How I Finally Stopped Procrastinating | Micro-habits and Tracking

One of the biggest challenges people face when trying to start (or grow) a side hustle is procrastination. If you've got a day job, kids, or other stuff going on, you won't have much time to work on your side hustle.

This was something I struggled with for years and it wasn't until December 3, 2018, that I finally found a system that works and got me out of my procrastination slump.

I'm going to teach you how I did this and how you can adopt the same system to help grow your side hustle.

Create Systems, Not Goals

All of this started back in November of 2018 when I started reading a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear.

One of the foundational truths he bases everything on really stuck home with me. His advice is:

We don't rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.

One of the best examples of this is setting a weight loss goal.

How often do you hear a friend or coworker say they have a goal to lose 20 pounds yet they fail to lose the weight? That's an example of failing to rise to the level of our goals.

Compare that to someone who just says "I'm going to run for 30 minutes every day".

This isn't a goal, it's a system. It's a habit they're going to show up for every day. Rain or shine, I'm running 30 minutes today and I'll do the same thing next day.

If you string enough of those days together, you'll end up losing 20 pounds way before someone who sets out with that specific goal in mind.

So I read that and liked it. Highlighted it in my Kindle and kept reading. Most of the advice in the book was stuff I had read before.

Until I read 2 important things that changed my life (not an exaggeration!). The 2 keys were:

  • Create micro-habits - habits that are too small to be difficult.
  • Track your habits in obvious, visible places.

I'll explain how I used these with my own side hustle and how you could apply them to some other areas of life if you've been struggling to make progress.

Step 1: Use Micro-Habits

My side hustle is running a portfolio of websites

The amount of money I make on these websites is directly correlated with how many people visit them. More traffic = more money.

And the amount of traffic my websites get is strongly correlated with how much content the website has on it.

The more articles I write, the more visitors I get, the more money I make.

If my goal is to make $10k per month from all of my websites together, then I'm going to need to write at least 500,000 words of content. Bottom line.

(story continues below this rant)

Side Rant on Outsourcing

One of the things people do/recommend when creating websites is to outsource the content creation. This would remove "me" from being the bottle neck but the truth is most writers suck.

Sometimes hiring a writer works, sometimes it doesn't. I've found some decent writers who could write pretty well, but at the end of the day, nobody is going to care as much as I do about my website.

When writers get paid by the word they're incentivized to write quickly and do minimal research.

This is why you'll see a lot of websites where the product review is nothing more than rehashing the specifications like size, weight, and other useless things you'd know from reading the page on Amazon for 30 seconds.

When I write my own articles I go in depth. I spend time researching and finding out everything I can. After an hour of research I know more about the product I'm reviewing than 99.999% of the people shopping for it. This means I can write a credible review and actually convert shoppers to buyers. 

For informational content I'll outsource it to a good writer and pay about $25 per 1,000 words. But for more important articles (like reviewing a $300 item with high search traffic), I write it myself because I get a higher conversion rate.

So that's why I've transitioned to writing my own articles and why I started these habits ๐Ÿ™‚ Now back to the story.

So I know I have to create 500,000 words of content.

But in the last month I've done almost nothing. Maybe I wrote a few thousand words or did a little work on my sites, but nothing consistent.

It's too easy to get distracted by TV, video games, and just relaxing after a long day of work.

I knew I had to change my systems. My goal of making $10k was never going to happen if I didn't have a system that would make it a reality.

Enter micro-habits and tracking.

How to Create Your Micro-Habit

One of the biggest problems people have is they set out to achieve huge things.

In my example of writing content, my to-do list used to have things like "Write review article for Site #1". 

But this article is 3,000 words long and it will involve research, outlining, writing, more research, creating some tables, adding images, etc. It's going to realistically take me at least 2 hours to do.

So it would sit on my to-do list. Days would go by and I'd make no progress on it. Maybe after a week or two I'd feel like I should do something so I'd start and quickly give up after looking at a blank page in front of me.

This system wasn't working. My "habit" of writing didn't work. I just couldn't stick to it.

The advice from the Atomic Habits book I mentioned earlier is to create habits that are so small, you can do them even when you have no willpower left.

The example he gives in the book is for working out. Instead of telling yourself "My habit will be to work out every day", you make it easier. So it becomes "My habit will be to put my work out clothes on every day".

Now you're not signing up to work out. All you have to do is put on your workout clothes and if you're not feeling it, take them back off and don't do it.

Just keep doing this habit every day and you'll start to see progress. At some point you'll break down and figure if you're in your workout clothes, you can just workout for 2 minutes.

Then 2 minutes come and go and you're sticking with it. 2 minutes becomes 10 minutes and all the sudden you've created a habit of working out every day for 10 minutes.

My micro-habit was to write 100 words per day.

That's it. If I didn't really want to write, that was fine. Just write 100 and call it a day.

And I had a lot of days like that. I started this system in early December. So on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve, I wasn't really feeling it. Those days were 100 word days.

But other days I got into it. I had days where I wrote 3,000 words. Today I was planning to get started on this article because I had been putting it off for weeks to work on my other sites. I sat down to write 100 words and now I'm over 1,000.

Since I started on December 3, 2018, I've written (not including this article) 24,124 words. That's an average of 561 words per day. 

So by setting a super easy goal of 100 words, I ended up averaging about 5.5x that amount over the last month and a half.

If I had started out with a habit of writing 500 words every day, I probably would have failed at it. When my daughter had the flu and my son had pink eye over Christmas break, writing wasn't really at the top of my priority list but I made it work. That day I think I wrote 101 words. It took 10 minutes and I closed my laptop and didn't go back to it.

So the first step to killing procrastination is to start small and create a micro-habit that takes less than 10 minutes to do. Then once you get started into your daily habit, if it feels good and you want to continue, go ahead. If it doesn't, you can quit after 10 minutes with no regrets.

Now that you've got a micro-habit established, you have to move on to point #2 which is tracking your habit.

Step #2 - Track Your Habit

The final piece of the puzzle is tracking your habit. There's a common piece of advice thrown around that says it takes 66 days to create a habit.

So if you want to do something, you need to do it for 66 consecutive days before it really becomes a habit. Something you don't even need to think about, it just happens.

It's critical that you can measure how well you are sticking to your micro-habit. If you only do it every other day, it's not going to stick. (James Clear's other rule is if you ever miss a day, don't make it 2. Skipping 2 days is the death of a habit).

Once you track your habit it becomes self-reinforcing. I've stuck with my micro-habit for the last 43 days and half of the motivation is just from not breaking my streak. I've worked hard to keep this going for 43 days and I want to make it 44. The longer I do this and stick with it, the more ingrained it becomes into my daily process.

My brain has changed from saying "I want to write on my website today" to "I have to write on my website". It's not negotiable. Every day, I will do this. No matter what, I'm going to write at least 100 words.

You can track your habit with a pen and calendar or with an app. I use an app called Habit Bull to track my progress.

Every day I enter my word count and it gives me a nice little screen showing my progress. It also shows me a calendar with the number of days I've stuck to my habit.

Here's what my progress looked like after 67 days of tracking my writing.

I also have a widget on my phone's main screen showing me how many days in a row I've successfully completed my micro-habit of writing 100 words.

Every single time I unlock my phone, I'm instantly reminded that my streak is broken for the day. I have until midnight to write 100 words or it will be lost forever. In addition to being a huge motivator, it's also great if your memory sucks.

You'll never forget to do your micro-habit if you put a calendar right on your computer screen or on the home screen of your phone.

Parting Wisdom

Don't make any of this harder than it has to be.

Just figure out what the smallest, easiest version of your habit would be and do that.

Then find a way to track it and get started.

Those are the only 2 things you need to do. If you can just set aside 10 minutes per day, you'll be able to do things that change your life. Just take it 1 day at a time and don't give up. The results won't come right away.

Skipping a donut tomorrow won't make you hit your weight loss goal. But if you work out 10 minutes every day you'll see a huge difference in 6 months. The same thing is true with almost any good change or goal. It takes time and the results compound day after day. The only thing you have to do is show up and put in the time. 

Hopefully this advice will work for you as well as it worked for me. If you want some extra accountability just email me at jim@acceleratedfi.com ๐Ÿ™‚

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