October 29, 2017•799 words
I have a really bad habit. After I release something, be it a project, an update, or even an article, I wait. I wait for something magical to happen. I wait for the universe to finally give me what’s due. Because one of these days, one of these updates or features or emails I send—one of these is going to make it. And it’s going to be huge.
I just learned this lesson myself only a few days ago. For the last decade of shipping projects, my ritual and plan was always to 1. Develop the project, and 2. Perform a one-time marketing session of posting it around, emailing people, etc. Then I would wait.
And when nothing happened, I got upset. I got disappointed. I grew discouraged. Every new release, I told myself, this is it. This is the [project, idea, article, email] that’s just going to take off by itself. But it never did.
This was troubling, mostly in part because I also didn’t believe in the opposite. I believed in patience and luck, and I also believed that hard work payed off, but I believed it was cumulative. Meaning, I thought the work I put in yesterday counted for overall effort, and after a certain point, I was off the hook to do any more work, until I received some positive reinforcement.
But I’m starting to realize that effort is not cumulative in that sense. What I did yesterday to increase my chances of success is quickly forgotten if I don’t follow up on it today. I could reach out to ten tech bloggers today, but if I don’t continue reaching out every single day, it will be a lost cause. I could release a great new update with the best new features, but if I don’t continue delivering updates and quality control, the app will quickly be forgotten. You can release the most popular article mankind has ever seen, but if it’s not done frequently, it won’t matter.
It’s not about what you’ve done—it’s about what you’re doing.
I think a good litmus test would be to ask yourself, what am I doing? If your answers contain past verbs, like “updated”, “wrote”, “emailed”, “reached out to”, you’re waiting. Don’t do that.
Instead, you might say, “I’m updating the app every week with quality releases” and “I’m writing an article every two days on software development” or “I’m finding one new blog or journalist to reach out to every day.”
Present tense work is great not only because you’re constantly producing, and thus constantly increasing your luck, but also because it forces you to do really good work that you otherwise wouldn’t have done. A software project that you do work on every single day, after one year, has got to be damn good, compared to a project that you push to once every month. A blog that you write to once every other day will be far more interesting and engaging than one you write to every month.
Apart from the increase in quality of work, present tense work is also great for the mind. I’ve long discovered that happiness is actually quite simple, at least for me: I’m happy when I’m working. Not working? Not happy. I don’t mean this in an instantaneous sense, just in an overall sense. Did I do good work today? I’m happy. When you commit to working over waiting, you’ll not only gain a healthier state of mind, but great momentum.
Momentum is one of the most important deciding factors in my productivity. The hardest part of releasing something is the abrupt halt in momentum. Building up to a release is a lot of work. Towards the end, you’ll be running on pure adrenaline, working long hours to finish that final never-ending 1%. After you release, waiting absolutely demolishes your momentum. So instead of waiting, keep working. Keep advancing your project. Time is still passing, so the effect will still be that of “waiting”. The difference is a sort of “active waiting” vs “idle waiting”. With idle waiting, a month will have passed while your project collects dust and eventually stops being interesting. With active waiting, your project grows more interesting by day. If perhaps after thirty days you hear nothing back from what you were waiting on, then by now your project has completely changed and is many times better, allowing you to restart your cycle and begin reaching out again.
I can’t emphasize enough the destructive behavior waiting has had on the fate of my projects. And it’s a shame it took so long for me to understand this. The next time you find yourself refreshing your email, refreshing your sales dashboard, refreshing your analytics suite, expecting something new, you’re waiting. Get back to work.