Two years ago CruiseSheet didn't have individual informational pages for each cruise. Cruises are large purchases, though, so I thought that it would be much better if I could have a lot of written information, graphs, and pictures. With around 12,000 cruises on offer at any time, the selection changing every day, writing them individually would be impossible. What would it take to automatically generate an actually useful page for every single cruise? It would be a garguantuan task.
While much of our days is filled with small tasks, emails, course corrections, and tweaks, these sorts of activities merely keep us on track or trend us towards progress. To move forward in big steps, we must give ourselves huge tasks and power through them. How do you do that, feel good about it, and still produce top quality?
There would be no way to incrementally get this feature built. It would require a massive multi-disciplinary overhaul involving weeks of work and a lot of learning. And quality mattered a lot. If the pages were too similar, Google would ding me and people wouldn't want to read them. Each page needed to share a ton of useful information and present it in an inviting way.
When I first approach a task like this, I revel in the possibility of the outcome. I imagined looking at a full sales page for each cruise and how much better that experience would be. I got excited.
I think about these sorts of projects as gifts I can give myself. I literally think of it as me disappearing from the world for a few weeks, my normal life upended, and when I emerge I get to go back to normal life but I have this huge gift for myself. Is it worth massive sacrifice for just three weeks in order to have 12,000 beautiful cruise pages? The answer was obvious to me.
After getting motivated and excited, I think about the practical process. How much time should it take to do something like this? I conveniently had a 24 day cruise coming up, so I decided that I would do it in 3 weeks.
Working without a deadline is disheartening. Tasks seem like they can go on forever. Can I get into the weeds of making price graphs forever? I don't really know. Can I get through three weeks of it? Sure. I set a realistic deadline, but also had some flexibility. I knew that if I hadn't made enough progress halfway through I could reduce leisure time and increase work time.
Once you know your deadline, you must totally clear everything from that time. That's why I love working on cruises. What if you can't clear your schedule? Then, sorry, you can't do this process. Big progress forward often includes some sacrifices, so be willing to make them. Rent an AirBnb in the middle of nowhere and go drive there with some groceries. Take a cruise. Turn off your phone for a few weeks durping the day and don't leave your house.
With a nice big block of time cleared and a concrete deadline, I work backwards. What are some intermediate waypoints I should have? Well, if I can't get a rough outline of what the page should look like done in one day, I'm not working efficiently enough to complete it all. So that's one deadline. The copy part of it should be done within 1 week. Graphs can take another week total. Integrating it all should be done a few days before the deadline.
Then I attack my work like a banshee. I know why I'm doing it, I know what I have to do, and I have the time available. I equate every little task with the benefits of completing the whole thing, because I know that if I just keep at it, the rewards will be mine. I never consider slacking or about missing a day or anything like that. The benefit of the big end goal is too great.
Quality doesn't suffer because I convince myself that there's no point in doing these things unless it produces high quality work. I also plan ahead so that I know that it's possible to produce high quality within the time I've given myself. So I don't just make arbitrary goals like writing a book in a day, where quality would have to be poor. And I always focus on the end goal, which is always a high quality result. Sloshing together a bunch of cruft isn't inspiring.
At the same time, having deadlines prevents me from being a perfectionist. I gave myself a certain number of days to totally replace the floors in my house. By the end I was becoming a little less perfectionist about making the board patterns totally random. Nothing anyone else would notice, but if a board ended where one ended five rows ago.... fine.
The real magic happens once you do this once. You realize that you are capable of making a huge leap forward in a fixed slot of time. I've written the rough draft of all of my recent books in a fixed two weeks. I finished revising my most recent one in a cordoned-off 28 hours. In the 24 days I blocked off for the CruiseSheet cruise pages I fully completed the task and have barely needed to tweak it since then.
Now this ability feels like a superpower. Any time I have a large concrete task that need to smash, I am certain that I can do it. It will take a little bit of planning and a certain amount of gritting my teeth, but I know that at the end I will have produced a huge amount of high quality work in a way that was hard work but didn't leave me drained.
Photo is Waipio Valley in Hawaii
I went on my first cruise ten years ago. All I really knew about them at the time was that they were the most interesting things pictured on the back of cornflakes boxes, and that a girl I had a crush on found one for $199. Sold.
Since then I've been on ten cruises or so, half of them two week transatlantic runs, which are by far my favorites. Later on I'll write more about why I love these cruises, but the gist is that they're the Perfect Work Environment.
In the decade that I've been cruising, my technique for finding good deals has evolved beyond crushing on girls who might find a good deal. The best trick in the book used to be a site called Cruise Hot Sheet. At any given time it had a listing of most of the cheapest cruises available.
Then two weeks ago it became empty. No deals. I already have a cruise booked for November, so I'm not really in the market, but I like to keep an eye on prices out of curiosity. Every time I went to Cruise Hot Sheet, only to be greeted with an empty page, I was annoyed.
I love San Francisco so much that every time I return here from a trip, I resolve to stay for a while and enjoy the city. That never happens. Next week I'm going to Tahoe, then Vegas the following weekend, and then to Austin for SXSW the week after that. Cabo or Hawaii follows in early March, but in late April comes the most exciting upcoming trip: a sixteen day cruise to Rome.
Cruises are full of old people. As best I can tell, that's because young people haven't figured out how awesome and cheap they can be. In fact, I can easily say that of all the travel I've done, cruises probably represent the best bang for the buck.
Before I tell you how to get them cheap, let me tell you why cruises, especially long duration one-way cruises are amazing.
One of my favorite aspects of cruises is that they can take you to places you may not otherwise visit. For example, the cruise my friends and I are taking stops in the Azores, Seville (Spain), Valencia (Spain), Barcelona, Monte Carlo, and Rome. Without cruising, I probably would never make it to the Azores, and those southern Spanish cities are unlikely as well. They're just too remote and too expensive to come up at the top of my list when choosing a trip.