Brian Gilham

Engineering leader, husband, and father

consistency

Season Finale

Every article you read about blogging — or, ugh, content marketing — says the same thing: it’s important to consistently produce content. A new article every week. Fresh podcast episodes every few days. A new album every year or two. The medium doesn’t really matter. All that matters is you’re pushing out new stuff on a regular basis. And it’s true. When people ask for my advice about starting a blog or email newsletter, the first thing I tell them is to pick a schedule and stick to it.

Every article you read about blogging — or, ugh, content marketing — says the same thing: it’s important to consistently produce content. A new article every week. Fresh podcast episodes every few days. A new album every year or two.

The medium doesn’t really matter. All that matters is you’re pushing out new stuff on a regular basis.

And it’s true. When people ask for my advice about starting a blog or email newsletter, the first thing I tell them is to pick a schedule and stick to it.

It works, but it’s really hard to pull off. Creating something new every week is daunting. And the idea of doing it forever is downright frightening

How long can someone really keep that up?

I love the Invisible Office Hours podcast, hosted by Paul Jarvis and Jason Zook . Unlike most other podcasts, they don’t post a new episode every week. Rather, they create an entire season of episodes and post them all at once.

They create the best work they can. Then, they go away for a while.

Next week marks the 52nd edition of the Monday Mailer. One article a week for an entire year. I look at that number and I’m damn proud of it. But I have to be honest; there have been plenty of times I’ve wondered if I can really keep this up.

There’s value in learning the habits required to write something new each and every week. But I’m beginning to think there’s a point of diminishing returns.

For the last 52 weeks, I’ve written about productivity, building a career, and finding your motivation. Those are topics I care about deeply and, far too often, they’re dismissed by programmers. 

But I’m rapidly approaching the point where I’ve said all I have to say about them, for now. So maybe, just maybe, it’s time to bring this season to a close.

I found a quote from Terry Pratchett I really love:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

More next week.

Until then,

-Brian


Activation Energy

There’s a chemistry term I recently learned: activation energy. It’s the amount of energy required to start a chemical reaction – which is always higher than the amount needed to maintain the reaction. It’s like trying to push a giant boulder. You strain and grunt at first, struggling to push it even an inch. But once it starts rolling, it takes a fraction of that initial energy to keep it moving.

There’s a chemistry term I recently learned: activation energy. It’s the amount of energy required to start a chemical reaction – which is always higher than the amount needed to maintain the reaction. It’s like trying to push a giant boulder. You strain and grunt at first, struggling to push it even an inch. But once it starts rolling, it takes a fraction of that initial energy to keep it moving.

It’s a concept that applies to our work, too. There are times I sit down to write the Monday Mailer and, despite the brainstorming and outlining I’ve done, the words just won’t come. But I know if I start typing something, anything, it’ll get easier.

Here’re some of my ideas for lowering the activation energy required to do your work.

1. Set a timer

I’ve recently become a fan of the Pomodoro Technique. I sit down, set a timer for 25 minutes, and focus exclusively on writing until it goes off. I don’t worry about sentence structure or proper grammar, I just write. More often than not, it helps my brain warm up, and I write for an hour or more.

2. Do a little bit, every day

A small, focused task – done daily – beats sporadic effort every time. It’s hard to gather the energy to start something new; especially after an extended absence. If I write a little bit every day, it’s a lot easier to publish the newsletter each week. But if I wait until Sunday night, it feels like an impossible task. I recently started dedicating two hours to writing every morning, and it’s made a huge difference in my output.

3. Be prepared

There’s a term from the culinary world I love: mise en place. It means “putting in place.” It refers to the work you have to do before you start cooking – organizing your ingredients and tools. It’s the work before the work. We can steal this concept for our projects. At the end of the day, take the time to clean up your desk, cross items off your to-do list, and make a plan for the next day. You’ll thank yourself, tomorrow.

This stuff works for me, but I’m curious: what techniques do you have for gathering the energy to start something new? Reply to this email and let me know. I’ll try to share some of the ideas in next week’s email.

Until next time,

–Brian


Lose the Crutch

For the longest time I thought I needed caffeine to be productive. I needed a lot of things, actually. I needed the perfect time, with no distractions. I needed my favourite chair, at my favourite desk. I needed my coding playlist. I needed my giant monitor. I needed the right motivation or inspiration. I needed that jolt of caffeine. With everything in place, I could finally get to work. Conditions were perfect.

For the longest time I thought I needed caffeine to be productive. I needed a lot of things, actually.

I needed the perfect time, with no distractions.

I needed my favourite chair, at my favourite desk.

I needed my coding playlist.

I needed my giant monitor.

needed the right motivation or inspiration.

I needed that jolt of caffeine.

With everything in place, I could finally get to work. Conditions were perfect.

Except they weren’t, most of the time.

I didn’t need any of those things. Each one was a crutch. A tiny, perfect excuse to procrastinate.

Waiting for inspiration, motivation, or a “perfect moment” is for amateurs. A true professional knows the best way to accomplish anything is to sit down, shut up, and put in the damn work. Each and every day.

Want to get better at programming? Come up with a side project and work on it every day.

Wish you could improve your writing? Write 500 words every day.

Want to get better at cooking? Cook one meal – you guessed it – every day.

Doing great work is, in many ways, a numbers game. The more time you spend honing your craft and putting the work in, the better your odds of creating something great. You may not be the best in your field, but you can certainly work harder than everyone else.

So what’s holding you back? What excuses are you using to procrastinate? If any device, tool, setting, mood, or beverage becomes necessary to work, it needs to be jettisoned. Right quick.

Until next time,

–Brian