At our recent RWDevCon tutorial conference, in addition to hands-on tutorials, we also had a number of “inspiration talks” – non-technical talks with the goal of giving you a new idea, some battle-won advice, and leaving you excited and energized.
We recorded these talks so that you can enjoy them, even if you didn’t get to attend the conference. Here’s our first talk – titled Feed Your Fire, by myself – I hope you enjoy!
As a computer geek, I spend most of my time indoors. On a typical day I’m only in one of three spots: sleeping in bed, in front of the computer, or stuffing my face in front of the fridge.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but sometimes I’ve gone an entire week without leaving the house at all!
But last summer, I decided I’d had enough of the indoors – it was time to experience the great outdoors. So for the first time ever, I went on a camping trip. Just me, a tent, and the woods.
If you had seen it, you would have laughed at all struggles I had trying to get a basic campfire going:
- How many pieces of wood do I need?
- How do I lay out the logs?
- Why won’t this darn thing light?
- I know, I’ll just look up how to do this on the Internet… oh wait, no cell phone reception.
But I kept at it, and after 5-6 failed attempts, I was finally roasting hot dogs in front of a roaring campfire. This may not seem like a big achievement for those of you who are outdoor folks, but for my geeky indoor self it was a big deal – and let me tell you, those were the best hot dogs I’ve ever tasted.
A Fireside Reflection
As I was spending this time learning how to make a campfire, I had a lot of time afterwards to sit in front of the fire, watch the embers, and drink a beer.
As you do when you’re in front of a campfire, you start replaying the story of your life, and all of its highs and lows.
And as I did this, I realized that all the highs in my life were when I was really motivated about what I was doing, and all the lows in my life were when I was unmotivated.
So today, I invite you to sit back and listen to the campfire story that consumed my thoughts that night as I roasted hot dogs and drank beer.
The Case of the Mysteriously Missing Motivation
The story begins about 6 years ago, when the iPhone SDK was first released, and there was this feeling of excitement in the air. Who here remembers that time?
Now I want you to think – how would people describe you back then, if they had just a single word? Maybe it would be optimistic. Maybe it would be obsessive. Maybe it would be passionate.
Well, the single word my family and friends would’ve used to describe me was: cheap.
At this time, I had just quit my job to become an iOS developer, and my apps weren’t making any money yet, so I was trying to last as long as I could on my savings. I would do anything to save money.
The Italian Sausage
One time, I was at a barbeque at my grandfather’s house, and he was making Italian Sausage, but unfortunately he lost track of time and ended up burning the entire batch to a crisp. I’m talking caked in soot, black all the way around, you could smell the smoke – you could’ve called it Italian Charcoal.
He came to the family and said “I’m really sorry, but I burnt all the sausages, and I’m going to have to throw them all out.” But I said “Wait! Don’t throw them out – I’ll take them!”
My grandfather said, “What are you talking about, you can’t eat these – they’re ruined! Watch this!” he said, and he took a piece and gave it to Peanut, his dog. Peanut was a poodle who was notorious for eating anything, but you know what Peanut did? Peanut took one look at that burned charcoal sausage, sniffed, and turned up his nose.
But despite my family’s horror, I insisted on taking those charred sausages home anyway, and for me it was an epic success – an entire month of cheap eats.
The Haircut Trim
I even gave my haircut budget a trim. “Why pay for a haircut when you can just shave it all off?”, I thought.
Now, some people look great without hair, like Bruce Willis, or Charlie Fulton.
However, I am not one of those people. Who here has seen Lord of the Rings?
I looked kinda like Gollum, hording the money I had saved and saying “my precious”.
You can say I had a lot of motivation for being cheap. But there was one big area I didn’t have a lot of motivation with – a project I was working on that I call the Neverending App.
The Neverending App
Have any of you ever had a project at work that felt like it was neverending? One where every time you take a step forward, the finish line is so far away that it’s like you haven’t moved at all?
Well, there was this app I was working on that felt just like this – it was called Battle Map 2, a map making tool for geeky people like me who like to play Dungeons & Dragons. The project started out great – I was working with a nice clean slate and implementing some cool technical challenges like networking and custom OpenGL code – but 6 months later, I’m still working on the app, and I have a long laundry list of easy but boring features left to do.
Every day, it seemed like I barely made a dent in what needed this list, and every day I’d complain to Vicki and say “Aargh, I feel like this app is never going to get done!”
Since this app was neverending, I started to lose my motivation and soon I didn’t feel like working on the project at all. Instead, I would let myself get distracted by side projects that seemed smaller and easier, and I would work on them instead. I would also do stupid things like stay up too late playing video games, and then I would sleep in too much the next day, as a subconscious way of avoiding working on the app.
Even worse, this compounded upon itself because the longer I’d go without making progress, the more depressed I’d get, and the less I’d feel like working. I started having this pit of sadness in my stomach and I started thinking I was a huge slacker, that I was worthless, and that I’d never be able to make it as an indie iOS developer. It was a really low period in my life, and I felt like I had hit rock bottom.
The Case of the Mysteriously Missing Motivation
The weird thing was, I knew that when I started as an indie iOS developer, I was so excited and so motivated. I knew this is what I wanted to do, and this is where I was meant to be. But now, I felt like that initial spark of motivation had disappeared, and was nowhere to be found. I kept hoping I’d wake up one day and that my motivation would magically pop up again, but it never did. It was the case of the mysteriously missing motivation.
This was a pretty low period of my life – unmotivated, unproductive, and don’t forget – cheap.
However this experience of hitting rock bottom taught me something important. I couldn’t just sit around and wait for my mysteriously missing motivation to show up knocking on my door – because it never would. Unfortunately, your motivational fire isn’t something that just spontaneously combusts all by itself – you have to take control, and build it and nurture it, just like you feed a fire.
