The Power Of Deadlines

Imagine you’re leaving for a long trip one month from now.

If you’re like most people, on the morning of departure you’ll still be scrambling to finish packing and get everything ready.

But if someone put a gun to your head and told you to pack everything you need in the next five minutes, could you do it?

Of course you could. And that is the power of deadlines.

Work is like a gas—it expands to fill its container. You can make it a lot smaller by simply putting it in a smaller container.

So if you have a particular task that needs to be done in a week, it’ll probably take you the entire week to get it done. But if you impose a strict deadline and limit yourself to two hours…

Well, you’ll get it done in two hours.

Back in school, whenever I had a paper or project due, I would put it off until I had just enough time to reasonably get it done, and then for those last two hours or so I would be insanely productive—because I knew I had to finish the paper on time. There was no alternative.

Sound familiar?

By imposing your own deadlines, you can force yourself into that same state of urgency where you’re productive because you have to be.

Of course, there is a limit to this. You can’t just set a deadline for a huge task and magically get it done in five minutes—you have to be somewhat realistic.

With that said, there is value in limiting the time you can spend on certain things because it forces you to act. You don’t have the option of goofing off or watching cat videos because you only have so much time to work.

Just Get Started

Here’s the situation:

You have some important tasks on your to-do list.

You know they need to get done, and you know that doing them is the key to achieving your goals.

…and yet there you sit, on the couch, watching TV, or doing whatever it is that you do to distract yourself, instead of doing the work.

Why?

We all sometimes fall into the classic trap where we sit and wait for inspiration to strike, rather than getting down to business. The solution is almost deceptively simple:

Just get started.

I know what you’re thinking. You want to know how to do the work, and my advice is to… just get started? What kind of help is that? I could’ve just told you to do the work by doing the work.

Except they’re not the same.

When I say “just get started,” I’m talking about the actual physical action of moving over to your desk (or wherever you need to be), and beginning the task at hand.

You don’t have to do the whole thing. Just do a tiny bit.

Once you’ve done that tiny bit, you’ll likely find that momentum takes over and carries you to the finish line.

People often think of action as a result of motivation. In reality, the opposite is true: motivation is a result of action.

The more you do, the more motivated you will be to do more. As you watch your progress play out in front of you, you’ll get psyched up to keep pushing forward.

But if you’re just sitting there like a lump, what do you think is going to motivate you? You may actually become less motivated because all you’ll see is a lack of progress.

Just get started.

Use every bit of willpower you have to take those first few steps. Don’t think about your work as a gigantic, unmanageable process. Just focus on the one or two steps that are directly in front of you, and use momentum to carry you beyond that.

Respectful UX

Something that isn’t often discussed in conversations about UX is an implied respect for the user.

Do you ever land on a web page that contains information you need, only to leave out of frustration with the experience?

Maybe the ads were overwhelming. Maybe they shoved a bunch of opt-in offers down your throat. Maybe the author rambled for ten paragraphs instead of getting to the damn point.

All of these things show a lack of respect for the user. It’s a way of saying, Our performance metrics are more important to us than you or your time.

It’s okay to have ads. It’s okay to sell stuff. But when those things compromise the user experience, they also compromise your brand image and longevity.

Here are some ideas to provide a more respectful user experience:

  • Keep advertising tasteful and minimal.
  • Don’t autoplay audio or video—especially in third-party ads.
  • Cool it with the aggressive popups. If you’re going to use popups, time them in such a way that they don’t interrupt me while I’m consuming your content. Exit-intent popups are fine.
  • I don’t want your stupid push notifications. The only scenario where these prompts are okay is if I explicitly ask you to send me notifications. Here’s an easy fix: add a “Get Notifications” button to your site to trigger the request. Those who actually want them will click.
  • Don’t divide your content into pages just to increase page views and ad impressions. You’re wasting my life just to make a few extra pennies.
  • Don’t ramble for multiple paragraphs just to inflate your word count or keyword density. It’s okay to provide background, but please get to the point and solve the reader’s problem ASAP.
  • Keep your promises. Don’t lure people in with clickbait titles and then underdeliver with shitty content.
  • Give your users more than one way to contact you. A contact form can be convenient, but you should also have an email address and maybe even a phone number.

Every great relationship is built on a foundation of respect.

Do you respect your users?

Introducing Output Radio

I’m excited to announce the launch of Output Radio, a fun side project I’ve been working on lately.

Output Radio is a free, fully-licensed Internet radio station playing low-distraction electronic and alternative music to help you focus and get your work done.

