Raise the hand you are not scrolling this article with, if you have read at least one productivity tip in the last two weeks. This includes courses that sell you the dream of taking control of your text editor or IDE to the extent as if you were playing real time strategy games with it.
Keep your hand up in the air if these tips have ever made you worried about your own performance. Keep your hand up if you sometimes think you are not good enough just because you are not squeezing out all your resources, all your time, all your computational power. If you feel guilty for not performing according to your standards, keep your hand up nice and high!
My bet is that at least one out of two readers of mine has their hands up right now, either mentally, or physically. Why is that? I will explain in a moment, while I am asking you to give your hand a rest if it is still in the air.
Give yourself some relief
I know that many of you may be concerned about productivity. Why? Because you clicked on this article, that’s why!
If you are concerned about your productivity, chances are, you feel you should be doing something that you are not doing. In other words, you are hard on yourself for not living up to your own expectations.
Working towards a goal you set yourself and exercising discipline is a great thing. Beating yourself up every single day is really horrible. Throughout my career, I have seen a lot of people who are so hard on themselves that they literally beat themselves up on a daily basis. It is now time to take a decision to end this suffering here and now.
My first client
My first ever client aced almost two semesters worth of subjects in one. This guy managed to learn all sorts of disciplines. He often stayed awake until 2AM to tackle a challenge, just to wake up the day after to continue tackling challenges. During his holidays, he felt guilty of falling back. Throughout his first jobs, he made sure he mastered every little detail of his field.
The problems came when he tackled something unexpected. Instead of breathing deeply and enjoying the challenge, he became self-conscious. He only came with a great idea once he got some alone time to think and study. For this reason, he felt insecure. He always felt that others will figure out that he has flaws.
As a result, others who were less self-conscious, got better opportunities with better companies. My client chickened out from diving really deep into a topic. He could almost never achieve flow, because he was continuously reminding himself of not being quick enough with learning. In his mind, he almost fell behind his own schedule.
While my client was suffering because of his own mind, his peer group was more successful. One of them became a successful day trader with his programming skills. Others started lucrative businesses. Some of his friends became well paid experts. A below average student of his university became a CEO, another became a vice president.
My client felt he was not doing his job well enough, so he beat himself up even more, like an electrocuted lab rat running faster and faster. He did not realize the problem was not productivity. The problem was lack of effective work.
As I am writing these lines, I am looking at my first client. As I am taking down the mirror next to my computer, you may also realize that my first client was me. My younger self to be exact, until I took charge of my career.
Enter the abyss of productive procrastination
What did I do wrong exactly?
First of all, I did not give two flying fucks about the sustainability of my journey. Had I continued beating myself up until today, I would have looked like Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ great novel, The Christmas Carol. Frugal. Bitter. Stone hearted. Efficient, but not effective. Penny-wise, but pound-fool.
When beating myself up, it was not something physical. Emotional terror is a lot worse. Our mind tends to play weird games with us. Why? Because our mind is millions of years old, and it is not designed to make us happy. It is designed to make us survive. Happiness is our job. And most software developers are not good at that job, because we let our minds take over our every day lives.
Even though we are not fighting for survival, we still act like it. Just look at people getting stressed out about learning Vue, React, ES2017 async-await, promises, new languages, new libraries, asking for Scrum when they don’t get enough structure, asking for Kanban when they work with Scrum, asking for Jira when they have GitHub, asking for GitLab when they have Jira, and so on, and so forth.
These little quests keep us busy. The problem is, without a mission and without clarity of where we are heading towards, being busy does not lead us anywhere. So next time you consider learning Dvorak to improve your typing speed, think twice. Is this skill essential for your future? Or are you just putting the most important things off?
I highly recommend that you design your career instead of just making a living. If you need help with the tools required for designing a fruitful software developer career, read Chapter 3 of my book, The Developer’s Edge.
There are tasks in our lives that are worth one dollar an hour. Other tasks are worth ten, a hundred, and a few selected tasks may be worth a thousand dollars an hour. In our lifetime, we might even come across a few very special tasks that make us earn five or six figures an hour.
Let me show you one five or six figure task common in most peoples’ lives. Once I interviewed for a position. The job was mine. I did a damn good job at the interview, making all my potential managers and even the CTO want me in their team. I was just one call away from finalizing the deal.
The HR manager called me to finalize the deal. Had I beaten myself up all week before the call, my self-esteem would have suffered to the point that I would have been happy to accept this great opportunity. Fortunately for me, I had total clarity and an inner peace of mind. Therefore, when it came to accepting the salary I got in my offer, I countered. I started negotiating with her for a couple of minutes. This negotiation on the phone earned me an extra five figures in about five minutes.
What was my hourly rate? Let’s calculate with $10k in 5 minutes. Which is an hourly rate of $120k for the duration of that five minutes, discounting all potential future raises and other long term effects. These opportunities do not come by every week, yet when they do, it is worth doing a damn good job at them.
Had I been busy learning vue.js to tell my mind that I increase the chances of my own survival, I would have never used this opportunity to make money.
The tyranny of the shoulds
I encourage you to take out a piece of paper or a text editor right now. If you choose a text editor, I don’t care how efficient it is. In fact you are better off using something very basic.
Write down all the things your brain is telling you to do for the coming months. Start each item with “I should”. For instance,
- I should learn Chinese to increase my chances,
- I should get an MBA,
- I should become a Zend certified engineer,
- I should do exactly what my manager says even though I could save a lot of money for the company with my idea.
I don’t want to prime you for items, just go for things that are true in your own life.
Then for each item, ask yourself: Do I really want this in my life? Why do I want this thing in my life? Is it me who wants it, or am I meeting someone else’s expectations?
While answering these questions, think about the effects of delayed gratification. Sometimes we have to discipline ourselves to do painful things that will support us in the long run. Working towards a goal is encouraged. What we really want to get rid of is baggage that does not serve us. This baggage is created in our minds for the purpose of survival.
Also note that some things may be really pleasurable for you in the short run, but they hurt you in the long run. For instance, your mind may ask you to look at Facebook every ten minutes. You gain instant pleasure at the expense of loss of focus and willpower. Do you want this in your life? You decide.
If you are sure you don’t want an item in your life, perhaps you can consider cleaning house. Once you feel an item does not serve you, ask yourself the following questions:
- Should I just let it go?
- Could I just set myself free?
Once you have decided that you don’t want this item in your life, cross it out. You may feel some lightness in your body each time you do it.
Once you are done with your full list, give yourself an applause. You may consider going in front of the mirror, and tell yourself: “I am sorry for all the problems and suffering I caused you.”
Being disciplined to work towards our goals is a great thing. Let’s not mix it with being hard on ourselves on a daily basis. The former makes us fulfilled. The latter is a trick our minds play on us for survival.
Focus on things that are good for you in the long run. Recognize things that hurt you, and eliminate them. This way, you can free a lot of time.
You can also choose the path of becoming more productive at an expense of focusing on what is important. By choosing brute force productivity, your mind will think it maximizes your chance of survival. The sad truth though is that your life may become as enjoyable as the life of a rodent spinning a wheel in a laboratory as fast as he can. If you want to avoid this destiny, practice the art of letting go.
If you need more help with your career, check out The Developer’s Edge. If you liked this article, please do share it by clicking one of the share buttons below.