How do you overcome procrastination?
To overcome procrastination, I do a whole lot of timeboxing. Timeboxing is where you set a timer for a certain amount of time and stay focused on the dreaded task until the timer goes off. My favorite desktop timer is called Timebar; I sang its praises in my interview for The Setup.
Online discussion knocks down barriers, if not to employment, then to conversation. Some of those relationships might lead to employment. And it’s good to put yourself in a place where you’ll meet people who are smart and funny and interesting, for both practical and non-practical reasons.
It took me a long time to see past forever projects.
I told myself that making promises gave beginnings gravity. I labeled my newsletter a “lifelong project” not long after I started it. I called /mentoring a “movement” the day I announced it. Commitment marked a project as something worth talking about, I thought. This was how I would give my ideas escape velocity.
Escape velocity came, but at a cost. No amount of attention could spur perpetual motion. Once I’d set every expectation of permanence, disappointment loomed and glowered; inevitable.
Eventually, I started asking myself: why am I promising permanence? The answer crept up on me: because permanence is better than nothing. Without the momentum of obligation, I didn’t trust myself to begin anything in earnest.
The thing is, it never worked. The half-life of obligation is short; the half-life of guilt is long. Promises never saved one of my side projects, but they clogged many nights and weekends with the gunk of regret. Something had to change.
My friend Jamie Wilkinson once told me about a decision he’d made. No more forever projects, he said. From now on, every project is one-time-only. Treat beginnings like endings: celebrate them, document them, let someone else pick up where you leave off. If the project’s worth repeating, there’s nothing to say you can’t still be the standard-bearer. But at least it’s a choice. By ending well, you give yourself the freedom to begin again.
These days, all my projects start as experiments. No forceful promises, no forever projects. Gravity seeps into the things that stick around.
An expanded excerpt from the latest Expert Novice newsletter.
Music: Blue Film, by Lo-Fang, is my favorite album right now. After falling hard for his sound, I learned that he opened for Lorde on tour—of course! This song by Ann & Bones is haunting, too. And Panama’s performance at SXSW was my favorite by far; listen to the lead track from their sophomore album, “Always.”
Books: Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon’s latest, is essential reading for basically everyone. The Goldfinch was worth it—“both beautiful and unselfconscious-until-the-last-50-pages-or-so,” as I told a friend. Radical Acceptance and What We Say Matters are two books I keep returning to. Blockbusters blew my mind.
iPhone Games: Threes is “a tiny puzzle that grows on you,” specifically designed to hook lovers of Drop7. Mission accomplished. Monument Valley is a gorgeous adventure inspired by Myst, Zelda, and M.C. Escher. I finished it in a night and wished it would last forever.
Products: Europe got us hooked on sparkling water, so Erik did some research and got the Mastrad Purefizz soda siphon for carbonating tap water at home. I love it to pieces. After a long quest for the perfect laptop messenger bag, I’m very happy with this one from InCase. SaneBox is a service that automatically clears your inbox of everything you wouldn’t have answered anyway. It’s so accurate and so invaluable that I shudder to think of ever losing it. And a meta-recommendation: if you’re looking to make a tech or home purchase of any kind, The Wirecutter and The Sweet Home will never steer you wrong.