Can i get more done by taking some dream time?

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When I have a long todo list and a million things on my plate, my usual tactic is to just plow through it. Take short break to eat, but then get right back to work. My feeling is, if it’s weighing on the back of my mind, I won’t enjoy downtime anyway.

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Recently though I had a very different experience. And it surprised me.

1. Too much to do

A colleague of mine asked me to meetup for beers. We planned to talk technology, and to catchup on what we were both working on.

As the night rolled on he had some delays, and I wanted to cancel too. After all I had a ton of work to do, and didn’t think I would enjoy myself. I really felt like I’d be worrying about all this work on my plate. It’s like taking a vacation when you have a deadline. It doesn’t feel quite right.

Related: Can a growth mindset help you recover from setbacks?

2. My surprise

We ended up meeting anyway. At first I wasn’t totally relaxed, but then we started talking.
Our conversation turned to the evolution of datacenters. How they used to be on premise, then there were lots of hosting companies. And then Amazon changed everything!

We talked about evolution of tooling & automation. Although system administrators of old have been writing bash scripts forever to make their jobs easier, the proliferation of tools for deployment has allowed smaller ops teams to control fleets of servers. As my friend & colleague was newly starting a job on Amazon Web Services, a lot of this cloud stuff was new to him. So talking about it from a teaching vantage point, made me realize how strong I was in a lot of this stuff.

We talked about docker & containerization too. Even the origins back in the late 70’s with Unix chroot all the way up to Docker today. I explained to him that he could think of a container almost like a unix user, but with a more self-contained view of the whole system. In many ways a container acts like a vm, with it’s own filesystem and processes.

We talked a lot about aws, how S3 was an evolution of FTP in the old days, but much much better, how VPCs worked and the virtualization of networking, how VMs in the AWS world match with bare metal or not, how they share EBS storage. How Amazon has built a database service RDS around popular platforms like Oracle, MySQL & Postgres.

We shared a lot of ideas & brainstorming. About coding, C versus Java versus Python, package management, dependencies and on and on. He also mentioned he needed to build a test script to talk to an Amazon queue. I explained that it should be quite easy, and which libraries to look for.

Related: How I use terraform & composer to automate wordpress on AWS

3. Breaking through hurdles

It’s funny how dramatically different I felt after we got together. I all of a sudden had tons of new ideas bouncing around in my head.

Instead of waiting for the next day, after our get together, I went straight to the terminal. I quickly finished a coding challenge I was working on and struggling with. Easy peasy!

After that I felt inspired further. I created an Amazon SQS queue with the dashboard, and then wrote some python code to talk to an Amazon sqs

I created a git repo & checked in my code. All within a couple of hours!

I was just sitting there laughing. Because I felt such relief that I’ve made progress.

It was a big surprise that such a circuitous route got me there.

I guess the takeaway is that mental play or dream time is important to making progress. Otherwise you’re just working in a vacuum!

Related: What I’ve learned from 10 years of blogging

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How I find entrepreneurial focus

Brian K

Relentless focus. This is surely a key to entrepreneurial success. But how to find it? And how to maintain that focus through the ups & downs?

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I’ve found a simple system with a few rules has brought me success. I’ve used it for two decades of as entrepreneurial, and still do.

Here’s how it works…

1. keep a list of small tasks

This is the number one thing I do daily. I start out early in the morning, over coffee. Anything that “needs to get done” goes on the todo list, but I also separate out the things I’ll do today.

Todo list items are not big ones, like “save the world” or “get new job”. They are small nuggets of work that take 15 to 60 minutes. If they’re larger, they need to be broken down.

A typical day covers five major tasks. You will get sidetracked. You’ll need to answer calls & emails that aren’t captured on the list.

All this sounds simple, but it actually requires a discipline. Both to keep tasks actionable & small. You’ll learn your work pace with practice. But there’s one more thing to remember.

Also: Are generalists better at scaling the web?

2. trust the list

One thing I find myself doing is pushing just because something is on the list.

I don’t do list based on feelings or moods

This requires a lot of habit building, but it becomes valuable. By doing this over time, you begin to trust the list. You know things on it will get done. So you can safely “add it to the list” and forget about it for the moment.

This lets your mind relax and bcomes a real godsend when you have a mountain of work to do.

Just work list because it’s there. And trust that things that need to get done simply go on the list.

Related: Why airbnb didn’t have to fail

3. done with list, done for day

On days where things get hairy, and you work more, you’ll have to slog through to get everything on the list done. But sticking to it will build a habit that’s valuable.

At the same time some days will be easier. Avoid the temptation to add more work to fill the day.

When you’re done with the list, you’re done for the day

This is a discipline too. Pat yourself on the back, and give yourself a break. You did what you said you would do. Time for a beer. ๐Ÿ™‚

Read: Which tech do startups use most?

4. big projects require faith

Anothe lesson I’ve learned is that really large projects, or ones bringing you into new areas, require a lot of faith. For me, with an engineering background, I don’t have an easy time finding that. I want to measure, and dice up everything from the start.

When I was embarking on a project to buy real estate in Brooklyn, I really learned this lesson. There was so much unknown. How do I work with real estate brokers that have a different style of communicating than engineers & corporate professionals? How do I negotiate? What’s the right price? What about mortgages & their brokers? Architect inspections, land surveys, flood zones, crime maps, loans & assets, legal & closing costs. The list of unknown & nebulous areas of expertise was staggering.

Hang around edges to get lay of land

If I would distill this faith idea down for someone embarking on a new career or diving into a pool of unknown depth, I would say start by hanging around the edges. Pick off pieces that you can, and add them to the todo list.

I went to open houses. I asked questions. I researched online, and I always made sure I understood how agents & players were incentivized. That means believing none of the words people speak, but rather, look behind the curtain and make educated guesses about those realities.

Also: Do todays startups assemble at their own risk?

5. break down & do

It is inevitable that you will experience writers block. Or any other kind of block that manifests as procrastination. Don’t over think it.

Continue to break down to smallest viable unit that you *can* do.

get started on anything to get inertia

With writing I find blocks where I don’t have a solid idea formulated. Maybe you have a topic? So then my todo list for the day is “write five bullet points”. This by itself will take some time, but you know you can write something. By moving past your block, I sometimes find I wanna keep writing and finish the piece. This is the kind of habit you want to form.

Also: Is Fred Wilson right to say speed is a feature?

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters