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Ship It: 10 Methods for Getting More Work Done

Why you should always be shipping & how to beat planning paralysis and get things done

How good does it feel to check things off of your to do list? To get that campaign out the door, to share a design brief with your agency, to finally have that difficult conversation with your boss? One tick mark, two tick marks, three tick marks, and you’re on a roll. It seems like nothing can stop you from getting it all done. No task is too big or too difficult. At the end of those days, you can sit back on your couch with a glass of wine, a clear mind, and a sense of accomplishment. Shipping feels good.

What does it mean to “ship”?

To ship means to deliver a piece of work. It means to send something out the door for the others to see. It means to expose yourself and get feedback. Ultimately, it means to create some amount of value. Shipping doesn’t have to mean that the whole project is complete before sharing it. In my work as a marketing consultant, I help clients to ship work in two-week sprint cycles. When thinking about a marketing campaign, this could mean that we’ve sent out a survey to gain customer feedback or we’ve sent a marketing brief to the agency. Just writing the brief and not sharing it does not count as “shipping.” Shipping is not spending 2 months to craft the perfect marketing plan before it sees the light of day. It’s doing the work in small increments and sending it out into the world for a reaction.

Why should you ship early and often?

Feedback: Shipping work early and often allows you to get feedback quickly. The earlier you get feedback, the more quickly you can learn from it and course correct if necessary. When you put a new product feature into the market, you can find out what your customers think. If customers tell you they don’t like the feature, then it’s time to learn from the feedback, pivot, and try something else. By shipping early and often, you will create customer value more quickly.

Momentum: Remember that feeling of invincibility you had as you ticked items off of your to-do list? Shipping early and often creates momentum that is unstoppable. The more you ship, the more you ship. That momentum makes us more productive and able to accomplish more on a daily basis.

Happiness: Shipping maximizes our ability to contribute to the world. It gives us a sense of accomplishment that is very satisfying and makes us happy.

What’s stopping you from shipping?

We know that shipping is a good thing for business and it even makes us feel good. So why is it that some days we can’t get ourselves to ship? Why on certain days does simply beginning the first task feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done? You’ll turn it over and over in your head – plan how you’ll do it, when you’ll do it, how much time it will take – but then never actually do it. Does this sound familiar? I call it planning paralysis and it prevents us from getting work done.

So what causes this planning paralysis? What’s stopping you from shipping? I find that for most people it’s a combination of the following reasons:

Work overload: “I have so many things going on right now, how could I possibly get any of them done?”

Fear of criticism: “It needs to be perfect, so let me spend some more time on it. I only want to show it to people in a polished form.”

Fear of failure: “How bad will it feel if I fail? Will people think I’m not worthy?”

Feeling overwhelmed: “I get tired just thinking about everything that needs to be done to complete the task, so I’m putting it off for when I’ll have more energy.”

Fear of the unknown: “I don’t know how to do this or how to start, so I’m going to put off starting.”

Getting to Shipped

Fortunately, there are some effective ways to beat planning paralysis and start shipping. Below are my top 10 favorite methods:

1. Just start: You will have to start at some point, so what if you just start now? Stop thinking about all of the things you need to have in order before starting and see what happens if you begin now. It might surprise you how much easier shipping becomes when you take away all of the thought and anxiety around planning to start.

2. Break your work into bite-sized chunks: When a project feels overwhelming or you’re not sure where to start, break it down into the smallest task level possible. Once you see all of the individual tasks, the project suddenly feels more achievable. You will be better able to start chipping away at the larger project. Even if you can’t complete the whole piece of work at once, you can ship at the task level.

3. Give yourself shorter deadlines: Institute shorter timelines for work delivery deadlines. Ideally you should be shipping work every 2-3 weeks (the shorter you can make this, the better). If you can’t complete the whole project in that amount of time, you can still ship small increments of the project.

4. Time box: In the words of the wise Kimmy Schmidt, “… a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds, then you just start on a new 10 seconds. All you’ve got to do is take it 10 seconds at a time.” Give yourself a set amount of time to focus on a task and then take a break. This time should be dedicated time with no distractions (i.e. turn off your phone, fight the urge to check email, etc.). Check out the Pomodoro technique for one very effective method of time boxing.

5. Calendarize work time: Some days we hop from meeting to meeting, with no time to get our work done. A simple solution for this issue is to schedule dedicated work time on your calendar and honor that time. Respectfully decline meetings that are scheduled over that time.

6. Limit your work-in-progress bucket: Focus on one thing at a time because, no, you can’t actually multi-task well. “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller out of MIT. In fact, a study reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that people were up to 40% slower to complete tasks when multi-tasking.

7. Create accountability (and a cheering squad!): Make sure that you create some level of accountability in your work process. This could take the form of check-ins with your team or a dedicated accountability partner (someone on your team, a friend, or a family member). The most important aspect of accountability is consistency, so make sure that you schedule frequent dedicated time. During this time you should be discussing work progress and any impediments you’re facing. One example of accountability that my team uses is a “daily scrum” or “stand-up” – a 15-minute daily morning meeting where we answer three questions: 1) what did you do yesterday? 2) what do you plan to do today? 3) are there any impediments in your way?

8. Ask for help: If you don’t know where to start, ask for help. My rule of thumb is if you’ve tried to figure out a problem for at least one hour and you’ve gotten nowhere, it’s time to ask for help.

9. Become comfortable with “good enough”: Become comfortable with work output that is 80% perfect because: 1) done is better than unfinished; and 2) the added value of making something perfect is probably not worth the added time (and you’ll probably never get to perfect anyway!).

10. Believe in yourself! Oftentimes we convince ourselves that we can’t do something or that someone else would do it better. In reality, most of us are fully capable of doing the work required to ship and we can do it just as well as anyone else. According to Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, mindset plays a large role in our success. Her research demonstrates that success in almost every area of our life can be significantly influenced by how we think about our abilities. People with a “fixed mindset” — those who believe our abilities are fixed and unchangeable — are less likely to succeed than those with a “growth mindset” — those who believe our abilities can develop and grow. So when in doubt, believe in yourself!

Adapted from original LinkedIn Post