Monthly Archives: August 2011

11 Reasons You Always Procrastinate (and How to Stop)

As I mentioned recently, I talk a lot about procrastination and distraction because that’s currently my big stumbling block.  Judging by the comments on those posts, I’m not alone.

But why are we such chronic procrastinators?

Lately, I’ve been trying to identify why I feel the urge to click away from what I should be doing and go do something — anything — else.  And I think I can identify a few clear patterns.

Does any of this sound familiar?

1. Facebook and Twitter are fun.  Damn them, social media channels are a far more enjoyable way to fritter away my day than any actual work could possibly be.  And when you work in social media (like I do), you’re doubly screwed by this fact.

2. My tabs are open.  If I keep seeing that new (1) in my Gmail, Twitter or Facebook tab, I’m going to click over and see what’s new.  Because I like new, and I like validation.  And that (1) could be anything.  I’ve said before that I loved college because I knew anything could happen there, on any day, which made every day an adventure.  Sadly, the (1) is as close as I get to that feeling today.  It’s a tantalizing future in parentheses, dozens of times a day.  How can I not click?

3. Page loads kill my day.  You’d be surprised how often I click out to Twitter, Facebook or email instead of waiting for something as simple as a blog preview or a video render — which might take as little as 5 seconds — to load.  Because those are 5 seconds I could use to catch up on a Twitter conversation I’ve been half-having… except that 5 seconds turns into 20 minutes, and then it’s time for lunch, and then a nap, and then…

4. I feel obliged to be entertaining.  I have nearly 6000 Twitter followers, and I like to imagine they’re hanging on my every word, rejoicing when I share something amusing or meaningful that brightens their otherwise mundane days.  (I wish I could say I get the same value from them, but in fact, I rarely check my timeline because I’m too busy trying to find things to share with them. If I read more tweets, I’d never accomplish anything.)

5. Actual work requires more mental capital than distractions do.  Accomplishing something meaningful in my day will likely require effort, dedication and tunnel vision.  But racking up a bunch of “quick touch points” in social media seems like I accomplished something, doesn’t it?  It’s easier to get that 10% dopamine rush repeatedly throughout the day than it is to bear down and work my way to 100% through “actual” work.

6. The endless loop.  Check my multiple accounts on Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Favstar, blogs, etc.  Leave comments, answer questions, ask a few.  Find something to share.  See who else shared it.  Answer an email.  Refresh.  Repeat.  (All day.)

7. No consequences.  Really, if I did want to just watch YouTube videos all day, I could.  I’m self-employed.  If I want to screw myself and scramble to pay next month’s rent, I can.  It’s my choice.  Social media is freedom, and I naturally feel obligated to milk it for all it’s worth.  If I had an employer who was holding me accountable for my workday, I’d be using social media as a reward or an escape between deadlines, rather than elevating it to its current status as a time-sucking lifestyle.  But, as my own boss, I have a patriotic right to watch one more YouTube video.  That’s why we fight the wars, isn’t it?

8. Too many stepping stones, not enough Lambada. Let’s say I have a goal, and reaching it requires me to accomplish 5 small tasks, in a specific order.  If I won’t feel the rush of a payoff until I do all 5, I’m less likely to start on 1 than I am to spend the next hour dicking around on Facebook, because not enjoying those first 4 steps will feel the same whether I start them now or later.

9. If I don’t have a plan that’s guaranteed to succeed, I have less reason to follow it.  If those 5 steps lead to me getting paid, then I’m going to follow them (eventually).  But if, as a freelancer, those 5 steps might lead to me getting paid or they might not, then following them is a crapshoot.  I might as well just browse Chainsawsuit for ten minutes instead...

10. I don’t even know what the next step is.  I may have a mile-long to do list, but if step 1 for each of those tasks isn’t clearly spelled out, I have no clear understanding of what I should be doing next.  And taking the time to figure out that whole process is a process, and that takes time.  But liking my friend’s adorable puppy photo on Facebook?  I understand the ROI on that

11. Writing about distraction is a distraction.  When I blog about distraction, I get a huge traffic spike.  Tell me that’s not a fucked up Pavlovian habit to get hooked on.

