In the past four episodes of the ActiveGrowth podcast, we've dug deep into the topic of entrepreneurial procrastination.
From forming highly productive habits to resisting the allure of bright-shiny-object syndrome, we've covered many tools that can help you finish projects (and grow your business) faster.
In this episode, we're looking at another massive productivity booster/challenge: sticking to deadlines.
Listen in to discover how you can set deadlines for yourself and ship, without putting the work off until the very last minute.
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Shane Melaugh: Welcome to Episode 11 of the ActiveGrowth Podcast. This is a continuation of our series that we call Your Job is to Ship. We have done a series on this and we're continuing the series on this because shipping, the ability to not just start projects but deliver them, the ability to finish projects, to get them out there into the world, it's one of the most fundamentally important things you can master as an entrepreneur. It's also one of the things that we've seen many, many entrepreneurs get stuck on. It is so important that we often refer to shipping as an entrepreneurial superpower. If you get good at this, it just has positive effects on every area of your business. Now I want to get started right away with today's episode. Very quickly, let me just tell you two things.
First of all, you can go to activegrowth.com/11 to get the show notes and resources and the course that goes with this episode and this series. Secondly, to set the tone for what we're talking about today, let me read a short quote by Henry Rollins: "There's no such thing as spare time. There's no such thing as free time. No such thing as downtime. All you got is lifetime." We are talking about this topic of shipping because it is a waste of your lifetime if you're unable to finish your projects. You started your entrepreneurial journey for good reasons. You have strong reasons to be doing this and the prize that you can get for being good at this: financial independence, location independence, doing fulfilling work, making a change in other people's lives and the world, is worth getting and it's a tragic waste of lifetime to not be good at this. This is why this topic is so important. With that said, let's dive right in. I'm Shane Melaugh.
Hanne Vervaeck: I am Hanne Vervaeck.
Shane Melaugh: In this episode we're talking about something that if used right is a productivity in the shipping superpower. It's related to what we talked about in Episode Seven which was the idea of resourcefulness. As a quick recap, we tend to always want more resources and that's where bright shiny object syndrome comes from. We want the best tools, we want more tools, we want ideally more money and the bigger team and so on, but what we don't realize is that getting these extra resources doesn't necessarily help us reach our goals faster. In fact, getting these resources and being in this resource chasing mindset can actually hinder our progress because it's when we have very little, that we become clever and resourceful. In Episode Seven we talked about resourcefulness in terms of chasing things, tools, systems, this kind of stuff, but of course there is one thing that is the ultimate and the most misused resource, and that is time. The rule of resourcefulness applies to time as well in a big way.
Hanne Vervaeck: By now you might have guessed what we are talking about in this episode. The thing we are talking about is deadlines. Why? Because deadlines are just ridiculously effective to get things done. Now, there is one big problem and that's what we are going to try to give a solution for in this episode, is that your dream doesn't have a deadline, because usually deadlines go something like this: you're at school and you have a test that you have to take. Then even though you know that that test is coming for months in advance, you're still waiting until the very last moment to open your books and to start studying, and then to pull an all-nighter to be able to actually take the exam. This is something that just everybody does it. I don't know many students, I don't know any students actually, who actually were three days before the exam like, "Yeah. I'm perfectly fine. I could take it today." No.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah. "I'm so relaxed. I'm so relaxed about this exam tomorrow," right? That's what everyone says.
Hanne Vervaeck: Yeah. That's what no student said ever. The same is true in your daily life. I don't know about you but when you have to file your taxes, it's like one of those things. You know that it's coming, it's always at the same period of time, and France is somewhere at the end of May, and you're not finished doing that in the beginning of May. It's the very last day and I'm even more extreme because the very last day on paper is somewhere at the end of May, and then you actually have two extra weeks in June if you do it online, so you can be sure that I will file my taxes somewhere in June probably at 22:55 timing in the evening when at midnight is the final deadline.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah. This is just normal human behavior. What these examples have in common is that there's a real deadline or there's an externally imposed deadline. It's the normal human behavior to wait until the last possible moment to learn for the test or to prepare your taxes and file them, but what we have here and what helps us make this kind of superhuman effort is that there's a real deadline that we cannot control. If the test is tomorrow, the test is tomorrow and I can't change that. That's where this thing happens where in one night or maybe in the last two days before the test we do this inhuman amount of work that we would have never thought possible, and actually if you look at the amount of work that was done in that short period of time just before the deadline, you could look at that and say, "Well, if I had spread this out over just like one week, I could have actually been so relaxed about it. I could have done this in a fraction of my available time."
If I try to do the same thing a week before the deadline, I cannot get myself to make this kind of effort. In this sense I think that the power of deadlines, the power of deadlines to amplify our ability to do work is one of the very few useful things that we learn in school, although it's not taught on purpose but we still do learn it in school eventually.
