← Achraf ASH

Habits over projects

Achraf Ait Sidi Hammou

Have you ever felt in a state of flow… across multiple months?

I was lucky enough to experience that. And I miss it a lot.

It was around September 2019, I was starting from a blank slate. Just got accepted in an engineering school in Paris, and I was about to switch from doing extremely abstract math and physics to specialize by the end of that year.

At that point, I didn’t really have a lot of options. And that is such a great spot to be in. See, we all say “I want to be a life-long learner”. That’s BS. When you’ve already committed 5-10 years to something - engineering, marketing, finance, whatever - it is extremely tough to just throw it all away and start something entirely different from scratch. Being a beginner when you’ve experienced expertise and craft is extremely frustrating!

I knew programming was a high leverage skill to learn no matter what you end up doing so I picked that. I’m not gonna lie, I did overthink it a lot for a few months to pick a subfield (web dev) and a framework (React) but then I committed to it.

What’s interesting is that my intention wasn’t goal-oriented. I was purely in it for the ride. My goal was to just spend one hour per day programming. That’s it. Even watching a video or copying someone else’s code was good enough.

And it totally worked! Four months later I built my first fully working app. It was a Twitter but for Kindle highlights. The app would automatically get your highlights in the background and let you tweet them (inside the app), browse libraries of other people, etc.

Of course nobody used it - that was a big entrepreneurship lesson btw: build it and they will come ❌

Two months after that, I started freelancing after school. It was a life-changing experience!

I naturally tend to have a very low self-esteem / self-confidence. But when you find yourself in a Zoom call with the CEO of a $14B company to explain what you are going to build for them, that definitely changes your perspective on what’s possible.

What I failed to do since then, is to acknowledge that this life-changing experience wasn’t an overnight success, it was the result of small daily habits compounding over a year’s time.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been looking for the project that’s going to work - just like freelancing did. But it doesn’t work that way. You need to commit to something every single day for a year, and trust the process.

I sometimes forget, but during the first 3-4 months of freelancing I wasn’t working with clients. I was just trying to find one. And it sucked! Every day, I would wake up, work on a bunch of stuff and think to myself “What am I even doing? This is never gonna work…“. But you only need one “yes”. That’s all it takes to kickstart your journey and make it happen.

So instead of trying to find the right project, what I should really do is focus on a few set of habits, trust the process for a year and embrace the suck.

Here are mine:

writing daily (this is why I set this lil space right here) shipping something weekly - coding daily is easy now, shipping is not reading things out of my comfort zone - research papers, new topics I’m not familiar with, etc