Two weeks ago, while I was sitting on my chair and sipping black tea with milk, my girlfriend said that we had no money to pay our upcoming rent. I was like “Mmm... What do you mean?” “I mean we can’t pay rent because we have no money”, she said sadly. “Okay, No worries, I will deal with it.” In that moment, I had a feeling as if a small atomic bomb exploded in my mind. Of course I had no plan to deal with it. Nor did I have any thoughts, or ideas… Absolutely nothing! I just sat there looking calm and collected, but, to be honest, I wanted to scream my head off.
I knew that this was going to happen sooner or later. Last year wasn’t good for me. But shit, it doesn’t mean I was ready for this moment. Why did it happen? I’m a good designer with a great amount of experience who can make really good elaborate projects. But, why do I have to think about paying the rent right now?
After 30 minutes of Q&A with myself, I finally concluded that I did absolutely nothing to prevent us from getting into a situation like this. Let’s take a look at my last year’s day-to-day routine:
12pm. I wake up.
12:30pm. While I am eating my breakfast, I turn on YouTube. I have more than 40 channels in my subscription list. It is better for you not to know what kind of channels I have subscribed to. I watch all the new videos there, and, in many cases, I find myself doing the same shit at 2pm. I’m tired of it and I need to do something else.
2pm. I sit down at the computer, but suddenly find out I have nothing to do. Oh, ok, I’m going to play Counter-Strike for 1 hour.
4pm. Omg, it’s 4pm! We wanted to go to the grocery store. We should go there right now, because I hate to do it after sunset. Maybe I have some kind of a mental disorder, but I don’t like when the sun goes down, because the day is coming to its end and I think that I should go to sleep soon. Pretty unmotivational and unproductive time for me, despite the fact that usually I go to bed at 2am.
5pm. We come back from the store. I don’t like stores. It takes me a lot of energy to hate stores when I’m in a store. Anyway, it’s time to have dinner. It will be ready in 40 minutes. 40 minutes, it’s the right amount of time for watching Twitch. I like to watch major Counter-Strike tournaments with big prizes.
6pm. I watch YouTube while I’m eating my dinner and this takes two more hours.
8pm. I have been playing Counter-Strike for almost 2 years. In my opinion, this is the best game, because it requires players to have great skill and game sense. Every time I play this game I feel like a newbie. Day-to-day, I do my best to improve my game sense, aim and many micro aspects that affect my game. I learned how to communicate with my teammates in the best way possible. Anyway, every day I see players who play better than me.
Usually, I play with my teammates who live in Washington, and my friend from Los Angeles. So, 8pm it’s the right time to play with them 2 or 3 matches, which is about 2 hours. Sometimes, we can lose 4-16 or 2-16 and I just can’t get why. We have been playing every day for 2 years, but we still lose the fucking game. If we lose 2 of 3 games, it makes me frustrated. This emotion drives me to play better and to practice more every day.
11pm. It’s pretty boring time to do anything. So I choose to do almost nothing.
2am. I go to sleep.
This is the ugly face of procrastination. When you see this face every day, you can’t look at things from a different perspective. I just had no plans for my future. I never thought about my plans and goals seriously. Anyway, today I found out that while procrastinating, I lost a great part of my life, and that procrastination is the reason why I have no money for my rent today. Sad, but I’m going to find a plan.
If I want to do something, I need to learn something first. I opened my Kindle App and found a book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers that I bought three months ago. I don’t know why I purchased it. Maybe it was a recommendation on one of the channels in Slack, but anyway, I started to read it that same evening I realized that I have no money.
Tim Ferris book seems to me like you’re in a random conversation between two successful people, filled with useful thoughts, tactics and habits. It’s like the book was written for me and for this period of my life. I had an opportunity to compare my life with the lives of other people who achieved something big. I just couldn’t stop reading this book, despite the fact that the book was 704 pages long.
«Tim has taken dozens of 60+ minute interviews with some of the most successful and interesting folks around and boiled them down into 2–6 page action-packed sections that are full of instantly usable thoughts and ideas.
This book speaks my love language — no wasted words yet all the emotion, it’s straight to the point yet feels like a smart friend is having a conversation with you.»
