How to reach the finish line

Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success. (Henry Ford)

For the last few months of my professional/geek life I have felt like I am sitting on a huge roller coaster – reaching the sky today just to find myself at the bottom of a cozy swamp tomorrow. Sometimes I have days when I achieve the work of ten people and I am filled with so much energy and enthusiasm that my family is afraid I might blow up in any minute :-) . Even after such a very busy day I usually can not sleep too well because I am thinking/dreaming about how this or that unit test or piece of code could be improved and how will I tackle it tomorrow morning.

However, more frequently then I would like it to happen, the very next day everything may turn out quite the opposite: Working may be mixed with browsing, playing video games, watching TV etc. instead of focused and effective work that was fueling me to the boiling point yesterday.To add to the frustration, it is more or less unpredictable in advance when and why are the ups and downs coming and how long will they persist.

My overall average productivity is about equal with a well balanced person: both of us is working 200 hours a month. However, the balanced guy achieves this by working 50 hours a week whereas my pattern is absolutely unpredictable – it may be 30 + 80 + 20 + 70 or 20 + 30 + 40 + 110 or anything that sums up to 200. I guess 200 + 0 + 0 + 0 did not happen for only single reason yet: because a week has just 168 hours.

Someone could argue: why bother then? After all, the job gets done and that is all what matters. Well, for me this is not the only thing that matters: to effectively pursue a wide range of activities, some kind of planning is needed in order to be able to process them all at once, ensuring that each gets the proper weight at due time. While the hectic model was OK during the campus life (i.e. watch a season of 24 (24 hours), do the work of yesterday and today (20 hours), get some sleep at last (20 hours), rinse, repeat etc), the balanced way of doing things is recommended if you have a family and job yet you still would like to stay involved in a diverse array of activities.

My wife used to laugh at me in the mornings when I put on my loser or winner face. With her constant teasing she made me understand that the fact that how I feel the given day and what I am able to do depends only on me and not on certain circumstances.

My biggest problem seems to be that after the first excitement I tend to easily lose my interest in about everything I start. This of course leads to cooling down and eventually drifting off the track right before the finish line. Why? Well, to jump into some “more interesting stuff” of course. The result: constant feeling of failure and no results to show up. Sad but true.

Since I am an optimistic person and I hate to be in unpleasant situations if I can choose not to, after all that struggling I decided to come up with a plan to “visit” the finish line more often ;-) The points I have identified work for me pretty well so far and I am updating and extending them from time to time based on the results in practice. At the moment this is what I have:

  1. Have a clear vision – if you do not know exactly what do you want to reach or where you want to end up, you will never reach that point. (Even if you would, how would you know? :-)
  2. Make a detailed plan – if you see the progress, it motivates you to continue. You can break down any task to small pieces. By the end of the day, looking at your to-do list you can put up your “I made a great step forward today” smile with reason. I break down even the household chores to small tasks, so after looking at my all-checked to-do list my wife thinks I am the fastest and most effective clean-up guy on the globe ;) . “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” (Henry Ford)
  3. Find a partner – even the most excited people lose their enthusiasm over time. A good partner can help you to stand up when you feel like falling or loosing interest and makes you go further if you are just about to give up.
  4. Value yourself and the progress you have achieved – do not be too critical but also do not overestimate yourself. It leads to frustration and ruins your motivation step by step.
  5. Always determine your current level correctly and try to expand from there – it is not the biggest problem if you are weak in certain areas (since that can be improved). However, it is much worse if you don’t admit this to yourself (which means you won’t release any effort to improve it). Once you acknowledge your current position (e.g. that you can work only 10 minutes continuously) you can gradually improve it (e.g. by working without break for 1 more minute daily) until you reach the desired goal (e.g. Alt-Tab-less working for 2 hours). Don’t be ashamed or blame yourself for any clumsiness – identify it and get rid of it!
  6. Do not be impatient – be realistic about the amount of work you are capable to do for the given period of time. There are some things that can be done overnight. (I wanted to finish my Ph.D. in a week and I failed miserably ;-)
  7. Never give up – do not stop before the finish line. Nothing is worst than a work without results. It consumes too much time. By looking at just the achievements (which is usually the practice in the real life) it is useless. No credits, no recognition. Never stop at 99%, since that is still an unfinished job. Even 10 * 99% = 0 (and not 990%, which is 9 by rounding) – thus 1 * 100% > 10 * 99%.
  8. Do not be sorry for yourself – it does not help and drags you down.
  9. Do not look around too often – too many people fail because they look at their surrounding and can not step over the boundaries of the tiny world around them. Who cares if the guy next door is ten times better at bugfixing or writes his papers ten times faster while you are struggling with every word? Even if you may feel this on your own skin, believe me that staring at the abilities of others and the constant comparison leads to a dead end. After some time it makes you believe you are truly useless and stupid. Do not believe everything – probably those “Supermans” are not half as good as they seem to be, and half of the stories about them are urban legends. And what if they are really so superb? Does it change your abilities in any way? Of course not.
    If there is only one point you remember, this be it. Believe me, it can make your life much easier. At least it made mine.
  10. Do not look for excuses – it is the simplest way to get stuck.
  11. Do the interesting and annoying things side by side – it is easy to fall to the “trap of interesting parts”. Unfortunately the most hated parts are also part of the project (at least I have not met a project with solely “fun” parts) and need to be done as well. Do not leave them to the end if you do not want ot struggle just before the finish line. If you do them aside with the fascinating jobs the suffering will “disappear”.

+1 Believe in yourself“To succeed, we must first believe that we can.” (Michael Korda) or as Henry Ford put it: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”.

Remember: the work you have done is measured by the final result, not the time and effort you have invested in it. Once you start something, never look back – just from behind the finish line.

6 thoughts on “How to reach the finish line

  1. Good list.

    Number 9 is the best. Even though it seems like common sense, it’s nice to see a reminder that you don’t have to keep up with the Jones’. As long as you strive to continually improve yourself, it’s good enough.

    Don’t get me wrong, competition is good, just don’t, like you said, get stuck looking around all the time.

    One thing; number 3. Loose is something that is not tight. Lose is to suffer a loss.

  2. Dear Sir

    Thanks for your inespirational article.I share the same story with you.I have simmilar obstacles in reaching the goal.

    I will work with your points.Further kindly recommend me good applicable books related to the arae.

    Regards

    Daniel Ayele

  3. Daniel,

    The above points are not from a book but from my personal experience… Of course I have been probably influenced by a lot of books nevertheless.

    I have been reading recently (and enjoyed immensely) Getting things done by David Allen, How to Win Friends & Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie.

    My personal recommendation is to read Dale Carnegie. There are a lot of self-development books that are not worth the time and money but I don’t think so that could be the case with DC…

  4. @Carlos:

    Thanks for the reminder. I guess loose <-> lose is a quite frequent ‘bug’ among (not only) non-native speakers…

  5. Hi Peter. Thanks for the writeup. As usual, your articles are informative and insightful. I’m reading this with great pleasure, and the quotes make it easier to use your thoughts on a daily basis. I think I can learn a lot from “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

    (and I can also look at my surroundings and see a few people who could benefit from this quote :) )

  6. This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title How to reach the finish line. Thanks for informative article

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