This post is about working on and finishing personal tasks and why getting them done on time is so hard. For the time starved, the lesson here is:
Create Self-Imposed Deadlines. With Punishment for Failure.
The longer version:
Many of you have commented about the lack of frequency in my recent postings. This is something I acknowledge to struggling with a bit! Trust me, it isn’t because of a lack of motivation or anything like that, because writing on this blog is something I would really like to keep going.
What’s wrong with Time Boxing?
I know I’ve been writing about Time Boxing, but it seems the strategies there alone aren’t sufficient to help me Get Things Done.
I don’t think there is any inherent flaw with the Time Boxing strategy. After all, if you want to finish something, you first need to allocate time to it, then work on it for a fixed period and finally judge if it is finished or not. The boxing aspect allows us to focus on the “time” or “duration” component of the task, without which we may aimlessly prod along without being conscious of how long something is taking.
The problem with Time Boxing however, especially for personal tasks, is there is no tangible effect from a delay. There is no accountability and no punishment for going over-time. Writing on this blog is a hobby, so if I don’t publish an article for another week or month, what’s the penalty?
Nothing. Nada. Zip.
In contrast, this is totally opposite when dealing with work related matters. We do it all the time. Homework is due next Monday, so let’s get to it now. The client demands a modification to a site or we don’t get paid, so let’s get cracking. Our boss is waiting for the status report, so we’d better launch the word processor and start typing.
The two biggest problems with doing personal tasks
I realised the other day, I don’t have well defined goals for blogging. This stems from the realisation that the two biggest problems with finishing personal tasks (like writing on a blog) are:
- The absence of a hard deadline
- The absence of punishment when failing to deliver
Seems obvious! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Without a concrete deadline, how can I judge if I’m behind or not? Also, how can I plan my time to ensure I meet it? Also, if there are no real consequences for not making a deadline, what’s going to stop me from playing on my Xbox? And, what’s to prevent me from procrastinating time and time again?
Nothing. Nada. Zip.
Treating work and non-work tasks the same way
The lesson here is that we need to treat our hobbies and personal projects exactly the same way we deal with work and other important things in our life. If we don’t, then it’ll always play second fiddle and we won’t get the great results we hope or expect.
This means we have to elevate personal hobbies, tasks and projects to the same level as our work. Yes, they may not be life-sustaining activities (ie doesn’t pay the bills), but if we want the same kind of results we get from our work, then we have to treat them the same.
Make yourself accountable in your startup
This applies to all you aspiring Entrepreneurs out there.
Are you having trouble launching your latest startup? Is it taking longer than you thought? Are you spending enough time on it? Is time being spent on a piece of code which won’t matter for another year? Are you working on the right things?
If any of this sounds familiar, then you’d do well to head my words.
Make yourself accountable for everything in your business. Every action and delay must be defined and quatified. How long will it take? What’s the benefit? What’s the cost? Who will be affected?
If you don’t have anyone you are accountable to (eg no investors and customers), then you have to make something up. For example, perhaps donate $100 to a worthwhile charity for every week you are late. Now, that’s going to hurt. Are you feeling more motivated now?
With great pleasure, I can now say Mobiusly is back on track. I deviated a little over the last couple of months, but it’s all good now especially since I committed to a deadline and understood the consequences of being late. I’m hoping to launch the first product in 1-2 weeks time, depending on how well beta testing goes. I’ll post more details here or via Mobiusly’s official blog, so make sure you subscribe to it too if you’re interested in seeing what’s being cooked up.
In the meantime, examine your own lives. Are you getting things done?
UPDATE: A healthy discussion is emerging at Hacker News about the disadvantages of focusing on the negative as motivators. More about it here.