The man who can truly motivate, discipline, and work himself to 100% of his productive capacity is rare. It's hard to estimate the number, because I don't know anyone that truly sustains that level of performance day-in and day-out.
What percent of people do that?
It's hard to say. If you were working as focused and as hard as you could, very consistently, you'd hit the upper reaches of your growth curve and stay on it. Yet, when you benchmark performance, you see that most people are not doing as well as they could be.
Crude metrics like sales calls, deals worked on, words written, features created, and so on, would show most people don't put in the focused effort they could.
Likewise, subjective ratings of effort on a daily basis would likely show the same thing. If you got down to the nitty-gritty of tracking time, the picture gets even bleaker. How many days do you actually put in a focused effort of 10+ hours without distraction or screwing around?
Excuses abound on why great performance doesn't happen, and some of them are even somewhat valid. But even when you've got a project of pure love and passion, how often do you get into a great flow and rip off a 10-hour highly focused work spree? Rarely, eh?
After working for yourself for an extended period of time unsupervised, it becomes easier to understand why the traditional corporate structure is set up the way it is with executives, middle managers, and employees. When you have a project or task that has no external accountability at all that will take at least a couple weeks to complete, the chances that you refrain from screwing around and just get quickly to work are... well, at times it can be pretty abysmal. And that's even among the people who venture out into the self-directed, self-managed, purely-self-accountable realm.
Thus, there's a tremendous value in external accountability. Someone who will check up on you.
Yet, even then, how often are you procrastinating the running down of your tasks, and wasting time grinding away before you get into it?
And the worst part of it might be that the procrastination time isn't even enjoyable, fun, or pleasant. It's just a natural human thing.
Literally, sitting next to someone who is just as invested in the same thing, and checking up on each other.
"What are you doing now? Are you working?"
It's insufferable, to some extent. But also incredibly liberating. "Can I screw around? No, I'm really truly held accountable. I should just working."
If you're working on something you broadly like, or with people you broadly like, and your work serves your goals... then most likely, you actually like it when you get down to work. The answer might be to grab some accountability for your company, freelancing, project, or creative endeavor. And if you try it, try real-time accountability. It's one of the most effective things I've found for putting in highly focused, high quality, highly positive and productive hours.
Are you reading my mind, Sebastian? Just yesterday I sat down with my co-founder and we did 30 minutes of pair programming, him supervising me. We were supposed to work for 2 hours but the task got done in half of one instead. As a result, the whole day got on momentum and we lined up a row of wins in other areas.
We will definitely be doing the 30 minute pair-momentum thing again.
I was wondering if pair programming really worked. I cannot conceive how.
Could you elaborate a little on this? (sort of off-topic, I know)
Programming is thinking and typing. Pair programming works when there is more thinking to be done than typing. Most software fits into that category. To make it really work, though, it has to be the kind of thinking that benefits from two minds, and the programmers need to be roughly equal in ability or else the one will dominate and the other will be useless.
I used to work with a guy who has a bad case of ADD. Sometimes, the only way to get him working was to sit right next to him, and keep asking him "What's next?"
This also reminds me of the recently-famous post "How I quadrupled my productivity by hiring someone to slap me".
My current (remote) company has a live chat room that people are active in all day, and that posts updates like people's commits and updates to tickets, etc.
Remarkably effective for this.
Question from a reader --
"I have a project that needs to be done in 5 days. I've made solid progress on it.. but definitely will need to deathmarch / burn the midnight oil as you call it to get it done.
I still need to finish content creation, create videos, and upload them to the site. As with any project.. it's hard to say "I'm Done".. though I know shipping is necessary.
On my wall I have these reminders
Showing off is super important. I don’t mean that in the hot-rod, flashy, “Look at my car and my super awesome muscles” way… though if I have to say so, my muscles ARE super awesome. What I mean is, it is very important to show your work to people. And not just show them, but PLAN to show them, and tell them about those plans so they can hold you accountable if you don’t.
This point was driven home to me a few weeks ago when I showed off King Randall’s Party at the Made in Mass Developers Party, which occurs every year before PAX East. Hosted by some friendly faces at Microsoft, people treat it mostly as a party; great beer and food is served, and we are surrounded by our fellow developers. At the same time there are tons of tables where developers from MA can show off their games and provide entertainment for the party goes. It’s a real win-win type of event.
In the months leading up to the party before it was confirmed that I would have a table, I had been working hard on KRP, or so I thought. After I got confirmation that I would have a table at the event, my development speed jumped tremendously. Just the thought that I would have hundreds of people looking at my game really drove me to produce higher quality work, faster. I've noticed this effect also occurs whenever I tell someone – a friend, family member, or someone else whose opinion I highly regard, that I’ll show them XYZ on such and such date.