What To Do, What To Do

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Since switching away from being an employee to working as an independent contractor at the beginning of the year, and then incorporating myself in April to essentially do the same thing, keeping my todo list in order has always been a challenge. Maybe it wasn’t easy before, but at least I had to show up somewhere from 9-ish to 5-ish and pretend to be working, which actually helped me to be productive for the most part. And actually showing up seemed to get me on a roll some days, and I’d stay well into the night just to finish something.

But in the past year, I’ve had to dig deep and find that self-discipline and self-motivation, only to discover it’s just not there sometimes. Some days, some weeks even, the work I need to do and have to do and should have done the last week or the week before just gets pushed aside — by routine tasks around the house, by side projects that are more interesting,or just by stupid little distractions. Other times I just don’t feel well or would rather spend time with friends or family, which are at least more valid excuses. Sometimes I’d rather write about it here than do it, but at least I’m here and thinking, and my mind’s engaged. That’s a start…right?

But it seems the only thing consistent is that I fail miserably at time management and keeping a set schedule. I find some amazing streaks of motivation and productivity, only to swing back in the opposite direction before I know it. When I look at how I’ve done in the past year, this article sums it up nicely:

So how do I handle it? Poorly. My days are like eBay shipments: a few tangible things and a whole lot of packing peanuts. I obviously need help being the boss of me.

After reading those lines, it’s relieving to know I’m not the only one. I also need to get it together, somehow. I might also need to read a book or two on the topic. I too, procrasturbate. (That’s my new favorite word of the day, or however long it takes until I run across another word I like.)

So what have I learned so far, and what should I do differently? I’m still trying to figure it all out. And apparently the guy who wrote the article is still working on it himself. For me, at least I’ve found two good rules for me that are beneficial, though not the entire solution to my lack of motivation problems.

#1 – Ride The Wave

Or go with the flow. Or let the momentum carry me. When I really get into a problem and start finding a solution, I can’t stop. I work late, even all night, and might catch the sunrise by the time I’m crawling into bed. I can’t shut my mind off at the end of the day and pick it back up early the next morning. If I try to tell myself I’ll just go to sleep and get up early and finish, it never happens. If I stop, I’ve lost the momentum and all the thoughts bouncing around in my head that are just about to align and show me the way.

And on the flip side, when I really need to slow down, I should slow down. Relax. Take my conscious mind away from the problem for a bit, while my subconscious gears still keep churning. And sometimes the answer is right there, as soon as I get back.

#2 – Just Do Something

Anything. Don’t just sit there. When I’m in the middle between needing downtime and being productive, I need to find something to help me get started. If it’s reading some tech news or working on a side project, I’m at least thinking. The gears may be creaking and moving slowly, but at least starting them turning might give me the momentum to keep going. The last thing I should be doing is sitting and soaking in whatever is on TV or amusing myself with the stupid video of the day. So cats can flush toilets. Wow. Maybe I should teach mine tricks. I digress.

I’m still a long way away from becoming the zen master of this self-employed contractor lifestyle. But I’ll get there, somehow, with inspiration and ideas from people I know and articles I read. Like this one, that inspired me to write this post: