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Keep Moving from Abstraction to Action

About tasks☑️ and time🕚, work📑 and wine🍷, vision💡 and definition📍, doing✍🏻 and doubting🤔 – a little tale of managing motivation🤗, progress📈 and pressure😱.

By the time we are posting this, we wanted to have a first release online. It is so easy to underestimate the work ahead, and overestimate the available time – or your own capabilities and productivity🤔. But although it sometimes felt like we made excruciatingly slow progress over several weeks⏳, we wanted to keep going, and not abandon the idea at such an early stage.

Don’t get distracted by the vision🚫

While we often had the impression that our efforts stalled a little bit, this was not merely because of sheer laziness. Of course, we could always try and work harder. But at the core of our inconsistent progress was the issue of juggling a somewhat ambitious side project with a full-time job – and a life in one of the most exciting cities in the world⚖️.

When enthusiastically starting a new, exciting project, it is easy to centre all attention on the big ideas, the major steps and massive tasks. From the start, our plan was to avoid this🚫, and instead make small advancements continuously. It can be difficult to do actual work, when it appears to be so much more interesting to get distracted by the grand idea. However, we quickly realised that to make progress with limited time and resources, it is better to take many small steps and do the little things that get us closer to our goal👣, than to do nothing tangible at all while thinking about the idea and refining the master plan.

This tension between high-level, complex, resource-intensive tasks which are directly connected to the vision and on the other hand small, seemingly low-impact activities which can be too easily dismissed needs to be navigated carefully in order to remain motivated and deliver the Minimum Viable Product🍾. We are still on our way, but etching closer every week.

Gamify the path to success📊

Something that helped us to keep track of all the little things and also to visualise our progress in context with the bigger idea in some way, was our basic project management setup in GitLab.

By using an agile, Scrum-inspired approach throughout all work, not only for the development tasks, we could already outline the bigger picture, formalise the major steps in so called milestones, without going deep into the details. At the same time, this iterative planning and tracking🔄 of more manageable packages of work allowed us to start ticking the smaller, more immediate items off the list quickly☑️, using issues in GitLab. Step by step, this clearly showed the actual progress we were making.

It is essential to value the smallest of contributions that confirm to ourselves that we are on track and put it into context with the larger goal. Even if we just add another bullet point somewhere, we still move and work towards the product, helping us to appreciate the little, casual contributions just as much as the bigger ones, when we transition from one planning milestone to the next.

Prioritise simplicity and flexibility📋

Using simple, accessible tools was key to be able to do the little things.

Most of the ideas, concepts and drafting happens on the go on an iPad with Google Keep. I have my tablet with me most of the time anyway, and as all project documentation is online on, everything I need is accessible with a single touch, or two👋🏻.

I don’t code on the iPad (maybe just yet?), but I can brainstorm, write up technical concepts, draft articles and even draw design ideas easily and quickly✍🏻. At home, in my lunch break, on holiday, at weekends. Anytime. Anywhere🌐.

Of course, there might be much better tools for the different tasks, but being able to write and edit content across devices gives me the flexibility I need to stay productive and use my spare time effectively.

Give yourself time to think💭

Especially early into the project, we spent quite some time thinking about what to do and how to do it🤔. As we were carrying the ideas around with us and refined the name ideas, concept and data structure bit by bit, without getting much closer to the implementation, we still felt that giving ourselves that time and not start coding right away should help avoiding some issues later.

From other projects, we already knew that thinking about the next steps and having a data structure that easily supports more features than you need from the start will save time, when you reach the stage to expand the basic service🔧.

On a nice Saturday, when I was enjoying a coffee☕️, a smart fellow guest at my local coffee shop recommended the podcast TED Radio Hour to me and soon, I started listening to the archive. When I had the episode NPR TED Radio Hour: “Slowing Down” on my ears 🎧, I suddenly thought that the research about ‘taking it easy’ and procrastinating from time to time is quite encouraging, and nicely supports how we made progress and developed our idea and product so far.

The part of the podcast that I found most relevant is based on a TED Talk by Adam Grant: “The surprising habits of original thinkers”. Here the key points that stuck with me, quoted from a New York Times article published in January 2016:

It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.
When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns.
What I discovered was that in every creative project, there are moments that require thinking more laterally and, yes, more slowly.

(Adam Grant, “Why I taught myself to procrastinate,” The New York Times, January 2016 – our emphasis🖍.)

Be nice to yourself – and flexible with your deadlines🏳

As we started to draft a communication and content strategy while thinking about getting the word out about UnscrewMe before the actual launch🚀, I noticed that I ended up spending more and more time writing articles, and less time reading. Although it makes me a bit upset that I fell behind my reading schedule to get through one of my favourite monthly magazines before the next issue arrives📚, I am happy that I managed so far to mostly finish my articles before my target dates📅. Moving from consumption to production also feels good🤓.