Hanne Vervaeck: Now you were saying that this is normal behavior and it's actually so normal and so common that there's actually a law about this. It's called Parkinson law, and the first time that this term was used was in 1955 in an article about working behavior. This law says that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. That is why you cannot have a test by the end of the week and think that on Monday you're going to study for this test and be finished studying. You will use the whole week to get it done and like you said, at the very end of the time, you will make superhuman efforts to actually study and get the test finished and be sure that you're ready. It's just something that's very common to everybody. It's not something that's rare. It's not something that you have to be ashamed of, but luckily there are some things that we can do.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah. Entrepreneurs are unfortunately not excluded from this, so just because you decided to become an entrepreneur, this effect of procrastinating to the very last moment and then doing all the work all at once doesn't go away, but there is an extra problem if you are your own boss and you run your own business.
Hanne Vervaeck: The biggest problem is that nobody forces you. I think everybody understands how external deadlines can be super powerful, but how can you actually make yourself use the power of deadlines to actually get things done in your own business? We are not the only ones who ask this question. There are studies that have been done that give us a clue as to what we can do. One of these studies is a study that was done in MIT, and it's done by Dan Ariely, which is the writer of the book Predictably Irrational. He was testing if external deadlines are more efficient than self-imposed deadlines. In order to test this, he splits a group of students in two different groups and they had to finish a paper by the end of the trimester. The first group got three imposed deadlines during the trimester, so after one month, after two months, after three months they had to give certain amount of work already in the mean time. They couldn't wait until the very last moment to finish their paper.
The second group could choose their own deadline. They could either also set those deadlines at even timing, spacing it out over the trimester, or they could choose to only give themself a deadline at the end of the trimester, but basically they had to announce it in the beginning of the trimester and they had to stick to it. They would actually lose points on their paper if they didn't stick to their self-imposed deadlines, so that's important.
Now, the thing is that group one got better grades than group two. The group that got intermittent evenly-spaced deadlines got better grades, and the second group had worse grades. Then they started looking: is the problem the self-imposed or is the problem that they didn't space out their work and so they had to rush at the end and they didn't have enough time to finish. The whole idea of at the end you work so good that you can actually write a paper in two weeks rather than three months. When they took a look at the second group, so the group with the self-imposed deadlines, they noticed that people who actually evenly spaced out their own deadlines did as well as the imposed deadline group. The problem was with the people who waited until the very end and who set deadlines for themselves only at the end of the trimester. This is actually encouraging, because it means that external deadlines are as efficient as self-imposed deadlines, if you can make yourself stick to those deadlines.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah. I think an important point here is that there was still an external factor. We can clearly see that splitting this work up into ... adding these milestones instead of just one final deadline, helped all of the students in this group, but at the same time it depends on how you're being held accountable because even though the students who did well in group number two chose their own deadlines, they decided themselves that they would have these milestones. There was still an external factor which is the deduction of points if they didn't stick to their self-chosen deadlines. It's a bit of both. We can see that there's clearly a better way to do things, there's clearly a method setting these milestones that helps us produce better work, but it also depends on who is holding us accountable and how can we make these deadlines actually matter.
Hanne Vervaeck: Exactly. Those are already a few clues as to how to set good deadlines. The accountability, we'll get back to that, but for sure especially here in the group, it was very important. About the timing, about making those intermediate deadlines rather than having one big deadline, we'll also get back to that and the importance of it. There are other things that we can do to actually set good deadlines and it doesn't matter what the task is or what the time constraint is, how much time you actually have, or even who is setting the deadlines, if you are setting a deadline for somebody else or if you're having to set a deadline for yourself. There is one very interesting study that I found that was actually showing that the way you express the time that is still available, has a very big impact.
The problem with setting deadlines is that you always have the impression that you still have a lot of time to do something. You always feel as you can still handle certain things in the future, you will still be able to handle those. Probably if you're told about losing pounds before summer so that you could look good at the beach, when you think about that in winter, you'll still have the impression that you have a lot of time before having to lose those pounds.
Shane Melaugh: The good thing is we have so much faith in the future version of ourselves. It's like, "Future me is such a great guy. Right now I just want to eat this donut but future me is totally going to go to the gym. Future me is going to take care of this. Don't worry about it, I'm just going to have this donut right now." That's the attitude, right?
Hanne Vervaeck: Yeah. Future me will take care of this and I can still wait because future me is superhuman.
Shane Melaugh: Exactly.
Hanne Vervaeck: There is this very real problem of disconnect between today and what feels like immediate and what feels like we have to take care of it and the pressure of having this ... this time pressure, and the idea of somewhere later in the future I will have to have this result. To come back to this study, they actually noticed that if you express time that is left in smaller time measurements, it seems closer by. When three months still feels far off, well 90 days feels much closer. This is actually hacking your future self because you will bring your future self closer to the current version, and it will feel more real and you will be able to kick yourself into action sooner.
Shane Melaugh: That's pretty crazy. Simply expressing the time you have before the deadline arrives in smaller units, somehow partially prevents this problem of putting things out for later, I think that's amazing. Also it's kind of true. If you think, "Something is three months from now," that feels a really long time, but if you go, "It's 90 days," that somehow feels like less. It doesn't make any sense but somehow it does, right?
Hanne Vervaeck: Exactly, and three days or 72 hours.
