mother wanted me to focus at getting my Master study done. I must do it despite a sense of not knowing how to do it.

reisen55
reisen55

I have learned, the hard way, that getting started is 70% of the job so if I just begin somewhere (either plan or research), I am moving down the line. After all, at the end of the project is that delightful little thing called INVOICE and if you do not get started, nothing happens. Just dig in dammit and see where your knowledge takes you. Procrastination ON the project can be a killer. I have a brilliant co-consultant is one of the best at it I have ever seen. Five months on one account doing a database conversion (critical) and he says not much is going on there. OH REALLY???

zhangherry
zhangherry

this rule is simple but very efficient!i will add it to my list of maxims.

jantakke
jantakke

Chip, I love your articles, most of all because they hit the nail (me) right on the head...;-) Thanks for giving me one more alibi to procrastinate! This is how it works... I see this article and know you have written about procrastination quite a few times So now I finally want to know what it is (I'm no native English person). Searching "dictionary procrastination" gives more than 211k entries, the first of which gives various definitions and some 22 related searches... So after procrastinating part of this monday-morning to oblivion I think I know what the word means... Hmmm, what again was it I was about to do... Thanks for sharing awareness! Jan

harriskam
harriskam

i agree with you coz am also caught in that saga and at the end of the day i realise that ave done too little. i think i should also stop procrastinating and just get started.

KSoniat
KSoniat

Do something you don't want for x amount of time, allow yourself something you do want to do for a short amount of time. Both things need doing, but you force the unpleasant first and wash it down with the pleasant. I can't stand putting something off, dreading it, feeling guilty - and then it ends up being a piece of cake and all that "stress" could have been avoided. I figure the sooner I get it done the sooner I no longer have to look at it. Until the specs change. :)

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

This is not just for IT work. I have to 'Just Do It' for most tasks. Whenever I put things off early (without a really good excuse), I have a hard time finding the time to get to them later. I have told people 'Just Do It' for years. Well, that and "F*ck It -- Just Do It"

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Good article Chip and an important point. One of the excuses that is used for procrastination is at the other end of the task ... perfectionism. One of the things I've learned from my recent forays into internet marketing is the concept of "get it out the door". By focusing on getting it perfect (which my techie mind tends to do), I give myself permission to procrastinate. After all, I'm not ready to do a great job yet. By concentrating on "good enough", I get things started (out the door) and I can always go back and produce a second edition. That removes my excuse of "it's not perfect" which removes one more excuse to procrastinate. 'Course that's about when a contract decides I don't have time for anything else anyway ... Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I teach web-based, self-paced classes. Not only am I bombarded at the end of each semester with more homework than there is time to grade, I have a tendency to put off grading when there's not much of it in my 'to do' box. I do have to force myself at times. Thanks for this.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Learning the .NET Framework is not as hard as it might seem. If you just jump in and start, it will go a lot faster than you think. Good luck!

gotmink
gotmink

It's all really just a state of mind. If you set your mind that you're going to do something - then you will. 95% willpower - only 5% elbow grease.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

That often happens when you run into a hurdle of some sort. Perhaps you realize that a major section of code will need to be rewritten. Then in your mind it becomes even bigger than it is, and you come to a halt. That's when you have to re-apply the maxim and "just get started" all over again.

mszs2
mszs2

I will do almost anything else then I should do but when I try to do what I should do then it is like standing in from of a wall.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Procrastinating by reading about procrastination... there's a new angle. Next time I need to procrastinate, perhaps I'll research synonyms for procrastination.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

A reward at the end of the task makes it a breeze -- you just have to be disciplined enough not to skip right over to dessert. Regarding how big a task seems vs. is -- I just experienced that yesterday. An important capability had not been designed into an algorithm, and I thought it would require a full rewrite. When I finally made myself sit down to do it, I found that it really only needed about 10 lines of code modified and *bam* it was done. I had been dreading it for weeks.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Interesting how a word for the act of copulation serves well for emphasizing the need to avoid overthinking and get on with it -- which is also good advice for copulation.

