Wednesday, April 11, 2007

10 Ways To Procrastinate And Still Be Productive

If you're reading this post then you may have problems with procrastination. I've developed a list of things I can do when I'm procrastinating. The trick here is that even though I'm still avoiding the work I'm supposed to be doing, I'm still engaged in doing something useful or meaningful. Here's my top 10 list. I hope you find something of use.

1. Write a personal email or letter to someone

If there is a relationship you cherish or someone who means a lot to you, write them an email or letter telling them! Take some time and strengthen your relationships.

2. Start a collection of links that you can use to procrastinate more effectively later on

If you have a list of subjects you're interested in learning more about, try starting a collection of links for each one. The next time you're busy procrastinating, pick on of those subjects and start visiting the links.

3. Choose a subject you just "don't get" and start doing research

For me, it was a programming language called Lisp. I started doing lots of research into Lisp to learn more about it. It's turned out to be great because learning it has provided me with a sense of accomplishment. I learned something new. How great is that?

4. Write a stream of conciousness journal entry about the work you're avoiding

Pull up Word, notepad, or a piece of pen and paper and just write about the work you're avoiding. If you're avoiding the work because you're stuck, chances are you'll discover some angles that you hadn't thought about. It's also a great way to think through the work you have to do without having to actually do it (yet).

5. Practice speed reading

Go to, or and start reading the articles posted there. Focus on skimming the writing as quickly as you can. Practice forming a picture of what the article or essay is about and then translate it into a concise paragraph summing up all the important points. This technique helps me stay sharp.

6. If you have ideas that would benefit the company you work for, write an email and send it

There's no time like the present. If there's something that's been bothering you or an opportunity you think would benefit the company, write your thoughts down and send them to someone who could help make it happen. Ask for their input or reaction. If anything, it'll get it off your chest. It'll also help improve how people view you.

7. Initiate a conversation with someone and REALLY listen to what they are saying

I'm a terrible listener. Practice really focusing on what someone has to say even if the subject is completely uninteresting to you. The intention here is to practice your "people skills" by listening and not talking.

8. Read over your latest "Sent Items" and try get a sense of how your writing represents your thinking

If you could rewrite an email you sent out, how would you rewrite it? Look for spelling errors, fuzziness of logic and try to see how you come across. This is a great way to get a sense of how you communicate and a great way to improve it.

9. Develop a list of your successes

Start a list of anything you succeeded at. Try developing the list chronologically. Is there a pattern? Is there something you can learn from? There usually is and developing a running list will help you see it.

10. Develop a list of your failures

Develop a list of things you failed at. Try to find the patterns. Write about why you think you failed. Write down what might have made you succeed. The point is not to beat yourself up but to simply detach yourself from your failures and gain a better understanding of where you can be better.

Bonus: Write a sincere thank you note

Is there someone who mentored you long ago? Is there someone who did something for you that you never truly thanked? Is there someone you admire that has written things or said things that have made an impact in your life? Take a few moments and write a sincere thank you. It feels good to do it and it might inspire you to actually get back to work!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Wish Me Luck

I applied for seed funding from Ycombinator for their summer 2007 funding cycle. I obviously think my idea is great or I wouldn't have applied. What concerns me most is YCombinator's stated belief that it's the person who makes a company successful and not so much the idea they have. I believe in that too.

The reason it concerns me is that on paper, I don't look so hot. I'm a high school dropout with no college degree who works in an I.T. department at a company in Maine. This is not the stuff of legends.

I know the list of billionares worldwide is filled with college dropouts but it's also a fact that being a college dropout doesn't mean you should be on the list.

I hope that YCombinator can see what I've written and sense the desire I have to run a startup. If I don't succeed getting funding through YC I am confident that I will find a way to bootstrap, moonlight, get angel funding, whatever. I will do it regardless.

Wish me luck, people.

Friday, March 30, 2007

If You Do Anything At All, Make Some Meaning

If you do anything, anything at all, make some meaning.

If you are thinking about launching a startup or are a programmer unhappy in the company you work for, this advice is for you. But really, it's mostly for me. In the future I'll need to hear it again and again. I don't know if you’ll need to hear it too but if you do, come back to this anytime you feel like it. I know I will.

The Importance of Making Meaning

As programmers, we wield an enormous amount of power. We can take 1s and 0s and forge them into something useful. We can create programs that do truly amazing things. We can (and have) fundamentally change the way the world works. We write beautiful code. We develop elegant techniques. We design and use brilliant patterns. And we’re learning quickly. We’re getting better at it all the time. The power and influence we have is growing at a rapid pace. This is our golden age and we know it.

But there’s a question that keeps cropping up for me and it is: What are we making? What does it mean?

As a programmer with the ability to influence so much, this question is terribly important.

I can’t answer that question for everyone but I can tell you what mine is.

What I’m hoping to convey here is the idea that once you discover what’s important to you, you'll gain a sense of clarity. Everything else becomes secondary.

I didn’t realize until last week that I was stuck between deciding if I wanted to make money or make meaning. They aren't mutually exclusive, but I had to decide what I wanted to truly focus on. My answer was to "make meaning".

But hang on. WHAT, for the love of god does “make meaning” mean?

For me, it has to do with people. All of our beautiful code, technology and technical advancements mean nothing if they don’t do something meaningful for humans. Even though we might not like that messy, emotional humans get in the way of our programs, it will always be that way. I tend to get lost in the details of what I’m doing and lose the sense that in the end, if it didn’t improve someone’s life however marginally, it didn’t matter. You can make beautiful code that is completely worthless and completely meaningless. To put it bluntly, I’d rather write terrible code that improved our ability to connect on a human level than write the fastest, most elegant routine for solving a Sudoku puzzle. When I’m at the end of my life I’ll be thinking about the human interaction I’ve had and certainly not that elegant piece of code.

So there's my bed and I'm lying in it. I DO hope to make money of course, but I hope to make money as a by product of doing what I love.

What’s meaningful to you? Figure that out and then do it with everything you’ve got.

It’s the only thing that matters.