Shane Melaugh: Yes. That's a really interesting point and the action we can take on this right away is that when you do set your deadlines, when you do decide when you want to get something done, set your deadlines in smaller units of time. Definitely in days rather than weeks, definitely in days rather than months, but also I think you can break this down further. First of all, this reminds me of some of Tim Urban's writing on waitbutwhy.com. In case you're not familiar with this website, and with Tim Urban, you definitely have to check that out. We'll put links in the show notes. Let me tell you two examples from this blog.
The first is from a post called Your Life in Weeks. Here, the idea is simply you take a life span of 90 years and you break it down into weeks, and you visualize it. There's basically a visual representation of little boxes, every box represents a week, all stacked up until it makes a lifetime of 90 years. Now you might think, if you think about this, "A life in weeks, that must be so many weeks," that it's probably tiny little pixels, a screen full of tiny pixels, that's a human life, but actually it's not like that at all. When you see this illustration, these are generously sized boxes and all of these boxes that represent weeks fit onto one screen no problem. That is a human life. This is the exact same effect because we tend to think of life as, "Well, I've got a few decades left," depending on how old you are obviously. If you're young you're like, "I've got decades and decades and decades left, why even think about this? Is this forever?"
If you look at it like that, if you look at this single graphic which is a grid of squares and you're already like one-third or half way through all of them, and you see these little dots and every one of them is another week and you can see how finite it is, it's the exact same thing. It's not new information. It's not, "My life is shorter than I thought," it's simply broken down into smaller units. Instead of thinking of it as I've got decades left or I've got years left, you're looking at how many weeks are there. It's the same effect, it shouldn't make a difference, but if you just look at that, it does. We will link to that in the show notes, that's just a really interesting thing. What happens to your brain when you see that is very interesting.
Hanne Vervaeck: Just watch out, don't become depressed. Your timing didn't change.
Shane Melaugh: Yes, it doesn't actually change. It's really just a perspective change. Also from the Wait But Why blog, another concept is 100 Blocks a Day, and this is a similar approach. The idea of 100 Blocks a Day is that on average you're awake for about 16 or 17 hours a day, and that's just about 1,000 minutes. You can think of your day as 100 blocks of 10 minutes each, and I think we can all agree that 10 minutes is not a lot.
Hanne Vervaeck: Jesus.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah, and 100 is like ... it's an amount that's ... an imaginable amount.
Hanne Vervaeck: It's comprehensible, right?
Shane Melaugh: Exactly. It's comprehensible, that's the word I was looking for. If you think of these blocks of 10 minutes like currency, you'd have a small bag of these little blocks of 10 minutes each at the start of the day, and you spend one of them every 10 minutes. Think about how you would treat if you have this clearly visible small pile of blocks dwindling every 10 minutes. You could see how incredibly scarce this resource is and you would really ask yourself, "What do I want to spend these blocks on?" If you get up in the morning you don't think like that about your day. You think like, "Well, it's hours and hours. It takes forever until it's evening. I have all this time." These are just two exercises and visualizations that again, we'll put this in the show notes so you can go check them out because it really helps to see this, visualize and be like, "Wow." Just breaking it down into smaller blocks really changes the way you think about how much time you have.
Now my approach to this is similar but different, I guess. Look at it like this: you're working a certain number of hours each day and let's say you work eight hours a day, which I know ha-ha. If you're an entrepreneur you're like you wish you only worked eight hours a day, right? Most of us have that problem, but let's assume you work eight hours a day. Now, out of that work time, you have some amount of every day has to be done recurring work, and I'm talking about things like ... if you're a solo startup and you're just doing everything yourself, that would be things like customer support, answering customer support tickets, maybe fulfilling orders, probably some manual work involved in your order fulfillment and stuff like that.
Hanne Vervaeck: Going to the post office if you have to send some stuff.
Shane Melaugh: Exactly, which absolutely was part of my life for two years by the way. Yeah, bringing packages to the post office, stuff like that. Maybe in a further advanced startup setting it would be things like answering emails, going to meetings, communicating with your team on Slack and so on. There's this everyday work that actually for most of us takes up quite a lot of time. Once you've done all of that, how much time are you left with? Let's say you do six hours of this everyday has to be done work. That leaves you with two hours a day of what I call project work. Two hours a day of where you can focus on pushing some project forward.
Now, if you think about something that you want to get done one month from now, you have to get real about it and see that you don't have 30 full days to work on this and finish it, because first of all, yeah, you have to sleep and you have to do other things, but even taking your work hours, there's actually a lot of your work time used up with non-project work. There's a lot of busy work and you only have a limited amount of time to actually work on this new project and get it finished.
Now, if you have 30 days to get it done and you have two hours of project work a day on a good day, that means you have a total of 60 hours on this project left, and that's assuming you work on weekends and you don't work on any other projects. More realistically, so if you don't work on weekends, you're down to about 40 hours, and if you have two projects to complete in the same time, you're down to 20 hours per project. Now you're looking at that deadline that's one month away and you like, "I've got 20 hours to finish this and time is ticking."
Hanne Vervaeck: Which is just about a little more than 1,000 minutes.
Shane Melaugh: There you go.
Hanne Vervaeck: Because we were at 16 hours for 1,000 minutes, right?
Shane Melaugh: Yes.
Hanne Vervaeck: Yeah, that could be a really interesting exercise actually, to visualize it for the 10 minutes and have that as your screensaver or as your startup screen for your computer, where you see-
Shane Melaugh: I think we have to make an app for that.
