The Progress Factory

I was always impressed by the home of the Mr. Miyagi character in Karate Kid. This guy that worked as a maintenance man at some crummy California hotel had this brilliant Japanese garden in his backyard, while the front yard was almost an extension of a heavy-industrial park. It is these scenes from this campy 80's movie that inspired me to consider what I could achieve in my proverbial backyard with slow-but-steady progress over time [1]. If that guy can do it in his spare time (the character that is), then I could too.

"I came here for 'The Progress Factory', and right off the bat I'm getting references to bad 80's movies. What next?"

Well, hold on, I'm making a point. I was going to say that its easy to get inspired at first, but then overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task ahead if you consider the breadth and the depth of work to be done. In that context, its surprisingly hard to stay inspired from what others have accomplished because of that nagging feeling that what they've achieved is actually out-of-reach, because we can't really quite understand all the steps they took to get there. But, of course, many of those achievements were born out of a simple process of steady progress [2]. A process, or system, I say, and not a one-time herculean effort for a sustained period of time. There are of course places-and-times for such herculean efforts, such as the workplace, but we're talking about what one can achieve for themselves outside of their normal duties. 

Processes and systems win. They have the ability to form habits and to manufacture discipline out of thin air. The one thing they cannot give you is motivation. That has to come from somewhere else: fear or from great desire within.

"Look pal, my problem IS motivation. You're saying you're not going to give me a way to be motivated, what are you giving me and why do I care?"

I can't give you motivation. Thankfully you have some, else you wouldn't even consider reading an article called "The Progress Factory". What you actually need is focus. I am about to describe such a system that helps focus effort over time. It is a framework for progress. At its core is the understanding of the need for creativity and fun alongside the slog. It takes into account that one must have many swings of the bat before any base-hits or home-runs are achieved. It considers that context switching kills progress, and attempts to achieve a balance between the need for progress and the need to not be bored to death. It is a framework that cares primarily about delivering value in very tiny chunks and helping you breakout of your funk.

Here it is, are you ready? Its not complicated, its easy:

Monday - New Ideas Day
Tuesday - Product Development Day
Wednesday - Product Development Day
Thursday - Growth Hacking / Housekeeping Day
Friday - Fun Day
Saturday & Sunday - (You're off the hook) [3]

The only rule that must NEVER be broken: you have to publish something of value every week day. [4]

"So, I'm just supposed to do different stuff on different days of the week... and this is your framework? You sir, have wasted my time!" 

I hope not, so let me ask you something: what is the best time to eat lunch? What is the best time to sleep? The point is, humankind is really good at designating times and places for different activities. And when we've put these combinations of times/ places/activities into regular practice, it seems downright unnatural to do anything different. The best way I can describe this tendency is as a 'mode'. At bedtime, I am in sleeping mode, which is defined as resting and not productive. Each mode comes with its own definition and expectation. I've broken the modes into weekdays, because its best not to context-switch too much if you want to have progress. So, one thing a day for the whole day, and do something different each day.

Some people get addicted to surfing the web instead of being productive, so they create a different workspace for working than recreation. Why? Because they are attempting to create a mental barrier between the two to prevent a negative behavior/reward cycle which is destructive. Creating modes of operation has similar benefit. I just happen to have broken the modes down into weekdays for reasons I have already mentioned.

Help for the Scatterbrained Programmer

"Oh God, you're killing my English language sensibilities. Why call this method the 'The Progress Factory'? Not only is it lame, it isn't a close word association between names of days of the week and the word 'progress'!" 

Ok, here's where we might fly right off the rails. If you can't make the association stick, and if the word association matters that much to your brain, I'll take a crack at explaining the association here:

If you're familiar with OOP, you know the concept of the Factory Pattern by heart. You have these objects that spit out instances of other objects just by asking for them. You don't know what they're called exactly or where they live or what library they're from, you just know you need one. This framework is the factory pattern and each day of the week is a factory object (Tuesday and Wednesday are the same object really). 

The Monday object - it can give me new product ideas if I ask it for one.
The Tuesday & Wednesday objects - it can give me some code changes if I ask it to.
The Thursday object - it can spit out marketing progress on any product I ask it to.
The Friday object - it can spit out a fun excercise.