So, what do I — and we — do?

We kill it.

All of it.

Three Ways to Blow It All Up and Feel Like an Action Hero

[NOTE: I feel compelled to point out that, as I typed the above sentence, I felt the urge to click away and cycle through my social media tabs.  Seriously.  While writing a post about distraction, I had to fight the urge to check in on Facebook to see if I was missing out on something more important.  I swear, this social media mindset is insidious...]

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  And he gets shit done.

Here’s how.

A) Grab the Nearest Problem and Solve It.

My girlfriend and I work notoriously poorly together, because I’m a process-based person and she’s a “do what’s closest at hand” kind of person.  I can be concocting a strategy for accomplishing a massive project and she’ll derail me by asking me to clean the bathroom because we have guests coming in five days.  My mind is boggled by her inability to focus on the long view, and she’s irritated by my reliance on lists and processes (which I spend more time rewriting than carrying out).

Funny enough, some philosophies indicate she may be right.

Remember how I said I’m less likely to start step 1 of a project if the process (or payoff) isn’t clear?  If I were really smart, I’d just dive in and get started anyway, because by doing so, I’d be one step closer to success or failure, rather than sitting here staring at it.  And by that rationale I can fail 4 times and succeed once in the time it would take me to write another, “better” to-do list.

B) Work without the Internet.

It’s no secret that I get more done when I’m not online.  I also think more clearly when I’m not plugged in.  I actually used to enjoy editing video at Starbucks in the days before free wi-fi because I knew I could sit there for a few hours and not be able to check my email.

If you’re as socially-addicted as I am, nuke it.  Work without it.  Go someplace where there’s no web connection.  Leave your smartphone at home.  Block your most-visited websites.  Yes, it’s extreme, but if your problem is as extreme as it increasingly seems like ours is, you’re not going to put that fire out with a flyswatter.

3) Cut All Your Losses Except One.

One of the reasons I’m so distracted is because I’m overwhelmed.  I’m juggling half a dozen separate ventures right now, all of which are competing for my time, attention, energy, expertise and resources.  Some of them pay, some of them could, and any of them could be something I could do full time… but none of them are.  Yet.

And so I do all of them half-assedly.

Really, I should kill one.  Or all of them but one.

If I did that, I’d reduce my to-do list exponentially.  I’d only be responsible for one route to success, which I could commit to fully, rather than hedging my bets and basing my expectations on what I can do with 20% of my time, rather than 100% of my time.

Paradoxically, the more I have to do, the more I embrace distractions because I start to feel like those distractions are “my choice,” rather than what they really are, which is “the wall I’m building between myself and success.”  If I won at one of the ventures I’m fueling, I wouldn’t need distractions to create cheap thrills; I’d have the real thing.

And who knows what that could lead to?

So, if you want to do more, start doing less.  But do all of it.

The Fourth Option

Also, I have identified a fourth solution which I haven’t mentioned yet, because I’m a few weeks away from being able to discuss it clearly.  I have too many variables in play right now to make a proclamation just yet, but I strongly suspect this approach will work for me, and maybe for you, too.  So stay tuned…

… but not too closely.  You have work to do.

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Is Your Blog Trying to Tell You Something?

Last week, I blogged about why I’m ruthlessly downsizing my life — a post which, I should note, is now responsible for almost one quarter of my total blog traffic in the past 30 days.  Judging by those numbers, I’m not the only person who needs the occasional wake-up call.

But am I tuning mine out?

When I shared that post on Facebook, Daniel Waldman commented, “It’s funny, ’cause I feel like you’ve been writing this same blog post since I met you almost 2 years ago.”

He’s right.  But what does that actually mean?

My Skull Is My Favorite Echo Chamber

I blog a lot about the things I do wrong, and one of the things I do wrong most often is accept excuses from myself instead of accomplishments.  So that means I try to write blog posts that provide advice (or cautionary tales) to my audience, but also to myself.  It’s as though the act of organizing my thoughts into blog form is a continuous attack on the same frustrations I keep wrestling with, week after week.