I wanted to produce something that I would use myself, and I’ve found myself using it daily as part of my regular workflow.

If you think you might enjoy it as well, I’d love for you to tune in.

Be The First

So many founders want to be the next Steve Jobs.

So many startups want to be the next Facebook.

Every VC is hunting for the next Uber.

Are these worthy aspirations?

Why are we so fixated on following in someone else’s path, rather than carving our own?

Instead of trying to be the next anything, focus on being the first you.

My Course Creation Workflow & Tools

I just finished producing a new video course, and I decided to document my process here for any geeks or creatives who may be interested.

When I’m creating a course, I tend to work as a jack of all trades: I write, record, animate, edit, and produce everything myself. This is not the most efficient approach, but it’s how I prefer to operate.

My workflow can be broken down into four distinct stages: planning, writing, recording, and animation.

Planning

The planning stage begins as a chaotic mess of notes and ideas that I’ve accumulated over many months. Often these ideas pre-date my intention to create a course—they’re just things I jot down because I feel they may be useful.

When I decide the course is actually going to be a thing, I start collecting these notes into a central location, like a Google doc. I make a list of things I’d like to cover in the course, and then I start doing research.

The research phase tells me what’s out there—what’s been done, what hasn’t; what’s good, what’s not; what people want to know about the topic, what doesn’t matter; etc. I also invariably learn more about the topic during this process, which I enjoy.

When the course transforms from a vague concept to an actual project, it’s time to start outlining.

The way I do this varies. In the past, I would create a long and convuluted bullet list in Google Docs, but that gets messy fast.

While outlining my latest course, I found that I really like the mind map format. I used FreeMind, a Java app, and despite some weird graphics issues on my MacBook Pro, it worked well enough.

Next time I’ll likely go with a native Mac app, though, as there are plenty.

I try to do the majority of the thinking work during the outlining process. By the time I have a completed outline, I feel I should be able to deliver coherent lectures on the spot, if prompted.

Writing

From there, I begin the writing process. Some people are surprised to learn that I write every word of my lectures in advance (though I often go off-script). I value preparation.

I do all of my writing in Google Docs, mainly for the convenience of cross-platform editing, not to mention the peace of mind that every change I make is saved automatically—revisions and all.

Writing, for me, is the most intensive part of the process. I’m obsessed with the details: articulating clearly, avoiding fluff and filler, packing in as much value as possible.

Recording

Once I’ve got a script, it’s time to record.

I record audio in Audacity with my trusty Audio Technica ATR2100. My tools and processes are almost exactly the same today as in my podcasting days.

Now, you would think four hours of content would equate to four hours of recording—but you would be wrong. Again, I’m obsessed with the details. I’ll often do six or seven takes on a single lecture, and I follow up with a meticulous post-production process. I don’t think I want to know the ratio of recording/editing time to finished content, but delivering an outstanding product is very important to me.

Animation

My last two courses have been animated, as opposed to the traditional slide deck format. I think it helps to keep people engaged.

This part is a lot more fun and laid-back, though I’m still very detail-oriented.

My animation software of choice is VideoScribe. It’s pretty easy to pick up if you’ve never used it before, but it still offers plenty of advanced functionality.

I also use Screenflow for screencasts and some post-production work, and I’ve been quite happy with it.

So, that’s my process in a nutshell. Definitely an oversimplification, but it shows what I’m actually doing when I disappear to work on one of these projects.

Pain Tolerance

Often the people who win in life are not necessarily those with superior talent or intelligence, but those with an exceptionally high tolerance for pain.

Pain comes in many forms: physical pain, the emotional pain of rejection and failure, the pain of tedium—all of these have the power to hinder success.

I started thinking about this in the gym one day as I was approaching failure on a set, and I realized that what most of us call “failure” in fitness is not failure of the body, but failure of the mind. Because I’ve trained my mind just as hard as my body, I was able to overcome the burn and push a little bit harder.

Great athletes can tolerate high levels of pain. They live for it.

The same goes for great entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of pain involved in building a company. Financial woes, uncertainty about the future, social opposition—these things can really tear you down if you don’t have the mental fortitude to keep pressing forward.

Those who are most successful in dating and relationships are those who have endured rejection and unrequited love and nonetheless chose to keep trying. As Oliver Goldsmith so famously wrote, “Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.”

If you can train your mind to tolerate intense pain—or better yet, embrace it—you’ll experience untold advantages in fitness, in business, and in life.