How to get started and stay focused – the green dot experiment [case study]

how to get started and stay focused

Why you need to get started today (and the best way I found to stay focused every day)

This is a very personal story and I’m putting it out there in the hope that it may help you achieve your personal or business goals as well. It’s presented in the context of starting and writing a blog, but I feel it can be used for just about any goal. You be the judge.

Let me be blunt: Procrastination is the biggest killer of our dreams and ultimately our success.

I know, from my own experience. Let me tell you a quick story. I have been thinking about starting a blog for several months. I was busy and kept postponing it every day, every week, for months. It was easy to do. I just kept justifying it to myself every time I remembered:

“I had a busy day today and really need a bit of rest. I’ll do it later when I come back from the shops. I have to change the oil in my car today. I have to cut the grass. We are going out this afternoon, I might start tomorrow.” With each week passing by, the goal of becoming a successful blogger and earning income online was getting further and further away.

Perhaps you know all about it…

At the beginning it even felt good (“I haven’t started yet, but am going to do it soon”). Then, guilt and regret started setting in. I was becoming more and more unhappy with my life, my progress, myself.

The funny thing is I was still spending hours every week searching the Internet and uncovering more and more great information. Yet I couldn’t get myself up to working on my goal and I kept telling myself that I was too busy or too tired.

One of my favourite pastimes was looking at the income reports of the top bloggers. Then one day it dawned on me: Their income keeps increasing every month and I haven’t even started yet. What is going on here? Why do I keep sabotaging myself?

Then I remembered what the late Jim Rohn used to say when he was still alive: “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret… Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment… Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practised every day…”.

I realised that I already suffered the pain of regret and if I didn’t do anything about it, it would only get bigger.

So, what happened next? I made a decision. Finally. I decided that I would start that very day. I spent the next few days coming up with the niche and the domain name. Registered the domain name, found a web host and set up my blog with a free WordPress theme.

I was off to the races. Or so I thought. Created my about page and spent a few days writing the first post. Well-researched, over 3,500 words, I was so proud of myself. You would have thought I would now continue. Wrong.

My inner GPS must still have been set on the ‘procrastinate’ setting. I kept sabotaging myself but at first it was so subtle I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

I set aside an hour per day to work on my blog. And for several weeks I did indeed spend an hour per day, almost every day. However, what I was spending almost all of my time on was still searching for more ideas. I was not writing any content, not building any links. My blog was in a total halt while I was telling myself that I was “working on it” each day.

Initially I was even feeling good about myself for spending the time “on my blog” consistently. Then it got worse, I would find ways not to get into it most days, then I finally got “discouraged” and stopped completely for several months.

For almost a full year I kept justifying again: I was too busy, too tired, I would continue tomorrow, whatever.

All the while I was feeling more and more regret and tried a number of times to figure out how to break this cycle.

After about a year of doing this to myself I decided enough was enough. When that decision was made I got started on a brand new blog – this one.

 

How I finally broke the cycle of procrastination

When broken down (pun intended) to the very core elements, the basic activity of a blogger is to regularly produce useful content. This is the basic and most important KPI (key performance indicator) for you and me as bloggers.

I decided to write a minimum of 500 words of content every day, seven days a week, for the next several months. I knew that if I could do just that, I would get into the habit of really working on my blog each day.

That’s when one morning, soon after, an idea just came to me from my subconscious mind. The idea was: “I’m a visual person. I’ll buy myself a wall calendar and some green and red dot stickers. I will place the calendar in a spot where I and my whole family will be able to see it many times a day. Each day, after I wrote at least 500 words for the day, I’ll place a green dot on the calendar. If I fail to write 500 words that day, I’ll stick a red dot on the calendar. Weekends included.”

That’s exactly what I did. It was second half of April, so I had a bit of trouble finding a wall calendar. However, my whole family was firmly behind the idea and my son happened to walk past a shop that still had some wall calendars for sale at the front of the shop.

Not only was I able to buy a calendar, it was with great motivational quotes by Winston Churchill. To top it all off, the calendar is all in black-and-white which means that the coloured dots really do stand out. This really made my day.

So how am I going with this new accountability method? Going great actually. This is the best idea ever! I have been doing this for over four months now. Have not skipped a single day of writing 500 words yet. No red dots. They are all green. I have published a few (really long) posts already and have many more written in a raw format, awaiting publication. Below is the actual photo of the calendar, from August 2018.

the green dot technique

I feel It’s not just a visual game any more, I believe I have already formed a habit of writing by doing it for some 150 days in a row. Napoleon Hill (the author of Think and Grow Rich) used to say that when you first get an idea, you have to nurture it every day so it becomes a burning desire. After while the idea gets a life of its own and starts nurturing you. This is what I feel is currently happening to me.