Looking back through the past two years of this blog, you’ll see posts like…

… and more.

All of these posts center on the recurring themes of better time management and more propulsive motivation, because I realize those are the two weakest links in my own chain of personal habits.

No matter how great my intentions are, no matter how dedicated I am to my work ethic, if I dawdle too long in the field of questions and distractions, I’ll start to become complacent.  I won’t push myself, because in that frame of mind, I’ve accepted the good of what is, rather than the great that could be.

This, I think, is one of my greatest flaws.  So it’s no wonder that I keep returning to it.  I’m becoming the Woody Allen of blogging: everything I write is secretly a confession of my own sins.

And yet, I think I accidentally stumbled across a solution today.

The problem is, I can’t tell you what it is yet.

But in a few weeks, once a thing I can’t currently talk about happens, I’ll come back to this discussion and maybe I’ll have an answer for myself (and for anyone out there who’s like me… which, I’m guessing, is a lot of you).

Either way, I’ll get another blog post of out it.  (Surprise, surprise, right?)

So, which themes do you find yourself returning to most often in your own blogging?

What do you think you’re trying to tell yourself?

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Why I’m Ruthlessly Downsizing My Life

I’m a process-based person.  I love lists.  I also love a good curriculum, because I thrive on following directions (or improvising my way past them) and on meeting or exceeding other people’s expectations.

So, last night, I did something shocking — to me, anyway.

I removed Sports Illustrated from my bookmarks toolbar.

For Want of a Bookmark, the Battle Was Lost…

If you’re not me, this doesn’t seem shocking.  But if you are me, and you’ve had Sports Illustrated bookmarked on every browser you’ve used since 2000, this is quasi-apocalyptic.

Why the change?

Because I’m sick of not succeeding.

See, I’ve been observing myself a lot lately, and I’ve noticed something odd about my work habits:

I don’t have any.

Instead, what I have are habits for avoiding work.

For example, I have a toolbar filled with bookmarks that are supposed to save me time, but they really just make my daily distractions more attractive.  “Of course I have time to read an article on Grantland,” I’ll say.  But I don’t.  Not really.  Not if I actually want to get everything on my to-do list — or even a handful of those items — done.

(Which is why I just removed Grantland from my toolbar too.)

Great, So I’m Becoming a Luddite. Why Bother?

Because I’ve noticed something really disturbing about myself: I’ve trained myself to expect pleasure from distractions.

I’m pretty sure you do this too.  Instead of buckling down and getting something done and then rewarding yourself with a break, you take the break first.  You procrastinate, because you’ve convinced yourself that there’s always more time.

But there’s not.

I have some things on my to-do list that have been written there since I lived in Pittsburgh, and yet I moved to Baltimore in 2009.  That means those to-dos are ancient.  And, sadly, they haven’t even become irrelevant in the ensuing two years.  They’re still totally valid.  I could accomplish them tomorrow and tangibly improve my quality of life.

Or, I could refresh Facebook and see if anyone liked something I shared.

Same thing, right?

Pavlov’s Dog Would Have LOVED Twitter

The tiny burst of dopamine I get from interactions on social platforms carries a disproportionate weight in my mind, because…

  • I work in social media, so it’s nice to know I’m doing it right.
  • I freelance, so most of my socializing occurs online.
  • I enjoy having my thoughts, ideas and punchlines validated by others.

And since the business of social media and the personal side of social media are so often indistinguishable, I can tweet for an hour and reasonably convince myself that I just simultaneously did work and took a break… but I won’t feel fulfilled by either measure, so I’ll just do it again.

… and again.

Every Time You Tweet, You Change the World

Or you could.

Because you never know how something you said, made or shared across one of your social channels will be received.

Will this be the time I become wildly popular, or connect with someone who has real cultural cachet, or accidentally stumble headfirst into a job opportunity or social clubhouse that no one else knows about, all because of something witty or relevant that I mentioned on CoTweet?

It could be.

Oh.

It’s not?