I’s not a common practice for me to read books. Everything I know about design and things around me was learned from practice. Most of my life I ignored video talks and posts on Medium like “How to be a better designer”, or “How to be more productive.” I have never visited any conferences. But, while reading this book I realized that I had so many chances in my life to learn something new, or change my life for better with those advices. For sure, some of those advices could be a complete bullshit, but if you reject the opportunity to learn something new, you won’t be able to move on.
At that moment, while reading about the daily routine and habits of other people, I realized that I need to break bad habits and replace them with good ones. While reading Tim’s book, I highlighted many useful advices and thoughts in my iPad. I realized that most people he interviewed had similar good habits. That day, I was ready to test their advices in practice.
It’s surprising how many important things and advices we hear every day. But, many of those things sound like cliches, and our mind just ignores them. But, since I was in a difficult situation, I decided to try everything there is, and then decide which suit fits best to me.
Everything in our life must have the meaning. If I want to wake up every day with eagerness to improve my life, I need some kind of sense to do this. I need to think seriously about my goals. What I want to achieve in the near future?
Before this moment, I never thought about my goals seriously. I’m a good designer and I created a few awesome projects. I put a lot of work in them. Now, what I need is to sit and dream about that day when I wake up in the morning, check my email and then: “Ooooh yeeeah, you’re so cool, Vladimir. We want to write about your products in the New York Times and you know what, we are going to give you some money. Just, why not, right? $1,000,000 is good for the start?” Sounds crazy! But reality is when you have no plans for your work and life, you just sit and wait for some moment that will change your life.
Our actions are driven by our goals. No goals > no actions > procrastination.
I have set my goals for the near future:
— I want to earn $20,000 every month and freely travel around the USA. There is no sense for me to live in one place, it will become boring someday. I really love our rented apartment in LA, but I also want to go to New York, San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago few times a month and then go back to California. I want to support my family and send them money from time to time. I need money for these kind of activities and wishes. I calculated how much money I need to earn every month to be happy.
— I want to move my family to the USA.
— I want to connect with new people, and find opportunities to grow.
Now it’s clear to me. These are my goals and I’m going to achieve them with my actions step by step. I need some action. I started to add positive habits to my life. But, I’m going to start tomorrow morning. For today I opened YouTube and... (no it’s not what you think, haha) I opened YouTube, removed all my subscriptions, cleared my watch history and likes and deleted this fucking app on my iPad.
I didn’t play Counter-Strike that evening. I understood that I needed to do something important and I left my bad habits behind.
Also, I removed all my tweets, and for now only tweet I have are my new goals - the only thing that is important to me.
I spent a bit of my time searching for an app on iPad that can help me remember my new habits and what should I do. Productive is a good app for that.
I have practiced all my habits, that I’ll describe below, for 2 weeks, and every habit works awesome for me.
4:00am — Wake up early and make my bed.
I want to wake up as early as possible, before the sun has risen. Silence. No one distracts me. I live all day long with the sun shining in the windows. It feels like my day has doubled. When my girlfriend wakes up at 8am, I have worked for four hours already. Four hours of highly productive work. I couldn’t even imagine how cool is this! If one day we want to go to the beach early in the morning, let’s say at 11am, just imagine how much work I can do by this time.
«If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.»
Tim Ferris, Tools of Titans
I go to bed at 8:30pm and I’m pretty fine with it. I live for the moment when I can see the sun.
PS. I live with my girlfriend so I can’t make my bed at 4am, but I do it later when she wakes up.
4:05am — Contrast shower.
I start with medium hot water temperature and end with medium cold water. Immediately after this, I feel like I was reborn. I forget that I wanted to sleep a second ago. Contrast shower gives me so much energy and I feel dramatically better right after this.
Also, cold shower has some real psychological and physiological benefits. It increases blood circulation and alertness, improves immunity, speeds up muscle soreness and recovery, and also relieves depression.
4:15am — Meditation.
I have often heard about meditation. But, I never wanted to try it because I thought that meditation is about people sitting in a circle, holding their hands, they sing songs and then start shaking, and screaming something in a strange language. I never wanted to end up like that, ha-ha.
