Hacker News

For the past year I’ve been an avid fan of Hacker News. It’s THE site to get the latest news about web / tech startups and the best part is the huge community. The discussion is relevant and the community is really smart. Check it out if you haven’t seen it: http://news.ycombinator.com/

Peaks and Valleys

I should really be working on my startup right now. But, I’m not. I’ve been in a valley for the last few days. Other days it’s peaks. Today it’s a valley. That’s how it goes when you’re bootstrapping a product on your own. I suppose that’s how it goes when you have funding, co-founders and a staff as well. Nobody is immune from the peaks and valleys.

When I decided to create a web based product and I really committed to it, I was pretty excited. I could envision myself working on it, marketing it and reaping the benefits of my hard work. I knew from the outset that it would be a long road, that it would be hard work. At that point, it was a vision. After it’s a vision, it becomes real work.

Real work is good, and for me, the coding is fun. But, there are un-exciting aspects of creating a product. Sorting out all of the ancillary details has been a challenge: doing design work (I’m not a designer), figuring out how payment gateways work, creating an LLC, learning about SEO, etc. But amid the technical and logistical difficulties inherent in any worthwhile endeavor, there is one intangible struggle that has to be dealt with along the way.

It’s the interior voice always reminding me that I don’t have to do this. There is any easier way; a path with less resistance. I have a good job and I make good money. It’s funny how this voice becomes louder when my day job is going well. Likewise, the voice is much quieter when the day job is boring or requires me to attend many worthless meetings. Either way, that voice is always there reminding me that I could be doing something else with my free time.

The internal struggle is not surprising really. I believe that anything worth doing will force you to constantly evaluate your values and your purpose. But even then, when you find that what you are doing is in line with your goals, that all your hard work is in fact amounting to something, the internal questioning does not stop. It may quiet down, but it’s never gone and you have to deal with it.

So if you are familiar with this internal voice that I’m describing, whether you’re trying your hand at bootstrapping a startup or just trying to exercise three times a week (another time when this voice becomes loud) and you find yourself in a valley, know that it won’t last. And when things are going really well and you find yourself on a peak, know also that it won’t last.

The worst thing an entrepreneur can do is believe that the peaks will last (when it’s easy). And the worst thing an entrepreneur can do is believe that the valleys will last (when it’s hard). I learned this from C.S. Lewis and it really helps keep me going. Once we realize that the internal voice of opposition is going to stay, and that it’s something we have to deal with, we begin to learn what perseverance is and we can get on with creating awesome software despite its presence. I’m going to go finish integrating that payment gateway now.

Five Ways To Stay Productive In Your Mobile Office

As an independent wordsmith, I’m well acquainted with working in non-traditional work places; for instance, my main office (home) and the other locale’s I frequent (coffee houses).

Notice the title of this entry. It’s not about how to be productive. Anyone can be productive, if they so desire, every now and again, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. My objective is to show you how to stay productive once you get there.

In Rise of the Creative Class (a personal favorite), author and sociologist Richard Florida wrote, “We are becoming a society in which Creative Class people literally live in a different kind of time from the rest of the nation.”

Who is this “Creative Class”?

If you can identify with the following quote – from later in Florida’s book – you’re part of it: “While Creative Class people do tend to work long hours, many other factors contribute to the feeling of being crunched for time…The big news about time [is that it] goes deeper than simply working more…We now try to pack every moment full of activities and experiences—at work, at home and at leisure.”

From where I sit, (Lux Coffeebar, if you must know), these are the things that cause me to be most productive in my mobile office:

(1) Account for my surroundings

  • The local coffee joint has distinct advantages and disadvantages to working out of the home. Think of the cell phone commercial with the little time clocks in the trash. Pretend those little clocks are spread out all around your home office or moving around you at the coffee house. When you talk to someone longer than you should, you’re wasting time.

(2) Anticipate Distractions

  • Make decisions before you get to your home office (or wherever) about where you’re going to sit. And yes, even if you’re in the bedroom, that’s still before you get to your desk.
    • If it’s at home, think about the kinds of things that are likely to beg for your time: the laundry, that new album you wanted to check out on iTunes, updating umpteen social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and any number of other noisy distractions. For me, even too much silence can be a distraction.
    • If you’re at a coffee house, think about all the options you’ll be presented with about where to sit. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been to this particular place before. Sit by the door (or facing it) and you’ll want to look up every time someone comes in; sit near the counter and you’ll be well-placed for shouts of , “Americano for Chris!”
    • You know where the productive spots are, just like you know the best place to sit in a movie theater.

(3) Be Proactive

  • The average time tracker says, “I have an hour to fill. I’ll work on project X and see how much I can get done.”
  • A better time tracker says, “In one hour, I want to have completed this, this, and that, and this. And I’m going to spend this much time on each part. And I’ll check it off as I go and adjust the schedule in the moment. But I’m going to do it all in one hour.”
  • The difference is subtle, but significant.
    • It’s all about your motivation for tracking time at all. One person figures, “I have an hour right now. I’ll have another hour later.” The other person thinks, “I have an hour right now. I might have an hour later. I might not. I better use my time wisely while I have it on me.”

(4) Know when to say ‘No’

  • To people around you.
    • Say you have a significant other and he/she likes to chitchat throughout the day, but you’ve got a project that needs 100% of our concentration. Let him/her know you’re going into hyper-focus mode – or opt for a nonverbal method like putting on your headphones. (When I’m working in a public place, about a third of the time I’m wearing headphones, I’m not actually listening to anything. Ha!)
  • To Yourself.
    • There’s a difference between changing my mind about how long it will take me to do something and changing my time range because I’m tired of making decisions.
    • Don’t confuse “self-employed” with “freedom from commitments”.

(5) Track The Time

  • It’s called ‘tracking’ because you’re actively looking for clues about where The Time, somewhere out there in front of you, is headed.
    • It’s not called ‘following’ because that’s passive and lets time make decisions for you.
  • Time Trackers discover lost time.
    • They literally “find time” to do more work, because the act of tracking time helps them right then; in the very moment they need it most. Ever hand write a note and then — because of the very act of doing so — you realize you could probably just throw the note away?

The first four steps have one thing in common: They’re all decided and acted on before hand. Only the last one takes place in the moment.

I’d elaborate on that, but right now, my time’s up.

Next time: Why Time Tracking Is Important For Freelancers.

(Phoenix wordsmith Joey Robert Parks is primarily a non-fiction ghostwriter. In the last six years, he’s written five books for successful, entrepreneurial types; including: a fashion designer and stylist who got his start working for JFK and Oprah; and a book on creative innovation for a high profile, multimillionaire philanthropist. To see how productive Joey is this very moment, follow him on Twitter or visit www.joeyrobertparks.com)