Since there’s nobody telling us to deliver anything at all ever, we do not have strict deadlines we need to hit. Anyway, in parallel to our development milestones, we have also created a list with currently 16 articles in total that we want to write to give you some insight into what we are doing behind the scenes. Roughly one article per week, which will keep us busy for the coming months, before and after the launch.

Sometimes we decided to give ourselves two weeks between articles. I must admit that setting ourselves target dates does help me getting things done and finishing the articles within the defined publication schedule🏁. I’ve now even started writing on two or three drafts in parallel. So when one is largely finished and just needs final editing, I already start making up my mind about the next one and start drafting. I am quite happy how this is going so far and I feel that I get more efficient in my writing practice.

Not that I’m new to writing, creating professional content has been my day job for quite a few years by now, but writing for my own project is different from churning out marketing content for others, that is not associated with you directly in any way. Before I get distracted by the intricacies of text creation, I stop here – but I will go into more detail of the writing process in a separate article📝.

Tell others about it to spur expectations📣

Besides valuing the little things and trying to do small tasks whenever we have time and can motivate ourselves, we’ve also started talking about UnscrewMe to more and more people.

For months, only a handful of close friends knew that I was working on something. After a while, when I had come clear about some details, like the name and when I had started coding, I decided to spread the word more generously📢.

This was not only to tell everyone about the great idea, no, it was mainly to put some pressure on myself: when more people know about it, more people might ask me about it, and more people might expect to see something eventually😱. While I could still simply lose interest and shelf it all, I found that making people aware that I’m working on UnscrewMe does help me to sit down and actually work on it.

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Develop and cultivate routines🗓

I like travelling🚅, yet I tend to be a bit slow taking all my holidays. Similarly to last year, this year I again had too many free days remaining around June or July. Also like last year, I’ve then quickly decided to take Fridays off for two months. I still had enough days left for a few city breaks to Amsterdam🇳🇱, Split🇭🇷 and to visit a friend in Sweden🇸🇪 over long weekends – but focusing on Fridays on UnscrewMe helped me to make faster progress📈. While I didn’t quite get up as early as I do when I commute into the office, I still got up like I would get up when working from home.

Even before taking Fridays off, I started to regularly work remotely☕️and developed a well-rehearsed routine⚙️. I usually start at home, before migrating over to my local coffee shop for a bit. Around lunch, I often relocate again. If I find a free desk, I work at Google Campus during the afternoon. If not, there are coffee shops in the area like Attendant and Sourced Market that have good opening hours and are quite convenient to work👨🏻‍💻.

I enjoy having this change of environment once a week and believe that it contributes to my job satisfaction and increases my overall productivity. While working in a co-working environment or coffee shop can be distracting, it also facilitates chance encounters with interesting people👥, leading to inspiring conversations and new insights.

So, when I had Fridays off, I used my routine established when working remotely, to push ahead with UnscrewMe. I still found myself lagging behind my goals and aspirations, yet I managed to get myself up to speed with some new technologies and built out a data model with a complete proof of concept – mostly on my free Fridays🐇.

Since I used up all my holidays over the summer, and now no longer take Fridays off, I already see how development has slowed down a bit🐢. However, I am working on accelerating progress again soon.

Keep pushing and not giving up is essential to make progress. To develop a better idea of the business opportunity around our product, we wanted to approach the concept through a structured framework, exploring, defining and refining possible business models💼. Our tool of choice is the Lean Canvas – a simple way to understand the environment, potential and risks better and build a successful business strategy.

(When working on a draft over weeks, bits and pieces are being written at many places🗺, even at Bliss Coffee in Wimbledon during my lunch breaks.
A few glasses of wine helped as well – most notably perhaps the Romanian Daciana Pinot Noir at Ugly Dumpling – a beautiful, light Pinot Noir full of raspberry notes.
On my way home from an event, I stumbled into the Vagabond wine bar in Victoria and went through small tasters of a lovely Weisser Burgunder, or Pinot Blanc, from German winemaker Wittmann that reminded me a bit of honey and I tried a top of the range Grosses Gewächs Riesling, I think the Morstein – it was a perfectly balanced Riesling that made me smile and the ideas flowed out of my mind. While I should have changed the order of the wines and end with that Riesling, I went on to have a crisp and fresh Sancerre CroqCaillotte by Emile Balland – ripe green fruit notes paired with nice acidity and a slightly peppery finish made this a joy to drink.
Also, there was a very pleasant El Mago Organic Garnacha, or Grenache, from the Terra Alta region in Spain I had at Barrafina in Covent Garden🍷 during an editing session.)

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First published in November 2017.
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