What I learned when I stopped half-assing

April 17, 2022

I’ve always been good at half-assing.

In Latin class in high school, I found that by studying for exams the night before, I could still get the best or second-best grade in my class. In college it was much the same. And why would I bother trying harder when I was already “winning”?

In my first (and only) job after graduating college, working as a litigation consultant, I also found that I could put in less effort than others and still be a top performer. I remember noticing that I billed 44 hours a week, while the average analyst billed 50—and managers were vying to get me staffed on their projects.

Half-assing was working just fine, just as it had for as long as I could remember.

To be fair, in that job, when I did work, I worked hard. And some weeks were very busy, with me working non-sto, from 10 a.m. to midnight every day. This was consulting, after all. But on average, I didn’t work that many hours. Certainly not as many hours as others did. But working more didn’t lead to a noticeably higher paycheck, so why bother?

Still, I managed to burn out from that job. That’s when I decided I’d never take a job again. Instead, I started my own business. And running my own business was beginning of the end of my half-assery.

It turns out that when you create your own business and sell products or services to people, you need to create things they find valuable. Otherwise they won’t buy! And since I created a solo business, my effort was strongly correlated with the results of my business. I could spend most of my day playing cards (or playing video games or chatting with friends or whatever), but I’d only be hurting myself. Nobody was sending me monthly paychecks.

For the first time in my life, I was in a situation where more effort led to better results. The incentive to half-ass was gone… mostly anyway.

A few years ago, I started creating YouTube videos. Recently, I have decided that—for now—YouTube is my number one focus, but for most of the past few years, YouTube was a secondary concern. If I had some time in between creating courses, supporting students, and scuba diving, I’d create a YouTube video. And I always told myself to do it quickly: record a video in an hour! Don’t spend too much time editing!

In other words, I was half-assing my YouTube videos.

Some videos did okay, but most videos did just meh. Not too many people appreciated them. At least not as many people as I felt could be—no, should be appreciating them.

Then, at the end of last year, I took a course: Ali Abdaal’s Part-Time YouTube Academy. I decided that I was going to fully focus on YouTube. No more “let’s see whether I can bang out a video this week”. Instead, I’d put in real effort. My goal was no longer to produce videos quickly, but instead to produce good videos that would be appreciated by many, many people.

So, a few weeks ago, I finally gave one video a lot of attention. I honestly can’t remember many other moments in my life when I managed to shed my half-assery this successfully.

I spent the better part of a week researching, outlining, practicing, recording, editing, and creating a thumbnail for a video with tips for Apple Notes.

Here’s the result:​

Peter’s YouTube Studio apps shows that the Apple Notes video has received 109,183 views in the first 15 days—106,000 views more than “normal”.

On average, new videos I published on my channel had been getting 3,000 views in the first 15 days. But this video got more than 100,000 views in the first 15 days. Holy bleep—maybe putting in some effort, as opposed to half-assing my work, actually works!

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that producing such a video once a week is better than releasing, say, two videos a week that get less than 1/30th of the views.

All of a sudden, working on videos for YouTube is a lot more fun than it used to be. Now I can actually take the time to create videos I’m proud of and know that most of them will be appreciated by lots of folks, without feeling like I’m taking too long.

I expected that this would happen when I finally stopped half-assing, but it feels great that reality met my expectations.

Not every YouTube video I do from now on will be great, of course. For example, I feel like this video down here (on using a password manager) could have been better. But I am already working hard on my next video, which I think many of you—and many others—will love.

I fact, I recorded half of that new video today, but I decided to start from scratch tomorrow. What I recorded today simply isn’t good enough. Some footage of my iPhone is blurry and my explanations aren’t crisp. Old Peter might have accepted the footage I shot today, but New Peter doesn’t. No more half-assing.

I am discovering that it can not only be fun to put maximum effort into your work, but that it pays off, too.

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