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Tim Ryan
Tim Ryan

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Ten Things to Smash This Project

This has, by far, been my most productive few weeks since becoming self-employed back in July.

Three full design proposals out the door to interested or engaged clients. A new article on my fledgeling blog site written and shared. And over 20 hours spent planning, recruiting and designing for an upcoming tech event I'm working on for 1 year from now. And that was just the last 7 days.

This isn't a ton of work - I get that. This is perhaps an ordinary week for most people. But for me, a serial procrastinator and addict to environment vices, this marks a huge win.

To celebrate I thought I'd finally write my first DEV post, and share the Ten Things I've done to turn it all around. Spoiler: it's not really ten things. It's just one.

The List of Ten.

I came across this idea in the book Tools of Titans some time ago, shared by James Altucher. It's a pretty simple technique - you come up with a list of ten ideas about anything you like. They can be sensible, dumb, easy or impossible. What matters is that you get to ten. And although many of them are bound to be terrible, one or two will be decent, and those decent ones will plant the seeds of a great idea.

For a while, I was doing this every morning, with any kind of subject I could think of: Ten apps I'd find useful, Ten alternatives to a business card, Ten places to work from, etc.

This got me generating a whole bunch of great ideas, but it was also counter-productive. Some of the ideas were too interesting to me, and I'd find whole days sunk into rabbit holes for stuff that wasn't going to pay the bills. Nothing separates me from my work than unadulterated curiosity in a shiny new idea.

What changed a few weeks back is simple and obvious. I started aiming my Ten Ideas at the projects that I feared the most. The website builds that I simply couldn't continue with. The pit-of-the-stomach projects. I forced myself to sit there in bed each morning, notes app open, and write out Ten Things that I could do, design or build-wise. They didn't have to be good:

  • Landing page of client's face with flashing epilepsy eyes (gif?)
  • Accordion opens with circular saw cutting through page
  • Replace all pictures with hand-drawn doodles of the pictures

But amongst the bad ideas were a few good, practical ones. And here's the secret - you only need one good idea. I knew they were good ideas because it was real in my head, and suddenly I had the next good idea. The right neurons finally started firing and twenty minutes later, I had solutions to obstacles that had stumped me for weeks.

And once the idea is there, nothing is keeping me from my computer. Not breakfast. Not even a shower. I throw on some sweats, fire up my mac and plug away until I know the end is in sight.

So this is it, my new routine. Wake up, write a list and go.

In the past four months of being self-employed, I've tried meditation, mindfulness, running and yoga to get me "in the zone" each morning but nothing has succeeded. Every day was a slog. Now, for the first time, I feel like productivity is the norm.

I guess it's simple. My Lists of Ten are a way to replace dread with excitement. They're a way to get the creative, ideas-driven part of my brain fired up first thing in the morning, focused on something that matters. And when the juice runs out, the client has been emailed or the DNS switched, I can get on with the admin and curiosity projects that used to take up my whole day, without feeling an ounce of guilt or worry that I should be working on something more important.

I know this isn't particularly technical, but I wanted to share how I'm finally overcoming my own procrastination. If you're struggling to get a certain project off the ground, try this first thing in the morning and let me know how it goes.

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