OK, confession time:
People often ask me for productivity advice, and I usually point them elsewhere because…
…I’m actually a total flake.
Most of the time, I have no idea how I get shit done. In fact, I’m often surprised that I get ANYTHING done.
But recently, I had several conversations with my favourite client (who I just quit working with, even though they’re my uber-best client ever — that’s a story I’ll tell another day) about how I do what I do.
And I realised: Wow, I do get a lot of shit done!
In the past year, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of copy and content for my clients’ emails, sales pages, books, and blog posts…
…Earned a *very* healthy income from working with a small handful of amazing people — and flew around the world to meet some of them in person…
…Helped my students to start and grow their freelance blogging careers…
…and that’s without even considering all the *other* stuff I’ve done, like taking weeks off work to travel with my family, or going to parent-teacher meetings, school performances, and sports events, or spending hours in IKEA sitting on all the furniture before going home with a multipack of plastic plates and a stuffed toy for each of my girls.
I’ve also wasted plenty of time flicking through Netflix and YouTube, reading articles about stuff I have absolutely no need to know, staring blankly out of the window while interesting thoughts scampered around in my mind, and dream-planning next year’s summer break. 😉
So the question my client asked me was this: “When we’re hiring someone to replace you, what should we look for? How do we identify someone like you, that gets done what needs to be done and doesn’t freak out under pressure?”
To which I said, “Umm… I dunno… I don’t do anything special, this is just how I work… and I DO freak out under pressure, I just do the work anyway.”
Because I’m helpful and articulate like that, right?
(Funny story: in the end, my client hired two new full-time writers to replace me. But their business is growing, so that hiring decision *wasn’t* purely about my mad productivity skillz.)
Now that I’ve had a bit of time to think about it, I’ve finally managed to figure out what I do that helps me get shit done. And now that I know what it is, I’m happy to share it!
3 Ways to Suck at Getting Shit Done
So the first thing I need to explain is that there are 3 different ways you can be unproductive:
- Suck at starting stuff
- Suck at doing stuff
- Suck at finishing stuff
I’m pretty sure that every single human in the world sucks at one or more of these three things. Personally, I’m bad at all of them, with a definite major in #3.
Now that you know that, what do you do with this insight?
Find ways to get through your personal suck.
If you suck at starting stuff, I recommend taking a hardcore approach.
How to Start Stuff: List, Schedule and Obey
It sounds a bit like ye olde wedding vows because basically, for this to work, you have to live like your to-do schedule is your beloved partner.
First, you make a list of everything that you know needs doing. Then you break out a calendar (or use a to-do tool with a calendar built in) and you schedule a date and time window for you to work on each of those things.
Most people can get started on this without much difficulty. But here’s what most people don’t do:
Use a calendar that can send you notifications, and then… when those notifications come in, do what they tell you to do.
This last part takes discipline. And discipline is something that flakes and procrastinators are famously bad at.
So how do you do it?
You have to believe — no, to know, without a doubt, that the discipline is worthwhile.
That’s the ONLY way you’ll ever choose to start doing what needs doing, instead of putting it off or starting something easier but less important instead.
So, to make it worthwhile, you need to know what the worth is.
What will you ultimately get out of the projects and tasks you need to start when those notifications pop up? Money? Prestige? A better life? More happiness?
Is that worth more to you than doing whatever you feel like doing instead? Worth more than another half-hour on Facebook or another cup of coffee?
If it isn’t, then forget it. You’re not going to get it done unless the outcome truly matters to you.
If it is, get started. Because you know why it needs doing, and you know why you can’t wait, so doing ANY amount of work on it is better than none.
How to Do Stuff: Consistent Ass-Kicking
If you’re able to start stuff, but fizzle out long before the end, what you need is “grit” — that special ability to stick with the work even if you’re restless today, even if there are distractions, even if you’re doubting your capability, even if you spilled juice on yourself at lunch.
And there’s an extra problem, too: because you’re able to *start* projects, you might not even realise that you’re slowly creeping to a halt on a bunch of them.
You feel productive because you can see all the stuff you’ve got going on as work in progress… but if the progress isn’t really happening, all you’ll get is an ever-increasing stack of half-done tasks mounting up behind you until it collapses on your head.
To overcome this problem of not knowing when you’re slowing, you need to apply grit ALL THE TIME (or as much of the time as humanly possible, at least) while you’re working.
You also need resilience, so that you don’t throw your hands in the air and quit whenever things get difficult or frustrating.
How do you develop grit and resilience? Well, the grit is a lot like the discipline I mentioned earlier. You get gritty when you know in your bones that the outcome is worth the work, and that the work needs to get done.
Some people have great “natural” resilience, but for the rest of us it often comes from experience. When you’ve had plenty of FUBARs, SNAFUs and screw-ups, sooner or later you can’t help but realise that you survived all of that shit and figured out a way to move forward. That being so, there’s a pretty strong probability that you’ll figure out a workable solution to whatever other challenges come up in the future, as long as you don’t quit trying.
