21 hours a week

It’s discouraging, having to hold down a day job when you really want to be hacking on that great idea for a web app you’re kicking around, or writing your book, or starting your own business.

You look at your lack of progress on one hand, and the huge block of your day that you spend building someone else’s business, and it’s tempting to think, “If only I didn’t have to spend so much time at this job, I could really get things going …”

I feel that way sometimes as I work to get my self-publishing business off the ground. OK, maybe it’s more like several times a week.

But it’s a lie

It’s a lie I tell myself to let myself off the hook, to avoid having to show up, day in and day out, and do the boring, repetitive work it takes to succeed.

Anthony Trollope is proof

I’m reading Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. The book is a well-researched compilation of short sketches of the working habits of well-known writers, painters and other artists.

One of the first chapters describes the daily routine of Anthony Trollope, a prolific Victorian-era author. I’d never heard of Trollope until last night, but he’s my hero.

His productivity was jaw-dropping: He wrote 47 books over the course of his career. He was so prolific, in fact, that his publishers expressed worried that he might overwhelm his audience. With a pen!

But here’s what I found so inspiring: He produced his first two dozen books while holding down a full-time job as a postal clerk.

The myth of “not enough time”

You don’t need endless swaths of free time to do good work, Trollope said:

All those I think who have lived as literary men—working daily as literary labourers–will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. But then, he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours–so have tutored his mind that it shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen, and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas.

You need focused, daily effort

Trollope was a writing machine.

He woke early, slid into his desk by 5:30 a.m., sucked down his morning coffee, and started writing.

He guarded his attention closely as he worked, keeping his watch open on the desk in front of him and using it to maintain a steady pace of 250 words every 15 minutes.

He wrote for three hours a day, seven days a week.

And after he completed his 3,000 words, he ate breakfast and headed off to do postal clerk things for the rest of the day.

Are you telling yourself, “If I could only quit my job”…

For me, like Trollope, it’s writing. I want to build a business churning out books like the one I’m writing for programmers about Sublime Text.

I find myself, at times, frustrated by the time constraints imposed by my day job. While I’m immensely grateful for the opportunities my employer has given me, I can’t help but cast a jealous eye on that 8-hour block in my calendar labeled “Work.”

But you don’t need 40 hours a week

I can’t yet match Trollope’s 21 hours a week. But I can fit in an hour or two per day, and I’m aiming to write 1,000 words first thing after sitting down to my computer each morning.

It’s adding up quickly.

What are you putting off until you’re somehow magically free from your day job?

Instead of focusing on how little time you have, set an appointment with yourself. Show up, every single day. Focus.

And if three hours a day is too much to carve out, How about two? Or one?

You have enough time.

John T - May 11, 2014

I never write comments on blogs, but I need to express my excitement. (I was hoping to email you … I’m old school 🙂

In just 30 minutes, you have already been such an inspiration. I, too, work full-time for a large tech company, but I find myself always hacking on the side on projects that never take off. I, too, have a wife and a kid, which makes it harder. But you’re right; it’s all about the choices we make. And as much as I would like a couple weeks of uninterrupted “fun” work, I have no desire to quit my job, because I happen to like it.

My confidence is building, and I feel like my newest project will actually take off. Writing a book was never on my radar (ever!), until I read James Altucher’s Choose Yourself. Since then, I came up with an idea and have been writing away. My confidence goes up and down (was quite down for a while), but recently I told myself I’ve had enough … I need to launch something. And then I discovered leanpub this week (am marking down with Sublime, no less). Seeing my work render on the Kindle was a big confidence booster. And seeing your success with leanpub increased it even more. And seeing that you’re just a regular guy with wife and kids, a full-time job but an undying desire to get shit done … that just put me over the top, and now I feel like I can really do this!

Now I just need to organize my marketing strategy. I have no twitter presence, no blog, no followers … but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Thanks for the tips

Anyway, this was a totally random message with no purpose. I just wanted to say thank you! You have touched a life…


    josh - May 12, 2014

    Really appreciate you taking the time to leave such a nice comment over the weekend. I’m glad I could provide some inspiration.

    Really the key to making this type of thing happen is consistency. I am not naturally good at following through on things–I tend to chase “bright shiny objects” and never finish anything. My biggest breakthrough has been learning to implement daily habits that move me a tiny bit closer to my goal each day…

    On the confidence thing, it’ll continue to be a battle. It gets a little easier, but you’re never past losing confidence. I hit this any time I try to stretch beyond my current comfort level. I lost it again when it came time to launch my second book.

    Motivation and confidence are really helpful, but they’ll desert you at the worst possible time. I’ve found that I need to learn to keep going without them at times.

    Best wishes to you with your book! Let me know if you have questions along the way, especially about marketing.

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