Hanne Vervaeck: Yeah. See, business idea, right there.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah.
Hanne Vervaeck: That would be so interesting because the whole 10 minutes, and I don't know for everybody listening but for me this is like, "Wow. I don't want to spend one of those blocks browsing Facebook or being on YouTube and not even knowing what I watched anymore for three blocks of those," right?
Shane Melaugh: Yeah. This is another important thing. If you, again, with the example I gave breaking a month timeline into 20 hours left, that's another thing there. Before you know it, you've eaten up half an hour just checking Facebook, and how you've got 19 and a half hours left. It's the same thing where it just makes you realize, "Oh my God. What am I doing with my time? How am I spending my time? Can I ever get this done like this?"
Hanne Vervaeck: First thing to set good deadlines, use the shortest possible time unit to express your deadlines. The second thing that you can do to set good deadlines is what we've already seen in the MIT study, that is to set intermittent deadlines, so not wait until the end of your project to set deadlines, but actually break a bigger project down into smaller chunks and set individual deadlines for each chunk of work. It will help you do better job and you will get a better result rather than being stressed by the end of your deadline. Instead of saying, "I want to write an eBook and I have three weeks," so we said you have 21 days instead of three weeks, and rather than waiting those 21 days to finish your eBook, you could say, "I'm going to write three chapters by day seven, three chapters by day 14, and final editing by day 21."
Shane Melaugh: This is something I personally do a lot as well. I like to set really, really short deadlines. I like to set uncomfortably short deadlines. Usually, I like to pick small projects, or maybe in a bigger project like I want to create this course, I break it down into individual lessons, and I like to set myself deadlines in terms of units of things shipped per hour, where it's like, "Okay. I got to get two lessons finished this hour," because it has this effect, it really strips away any kind of excuse where if you give yourself this very short overseeable amount of time and it's an uncomfortable amount of time where you're like, "I'm not sure if I can do this," then it really strips away any excuse and any time wasting you just get after it. For me this is, I guess I take this to an extreme. I really always try to be racing towards the deadline that's almost over already.
Hanne Vervaeck: Those are deadlines that you set for yourself. I like to call those deadlines fake deadlines because the thing is, you set them for yourself, you don't talk about anybody about these deadlines and the thing is, you're the only one who's going to be disappointed if you don't hit that deadline. Now, this could be, "I want to publish an eBook next month," or in 30 days or, "I want to write a sales page by the end of the week," but nobody is holding you accountable. We've already hinted before that having this accountability is one of the ways to make a deadline stick.
Shane Melaugh: Something that gets in our way with self-imposed or fake deadlines is the problem of the special exception. The special exception is a psychological problem where we make different rules for ourselves than for other people, and really the expression of this is that we really believe in our own excuses very, very much. An example of a special exception is let's say there's the meeting room, someone brought donuts, I don't know why I bring donuts up all the time today but, someone brought donuts and everybody's had one and there's one left. If you see someone else take that last donut you're like, "Greedy bastard," but if you take it, you're like, "Well, I was extra hungry. I didn't have lunch today. It's only fair and I worked extra hard so I deserve it." That's the special exception. For you, you can forgive yourself for taking the last donut even though you'd judge someone else for doing the exact same thing.
The same happens with deadlines. You say, "I'm going to publish an eBook next month," and then you don't and you're like, "Well, I was busy and this happened and that happened and this got in the way. Nobody could have done better. It's all fine." It's like we are basically too naive in believing our own excuses.
Hanne Vervaeck: There is a way that you can try to trick yourself into following through on your own deadlines even if you don't use the accountability, and that is by making your environment your ally. We've already talked about the importance of your environment when it comes to not procrastinating and having this very clean desk and a dedicated space and everything, but it also works very well if you want to keep your deadlines, if you want to keep short deadlines especially. One of the ways that you can trick your environment or that you can use your environment to actually meet your deadlines is by going to a cafe that only gives you one free hour of Wi-Fi. You will need to get yourself done in one hour because your environment imposes you to use this one hour the best way possible.
Another way to do this is by planning holidays. This is something that I'm sure everybody also noticed. If you have holidays plans, the moment right before your holidays you will be able to get so much stuff done because again, you have this real deadline. You can use this for yourself. Plan your holidays right after the deadline for a big project and so the thing is, you know that the only way that you will be able to go on holidays and to enjoy your holidays is by actually finishing your project first.
Shane Melaugh: Another smaller scale example of this is if you have hobbies and activities like that that you do. As an example for a long time I used to train martial arts. You have martial arts class in the evening, starts at a certain time, and that creates a real cutoff point where you're like, "Well, at this time," let's say at 6:30, "I have to pack my bags and I have to go to training. I have to get whatever I need to get done today, I have to get done before 6:30." The trick here is also that it makes more of a real deadline because even though the repercussion isn't on the work itself, it's just that your friends are there, they're expecting you to go there, you're expected at this place and there's a specific schedule for that that you can't push, you can't just say, "Today I'm going to go an hour later and I'm just going to finish this up." It's like that's when the class starts you better be there.