The nice thing about the factory pattern in practice here is that my scattered brain doesn't have to care what the implementation is in advance. All I know is that on each day of the week I can ask the given object to spit out something of value and it does it.

Breaking it Down

"I totally skipped that last part. You were babbling on about 'OOP' and 'Factory Patterns' and other barely tolerable stuff."

I understand. In fact, if you completely connect with this, you're at the intersection of 1) Technical, 2) Motivated, 3) Scatterbrained, and 4) tolerant of an amateur writing style, which having spent 8 enterprising years at this, I can safely say "heaven help you". But, regardless of whether this describes you, I think this framework, this mode of thinking will help you organize yourself into a steamroller of value that can plow through enormous amounts of progress in a surprisingly short time (relatively speaking).

If you've made it this far, I think its useful to take a quick look at how our factory breaks down:

New Ideas Day (Monday)
On new ideas day, you must conceive of a new product idea, you must come up with 10 keyword phrases that people would use to find the problem, then you make a simple landing page, and borrow liberally from free designs. 

Deliverables: You must ship a landing page and create shells for 10 keyword-targeted pages. 

Product Development Day (Tuesday & Wednesday)
On product development day, you pick a core product and you focus on moving it forward in a technical way. You must stay on the same product ALL day. The purpose is to move the technical pieces forward, as opposed to worrying about the business or growth side.

Deliverables: Before the day is out, you must ship a meaningful code change. That's all. Don't be too ambitious. You only have so many hours.

Growth Hacking / Housekeeping Day (Thursday)
Do something that grows a product that is already making money. This could be content, etc. This may primarily involve communication with a VA to move content-generation forward. 
I find that late in the week is the best time for this because of all the good ideas I've learned during the early part of the week. Usually, this gives me a chance to get a bit of perspective before diving in on something.

Deliverables: Your call. I think the best lower-limit would be to create just one page of content for a targeted keyword/segment.

Fun Day (Friday)
Do whatever you want to coding wise. Make whatever you want to make. Enjoy the experience of creating. Try to move something forward. [5]

Deliverables: Something MUST be put into production, even if its just a landing page. No excuses.

"So, what about Saturday & Sunday? You're advocating that I take the weekend, the best time to actually get a lot of things done... and just consider it a loss? Worst. GTD. Article. Ever." 

Well, frankly, I've learned that I can ask myself to push hard on the days that other people expect me to push hard on their projects (my employer), but I can't reasonably ask myself to push hard on days where no one else expects much of me. I also have a family and previous ongoing commitments that make progress on the weekend very iffy. So, instead of beating myself up over not having progress on these days, (and sometimes resenting my family for not allowing me to get things done on these days), I've let it go completely. Everyone is fine with me pushing hard all week, but the weekend is about recovering, and being a human again. You can be a 'machine' during the weekdays.

The End. Thank you for your time, I hope this helps you in some small way.

"You need an editor. Even if it was useful, it  was horrible writing."

Ok, you've got me there. Good luck to you anyway.

[1] Yes, its a famous quote "A little progress everyday adds up to big results".. .but you didn't have the benefit of my childhood. So, take my advice at face value for now. Look at Mr. Miyagi, thou sluggard. Consider his ways and be wise..

[2] (and decently educated guesses as to which direction is the best to head)

[3] If you don't spend quality time with your family, you deserve all the bitterness you engender from the ones you love. And you will certainly earn any rejection that may come later in live.

[4] "Why not use don't-break-the-chain? I hear Jerry Seinfeld is a wonderful comedian!" I've tried that, its useful, and its a near-fit to what we're talking about. But you have to understand that for someone as scatterbrained as myself, the constraints are just wrong. My value perception on things changes almost by the hour. If I commit to writing 1000 words a day for a particular blog or book, by noon I'll have decided that it was the wrong idea and a waste of time. You can use the Don't-Break-The-Chain in a meta-way by performing this weekday-mechanism every week. Besides, I hear Larry David is much funnier than Jerry Seinfeld.

[5] "But", you say, "Friday isn't a 'fun' day unless I can just screw off". Fine, call it Pot Luck Day then. The point is, do whatever you feel like, as long as its progress. I recommend you pick something fun, therefore "Fun Day".

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