A Scientific Method to Your Madness

Using trial and error to be more effective and efficient

Published on September 15th, 2015 on medium.com

Published on September 15th, 2015 on medium.com


It happened again!

Despite all my planning and preparation the prior weekend, I sat stewing in my impending tardiness, frustrated with the car in front of me. If it’d just inch up, I could make my meeting on time. Frantic as I pulled into a parking spot, I quickly glanced at the 08:56am on the dashboard.

I shoved my notepads and cords into my bag and watched sticky notes tumble to the floor as I pushed the car door open and scurried past the payment kiosk.

Simultaneously, I felt guilty about not paying and slightly anxious about becoming a meter-maid success. It’s just a short meeting.

I’ll be quick! I reasoned. I’ll put extra time on the ticket and leave it for the next person.

My eyes glanced impatiently around my make-shift office space as my computer warmed up. Working remotely was often a risk. Will it be too loud? Do I have my headset? Will there be an outlet?

Quickly bypassing a pop-up notification to update my operating system, I watched the icon bounce with bated breath. My fingers flew across the keyboard and in seconds, a grey profile avatar sat quiet in the corner of the screen. My eyes darted to the clock. 9:02am. Mentally I clocked in.

“If you’re on time, you’re late!” the stern voice of my German college professor echoed through my mind before I heard an internal voice state with conviction, 9:02 is more punctual than last week’s 9:06. Huzzah!

At 9:04am, I sent a quick welcoming email and a follow-up confirmation message to an empty chat. I’m here! I felt my shoulders slightly melt with relief; I’d made contact. Absentmindedly scrolling through emails awaiting response, I waited. At 9:09am, I chose to switch gears to tackling administrative tasks. Definitely not my preferred element of working independently, but a necessary part of maintaining my business. I logged into my new scheduling software and felt my throat tighten. A blank calendar stared back at me.

No meeting at 9am. Navigating through the unfamiliar site, I found my 9am appointment on the schedule for next Monday. In a rush of surprise, frustration, relief and confusion, I instantly regretted the hasty email and Skype message. I mentally shook my fist at cars who’d inched through traffic. I scowled at the vision of my morning Self rolling underneath covers, snoozing and shoving my phone under my pillow.

Deflated, I returned to my hastily-parked car to find a canary-colored ticket silently tweeting about my civil violation.

Monday — 2.

Makeda — 0.

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Ah, the incredibly steep learning curve of transitioning from an employee to a self-managed freelancer.

Remember the last time you started your day with an ultimate intention of completing your most important tasks? You planned to be at work on time and prepared. Somewhere along the way, your focus and attention were swept up by a whirlwind of events. The next thing you knew, you’re moments before a deadline, stressed and unprepared. Worse, the week is over and you’re not sure what happened or what’s next.

This is both a gift and a curse of being self-employed. You are free to pursue your ideas and create what you can, often operating on your own terms. It also means you are your own boss (which can mean financial analyst, bookkeeper, and HR manager all in one). The external deadlines, monthly reviews and performance evaluations — typically set by a manager — are now absent, leaving you with rose-colored glasses about how effectively you work.

Once you step into the world around you (digitally or physically), you are inundated with tasks, messages and content. Yes, you can handle it…often to a manageable extent. But building proficient and effective management systems for your business can often feel like drudgery.

How can you manage the whirlwind? What makes you an effective manager AND an efficient employee? Why is it so hard to do daily?

Thwarted efforts due to ineffective habits are enough to drive one mad.

Insert the Scientific Method

Even in a digital era of the 21st century, a process from ancient times serves as an effective tool in approaching undesirable outcomes. The Scientific Method (yes, a la high school Chemistry) allows you to analyze the outcome in two important steps:

  1. asking an important question about current outcomes, and
  2. experimenting with small measurable actions that can make a big difference.

There’s infinite hope embedded in this approach. Any one of your mishmash of mishaps can be transformed into a variable that leads to discovering new ways of operating. New observations or understandings may now conflict with your longest-standing theories.

I get it. No one likes being wrong.

“I was born late — it runs in my family.” While default explanations (read: excuses) can offer brief internal validation and appease the newly acquainted, they’re not very effective in building an independent initiative.Simply convincing yourself that you are, in fact, able to manage the multitude of daily tasks necessary in building a successful business won’t help either.

Let’s consider a common challenge.

Observation

I have a lot of things on my To-Do list. Many days, I try to complete the items on my calendar, but I get distracted by devices, frustrated with my limited progress, and burnt out staring at a screen all day.

Question

Why can’t I just sit down and do what’s on my schedule?

Do Background Research

The last time I sat down to work, I

  • scrolled through FB/Instagram, watched a few videos (some related, most unrelated).
  • forgot to pack my lunch so I walked to the cafe. I checked my email on my phone while I waited, a notification popping up from an elementary school friend. I proceeded to scroll through 9 months of her recent photos. *sigh*

Hypothesis

 I predict that if I close all other browsers immediately before beginning my work session, I will complete 80% of the tasks on my to-do list this week.

Method

This week, I will put a sticky note on my computer trackpad with a reminder to closeall other tabs.

(Or: Set a recurring pop-up alarm from my online calendar to focus. Hire a coach and send them a message at the beginning of my daily work session.)

Results

I successfully remembered to close all other tabs 4 times during the week. I made progress on multiple projects.

Discussion 

Am I done with everything? Not completely.

Am I 100% ready? No.

I have, however, made progress. And I feel awesome about doing what I said I’d do. I feel like a BOSS. Ah yes. I AM my boss.

I was so relieved when I found Coach.me (then Lift). I was not alone! OK. I *was* alone in the cafe, kitchen, library. However, tapping into an online platform specifically geared toward getting stuff DONE was a game changer. It actually made it a game. While I’m not expecting a celebration for flossing today, a community’s props for tiny personal milestones is often enough to send sufficient dopamine to pump me up for my next task.

I’ll take it.

Test it out.

Turn your question into theory.

What can you do just a little differently this week?

Experiment! Try something small.

One small shift can make a big difference in the way you work.

Comment below to share some ways you set yourself up for success throughout your work week.

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Special thanks to family, friends, Savannah Mayfield and the coaches atCoach.me for offering continuous support.