That's another way where it can block off a part of your day so you can't at 5:00 in the afternoon tell yourself, "I've still got all day to finish this," because you know, "Actually no. I've got 90 minutes left because then I got to go to martial arts practice."
Hanne Vervaeck: Now, a more efficient way than using your environment is to use blackmail deadlines. Those are deadlines where you set the deadline for yourself, but you also publicly announce the deadline, and you make sure that somebody else will hold you accountable for it. These are in my opinion the most efficient deadlines that you can set as an entrepreneur, because you are still the one who's in charge. You are still the one who is setting the deadline and who is trying to be realistic about the deadlines, but you'll also make sure that you don't only disappoint yourself because as we've just talked about, it's easy to make excuses to yourself and to not stick to what you promise to yourself, but you also made a promise to somebody else. Most people find it way harder to let down somebody else than just themself.
Shane Melaugh: I have two examples of this from my own experience just running my websites and my businesses. One of them is there may be some of you who are listening to this remember this, at one point I did what I call the Sunday update videos where every Sunday I would send out an email to my subscribers with a link to a video that I had recorded with my thoughts about basically what I was currently doing. It was just an update on what's going on in my business, what am I doing, or just random things that had come up in the last week that I thought were valuable to share. As the name implies Sunday update videos, they happen every Sunday, and having this schedule was very useful because all of my subscribers started expecting a video every Sunday. If I didn't post one, I'd get emails of people going, "I don't know. I can't find your email. What happened? It wasn't in my spam folder either." They were just expecting that thing to arrive. That gave me a real kind of externally enforced recurring deadline. I had to get a video done every week.
Another example is to basically write a teaser for your next piece of content in the current piece of content. This is also related to content marketing of course. Teaser for your next email or blog post or video in the current email, a blog post, or video. This is actually good marketing anyway. It's good to have what are called open loops. You basically open up a loop and say, "You better keep watching this space because in the next thing I'm going to resolve some mystery or I'm going to answer some questions that I'm teasing now." This is something that I did also in Episode Seven. We talked about this idea of challenging yourself by restricting what you can do. At one point I wanted to get better at writing and I told myself that I could only create content in the form of emails so that I have to just do more writing, and there I did exactly that.
At the end of every email I had a teaser for what the next email would reveal. Of course the next email doesn't exist yet at that point, but because I added this teaser I already had to think ahead and say, "Okay. What's the next email going to be about, how does it tie in with this one," and then I had to get it done obviously. Those are examples in which you can basically set yourself up with public accountability with content marketing, and the same also goes with projects. I would always announce my new products, my new courses and so on in advance, and we still do that with Thrive Themes. We announce our products in advance, we let people know what's coming, at some point we set a deadline and then we simply have to finish that thing by then, because we've got an audience of people waiting.
Hanne Vervaeck: For the videos, or for the content, I can only agree because that's something that I also did. I decided to publish every Friday in my case and everywhere on my website you could find that I was publishing every Friday. On the opt-in form it was written, "Do you want to receive one video a week on Friday morning?" People really got used to that and like you said, it's weird and you might think that it doesn't happen, but actually people will hold you accountable, even people that you don't know, and they will send you an email being like, "Hey, we didn't receive your video. That's weird." I can agree with that example very much.
Shane Melaugh: Another strategy you can use is to get an accountability partner. Of course if you put a date of, "I'm going to do this by then," on Facebook or something, that can be helpful and it'll help you feel some pressure, but if you don't have an actual audience of people that you can talk to then this might not work really well. If you just post it on Facebook and maybe some of your friends see it and most of them forget about it again, that's not really going to work that well, but it does work even with a small audience by the way. This isn't something where you need, the example we talked about before, you don't need thousands and thousands of people in your audience for this to work. However, on a smaller scale, it's basically a different approach and you can combine the two, is to get an accountability partner.
The idea is that you ask someone to hold you accountable, and that's really it. You can pay a coach to do this. In fact if you have some kind of a productivity or life coach they'll probably do this anyway, but you can also ... you don't have to pay anyone for this, you can simply ask a friend and say, "Look, this is what I want to do by then and hold me accountable for this." Now, this is something that can work extremely well if you have good rapport with someone and you can be each other's accountability partners. What's extremely important here is that you have to have someone who basically doesn't accept your excuses. Like I said before, the special exception, we always believe our own excuses. Do you have to have someone who's not going to put up with that? You have to have someone who's going to give you that tough love and really give you a hard time for missing a self-imposed deadline.
Now, it's not only about someone jumping all over you if you miss the deadline. It's someone who checks in with you regularly and asks how you're doing, and encourages you to keep going and reminds you that they're going to be super disappointed and give you a lot of shit if you don't stick to your planned project.
