One of our biggest enemies as creative entrepreneurs is procrastination. Procrastination is a powerful trap that many of us fall into. Most people procrastinate to some extent at one time or another. But as regular habit it can be demotivating and lead to feeling of guilt and shame. Moreover, it can keep us from achieving our goals.
Procrastination is a habit. And like any bad habit, there are tools, tricks, and other habits that can replace it.
As an entrepreneur, it can feel particularly difficult to overcome procrastination. There’s often minimal external deadlines and limitations. Plus, building a business is a long game.
There’s a human tendency to overestimate a reward based on its proximity. This video from AsapSCIENCE has an animated video demonstrating this further:
The sooner in time you get the reward, the more valuable it seems. Also known as temporal discounting. Plus, “human motivation is influenced by how imminent the reward is perceived to be. The further away the reward is, the more you discount its value. This is often referred to as Present bias, or hyperbolic discounting.”
Pomodoro sprints are a powerful procrastination overcoming tool.
Created by Francesco Cirillo while a university student. He was struggling to study for his exams. He had a lot of distractions and and minimal mental focus and concentration. He decided to focus without interruption, distractions, or mind wandering for 10 minutes. He used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (pomodoro in Italian).
Even the 10 minutes of uninterrupted focus made a difference.
Pomodoro sprints were born.
It’s a fancy way of saying 2 hour blocks of time with 25 minute work segments and 5 minute breaks.
A full Pomodoro sprint would be:
25 minutes work
5 minutes break
25 minutes work
5 minute break
25 minutes work
5 minute break
25 minutes work
25 minute break
Nonetheless, this simple technique works well.
All you have to decide is how many sprints you’ll accomplish in a day. If your goal is to get eight hours of work done, then you would plan to complete a series of four pomodoro sprints.
The idea is that when we chunk our days like that, we can work for longer periods of uninterrupted time. This allows us to enter a flow state and operate at our peak performance level.
During each Pomodoro sprint, you’re only working on one project. You’re taking on that project without any distractions or interruptions. You’re creating an ideal environment for you to get a lot done, even in a short block of time.
This is ideal especially for moms and side-hustlers. With focused chunks of time, you’re able to get more done than doing many hours of distracted work.
This is because if you’re focusing on too many things at once, you lose time due to context switching.
When we’re working and we switch to think about something else. Whether its a different task we’re going to work on or checking our phone or email. It takes time for our brain to “recover.” To get back into the flow of what we were previously doing.
Each time we do this, we lose our precious time.
The more we do this in any given period, the more our productive time has diminished.
Pomodoro sprints end the time suck of context switching. They force us to give our undivided attention to the task at hand for these short chunks of time.
A few tips for using Pomodoro sprints:
If you’re like most millennials, your phone is a hard distraction to ignore. When doing Pomodoro sprints, better if your phone is out of sight and on silent.
If there is anyone who needs to reach you or who would disturb you, let them know in advance that all is well. But you can’t be disturbed in the next two hours.
Decide what you’re going to do before you start the timer for that first sprint. Don’t let planning seep into the time that you’re meant to be taking action.
If your phone is not too distracting, there’s an app called Focus available in the Apple store. It has the timers pre-set for Pomodoro sprints. If it’ll be too tempting to check your phone if you use an app (be honest!) then use a regular timer.
Check yourself. At the end of your sprint did you do what you wanted to do? Did you do a good job staying on track? Where could you use improvement?
Keep your breaks phone free. I’ve found that the only time I can’t get back in the flow after one of my 5 minute breaks is when I used it for scrolling social media. Now I do my best to stay off my phone even during the 5 minute breaks.
Another related productivity is Parkinson’s law. Parkinson’s law says that work will expand to fill the time available for its completion.
Why does this matter?
Well, my friend. The more you can estimate how long a project will take, the better you’ll be at planning out your days, weeks, and months. You’ll get more done.
If you allow a week for a two hour task, then the task will become more complex, difficult, and daunting. It will take up the whole week. Even if you’re not doing actual work that whole time, stress, worry, and tension about doing it will fill space. When we can assess the time a task will takes, we get our time back. The task will maintain its natural state. There won't unnecessary complexity, difficulty, stress, tensions, worry, and complexity.
Overestimating or underestimating how long these take you to do lowers your productivity. Most people lack awareness of how long tasks take until they’re willing to apply this principle.
There’s a pervasive and limiting belief that if something takes longer, its better. It’s higher quality. Most people adopt the idea that it’s better to “work harder, not smarter,” even when they work for themselves.
It’s important to check yourself as you use Pomodoro sprints. You’ll start to become more and more aware of how long various tasks take you.
For example, I know that I can write a 2,000 word blog in about one hour IF it’s not a research based blog. Then it takes me another 60-90 minutes to do any research and edit. But, if I give myself a four hour block to write a 2,000 word blog, I’ll use that entire period of time. Instead, I give myself one Pomodoro sprint to complete my writing. Then that’s all it takes.
Tips for applying Parkinson’s Law
Keep track of how long certain activities take you. Especially the ones you do repeatedly in our businesses. Most people overestimate or underestimate how long something should take.
Make it a game for yourself. When you’re assigning time estimates for tasks, trying cutting the time in half. Then treat it as a hard and fast deadline that you have to beat. Don’t do this at the expense of quality work, but try infusing some urgency into your work and see what happens.
Time your time-filling activities that don’t have an impact. Things like email and feed reading that “takes a few minutes.” Limit those times to 2-5 minutes. Don't get sucked into those activities.
The Pareto Principle was first established by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He used it as a math formula to describe the unequal wealth distribution in his country. He observed that 20% of the population owned 80% of the country’s wealth.
In 1937 Joseph Duran added a human dimension. He conceptualized the Pareto principle. He used the 80/20 rule to help managers to separate the vital few from the useful many in their activities.
This is also referred to as the 80/20 rule.
So how can we use it to be more productive?
By narrowing our focus. 80% of our results are going to come from 20% of our actions, so we can cut some of those actions that are less meaningful. The ones that aren’t going to translate into results.
Far too many creative entrepreneurs stay busy. But busy isn't always activities that are going to have an impact in their business.
Tips for applying the Pareto Principle
Instead of doing more and diffusing your impact. Do fewer activities and devote your time and energy there. On doing the things that matter most and do them well.
Where do 80% of your leads come from? Nurture those sources. Where is 80% of your revenue generated? Boost your efforts there? Do 20% of your clients create the majority of cash flow in your biz? Nurture and cherish them.
Last, but not least, to be more productive, be a professional.
Too many people treat their businesses like amateurs. Like an expensive hobby instead of a business.
This is from Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art.
He describes going pro as the way of overcoming resistance. Creators and entrepreneurs will experience resistance at one point or another. The way of moving past is to be a professional, rather than giving into it.
The characteristics of a professional are:
W show up every day.
We show up no matter what.
We stay on the job all day.
We are committed over the long haul.
The stakes for us are high and real.
We accept remuneration for our labor.
We do not over identify with our jobs.
We master the technique of our jobs.
We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
We receive praise or blame in the real world.
Tips for going pro:
Set regular hours for yourself even if you work for yourself. On the days that I’m working I’m at my desk at 9am and ready to work. Same as if I had to show up at an office. Showing up this way allows me to take way more time off when I want. For example, I never work Fridays. I travel almost once a month and for the most part I treat my traveling as vacation and do little, if any work.
Get dressed. Or at least shower. I find that I show up in a different way when I shower and get dressed. Like I actually have to interact with other humans in person. It makes it feel more like an actual work day even though going to the office is going down the hall.