Since February, I’ve become fairly serious about coding. As mentioned in a previous post back in February, I’ve been finding the process both fun and frustrating, and was looking forward to the day when I could enjoy the fruits of my labor.
I’m happy to admit that after 10 weeks of intensive coding (well, as intense as a beginner can get), I’ve finished my first app. I’ll discuss it in a future blog post, but needless to say, I’m very happy with it. I even have a second and third app that were completed as offshoots of the first (I repurposed a lot of the code).
However, I’ve noticed that, while I was caught in a storm of coding these past few months, I’ve sorely neglected this blog. Both my social life and time in the gym have suffered as well. While upsetting, I’m beginning to wonder if this might actually be a good thing. In other words, when a passion consumes every free moment of time – even to the point where other areas of your life temporarily cease to develop – is this something worth embracing? As of now, I’m leaning towards yes. And I’ll explain why.
Just as valuable as time: Energy and motivation
To help us answer this question, let’s take a step back and look at productivity. Typically, when people focus on being more productive, they think about time. Scheduling, deadlines, efficiency. But time isn’t the whole picture. If I had to choose between 4 hours of free time during a low energy, low motivation state, versus 2 hours of free time during a high energy, high motivation state, I’d immediately choose the latter, as I’m sure you would too.
People who understand this are those that end up paying very close attention to what motivates and energizes them. For example, here are some things I’ve learned about myself over the last few years:
- Certain types of game mechanics (progress bars, quantification of effort, variable rewards, etc.) really motivate me.
- Coffee gives me about 45 minutes of a productivity spike, but then results in a crash that lasts for 2-3 hours, bringing my energy and motivation way down.
- Green tea gives me a mild energy boost, with little to no crash, making it the superior option.
- Sleeping between 8 and 9 hours is the ideal amount of sleep for me.
- And most recently learned, if I feel the natural urge to work on a passion project, I need to do whatever I can to start as soon as possible, because that motivation is short-lived.
That last bullet point is what inspired this blog post. Understanding the factors that can trigger states of high motivation is incredibly valuable. To that point, I can sometimes get more done in 30 minutes of high energy, high motivation, than 3 hours of mediocre energy and motivation. And I’d argue that when you start a project that really interests you, you’re in an excellent position to reap the super-productive rewards of a high motivation, high energy state.
Take advantage while you can
While I was coding the app I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was also preparing a short speech for a conference. If I had postponed work on the app in order to focus exclusively on the speech, I’m confident it would’ve taken me 5x longer to finish coding that. Why? Because the powerful motivation to keep making progress on the app would’ve faded by the time I was ready to work on it.
Of course, it’s not always possible to take advantage of spikes in energy and motivation. You could be at work, have a tight deadline on another project, etc. However, I’d recommend doing whatever you can to take advantage of such states. I’ve been known to write blog posts on my lunch break if the inspiration strikes. And on days when I don’t have the luxury to do that? To be honest, many of the blog posts that need to wait never get written.
To keep this approach sustainable, it’s important to keep your other projects in maintenance mode while capitalizing on any natural spikes in motivation. While in hardcore coding mode, I still went to the gym 1-2 times per week (rather than 2-3 times), and I made sure to post a blog post every few weeks. Not my best performance in either area, but enough to keep me afloat. And now that I’ve let my motivation run it’s course with the completion of my first app, I can now resume working out and blogging more aggressively.
“Everything in moderation, including moderation”
Living a life of moderation is a solid default strategy, but when your energies and passions are calling you in a particular direction, I’ve found that it’s very worthwhile to take the plunge and temporarily explore a more extreme state. As long as you keep the other areas of your life in a healthy state of maintenance, you should be fine.
When I developed an interest in coding my first app, I went full out. However, I made sure to take just enough time away from this to maintain my other passions (blogging, gym routine, etc.). But to take any more time would be failing to take full advantage of the natural spike in curiosity and drive that was available to me.
So the next time you feel an inclination to explore a new hobby or interesting project, see if you can leverage that motivation to make more progress than you thought possible. You’d be surprised at how much you can get done when you act in accordance to the ebb and flow of your motivation. Carpe diem.