How to Work Extremely Hard and Get Nothing Done

October 16, 2007

Do you ever have a flash of inspiration, stayed up all night working on your idea only to see it’s brilliance fade away the next morning?  My computer is littered with projects like these, so many in fact that I’m almost an expert at working hard and getting nothing done.

Running Standing Still
It can be quite an overwhelming feeling actually, having a dozen partly finished projects sitting around waiting to be completed.  The idea behind them is still good but I start to doubt whether they’re worth the time I’m putting in or whether they’ll be successful or not.  As one loses steam, I hop to another. I can literally work until the break of dawn every night for a whole week and come to Saturday having brought closure to zero projects!

In terms of productivity, often times I’m my own worst enemy.  Having bursts of ideas is better than having no ideas at all but it makes staying focused an extremely difficult thing to accomplish; I guess you could call it web ADD.  Chasing multiple ideas at a time has several negative consequences:

Think of when you’re trying to do twenty things at once on your computer.  Your PC slows down as it tries to share its finite CPU and memory across the multitude of tasks.  Instead of being more productive by multi-tasking, you end up waiting on the computer and getting less done. The same thing happens with people, namely me.  I’m spending so much energy organizing my time for projects and worrying about which to work on, I don’t get much done.

Sub-Par Performance
Seth Godin has a book out that I should probably read called The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) :

According to bestselling author Seth Godin, what really sets superstars apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly, while staying focused and motivated when it really counts.

Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt—until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons.

I listened to a conference call with Seth and Andy Wibbels when he released the book and from what I gathered, he says if you can’t be the best at what you’re doing, quit and pursue something you can excel in. 

It’s hard to be the best when you’re working on ten things at once.  You may not even complete them all and the ones you finish you only turn in a mediocre showing.  Why do I work so hard for a lot of sub-par output when I could spend the same amount of time creating one thing that’s awesome?

Poor Return on Effort
Time is money.  Since I’m working on so many projects at once, it takes forever to finish one of them.  While the many projects are sitting idle, the time I invested in them is lying there with no return on effort. I’ve sunk a lot of sweat equity into tasks that may potentially never see the light of day.

Making a Change
Okay, so I know I have a problem, what should I do about it?  I obviously need to make a prioritized list of all my projects and make a decision for each one: Drop it, Delay it, or Do it.

Drop Project
These are projects that just don’t make the cut.  It will be tough getting rid of ones I’ve already invested a lot of time into but if I don’t drop them now, I’ll never get anywhere.

Delay Project
I’ll just put some projects on the back burner for now.  These are ideas I think could be successful but I just don’t have time to work on.  Maybe down the road once I’ve finished several active projects things will click and these can come back to life.

Do Project
Finding the right number of projects to put into this category will be difficult. Obviously just one would allow me to focus all my energy but sometimes it’s nice to have at least two things on my plate to prevent getting stuck in a rut.  When I hit a wall with a project, I like to be able to switch over to something else for a change to get my creative juices flowing again. Hmmm, what’s the magic number?

I have to remind myself that working my fingers to the bone for progress isn’t my only option.  If I have a project that really has potential there are other ways to get it done with less concentrated effort.

Launch in Beta
I could just take a project I’m in the middle of and launch it as is. I guess with Web 2.0 you just do that and call it Beta : )  The good thing about this approach is that I could get a feel for what kind of response I’d get before sinking any more work into it.  I could garner feedback, then make adjustments as necessary. Of course, the downside is someone’s first visit may be their last if they don’t like half-finished.

Hire Help
I was talking with a friend the other day and made the comment “I wish there were 48 hours in a day”.  “There are”, he said.  “Just hire someone to do 24 hours worth of work for you.”  I’ve never listed a job on eLance before but will do so soon.

Find Partners
I’ve actually already done this. I went in on a site with a friend where I’m the idea/technology guy and he’s the subject matter expert with industry connections.  Sadly, I’ve neglected the site for the last few weeks due to another new partnership but need to get back in the saddle. 

The new venture is really more of an apprenticeship with a successful internet entrepreneur that I’m really excited about.  I’m helping him create a site and he’s teaching me his tricks of the trade.  Nothing like learning from someone else’s experience instead of having to learn from your own mistakes.

Working with a partner really helps divide up the workload and generate great new ideas. I need to find partners for the other ideas I decide to pursue.

Getting Things Done
I’m tired of working extremely hard and getting nothing done. I think I have a pretty good initial plan in place, we’ll see how it goes.  Hopefully I’ll get more done in the same amount of time, maybe even by working less.  What techniques do you use to control your flood of ideas and choose the best projects to work on?


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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6 Responses to How to Work Extremely Hard and Get Nothing Done

  • Uno Lou

    Nice post! Got me thinking actually. I manage my projects in Wrike. The tool creators have some kind of GTD philosofy, which I like. This is the techniquie I use for getting my projects completed.

  • dan shea

    This is your lucky day. I just found and bought a program called “Nozbe”. See for free beginner copy.

    I think I died and and went to “organiztion, getting things done heaven”.

    No joke. It is web based and runs on the iPhone also. Tomorrow, I now have to get the iPhone so I can take my Nozbe everywhere.

    Gook luck.


  • PinoyTech

    “So many things to do but so little time”, I always say. At work sometimes I believe I am always given too much work for the time alloted to it.

    So far I have been using the 80/20 rule to achieve good time management.

    Nice post.

  • Pinyo

    It’s certainly is easy to fall into the trap of trying to do too much and get nothing done. I fight this demon every day.

  • Patrick

    I’m in the same position as you, I think. I have a lot of half worked projects, and things pulling me in different directions. I feel like I am starting to make much more progress lately. (I think my recent vacation helped me refocus my energy and clear out some mental clutter). I’m interested in reading the responses to this post, because I am definitely open to new ideas.


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