When I was a kid, I studied the violin. (I know, quite a shocker for a Chinese-American kid growing up in the 1980s)
My violin teacher made me keep a practice log. I was supposed to practice for 30 minutes per day. For each 30 minutes I practiced, I got a token which let me move a felt cloth horse outline around a cardboard track. If/when I reached the end, I would get some nominal prize.
I “practiced” for 30 minutes every day. Here’s how my practice worked.
1) I would start practice at 8 PM. That meant that I would look at the clock at 8 PM and note that I had started practice. At that point, I would go get my violin, rosin up the bow, dig out my music books, set up my music stand, and perhaps get a drink of water–so I wouldn’t get thirsty in the middle.
2) When I actually put bow to strings at around 8:10 PM, I would practice while watching the television. If something exciting happened on-screen, I found myself pausing–just for a few moments, of course.
3) At 8:15 PM, I would take a break to use the restroom. Darn that pre-practice water!
4) At 8:20 PM, I’d resume my practicing.
5) At 8:21 PM, I’d start packing up my stuff.
6) At 8:26 PM, I’d finish putting away my stuff and round up to 30 minutes. There, that wasn’t so hard!
I was actually practicing about 6 minutes per day, but I was lying to myself–quite convincingly–and believed that I was practicing my 30 minutes per day.
Of course, I got my prize. What I didn’t get was any increased skill at playing the violin!
You might have your own equivalent of “violin practice” in your life. Are you really pursuing it with 100% of your energy and focus? Are you really putting in your 30 minutes, or are you fiddling around (figuratively–literally is what you’re supposed to be doing!) for most of it?
I didn’t really want to get better, so my self-deception didn’t hurt my life too much. But if you’re an entrepreneur, stop lying to yourself. Take a blunt look at how well you live up to your goals. If you’re technically meeting them, but failing to make real progress, your startup is what loses out.