There is just something undeniably awesome about someone who is incredibly good at what they do. That shit is attractive.
In a fast-paced world like ours, the pressure is always on to deliver with speed and move on to the next. We can quickly become spread across too many things, too many deliverables to be able to spend real amounts of time working on, building and refining a thing. We lose the art of craftsmanship.
At the same time, there are still many instances of craftsmanship around us, and at various scales. The products handmade with love, you know, the craft beer, the artisanal coffee, the quirky furniture. There are also the ubiquitous, mass produced products that are just simply made to a high standard – the iPhone, the Boeing engine, etc. It is craftsmanship applied at scale.
On the road to getting what you want, you would have identified who you are, what makes you come alive, as well as what you want to accomplish. You would count the cost, cultivate burning desire, set your goals and build your systems. You would hone in on the one thing that is most important and you would go deep on that, giving it the time, energy, and attention, it deserves. In those moments of work, executing and building, you must hold the craftsman’s mentality in mind.
The craftsman’s mentality is that of love, exacting standards and insatiable drive. The craftsman loves what she does and will go to great lengths to do it the very best she can. Good enough isn’t good enough. It must be absolutely incredible.
Sure, there are many people and companies who come out with ‘just good enough’ products and services. You can cash out quickly by going to market with something that ‘just works’, promote the hell out of it and make your money. But there is a special pantheon for things of beauty, and high-quality attention to detail. The things that are made with love, with a high level of conscientiousness. It is just a different experience when you interact with the work of craftsmen. You can tell that the people behind this actually gave a damn.
Consider the mentality of the craftsman as a precursor to excellence. It will improve your quality of life and be an invaluable resource on the road to getting what you want. The craftsman enjoys the pleasure of doing a thing well for its sake. Becoming a craftsman means taking responsibility for your work and making sure it is executed with care and due diligence.
The craftsman takes pride in his work and sees it as an extension of himself. The thrill for him is in the pursuit of excellence. He loves working on the thing, making it better and better every time. He loves learning, he is prolific, weaving in exploration and practice in to the process as he executes and delivers. He digs in and puts in the time.
The craftsman mentality is more than just making excellent products or work, it is a mindset you bring to life, to daily tasks and daily actions. It is the spirit of doing the best you can and making sure your thing is dope.
When you have the mindset of a craftsman, you ignite passion. The deeper you dig, the deeper you understand it, the more you enjoy it, the more it propels you, and the more it fulfils you. And as your passion grows, the people who work with you or are served by your skill will clearly see that you deeply care for what you do.
Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men. Proverbs 22:29 (KJV)
People love an excellent product or service. If you have the craftsman mentality, you make things so awesome that they speak for themselves. Word of mouth travels faster and you get exposed to more and more opportunity. There is just something undeniably awesome about someone who is incredibly good at what they do. That shit is attractive.
Adopting the craftsman mentality might be frustrating sometimes, pushing to excellence can be hard work but it leads to a deeply satisfying life. There is a place for ‘work well done’ as a source of happiness on a soul or spiritual level. True happiness comes from purpose. And there are few purposes more noble than working and crafting excellence from our passions and our gifts.
When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. – Henry Ford
There are many true facts about life, but there is one that is particularly uncomfortable to look at and deal with – bad things happen. Sometimes they happen as consequences of our actions, sometimes they just happen. If this is a fact of life, is there a way to embrace and navigate it? Can we learn how to handle misfortune in our pursuit of our success and happiness?
It’s easy enough to look at the bad things that happen as a result of our actions, especially the actions that we are not too proud of. We understand the harm that comes from selfish actions that break trust or damage relationships. We understand the misfortune of failing an exam when we know we really didn’t put in the work required to succeed. There we have a clear set mandate. Stop doing stupid shit.
It’s trickier when bad things happen because of the good things we are trying to do. Embracing the philosophies of the One Thing and Deep Work comes with its own set of trade-offs. Every day, there are demands on our time, things we need to get done, people depending on us or needing us. Choosing to stay the course and go deep on the one thing can mean saying no to all those other things.
The trade-off, another fact of life is inevitable. Going down one path, means forgoing many others. It is never an easy decision choosing between two great things. We do not like disappointing or inconveniencing people. But if you have identified what you want, and have set your course, there is only one thing to really do. Sometimes you have to let bad things happen, so that you get the main thing done. It might mean delaying responding to the other things for a while or it may mean forgoing the other option completely. Many times, the fall-out isn’t so bad that it cannot be managed. A few hours or days delay won’t make the world stop spinning.
