My Three Biggest Hurdles

My Three Biggest Hurdles

I’m waiting for some vegetables to boil, and as I survey my living room I can see all the chores I’ve been putting off. Why does this always happen? One of the new things I learned last year was yes, it’s easy to get chores out of the way if you just start picking up one thing and keep going.

Here’s my three big hurdles. I’m constantly battling them.

  • Keeping a Regular Schedule. I sleep and wake as my interests dictate. Being a freelancer makes this possible. I know when my meetings are and when my projects are due, planning my sleeping cycles around deliverables and conference calls. I also regularize my schedule when working with a team. But for some reason…I just like staying up and up and up until my mind is tired. Then I sleep.

  • Doing Routine Things. There’s an energy-sapping field that I find difficult to cross unless I build up enough momentum to take a flying leap through it. This usually means that discomfort has built up to an intolerable level, which gives me the burst of energy to power through the problem. However, I wish I could just walk through that force field. Household chores, accounting, exercise, diet, and business would be a lot easier.

  • Starting New Projects. It’s weird, but it takes me a long time to start a project. New projects should be fun and exciting! However, I’m just as unmotivated in starting something new and novel as I am doing routine things. Again, wouldn’t it be nice to “just do it”?

You know, I wrote these down thinking I was procrastinating uselessly. I was going to leave it at that, but I think I can see the pattern…

  1. In the absence of direct and immediate benefit from the Action, we’re less motivated to do it, if jumping the Hurdle does not provide immediate and meaningful gratification by itself.

  2. The Path of Least Resistence is the path we take, if we’re pretty sure it’s not the Path of Guaranteed Immediate Destruction.

These are patterns that everyone has. A friend might wonder why I don’t do my sit-ups every day. I know it’s sheer madness to not build a strong and healthy body, and the friend shakes his head in befuddlement. Then I’ll look at my friend’s computer and wonder why he doesn’t take basic anti-virus precautions, keep the system purged, and back up his 10 years of work. I know it’s prudent. He knows it’s prudent. We both know better, yet he loses all his data and I get fat. I’ve known for about a year that when it comes to getting past my big three hurdles, it’s been external motivation that gets me moving 90% of the time. At the time, I thought this was one my character weaknesses. That bummed me out. Now I think the pattern may be universal. Hurdles that require external motivation are the ones that we haven’t personally experienced in a strong negative or positive way. They remain theoretical niceties unless we get our motivation from somewhere else. From a buddy. From the boss. From your family. From 9-11. Until we have personally experienced paradigm-shifting success or failure in the context of the task, we do not have the internal reference to motivate ourselves in isolation. That’s my theory, anyway. I suspect if you’re a self-motivated individual in general, you’ve internalized the value of motivation as a general principle from having witnessed that it works. That’s enough. For my hypothetical friend who lost years of work because he never backed up…you can bet he does it now religiously. I’m not yet at the point where I’ve noticed an attractive women checking out my bod, but when that happens I know there will be no turning back! :-) There are a few methods I can think of to externalize the motivation for my three hurdles:

  • Throw parties for people who haven’t seen my house before! This forces me to clean up.

  • Share and justify my financial statements regularly with my Dad. He’s an amazing person and quietly supportive, and if I have to show him what I’m doing with money…I want to have something good to say.

  • Promise to show those backburnered projects to interested people that I never want to let down. This forms an implicit alliance of mutual interest, and is a strong motivator to me. It presumes that the interested party also follows through, otherwise the alliance is a waste of time.

  • Find a buddy for the activity. This is a good approach for dieting and learning new skills, because you can bootstrap each other.

  • If you’re lucky, you know someone who has the peculiar ability to tell you what to do and you end up doing it without really questioning it. I know a few people like this.

  • Hang out with inspiring, motivated, energetic people. They’re catalysts! If you can get energized from the interaction, that extra energy has to go somewhere. It might go to one of your projects or chores.

  • Use environmental graphics and signs to remind you what you’re supposed to do.


p>The general principle: tie the activity to someone or something in the outside world. Or, make sure that someone is counting on you to deliver results they’ll be using immediately. I can’t emphasize the word “immediate” enough. If you can’t arrange for immediate and tangible feedback, the game is over before it begins.