Every day, you have to kick some ass. Some days it might be a very small ass, and you might only kick it gently. But you’ll kick it, and the next day you’ll kick it some more.
Consistent action creates success one step (or one kick) at a time. But if your struggle is at the finish line, you’ll probably need an extra push…
How to Finish Stuff: Time and Punishment
Forget the idea of giving yourself a reward for completing a task. You’re not a child, so why try to bribe yourself with chocolate or gold stars?
Nope, what’ll make you finish the job is simple: FEAR.
You have to create an outcome so terrifying that you’ll take off all the brakes, let go of perfectionism, and basically do pretty much *anything* necessary to avoid the punishment.
And then put a date on that outcome.
Pro tip: If you’re not shitting yourself at the mere thought of the outcome, go bigger. Keep thinking of worse punishments until you come up with something that makes you feel genuinely worried in case you fail.
To force myself to publish How to Pitch a Blog Post on time, I pledged that if I failed to hit my deadline, I’d donate $1,000 to a political group I despise. That made me determined to complete my mission, because there was NO WAY I’d let my cash go into their pockets!
So think of an outcome that sends dread creeping through your soul. Make sure that it’d be painful enough to force you into action, without being harmful to you or anyone around you (don’t pledge to eat soap, or to give away your household grocery budget, for example).
Set the deadline, and tell someone you trust to enforce it. There are even websites where you can sign up to make your pledge public — just Google “accountability commitment online” to find them.
Now, it’s time to get shit done! 🙂
We Want to Hear YOUR Ideas
In case you’re not familiar, Pitchfest is a blog post pitching contest we run here on Be a Freelance Blogger every three months. You tell us your blog post idea and we choose our favorites, with prizes of up to $100 for the winners.
The contest starts today.
Your theme for this Pitchfest
This time we’re looking for pitches on the theme of “how to get shit done as a freelance blogger”.
Interpret that theme any way you like! You could share your tried-and-tested tips on how to develop discipline as a superpower, or you could tell us your favorite method for making sure you always finish your projects on deadline, or how you prioritise to keep yourself working on the right stuff day by day…
We’re looking forward to seeing what YOU come up with.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Your pitch must be focused on serving our audience of freelance bloggers. Whatever idea you present to us HAS to benefit freelance bloggers in some way, and we need to see that benefit explained in your pitch.
- Anybody can enter the contest by typing (or pasting) their pitch into the comments box at the bottom of this page.
- Only ONE PITCH per person, please.
- Follow the pitch format I’ll tell you in a moment.
- After you submit your pitch, Lauren and/or I will offer feedback to help you optimize your idea for this blog’s audience and improve your pitching skills. You may also get feedback from other entrants, BAFB team members, and innocent bystanders — pay attention, because they represent your readers here.
- After you get our feedback, you can revise your pitch if you like and re-submit it by pasting it into a follow-up comment. And yes, that means you can offer us a completely different idea if we’ve told you your first idea definitely won’t work for this blog.
- If you win, we’ll ask you to send us a draft of at least 1000 words, so bear that minimum word count in mind when you pitch.
- First prize: $100 for your guest post, paid via PayPal on publication.
- Second prize: $50 for your guest post, paid via PayPal on publication.
- Third prize: A copy of How to Pitch a Blog Post (Kindle edition).
- Submit your pitch before the end of Saturday, July 7th, 2018.
- We’ll announce the winners on July 14th, 2018.
- If we choose your pitch, we expect you to deliver your first draft to Lauren by July 31st. But if you need a little longer, let us know and we’ll work around it.
How to pitch
- Read our general guest blogging guidelines first, then come back here to submit your pitch.
- Suggest at least one headline designed to make freelance bloggers want to read your post.
- Follow the headline with the opening lines you’d use in the post. No less than 30 words, no more than 60. You DON’T need to write a whole post (or even a whole introduction) before you pitch — we’d like to give you feedback on your idea before you write a draft.
- After the opening lines, give us no more than 6 points you’ll make in your post, and provide a one or two sentence summary of each point. (If you plan to make more than 6 points in your post, only tell us the most important 6 in your pitch.)
- Then explain in no more than 3 sentences why this is a great post for Be a Freelance Blogger and why you’re the right person to write it.
- Put your pitch in the comment box at the bottom of this page.
- Check the little box that says “Notify me of follow-up comments” so you’ll know when we’ve given you feedback.
- Submit your comment and if you followed all the steps above, you’re entered into the contest.
- It’s a good idea to explain how your pitch reflects the theme we’ve set for you — unless it’s blindingly obvious, in which case you can probably assume we’ll see the connection without extra signposting.
- Remember to tell us why you think your idea will interest the people who read Be a Freelance Blogger.
- To get a better sense of what we’re looking for in your pitch, study the pitches and responses in previous Pitchfests.
- Save a copy of your pitch somewhere before you post it here — if your comment gets lost in the internet, you don’t wanna have to re-write it from scratch.
- Your comment may get held in a moderation queue, especially if it contains hyperlinks. Don’t worry if that happens; we’ll get to it and reply!
OK, it’s time.
Let the Pitchfest begin!