In fact, meditation is not similar to what I thought it was. More than 80% of the interviewees in Tools of Titans have some form of daily mindfulness meditation practice.
I sit on my chair in a silent room trying not to think about anything special, and to follow my breathing. Inhale, exhale - 10 minutes. I’m trying to relax and feel myself to be in presence, but not in the past or future with all of this grandiose plans and tasks to do. It clears my mind, reduces stress and increases my happiness. This practice helps me to be positive about things that happen in my life. You can’t feel instant results from it, by its meaning comes to you with time.
4:30am — Green tea
After I finish my meditation I start brewing green tea. Just a random green tea from Trader Joe. After it brewed and it’s ready to drink, I add a tablespoon of Virgin Coconut Oil in my tea. It will be solid at first but it melts inside a cup when I keep stirring it.
«Green tea with coconut oil can build up your resistance to fight against viruses and disease-causing bacteria. This is because coconut oil has lauric acid that has very strong antimicrobial, antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Green tea is known to have high levels of antioxidants. It can increase your metabolism and potentially slow down signs of aging.»
4:35am — Journal
I write my thoughts in a journal everyday. I use a good app Grid Diary with small customizations. There are 6 fields in my journal. 3 of them for my morning:
and 3 fields for evening:
So I bring my green tea, put a cup on a stool next to the comfortable chair and fill every field. When I do this, I try to be positive about this day. I want to do something to improve my life and I make plans writing them down in the journal. What is the most desirable task I could do today and pat myself at the end of the day? What can I do to get closer to my goals?
It’s not so important how much work you do throughout the day, but it matters WHY you do this work. 20% of our actions gives you 80% of results. Paraphrasing it, 80% of your daily task doesn’t give you any result. This is why we need to think about our tasks better when we put them in to-do list.
If you want to learn more about setting daily objectives, start with the book: The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.
I use an extension for Chrome: Momentum to set my main focus task for today.
4:50am — Focus
The biggest problem that I have is that I can't start to work. I have a fear of a blank slate. I think: “Okay, I need to do my project today”, then “I have no ideas, why to open Sketch file and start designing or whatever I need to do if I have no ideas?”, “Ok, anyway, it’s too late for today, I’m going to try to do this tomorrow.” Only thing you need to do is to sit, turn on your headphones, run Spotify and focus. There is no other way to do this - just do it.
Now with my morning routine finished, I can focus easily because I start to focus right after I fill my journal. I have my plan for today, I have actions to do and I have a great desire to achieve my goals. My morning routine and my conclusions push me to do something after filling the journal. I thank myself, I have no more bad habits that I spend my time on. Now, I have a lot of time for my projects and to learn new things, read books, and I spend this time in the right way.
Before I started to focus, I wear my headphones I bought them on Black Friday. The best thing about these headphones is that I can’t hear any ambient noise in my room - no voices, no anything. I feel like I’m in my own world, inside my focus session. And there is also Bluetooth feature, which is cool..
I found an app Focus Keeper to track my focus sessions. When I focus I push the start button, when I stop to focus, I push the pause button. Easy enough. I tweaked the settings of this app a bit. You can change it however you like and how it fits your life rhythm.
As you can see, I have 8 sessions in a day that are 25 minutes long. But, often I do more than this. Anyway, I’m not pushing myself to sit all the day long near my computer. I just do my best to be productive that day.
I push start button every time I start to focus on my work or read a book - anything that I find helpful for myself and my goals. When I want to take a break, I push the pause button. After the first focus session, I do a small break of 5 minutes and then go back to my work. After the second round, it’s time for a long break of 25 minutes. I use this time to stretch, brew some green tea and go up to my roof to meet a new day and not to think about something. At this moment, I feel myself that I can control everything in my life.
And, this is another benefit of meditation. When you feel yourself worrying about something, or you just find yourself in a bad mood you can close your eyes, make a deep inhale, and when you exhale you realize that at the end of this breath there is no more problems to be worried about. My mood during the day and my attitude about things that worry me depends on me. I can control myself to feel happier.
One more thing I do in my focus sessions is learning. I read a lot of books. I just googled top books about productivity, business, marketing and read them. Two weeks ago I didn’t spend much time on it, but today I am opened to new knowledge. Of course, not every book was useful for me nor it brought something new to my life. But, I’d rather throw away 5 useless books that didn’t help me with anything, instead of an opportunity to read one that can change me for better.