Hanne Vervaeck: I think the importance here to find the right person is that it has to be somebody that you don't want to disappoint. I'm back at the disappointment thing but I think that is actually very big because you don't want to feel the embarrassment of having to tell that person that you didn't do what you set up to do, or what you promised them to do. Maybe your accountability partner is not your best friend or is not somebody that's super close to you where it's not your drinking buddy or whatever, in my case this would be a former colleague of mine. She is my friend but I also know that she will be behind me and pushing me very, very hard, and I don't want to disappoint her.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah. That's an important point. It can't be someone who's going to be like, "Yeah, it doesn't matter. It's fine," if you don't stick to your goals, and that's what I mean with you got to find someone who doesn't put up with your bullshit excuses basically. Here's another thing about this, is that if you look around in your social circle and you think, "Well I don't really have that kind of relationship with anyone," that's not surprising because it's not very common. It's not very common that you have people who can push each other and not just basically do the other thing. The other thing, the, "Yeah. Whatever. It's fine," is much, much more common. Keep in mind that this is something that a lot of people would like. If you ask people, "Would you like to have this with someone? Would you like to have someone who holds you accountable and who could be accountability partner where you can get each other motivated and so on?" Most people would say yes to that, "Yes I want that," it's just that we don't tend to think of that so we don't make the first move.
Don't think of it as, "I already have to have this friend and if I don't already have this relationship with someone then I can't use this technique." Think of, "Who could be a potential partner to get on board with this kind of thing." Fellow entrepreneurs, for sure if you know fellow entrepreneurs, they will for sure be up for this kind of thing and in general just people who are ambitious, who like to do better, who like to improve themselves and their lives, will be up for this kind of thing.
Hanne Vervaeck: I would like to add one other thing that I would look for in an accountability partner. Remember our episode about your ego and how you have to keep your ego in check basically? Well, I think this is one of those things where it's also very important in an accountability partner, because if you're both holding each other accountable, you don't want the other person to have a bruised ego if you say something like, "Hey, you promised to do this. You didn't do it. What happened?" You want to be sure that you can actually have that very honest relationship where ego doesn't have a place. Now there is one other thing that is super efficient but a little bit hardcore. Now, I have to say I've used this many times over and it is pre-selling. What does this mean? Well, exactly like the word says, you start to sell before your product is actually ready.
This is one of those very hard deadlines because once somebody gave you money and you promised that the thing was going to be ready at a certain date, you cannot chicken out anymore and you have basically no excuses to do this. Like I said, I used this multiple times because first of all it's also a way to validate your ideas. It's good to actually get money, but also yeah, you don't allow yourself any excuses anymore. I remember that at one point I even ... I hardly had a voice anymore and I still had to do voice overs for a course that people already enrolled in and at the moment that I started selling, I created the first module out of six modules and they received one new module each week. Basically each time I had one week to finish the module, which like I said was a bit hardcore. I'm not saying that's a good thing for everybody and I did get sick at the end of the six weeks, but the course got out there in six weeks.
Shane Melaugh: That's a great combination of several of the things we talked about. You're holding yourself accountable but you're also breaking it down into these milestones, so you're not just saying, "I guess I'll finish the whole thing in about four weeks," but you're like, "Okay. Here's module one, and you get one per week." That's a combination of these. I've done something similar as well where I had a product that included a live webinar component where the same thing: you got the product, it had a bunch of stuff already, but then there would be a live webinar every week, and same kind of idea. I think this is a great thing to use if you suffer from the procrastination by perfectionism kind of thing, where you know you actually have the skills and the ability to live for something good, you know that you've got some value to give to the world, but you're constantly just procrastinating. Well this is a great way to just shoot that down entirely. Once that thing is selling, once you've got people enrolled, they've paid you, you've laid out the schedule, you just have to get it done.
Hanne Vervaeck: Exactly. Those were already three ways you can hack your deadlines. Now, the fourth one is, if you put skin in the game. This is basically if you put your own money on the line. You can do this again with a friend or an accountability partner where basically you pay them when you miss your deadline. You give them an envelope with money in there and it must be enough money that it actually hurts you. If $10 doesn't mean anything to you, then put in 100, and if 100 doesn't mean anything, put in 1,000, but the moment that you give money and you tell somebody, "If I don't hit this deadline, well this money isn't for me anymore." There are some clever apps that can help you with that, such as stickk.com or beeminder.com. They will actually give your money to a charity you hate.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah. That's the principle of stickK that I think got famous from one of Tim Ferriss' books. We'll link to both of these by the way, so there. If you don't hit your goal, you basically put some money there and it will go to a charity you hate. With beeminder, I think it works slightly differently but it's the same principle where basically you lose money if you don't hit your goal. I think, like Hanne said, it's super important that it has to be an amount of money that actually hurts you. It has to be an amount of money that you don't want to lose. I would also add some kind of a progressive thing to this, because if you put this money into an envelope and you give it to your friend who holds you accountable, and it's just like, "Okay, and if I don't finish my course and publish it in one month from now, then you get to keep this money, and otherwise I get it back."
I think this can be problematic because during the 30 days, you start to live without that money, and you start to ... it's easy to get in the mindset, "I've lost it anyway, and I've been fine for the last two weeks without this money so whatever." I think it's better to have an ongoing reminder of this. An example would be that you put the money aside, or maybe you pay half the money and every week that you're not on track you have to pay some more, so you kind of break it into smaller chunks where every week you check in and if you've hit your goals you get a little back. If you haven't hit your goals you have to give some more money. That way it becomes more of an ongoing problem and an ongoing mission to get your money back and not have to pay more, whereas if it's just like this one-time thing and the distant goal, that might not be as effective.