Well, I’ll just try again…

Change Your Stars One Point at a Time

Ultimately, a process is only as useful to a person as her habits will allow it to be, so the quality of our habits is in many ways a more important compass for our success than the quality of our process itself.

Now, let’s be clear: I’m not crazy enough to believe that removing a few bookmarks will in any way keep me from distracting myself from my actual goals.  Thanks to the magic of Firefox, I really just need to type “si” into my browser’s address field and it’ll pull up all the Sports Illustrated pages I could ever never want.  Those bookmarks were, in many ways, redundant.

But their absence is intended to change my behavior.

Because now, instead of clicking one button and being whisked away to Never Never Getting Any Work Done Land, I actually have to type letters into my browser.  And I’m betting the act of consciously typing even one letter will ring whichever time management alarm in the back of my brain that gets so conveniently short-circuited whenever I click on those bookmark buttons.

This is just one of several ways I’m streamlining my life and establishing new processes to refocus myself on the things my younger self thought I would have accomplished by now.  I’ll revisit this topic again soon, once I have enough experience to know if my new habits and processes are working (for me) well enough to be worth sharing.

In the end, while I’m really sick of not succeeding, I’m even sicker of not failing.

I mean, if I were succeeding? Great!  And, if I were failing, at least I’d know I was doing something wrong, and then I’d have an opportunity to change courses or improve.

But neither succeeding nor failing means I’m just treading water.  And since that’s not a particularly enthralling way to spend my life, I’m going to change my habits in order to change my direction.

After all, it takes just as much energy to run in place as it does to run forward.

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Twitter Spam Alert: All These Hot Chicks Probably Don’t Really Love Their iPhones

Normally, I don’t care when I get followed by Twitter spam accounts, because Twitter is the one social media platform where users are still basically in control of their own attention.  As long as I don’t follow a spammer back, I run very little risk of ever having to see their pointless b.s. in my stream.

But when I woke up today and saw I’d gained 40-ish followers overnight, something about that seemed “off.” So I checked, and I saw a list of new followers that looked like this:

Twitter Spam

All spam.

(At first, I thought the “film critic / blogger” one was legit, but as I scrolled further down, I saw that exact same bio replicated numerous times.)

Now, as much as I think the law of attraction is bullshit, I also think that inventing your own digital cadre of spambots isn’t exactly “living the law” in the first place.  I haven’t read The Secret, but I’d be shocked if its core principle turned out to be “create a series of automated aliases that tweet about iPhones…”

Also, I think I know what may have triggered this spamflux: I tweeted about Steve Jobs’s resignation yesterday, and that might have been the pebble in the stream that these digital piranhas seized upon like ghosts hunting a non powered-up Pac-Man.  If there’s one thing spammers do well, it’s implement code that reeks of lethargic desperation.

I’m not sure who’s responsible for this, but needless to say, they’re pretty bad at doing whatever it is they’re trying to do.  Which, presumably, is make a lot of money.  Somehow.  Or something.

In fact, this is the kind of comically pathetic “empire building” that I might have once profiled on Marketing Douchebags, which makes me think it may be time to dust that site off again.  Perhaps we’d all benefit from some snarky spamspotting, to help us stay warm and fuzzy as autumn approaches….

Oh, and to all those cute girl geeks who just love their iPhones? If you’re all real, and this us some kind of proactive marketing cult? Uh… sorry, but I’m still not interested.

I have a Droid.

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Part 1 of My 2-Part “Web Series Advice” Interview on Web Video Chefs

Amani Channel, host of the online video magazine Web Video Chefs, interviewed me last week about my long, strange trip as a web series pioneer. In part one of our 2-part interview, we talk about my shows Something to Be Desired (which I created in 2003) and The Baristas (which was spun off from STBD in 2010), as well as the changes our young industry has gone through in its first decade, and what led me to start creating web video in the first place.

Thanks to Amani for being a clever and courteous interviewer!  He didn’t even ask me to make my hair look like hell, but I did so anyway.  (It’s the only indie cred I have…)

Look for part 2 soon, in which I share startup tips for aspiring web video creators and cover the topic of crowdfunding (like how to use Kickstarter).

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