Every day after work, this is the most important activity I find myself drawn to. As soon as I had something to eat, I go to my laptop and start writing another 500 words or more. It’s incredible. No TV, no internet surfing, until it’s done. Just me and the word processor.

On the weekends, this is my first “real” activity of the day. Often before I even have breakfast.

Sometimes it just flows and all it takes to write 500 words that day is 30 minutes. Other times I can feel a bit stuck or have to do some research to better document the topic I’m writing about. On those days it may take up to an hour and a half. But I usually only notice the time once I’m done writing.

Why am I telling you all this? I’m hoping to get you excited about the idea and if you have already started, then congratulations! I hope you keep going every day. If you haven’t started yet, I hope you will. Today. Seriously. Listen, if you have any doubts about this (or your writing abilities), there is only one way to find out for yourself: by doing it.

 

The green dot technique can work for any goal

About a month after I started, my son got started with the green dot technique as well. He had his own daily goal, which was to reply to one job advertisement in his chosen profession. It took a while as he was competing with people much more experienced than himself. However, he did not relent and worked on his green dot every day, weekends included. Not a single red dot. And finally it happened. Couple of weeks ago he got a fantastic offer, in his chosen field.

When he was few weeks into it, we had a bit of a chat and he said he was inspired by what I was doing and wanted to use it to achieve his career goal. He also said something equally interesting: “Dad, there is no way in hell I would have started it if you hadn’t have done it consistently day after day.”

So, I’m really hoping to inspire you to get going and keep going with the green dot technique. If you find it a chore at the beginning, just think one day at a time. After you see a few green dots in a row, your attitude is likely to shift. It could be a slow and steady shift, or a dramatic one. But it will happen. Just nurture it at the beginning, like Napoleon Hill said. The visual reminder of green dots will help you with that. After a while the idea will start nurturing you. That’s when you will know you are getting into a habit of doing it. That’s when you will know you will succeed.

In case it’s not immediately obvious, the green dot technique can be used to achieve any goal you want. You just need to make sure that the yardstick you use to measure your success is real. “To spend one hour on my blog each day” is not real. You could be just wasting that hour doing more research like I used to. “To write 500 words for my blog each day”. Now, that’s a real measurement. To apply for one advertised job position per day is also a real measurement.

Why is it working when nothing else worked for me before? I don’t know for sure but I do have some ideas about it. Perhaps I was ready, finally. I mean like “enough is enough” type of ready. Perhaps I needed to be accountable to my family and myself. Most likely all of the above. But most of all, this is almost like a game for me now. I want to see how many consecutive green dots I can get, without getting a red dot.

Will it work for you? Not sure, it might if you are ready and if it hits the right cord with you. One thing is for sure: there is only one way to find out. So why don’t you try it and find out for yourself? Then let us all know in the comments below how it worked for you.

Finally, let’s talk briefly about another objection you may have:

 

But I can’t write

That’s unlikely. What you probably mean is that you don’t consider yourself to be a writer. The good news is you don’t have to be. Probably even better if you are not (seriously). The most interesting blogs I keep reading are basically written like we tend to speak, by “normal” everyday people just like you and me. Your English language professor probably would not approve this kind of writing style. But I’m at peace with that. What counts is that most of us prefer to read those pieces which are written in a natural, conversational tone, rather than those boring essays, written in proper English.

The blogs I tend to like the most are the ones that share the unique voice and style of the blog owner. And I bet it’s not just me. This is one of the key reasons why these blogs are so popular (besides being very useful).

Did you know that most newspaper articles are written in a simple, grade 10, language? This is done deliberately so that the articles sound more interesting and are easier to read and comprehend by an average reader.

I even came across a blogger not long ago (who will remain nameless, as I’m not in a business of embarrassing anyone) who said that he spent a few years travelling in Asia and teaching English (he is a native English speaker). His spelling was so bad that one of the readers commented “Are you sure you actually worked as an English teacher? Your English spelling is terrible”. Yet the interesting part is that I, and many others, found his blog very informative and interesting to read. The chap didn’t even seem to be fazed – he said “this is just the way I write, I don’t proofread my posts”.

Why am I telling you this? The point I’m trying to make is that yes, you too can write. We have been through years of school and writing is one of the basic skills we learned from grade one onwards. Just write the way you speak and you’ll be fine.

Still not convinced? Just google for best blogs in your particular area of interest and read some posts and see for yourself. There is nothing complicated about it. You can do it too.

And (didn’t your English teacher tell you that you never start a sentence with “and”?) the more you write, the better and easier your writing will become. That’s right. The best way to become better at writing is to actually write.

I will leave you with one of Churchill’s quotes (from my wall calendar of course – see the photo above): “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking your potential.” Thank you Mr Churchill.

Did you find this post useful? Will you use the green dot technique to achieve your own writing (or other) goals? Please let us know in the comments below.

 

Until next time. Stay focused.

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