Hanne Vervaeck: True, and that actually brings us to the fifth thing that you can do, which is rewards or punishments. The money clearly would be a punishment, but you can also use the reward system. We've already talked about the reward system and how it can be very efficient to solidify habits, and for deadlines you can do the same. You can actually reward yourself when you hit a deadline. Now, some people will be more motivated by rewards and other people will be more motivated by punishments, so it will really depend on your character I guess what you can do for this, but both could be a good way to stick to your deadline.
Shane Melaugh: Now these are all solutions that can make a huge difference because as a reminder, for the beginning of the episode really we all know that we can work really, really effectively when we work towards a deadline. The flip side of this is that if we don't have a deadline, then we work extremely ineffectively. If we don't have a deadline, if you're not working towards a deadline, that's the equivalent of basically saying, "I'm going to do this thing and I have forever to do it," and following Parkinson's law means that it will actually take you forever and it will never get done. Using one or several of these techniques can make you massively more productive, can make you much better at shipping and can really help you beat procrastination. However, most people won't, especially some of the more extreme ones.
I think the risk here is that a lot of people will hear this and will agree, and they'll try one of the softer approaches like, "Okay. I'm going to write down my goal in days instead of weeks or months and I'm going to set some self-imposed intermediate milestones," but then again, and that might already make a huge difference don't get me wrong, that might already make a huge difference, but if you're a hardcore procrastinator, then maybe those techniques are not enough to beat the problem. That's why we go so much deeper in this series. That's why we don't just give you five tips to be more productive and then move on to something else, because I know how deep this problem can go among other things because I have this problem too.
I want to remind you of this, if this has been a problem in your entrepreneurial journey, then I'm sure it's been a problem for a long time and you can see how it's holding you back. If the mild solutions that I'm sure you're more drawn to, it's much easier to apply one of the mild solutions than to get an accountability partner, put money on the line and all this kind of stuff, look, if you have a serious problem with this, then maybe it's time to apply a serious solution. This is actually an example, like doing this extra work of, "Okay. I'm going to go and find someone who can hold me accountable. I'm going to put money on the line. I'm going to pre-sell my product." These kinds of things are hard to do and these are exactly the kinds of things that you read about in stories about entrepreneurs, whether they're like, "Well this made a difference. At some point I got fed up with having this problem and so I did something extreme. I did something that most people wouldn't do."
Now over the course of this series we've talked about many different solutions that you can apply to get really, really good at shipping. I also want to remind you about how important it is to get really good at shipping. If you get really good at finishing things, dragging projects across the finish line, that is an entrepreneurial superpower. We've talked a lot about many, many different techniques you can apply. We've attacked this problem of not shipping from many different angles, and to make this more useful and more actionable for you, we've put together an online course.
This online course you can get it on the activegrowth.com website. It's linked too from the show notes of this episode and of all the episodes in this series. In this course, what you will find is an example of how everything we talked about fits together. All of these techniques, first of all you have references that you can go back with action steps for every technique we talked about in this series. Also we'll give you an example that shows you exactly how this all fits together for an example entrepreneur and their example project, so you can see how to set smart goals, how to set your personal KPI, how to hold yourself accountable, how to set deadlines, all of this stuff together, everything together into one massively productive, powerful, get super good at shipping bundle, is all in an online course. This online course is available for free. All you got to do is go to the show notes of this episode and register for this course.
Hanne Vervaeck: We know and we've experienced the difference it makes in actually getting shit out there and shipping things, and we want the same for you. That's why we created this series and that's why we have this free eCourse that's available for everybody. You can simply sign up on the website.
Shane Melaugh: I hope you also can see how this is a demonstration of what we're talking about, because Hanne and myself, our main gig is running Thrive Themes, and Thrive Themes is a big complicated ... at least for a little startup entrepreneur like myself with absolutely no training, Thrive Themes is a big complicated monster of a business. It keeps us very, very busy and yet we have been able to push out an episode every single week including a lot of research, including expert interviews, and we've put together a free course to go along with it, all as a little side project. This is a demonstration of what we're talking about. Imagine what it'd mean for your business if on the side, you could create a podcast like this and put together, why not, a course and shape it, on the side as like ... this is like our 10% work if that. Imagine what that means for you.
If you see this, if you see what we're making here and you see that this is our 10% work, then maybe if you look at Thrive Themes, it's not such a mystery anymore why Thrive Themes grew as quickly, and why it's as successful as it is. Like Hanne said, we want to give this entrepreneurial superpower to you, and that's why we made this course. All right. That concludes our episode on deadlines. As you can tell, this is really important to me and I think everything we talked about in this series has been really important. All the puzzle pieces together make for a very, very powerful tool set and this is no exception. Deadlines are super important and if you can master even just one of the things we talked about, it'll make a huge difference and I think deadlines are one of the easiest ways to get really productive and get better at shipping if you can find a way to really employ at least one of the techniques we talked about.
Now you can get the course that we mentioned at the end of the episode by going to activegrowth.com/11. That's the word active the word growth no space in between, .com/11, that takes you straight to the show notes of this episode where if you've already registered you can click on a link to get the latest update to the course, or if you're new, you can sign up for free to get access to this course. Of course we've also included all of the references, links and so on the go, with everything we talked about in today's episode. I've got one more quote for you to end this on the same topic of how we use our time and of how limited our time is when we really think about it. This one is a bit older than the one I read in the intro. It comes from Seneca: "What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?"