Also, I use an app called Blinkist where you can read a summary of almost any business book. Their summaries are great and informative. Before I started using this service, I checked a few summaries for books I read before. For sure, it’s not equal to read a summary of a book and a book itself. But I can make a first impression about the book and find out the main points. If I like a summary, it’s more likely I’ll like the book. Almost always I read the entire book if I enjoyed the summary.
When I read books, I often wear my headphones with sounds of rain. I use a Noizio app to do this. The best mix for me is October Rain + Thunderstorm + Wind Chimes. Sometimes, I use Cafe sounds. It keeps me concentrated on what I read. The other effect is that I don’t hear any ambient noise in my apartments that could distract me.
How to keep in mind what I read
When I read something useful and I want to keep it in my mind, I always write about it in my journal and try to apply a new thing in practice. Also, I have a mind map of my future success. I write there everything I need to keep in my memory. I use a service called MindMeister to do this. I can add any thoughts I read, or conclusions I made, and describe every thought with a text. If I forget the meaning of any conclusion (ex. “Empower others to do their best work”), I can read a description with a quote from the book or a post.
This is a to-do list of my life. I keep there How I need to connect with people, How to do my work, How to create business, What goals I have now, and What steps I need to do to get to these goals. I return to this mind map a few times a day to refresh my thoughts.
I use iBooks and the Kindle app to read books on my iPad. I highlight everything I find interesting, and then, when I finish a book. I read the highlights again. Then I use MindMeister and a journal to keep in my memory the most important things.
I have breaks between focus sessions and I give myself some time to take a rest and not think about anything. It clears my mind and increases my motivation and productivity.
Today, after two weeks of consistent learning and improving myself, I feel confidence and happiness in everything that I do now. Every day of the past two weeks I was extremely happy. I’m glad that I started to change the life and work around me with my inner self. You can’t do something special in your life if you don’t find this balance in your head. Now, I feel that all my conclusions, goals and actions lie on their shelves.
But, let’s get back two weeks ago, because I’m going to uncover what I did to my projects. In the beginning, it was really hard to make a plan. How to earn money? What I’m going to do to pay my rent? Many questions and one only answer: “I don't know, but I’m going to find out today.”
I started with freelancing. The first question I asked in Slack groups related to design and freelance was: “Hey guys, I’m trying to find a freelance gig. What website works good for this?”, and I had few questions like: “Few times I got several clients that found me on Upwork. But anyway if you want to find good clients, you need to refresh your Dribbble and Behance profiles. Many of my clients did find me through these networks.”
Then I realized I haven’t post anything on Behance for years, that’s why I have no offers about freelance project. It’s pretty same story with my Dribbble. After this, I thought that it’s a good idea to post something to attract new clients - simple enough. But, the main problem was that I had nothing to show to people because I had not created a single thing in the last time. I registered on Upwork, filled my profile, upload my best picture with a big smile, and set my hourly rate to $120. Then, I started to ask for projects, but nothing happened.
I thought: “Why not ask Claudio Guglieri ?” He is a pretty good designer and I remember he left his job two years ago to do some freelance. And I asked him where to find freelance projects and he made a few good tips. Then he said “If none of that rings a bell, you go to recruiting agencies.” And, I was like: “Whhhat, I don’t wanna end up in recruiting agency. It’s not for me.” His phrases motivated me to look for more good plan.
Just to make it clear, I never thought that if you don’t know something, the best way to find out is to ask the one who knows the answer. Simple idea, but it works so good! If you don’t know how to make your design better - ask about it. If you did see a good photo and you have no clue how the photographer achieved so high level - ask him about it. Like Tim Ferris asked the people who achieved success, and improved his own life with the answers.
While I searched for freelance websites, I found a blog post that turned everything I knew about work with a client and freelance in general. Nguyen Le described how he worked and communicated with the clients from enquiry to delivery. He invested so much time and valuable experience in his article. This article was my shortcut to start selling myself as a professional, not just a worker who sells himself for hours.
