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Procrastination and the never-ending project

How to short-circuit the process and get a result

[Image courtesy of Vic at Flickr Creative Commons]

I’ve been thinking for a while about revamping my website.

Everybody nowadays is going for full-page, funky, responsive sites so I’ve been delving into the wonderful world of Bootstrap. I’ve installed a local server, tested templates and hacked around the code.

And since it’s Bootstrap on top of WordPress, there’s lots of detail to master. In fact, I can tell you right now: it’s a bottomless pit.

Because when I say I’ve been thinking for ‘a while’ about revamping, that’s an understatement. This has been going on since the beginning of last year, so I’m already heading for the 18-month mark. With embarrassingly little to show for it. 

When I mentioned this to a friend recently over coffee, he actually laughed. Out loud. 

“Aren’t you always banging on about procrastination being the thief of time? About working smarter, not harder? And how 80% is good enough?” he said, relishing each twist of the knife.

He did have a point, though I’m not sure I’d agree with the banging on bit. But still. Once we’d gone our separate ways, I began to wonder how I’d managed to spend so much time and achieve so little. 

To be fair, I haven’t been working on it non-stop. It’s a back-burner project, so I’ve been slotting it in when I have some spare time. Even so, I should probably accomplished more than I have – so it’s just as well I’m not a full-time web wallah. 

So what’s the reason for my lack of progress? Simple, really: 

  • No deadline. 
  • No real plan. 
  • Endless choice.
  • Indecision.

It’s a perfect storm, and one that I would never let develop when it comes to writing copy. But from chatting to people about their efforts to wrangle words into some sort of order, I know that it’s a scenario they frequently face.

And it’s often complicated by the inability to gain an overview of the whole project, or to know where to begin.

The write way

Several years ago, at a networking event, a fellow copywriter shared some Yoda-like advice with me.

“Don’t start until you’re ready,” he said, blinking like the Jedi master, “but don’t wait until you’re ready to start.”

Which I realised, when the penny finally dropped, means plan, but don’t overplan.

I thought of these words of wisdom again recently when I read The Phoenix Project, a novel about IT, DevOps, and helping your business win (a work choice, not a personal one – but still a lot more entertaining than it sounds).

Phoenix is a big IT program that’s supposed to help the protagonist’s company fight off the competition and turn around their business. But it’s late and over budget, and is the source of much internal conflict.

“Perfection is the enemy of the good!” barks Sarah, the head of sales, in a tense meeting with the IT folks. And you know what? She’s right. But the Phoenix team are not even at good, let alone perfection.

You’ll see what happens to the project if you read the novel, but I think you’ll already have guessed that it’s only heading one way.

One step back, two steps forward

So how do you get out of analysis paralysis? How do you know when you’ve done enough planning, but not too much? Well if I knew the answer to that, I’d probably have relaunched my website last summer. 

But wait, my friend said in an IM. Why don’t you just take the approach you use for writing and see if it works for web design? 

Genius. So I sat down and made a list of the things that help me tackle a big writing project: 

  • Get conceptual by drawing a diagram, or creating a MindMap. 
  • Stay out of the weeds (i.e away from the keyboard) until I can see the big picture.
  • Don’t spend too long on any one element. Ditto any decision.
  • Break a big project into small chunks.
  • Set goals that are easily achievable so I can advance in a series of hops.
  • Take regular breaks and come back to the project with a fresh pair of eyes.
  • Keep it simple, because complicated is almost always wrong.

It may all sound pretty 101-ish, but it’s helped me navigate through many an unwieldy job with ease.

So maybe, just maybe, if I eat my own dog food, I’ll finally get to relaunch my website. My friend has offered his help (he’s a web designer) but I told him that simple beats complicated. Couldn’t resist that twist.

And boy, did it feel good.