I’m also assuming that you have the means to accomplish what you want to do already; if you don’t, there’s no shame in not doing it. Not much shame, anyway :-)


  1. Chris Meisenzahl 14 years ago

    I’ve been getting much better in recent years w/ respect to procrastination. Thanks to the wife’s nagging.  ;-)



  2. Dave 14 years ago

    Chris: The power of love, right? :-)

  3. Bridget 14 years ago

    What part does “instant gratification” play? If I have two tasks that need to be done, one of which can be finished in a few minutes or a few hours, and I have that much time, am I more likely to start that task than one I cannot finish? So do tasks that have to be done in segments get pushed aside? Unless we use the check-box on the Printable CEO for gratification… Hmmmm. Can we let the cats choose the tasks we do? Write each one on a post-it and crumple it, toss them and see whether the cat goes after any of them? Can we put a cat-treat in our favorite task in order to unduly influence the cat? Hmmmm.

  4. Dan Hill 14 years ago

    I’d agree Dave, having issues with starting projects is weird. If I could do nothing all day but start projects I’d never rest. But I can’t. So…

    Getting a good sleep pattern takes some experimentation. Your body will tend to be quite resilient provided it knows what it is getting.

    Like your good self, I prefer to get some kip once my mind has given up for the day. Seeing as I do not have a physical job and, like it is for everyone else, there’s not enough hours in the day I’ve settled on 6 hours; no more, no less.

    Knowing I have 18 hours to work with is so much more preferable to having a random pattern where I could have a busy day planned and as little as 12 hours to fit everything in.

  5. Danny Smith 14 years ago

    Like you Dave, I find that I only dive into bed when I feel that my mind has had enough. Unfortunatly, as I very rarely have something imporatant to do in the mornings, I stay in bed ‘till late morning or midday. As a consiquense of this I stay up still later that evening, until my mind gives up. This cycle has led me into a sleep pattern of 0500 – 1200. Of course, this makes for a big a problem when I need to be up ant 7 am – I’m knackered because I’ve only had two hours kip.

    Latley I’ve been forcing myself to go to bed before half-past twelve, as 7 hours sleep is about right for me – that means I get up at 0730 or 8. I’ve found that I tend to procrastinate much less when I’m doing things in the morning than when I’m doing thngs in the eveneing. I reckon that’s because, while I may have the same ammount of time before I go to sleep, in the mornings I feel that I should be working, whereas in the eveneings I’m thinking “I should go to sleep now”.

    It also tends to take me a long time to start new projects, although due to the laws of procrastination I find that I get so many little things done while ‘getting round’ to starting a big project. I wonder if I could use this to help get my ‘little things’ done quicker.

  6. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Dan: There were times that 6 hours a day seemed to work for me, sometimes it seems like I need 10. Not sure what it is, but as you say I probably need to treat this like an experiment to find what works for me. I really have no idea. I also need to accept that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and committing to a measured pace is what will work (it HAS to).

    Danny: That sounds a lot like me! Projects for me feel like launching a very heavy train…once I get them moving, it’s hard for me to stop, and I’ll do 30 hours days with 4 hours of sleep tucked away hereand there. It’s NOT how I want to work, but it just happens. Then after the project, I end up paying for it by feeling sluggish.

    You know, that might be the key. I need to change my mentality of projects from trains to paper airplanes. I’ve found that the projects are never as tough once I actually get started, and the motion itself can be exhiliarating.

  7. Mike Brown 14 years ago

    Take a look at a book called THE POWER OF FULL ENGAGEMENT. It’s kind of dry (corporate America is its audience) but its ideas are pretty good. Basically, initiate physical rituals to help you transition from one state to the next. Like stopping in the park after work to calm down before going home to the wife and kids.

    Nothing wrong with using external structures and systems to help you get stuff done. I know writers who always attend a writing class because it’s the only way they get their novels written: people are waiting to see them bring stuff in, there’s a deadline, etc.

    So for starting new projects, you might want to think about creating a special ritual (light a candle, create a special Printable CEO Start ‘Er Up form, whatever) before you sit down to type the first character.

  8. Dave Seah 14 years ago


    Great ideas… I like the light a candle one. I would probably get hung up on finding just the RIGHT candle.

    I was just looking at WWII posters to look for something adaptable for the home. Would be cool to post ‘em around the house :-)