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#027 - Onwards and upwards
Welcome to Issue #027 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
👨💻 Worth checking out: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.
Procrastination is the antithesis of doing the hard work.
Another 13 issues published and I’ve reached the milestone of publishing this weekly newsletter on time, every time for a straight 6 months now.
It’s not been easier. In fact, these 13 issues were harder to put out than the first 13 issue. Looking back over this calendar quarter, procrastination has been my biggest risk to not publishing consistently.
Procrastination is my newsletter’s kryptonite
You may be surprised to hear that I procrastinate getting this newsletter out each and every week.
It’s an on-going war that I continuously fight and, to date, I’ve not (yet) had a week where I haven’t had to defeat my procrastination. Some weeks, I quickly and decisively win the battle. Other weeks, I’m muddy in the trenches and only win by the narrowest of margins.
There have been a few weeks where I almost didn’t get the issue out on time and almost gave up.
More often than not, it’s my fear of not having published each Thursday at 11:58 that saves me from failure. That’s the “silver bullet” but it’s exacts a heavy toll with all the stress and angst it causes. Not to mention, the negatives consequences of doing everything at the last minute - such as on my sleep (or lack thereof).
Taking an analytical approach to procrastination
Being a business analyst, understanding the problem and coming up with options to resolve the issue is a core part of my role.
Applying those skills here, I’ve found this “Procrastination Equation” by Piers Steel a useful framework for my analysis.
The equation is made of 4 components:
Expectancy: How likely am I going to get the next issue out on time and do I believe that I’m more likely to succeed or fail in this?
Value: How enjoyable is writing this newsletter and how beneficial is it once I’ve published it?
Impulsiveness: How easily distracted am I from writing this newsletter?
Delay: How far away is the deadline for publishing this newsletter and reaping the rewards for doing so?
In summary, this equation shows that I will be more likely to be motivated about writing this newsletter: if I am optimistic about publishing the issue, if it’s fun and rewarding to do so, if I stay focused and don’t get distracted, and if the Thursday deadline is soon.
Now, applying this across the last 13 issues, here’s my thoughts on how I’ve fared:
Expectancy: With each issue published and in keeping my streak going, I’ve grown in confidence that my writing isn’t boring and isn’t a waste of my readers’ time.
Value: Whilst I do enjoy the process of writing, it takes me time to get started and get into flow. Even then, I am only productive in short bursts - less than 3 hours at time. In addition, following my move to Substack, the likes and comments I’ve been receiving have surprisingly been more motivating than I had expected.
Impulsiveness: A major issue I had was over-researching an issue and going off-tangent which wasted precious time. That was exacerbated by being distracted by parallel projects (both work and personal) that took higher priority.
Delay: One of my outcomes for the last 3 months was to get ahead rather than publish just-in-time. Over the Christmas break I did finally achieve this but squandered that lead in January. Without the impending deadline, I didn’t have the drive to maintain that lead even though I knew I should.
As you see, my main issues with procrastination are less about the top-line of the equation and more to do with the challenges of the bottom-line.
There’s analysis and then there’s action
All the analysis in the world doesn’t help you if it doesn’t led to action and concrete results.
On client projects, I’ve found that procrastination manifests itself in different ways for business analysts:
Doing stakeholder analysis which reveals the difficult stakeholders that are key to the project. Then, unconsciously minimising contact with them because they are so frustrating or intimidating to work with.
Doing requirements analysis which surfaces a particularly political and contentious user story. Then, deferring working on it because there are easier stories to work on and deliver.
Both might be short-term gains for the business analyst but it comes at the long-term cost of project success and quality. It’s a common trap to fall into even when you know you’re doing it. To this day I still have to watch out for this as it’s easy for me to convince myself that the easier path is the right path.
My advice for you, after years of lessons learnt, is to “eat the frog”. Address the issue head-on and immediately. The pain of dealing with it pales in comparison to the darkness of dread that comes from putting it off until it’s too late.
The same goes for this newsletter. I know that if I procrastinate on resolving these challenges, then this newsletter simply won’t be sustainable in the long run. I’ll give up either because I’m burnt out or because I’m frustrated that it’s taking up all my headspace - to the detriment of everything else.
So, to put me into a better place, over the next 13 weeks I’m going to:
Taking too much on at the same time. Be realistic about what I can achieve with all my existing commitments.
Over-researching by sketching the scope of what I will be writing about and staying within that envelope. Log any new ideas outside of that for research at another time.
Gold-plating each issue. There’s a minimum quality level I have to hit but beyond that, stop as there are other prioritise I also need to work on and this newsletter can’t consume all my time.
Getting the draft out for review by Thursday for the following Thursday.
Using the min/max rule to govern how I write the newsletter. Spread the load by doing 1 hour minimum per day and maximum of 3 hours.
Cross-posting to LinkedIn to be more publicly accountable for getting each issue out every Thursday.
Maintaining my publishing streak.
Writing at my peak energy time which is in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
Tracking my progress in my habit tracker with its weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews.
We’ll see by Issue 40 how well I’ve done or what lessons I’ve learnt. Wish me luck!
🧑💻Worth checking out
🔗 Inside the mind of a master procrastinator by Tim Urban | TED
What Tim describes in the months that go by without any work on his TED talk, is what tends to happen to me in days as I work on getting each issue out every Thursday.
Yep, that includes being frustrated whenever this happens, being terrified by the Panic Monster when the deadline looms, and pulling an all-nighter. Or, for last weeks’s issue (#026), thanks to the power of inflight Wi-Fi, staying up for 9 hours on a flight to write it.
You can read more on TED.com.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
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For now, thank you so much for reading this week's issue of The Forcing Function and I hope that you have a great day.
PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts for me.