Saurondor
Saurondor

Another way I've fallen victim of procrastination and have seen other fall into it too is "learning cycles". You can start procrastinating because you're not well versed enough in the technology, language or tool you'll be using. You haven't read all the books and articles on the matter yet. You read and read and read thinking something is getting done "for the project". I've found that prototyping is a good way to stop procrastinating on this and the issue you mention. Take the title of "official" and play with the project a bit. This helps to sort out the ideas and problems the project may hold and hide. Helps remove some of the burden produced by "unknown variables" that then leads to further procrastination.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, and the fear of not being able to do even a good enough job can be just as disabling. When there are a lot of unknowns (that you know you don't know) the task can seem much more huge than it really is.

jck
jck

Things often interrupt me, or I want to put them off if I can. Like the software I've been working on for a year now. I have it about 40% done, but there's a lot more to go. I ended up not working on it yet again after I got hurt. But, I've been getting the inkling to finish it, then take it to my doctor and see if he'd help me hone it for medical office use. I figure if I can get it in at least 200 offices nationwide, I could get a software company interested in buying me out. Then...retirement to fixing PCs, fishing, and snuggling up by the fireplace with the g/f. :)

reisen55
reisen55

One very good reason to get started is that unless you do that, you cannot work the problem or project to finish and invoice the customer. Invoice = check and that equals everything else that follows. So motivation for profit is a powerful motivator. I also assume projects on a slow basis, I do nothing FAST if I can avoid it and generally prefer slow and steady. I can do too much damage to my accounts by rash action. More important - STOP PROCRASTINATING AND FINISH THE PROJECT!!! Many techs always love to have one or two things left to do - as insurance - before they consider a thing done. Bad habit. And that also affects invoice submission. I have learned the above habits the hard way. Getting started is great, just DO IT and off you go. "Success is 90% showing up" said Woody Allen. So, show up. And leave well and good, FINISH the damn thing and make sure it works. And your client will be content with your services and you will be a profitable consultant. See? Easy.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I can even tackle jobs that are really more difficult, but because they're not what I'm supposed to be doing, they're easy. So one approach I use is to imagine how fun my task would look to someone else, or even myself when I was much younger. Then my project seems a lot more cool.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Not only because it gets you to actually do something -- it also creates an initial version to throw away. In most complex systems, the first two versions are crap compared to the third.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

It may make sense to make your 40% just a bit more presentable and then introduce it as an alpha version to your doctor. Start getting a feedback loop going early on, and you'll get to a real product much more quickly.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

You're right -- we all want to have a pipeline of 'to do', and we're afraid of that pipeline ever running dry. But if we just go ahead and empty it quickly and well, then it will fill up again. And as you pointed out, you get paid for it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

To get it into someone's hands quickly and let them start driving your features forward.

jck
jck

If they want support, I will give them like 90 days free @ $1000. Training...yeah...I'm gonna make it $500 a day per student. Bulk discounts for classes larger than 8 plus travel and lodging per my approval of airline/hotel. They provide everything but the install CDs. Customization? That will be very limited. Customization for 1 client that has anything more than basic modifications will be massively expensive. Making sure I roll out system improvements to 100 paying clients who are about to renew support at $250 a year per module is more important than billing $5,000 in custom mods that are nothing you can use for other customers for other revenue streams. And, hopefully there's gonna be at least 3-4 modules that people would want. - basic office management - accounting - payroll - inventory then plug into that, based on practice: - legal module (code/rule/decision reference) - medical module (pharm. ref, proc. codes, etc) And like I said...I'd have no issue (if it got successful) with selling out to another software firm as long as they paid me enough. But I figure if the average office bought 3 modules (manager, payroll, inventory), I'd get $3000 a shop...plus $750 a year in support after that. If I got 50 clients in FL, that'd end up being a nice chunk of change. And if that went up to a nice number like 500, you're talking retirement within 5 years. But, it's all a pipe dream til it's on the street and people are scheduling installs and what not.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

At $1000 a pop, you're not going to make much money unless you can add on services like training, setup, and customization. Leave that door wide open.

jck
jck

I been thinkin about that...maybe getting 60%...then taking the initial office management (appt book, admin interface, call log, etc.) in there. Of course, I want his help in things like...what a med office needs besides HICFA coding, medical reference, etc. I'm sure he'd help me if he gets free software...which I'd do. I'm also going to talk to him about once it is something he wants to use in his office, if he will consider showing it to other doctors in the area and giving him basically a commission for his efforts if he sells some. I figure if I sell office management software to a doctor for $1000, I can at least give him $100. But, I have to write those modules as they come. I'm going to have a simple base pack, then have add-ons for medical, dental, legal, and generic business. Cause...buying pencils from Office Depot is very different from buying intravenous antibiotic from Pfizer or bite wing x-ray items from Bayer. :)