The Effortless Way to Stop Procrastinating Your Side Hustle
How the right lists can change your approach to work.
Let's be honest, we have all put off some project for one reason or another. Side hustles are extremely easy to put on the back burning as other more time-sensitive priorities take the lead, thus making it especially important to work on them when we have the time and not put them off to some future fictional tomorrow.
1. Find the Why
I find that I procrastinate three types of tasks: something new, something boring, or lots of somethings. New things can lead to the wilderness of not knowing what to do next, which is daunting. Long repetitive tasks are just plain boring and why work on some boring project when there's a new Netflix original. Finally, having a ton of work to do (lots of somethings) can be stressful, paralyzing, and easier to just ignore than face head-on. I found that creating lists helps in all three cases, and tailoring the list to each type is like a super boost to productivity.
2. Make a list
After determining what kind of something I’m putting off, I take a pad of paper and write down what I need to do as broken up below:
- Something New: List out the general steps to serve as a roadmap. If I need to solve a bug then I might write down: research issue, test around with the situation, try a new solution, test solution, apply feedback, then submit. The point is not to be too specific but serves as a written guide to help the transition from each step to the next. This happened to me when I was publishing my first app. I wasn’t sure how to publish an app so my steps were quite simple: build a quick app, look up how to publish, make any alterations to the app as needed, follow publishing steps, research further if needed. That's it, four steps but they served as a road map to keep me on track and give me a sense of direction when I got lost in blog posts about publishing apps.
- Something Boring: Simple, list out how many times you have to do something. If that fixes the same bug in 20 different places then I draw out 20 circles and cross them off as I go. When I was trying to get an Etsy store off the ground I had to upload each design to a Print-on-demand website, write a description and sync it to Etsy. All three steps sound awful to this day. So I drew out nine rows of three circles (one for each design) and got started. After a while, I found I didn’t even check off the bubbles but having them there to see progress helped me to get started.
- Lots of Somethings: List out everything, and I try to then gauge by what's the smallest thing and start there. Then at least some things are getting done. After all the small things are out of the way, the plate of remaining tasks can be broken down into the above two categories. If it seems like the tasks are straight-up impossible to achieve, then I set very specific breakpoints. Usually, I set a few tasks that I have to get done today before I can take a break or just quit for the day. Most of the time, I keep working long after I finished the critical tasks, but telling myself I’m allowed to stop after a few help me to get started.
Why this works
The truth behind motivation is that it comes from action, not some mystic cosmic energy that is only given to the hustlers. The goal of beating procrastination is not to motivate ourselves through the whole process but remove all friction from starting and building momentum to finish a task. This is similar to riding a bike on a path. When you first start you might have to stand up on a pedal to get some momentum but after a while, it is fairly effortless to keep at your speed.
Something New: Transitions are deadly to productivity. When you finish a task you are open to doing anything but with a roadmap, you limit the next options to one. By having a roadmap you can aim to make the next step pre-programmed in your brain, giving your mind the cue to work. This was something I picked up from The Power of Habit book. In essence, each habit or action is precursed with a cue and finishes with a reward. (Lots of something will speak about the reward stage).
Something Boring: This was a neat trick I learned in High School from the book Study Smart, Study Less. When I needed to memorize facts or fill out worksheets this provided an easy way to visualize my results and has since transitioned to my professional work when I have repetitive tasks I need to complete. Again the goal is to make it easier to start, so if you don’t remember to fill out each bubble along the way that's fine, just remove friction from starting.
Lots of somethings: By starting with smaller items you prime the start, and fuel your motivation to keep going. This building up of easy wins releases a bit of dopamine to keep you going. This in turn fuels your brain for harder tasks and longer periods of focus.
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