Well it may sound a bit morbid, but I think that's the ultimate deadline, right? We have a limited time to be alive and like we mentioned in the episode, and this is also at activegrowth.com/11, this example of your life in weeks is really interesting from Wait But Why, as well as the example of the 100 blocks a day. I highly recommend you go check that out, so just go to activegrowth.com/11 to get the links to those posts. They're really, really worth seeing.
All right. I hope you enjoyed this series. Please let us know if you have any questions, let us know if this has made a difference for you, and let us know if it hasn't, why not, because we want to make this podcast better. If we haven't gotten through to you or if the action steps we have recommended and talked about haven't worked for you, we'd really appreciate it if you could let us know so we can find out how we can make this better and how we can make this work for you. That's another thing you can do, you can leave a voice message, you can do that straight on your phone. It's very easy and convenient. You can basically go to activegrowth.com/11 and just click on a button there, or tap on a button and record a voice message. You can also do that from any computer, any desktop, laptop machine whatever, or you can leave a written comment on that post. That is all for this episode. Thank you for listening in, and I'll catch you next time.
As we mentioned in the episode, we updated our Your Job Is To Ship course! You can now find the fifth lesson with all the action steps and helpful advice on deadlines.
If you have already signed up for the course, you can log in here. If not, take a moment to sign up here (it's free!):
In This Episode You'll Discover:
- Why putting things off has a much more serious effect on your business (and your life) than you might think.
- How to change the way you work so that it feels like time is on your side, instead of always against you.
- Why we always start on important work in the very last minute (and how to use this fact to your advantage).
- How the way you think and talk about time can make a difference to how productive you are.
- Why external deadlines are more effective than self-imposed ones (and what you can do about it, as a self-employed entrepreneur).
- Softer and more "hardcore" solutions to make sure you don't miss deadlines anymore.
- Read the amazing Tim Urban articles Your Life in Weeks and 100 Blocks a Day (WaitButWhy). These will change the way you think about time, deadlines and possibly life itself.
- Listen to Episode 007 of the ActiveGrowth podcast again to stop chasing the things that hold you back.
- Read the book: Predictably Irrational by Daniel Ariely
- More about Parkinson's Law (the law about work always filling the time allotted to it).
- Hold yourself accountable with the Stickk or BeeMinder apps.
Can You Stick To Deadlines?
Have you tried any of the tricks we talked about in the episode to stick to deadlines? What works the best for you to make sure you ship in time?
Join the conversation below and share your personal experiences with us!
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Awesome episode, may be the best in this series…I’m a little surprised you did not mention the Pomodoro Technique, a very easy way to implement mini-deadlines, very versatile and very effective too. Perfect example of the habit-by-reward principle. It’s a great way to track your time in small units and establish a steady, distraction-free work rhythm at the same time.
Quantifying your time that way is also a rudimentary way to gamify the whole process, every Pomodoro you can finish in a day is like a videogame level completed or reward achieved…as well as learning to get more and more work done in a single pomodoro.
Thank you, Lorenzo!
Both Hanne and I have experimented with the Pomodoro technique in the past and it didn’t work for either of us. I have heard from people who like it, but for me, it’s impossible. When I get into the zone, the last thing I want is a bloody buzzer going off ever 45 minutes (or whatever the interval is). But yes, it’s worth trying out for sure.
Interesting and strange. I mean, it incorporates so much of what you advocate in this episode. I work in 20 min chunks and 3-5 min breaks, challenging myself to get as much done in 20 min as possible. Though I do often keep working after the buzz. Definitely speeds up my work, but also, it gets me off the chair often enough to not destroy my back and internal organs. Sitting for long stretches of time is worse than smoking.
Speaking of which, have you thought about a series of episodes about simple wealth hacks for entrepreneurs? Physical and mental performance are sort of the root level of our success, you mess that up, you mess up your whole game, and vice versa. For example, I find that having only one meal per day is really beneficial both to my body and my schedule.
Marketing tech that cost you time rather than money still comes first though :)
I noticed you’ve gone from a direct response mindset to a branding mindset. IMimpact was so much more cooler a name ;-)
Took notes during this episode. Thanks for sharing your methods. Seriously, the pre-selling your product trick can be used to put a rocket on a project if you actually manage to sell some copies. I think in old school direct marketing they do something called a “dry test” to validate a product before making it. The two sound similar.
But, what are the legal repercussions of doing it? I mean – is it allowed in all countries and markets?
That’s an interesting question, yes. The practice of selling unfinished stuff seems global, from pre-oders for books or games to selling tickets for events before those events take place. Plus, things like Kickstarter are all about selling stuff that doesn’t exist yet. It’s still a good idea to get official, legal advice about this, of course.
The pre-orders for games, of course, I can relate with. Even the events thing. But I guess it varies from nation to nation and government to government.
Ummm…I know this is an odd place to request it, but could you update and re-release you Keyword Research guide? A lot of things have changed over the years.
Thanks in advance :-)