Also I found a free book Breaking the Time Barrier and It's fucking amazing!
«It’s the eternal struggle of the freelance worker: how do you price your work in a way that’s fair to both you and the client? Nothing less than your career success and personal happiness hinges on this question. Spend an hour with this book, and you’ll come away with a whole new way of looking at your value and your relationship with your clients.»
I often ask myself, if I found a client who can pay me, let’s say $120/h, the only way I could earn more is to work more. But, in this case there is no reality where I can earn $15,000, $20,000, $50,000 with my design working 4 hours a day. The truth is, if the first thing you do is tell your client what is an hourly rate, he buys your hours. You need to pay attention to the client, ask him about his business goals and ask all the questions that will help you to find out the ways you can connect his business goals and your design. You need to be valuable to the client and then you can ask for more money. You can’t sell dribbble images for $15,000, but you can bring a value to the client to start earning more.
You can learn more about it in Nguyen Le's blog and in the book that I mention before.
Next step, I start to google “How to earn money as a designer”. As stupid as it is! The most common answer - Sell your design assets. Ok, fine, then I need to create design assets to sell. I found on my computer a few templates I created 6 months ago and never used in work. But, these templates still look cool and it’s a thoughtful work. For example, my template Circles. Before I did this template I examined a lot of websites related to events and conferences and I thought why not to have the best of them in one template. In this case a junior designer, or CEO of any event or conference can buy a whole concept for his website for $19. It’s not just a set of different UI blocks.
The next day, I uploaded one more template on Creative Market Mirror which is an awesome template for an agency or for portfolio. Then, to promote my templates I made a shot for Dribbble and a presentation on Behance. After this, I had a message from client, who saw my work and wanted to work with me. That’s pretty cool if you think about it. If you are open for opportunities, try to find them in everything, focus on your goals, universe will give you a hand. That evening, I had few purchases on Creative Market. It's $40+, which is nothing for me, because I had to pay my rent. But, I look at this as my additional monthly passive income. I will upload more works there, do more presentations, and someday find out that I earn $1,000 on it. Every month. $20,000 - $1,000 = $19,000. One small step at a time brings me forward to my goals.
If I want to increase my sales, I need to know more about marketing on this website. I found 3 guys with awesome works on Creative Market and just asked how to make more sales and are there any advices or secrets they can share with me. And everyone send me a ton of useful information. Thank you, Ruslan, Vadim and Alexey, you helped me a lot! Important lesson for me! Ask anything you don’t know from people who know. After their advices, I wrote to more websites and they accepted my works.
Let’s do the next steps. I thought, why not try and sell email templates. I did a lot of good templates for emails in my life. And I know how to create templates that will sell you anything. I created a few designs - one for an online store, one for a product, and a few templates for transactional email. It’s very hard to find time to design and develop good emails for your product that you need to launch ASAP. That’s why it’s a good idea to me to design it.
Next day, I found a guy on Facebook who partnered with me to create this project, make HTML/CSS and promote our work. We named our project “Mailto” and started working. I did my work in the best way possible and as fast as I can. Today, after 5 days we have a code for all templates and we gonna push our work on Creative Market and UI8 soon and I’m sure it will be profitable for all of us.
Few days after, I had a call from my friend. He want me to make some photos for his friend for Instagram. Photography is just a hobby for me and I never considered myself to be a professional photographer. Few weeks ago, I would reject this opportunity, but I said “I’m in, let’s do it”. I made those photos and the client liked them a lot. He paid me for the work and offered to make this work on a regular basis, few times a month.
For this week I created three opportunities to make $20,000/m.
What about my rent?
Today, I can’t pay my rent. I still have no money. But, I will receive them tomorrow as a pre-payment for a good freelance project that I’m happy to work on.
Two weeks ago, I thought I’m right in the fucking ass with no plans. But. I looked at my life from a different perspective. I got rid of habits that have made my life a living hell. Today, I feel myself happy and confident in the things I do for myself, my family and my goals. I feel free and I can control anything in my life!
It was hard for me to write this post. I wrote one to fix every thought I had for some time. I told you this story in order to help you overcome your procrastination. I hope it will help you, and that you will push yourself, have positive thoughts and make good conclusions.
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