Feed Your Fire
Over the years, I’ve tried many different ways of feeding my motivational fire, and I’ve found 3 techniques that have always worked for me that I’d like to share with you today. Without these, I never would have accomplished any of my goals, and would probably still be waiting around for my motivation to come knocking.
The first thing technique that helped me was to Start Small.
Sometimes, the reason why we avoid working on a project is that it seems too huge or overwhelming. The trick is, rather than thinking about how big the project is, instead think about the smallest possible next step to get started.
This technique of starting small is like giving your motivational fire some kindling – a nice small task is easy to burn, and gets the rest of the fire going.
Here’s how it looks in practice: when I didn’t feel like working, I would say, “OK – all you have to do is just work on this for one hour”, or “just fix this one bug.” Or on days that were really bad, I’d say, “All you have to do is open Xcode.”
The cool thing is most of the time when I did this, I ended up working far more than the initial small task I promised myself, because I got “in the zone”. It turns out the hardest part of working on something is overcoming your initial resistance, so by making the initial step small, it makes that resistance easier to overcome.
Get External Motivation
The second thing technique that helped me was to get External Motivation.
When I was working on this app, I was an indie iOS developer, working all by myself, literally living in my mother-in-law’s basement. I had no co-workers, I had no deadlines, and I had no boss saying “Yeah if you could finish the app, that’d be great”.
At first I thought this was pretty awesome. However, in practice this caused major issues with my motivation. For example, I found that since no-one was counting on me to deliver features at any particular time, it made it easier to avoid working on the app entirely, or to work at a slow pace.
When you know that somebody is counting on you to get a project done, and you don’t want to let them down, that’s what I call external motivation. I’ve found that often it’s a lot harder to let somebody else down than it is to let your own self down.
That’s kinda terrible if you think about it, but it’s often true – and that’s why external motivation is so powerful. In fact, I believe external motivation is so strong that it’s like firewood – it’s the core fuel that you need to going through the duration of a long project. You can’t really have a fire without firewood.
Luckily, this is one of the easiest parts of motivation to control. To build in some external motivation for your project, you just need to find someone who will hold you accountable. Ask a friend or relative to watch over you, or publicly declare what you are doing and share progress so you know the world is watching.
In my case, I found this website called stickk.com (with two K’s) where you can set up a goal – say working on Battle Map 2 each day, and set up a stake – say $20 – and finally you set up an impartial referee who will check whether you’ve accomplished your goal or not. I picked Vicki’s twin sister, Andrea, to be my referree. If I accomplished my goal, I got my $20 back, otherwise Andrea got it.
Every day Andrea would check in with me, just hoping to hear that she’d be getting $20.
And then, she’d use the money she won to buy movie tickets, glasses of wine, dinners out at restaurants, and send me gloating pictures!
Well, you guys already know how cheap I am, so this worked great with me :] But all jokes aside it wasn’t really the money that helped me here – it was knowing that somebody was checking up on me, and I’d have to explain to them if I ended up slacking off. Having some external motivation was some much-needed firewood to keep the fire burning.
Do Your Most Important Task First
The third technique that helped me was to do your Most Important Task first. This is one of the most useful tricks I’ve learned over the years – so powerful that I think of it like throwing gasoline on a fire. It guarantees dramatic results that are extremely satisfying and will jump-start your motivational fire every time you do it.
Every day, figure out what your most important task is for that day – say working on Battle Map 2 for 4 hours – and then do that first thing. And I mean first thing – especially before email or checking Twitter, which can be horrible time sinks.
That way, after you finish your most important task for that day, you can rest assured that you’ve made progress toward your #1 goal. If you make progress on something every day, it will eventually get done. It’s a mathematical certainty.
Out of the three tricks we’ve covered so far, this is the one that really pushed me over the edge and got me going. By working on the app for a few hours a day before anything else, I started seeing some noticeable progreess, I started to gain some momentum, I started feeling good again, soon I started feeling excited, and before I had completed the project and launched the app.
An Expert at Being Demotivated
These is just one of the many times in life that I’ve struggled with motivation – perhaps you can say I’m an expert at being demotivated.
But the side benefit is, I’ve learned three ways to feed your fire so it keeps burning strong:
- Start Small, which is like using kindling to start a fire.
- Get External Motivation, which is like the core component of a fire – firewood.
- Do your Most Important Task first, which is like throwing gasoline while laughing like a maniac.
RWDevCon and You
My hope is that this weekend at RWDevCon, some our team’s passion for iOS, tvOS, and watchOS development spreads to you, and that we help you gain motivation to take what you learn here and create something incredible with it.
But how is that gonna work? I’ve been at too many conferences where all I did was fill up a document in Evernote and never look at it again. While I’m at a conference, my motivational fire is going strong – but when I go home, it often fizzles out.
The key here is to step up and take control your motivation. For example:
- Start with something small when you get home – like take one thing you learn here and integrate it into one of your apps.
- Find a friend to make sure do this – like a co-worker, a supervisor, or even someone you meet here at RWDevCon.
- Consider making this your Most Important Task for a certain day, that you do before anything else.
At the end of this conference, you’ll have a blazing spark of motivation – and if you feed your fire with these techniques, it’ll keep burning brighter and brighter even after you return home.
Where To Go From Here?
Remember, that everybody has struggles with motivation. But don’t fall into the trap I did, of thinking of motivation as this mysterious force that comes and goes on its own, and that you have to sit around and wait to come knocking. Because that knock may never come.
Instead, remember that just like building a fire, you have control, and you need to feed and nurture your motivation.
If you do this, one day you’ll be able to sit back in front of a roaring campfire, replay the story of your life, and think of all the highs that you’ve accomplished – with a big smile, and a cold beer. Thank you.