Knowing what you are all about and what is most important allows you to make the tough choices and go all-in on the things that will move you forward to your intended destination.
But what happens when bad things happen for seemingly no reason. Sometimes suffering exists and there is nothing you can do about it. The deal falls through, you are involved in a freak accident, other people disappoint you. Shit just happens. It is easy enough when it happens every now and again, it is much harder when it happens regularly or in a long stretch. Life can start to feel like a long series of unfortunate events.
It is tempting then to fold, to cross your arms and sit back. Especially when you have been trying really hard. It is very possible to do everything right and still fail. Sometimes it’s just bad luck, other times it is things completely outside your control. What do you do?
These times call for an exercise in character. Will you fold, or will you hold on? Will you let the emotion, the frustration, the anger, the despair, will you let it all sweep you away? Or will you pause, catch your breath, grit your teeth and continue?
Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. – William Arthur Ward
You may need to take a step back to reconsider things. Are things going bad because a wrong assumption, or a mistake? Or is this just the equivalent of bad weather? Something completely outside your control? If it is just a bad time, and you are on the right path, doing the things you know you should be doing and investing in, keep pressing on.
It’s hard. I’ve blogged earlier about suffering. Writing about it is one thing, going through it is another. The past two months have sometimes felt like a real-life exercise in eating shit. I don’t have any answers on how to fix it. You just endure it and keep doing your job as best as you can. At first, it’s easy-ish to do it. Wake up every day and press on. After a while, it gets harder to stay upbeat. Eventually it just feels easier to not even try and slip into depression.
So, then you just lay down on the floor and try numbing yourself with your drug of choice. But then you have to get back up and try again. We rest, catch our breath, do some self-care, bandage ourselves up and get back in the ring.
It is easy to freak out, but in the midst of the storm, keep the one thing in mind, keep the prize front and center. Focus on the most important thing and get that done, then move your attention to the next pressing crises and do what you can to fix it. It is never easy, but you get better at it. You get stronger at remaining calm under pressure, you better at coming up with creative solutions on the clutch. You learn how to plan better and anticipate the bumps. You become more resilient.
And then you start to invert and turn the problems on themselves.
There is a book called ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ by Ryan Holiday that gives some insight on how to handle adversity. It goes beyond just dealing with the crises to using the problem as a stepping stone. Is there any way you can turn this shit show into something useful? Can you turn this turd into fertilizer? Maybe you use this problem as a cautionary tale on how to prepare better. Maybe it becomes the chip on your shoulder that you harness as energy to fuel and drive you forward. Maybe you use the time to train some more, to get better. Perhaps you just use it to grow more grit, to become mentally tough. Find the gain in your pain. Find your diamond in the dirt.
It all boils down to a three-part approach to dealing with adversity. Have the discipline of perception. It is easy to get emotional about shit when it goes down. It rips away from our routine and safe bubble. It gives us something new and unexpected to deal with. Fight the urge to react, settle back return to your calm. There is only one thing you can really control, and that is how you react to the things that happen. Strip away the emotion and look at the situation clearly. What is really happening? What caused it? Can I prepare better? Can I handle this, so it never comes up again?
Cultivate the discipline of action. You have steadied your nerves, you have observed the situation clearly and gained your insight. Now take strong consistent action. Do what you must do, keep moving forward. In the midst of this storm, until the sun breaks through the clouds and until the next storm, keep on moving.
When you absolutely must get things done.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, two books I read in 2016 really changed my approach to life, and my work. They represent two concepts that work together to provide a powerful one – two punch combo that supercharges your ability to get things done.
The first book was “The One Thing” which I have written about. The One Thing offers the idea that only one thing really matters above all. On the macro level, there is the One thing you choose to make your life all about. In the day to day, there is the One Thing you could do that would make other things easier or unnecessary. It’s all about defining your vision and lining up your dominoes and whacking away at the first one until it falls and topples the next one with topples the next one and so on.
The second book is Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Deep work is the ability to focus on a hard task, to really concentrate for a long enough period of time. According to Newport, it is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare in a world filled with easy to access distraction. It is also a skill that is becoming incredibly important and useful in a networked world that needs you to learn skills quickly to thrive, and that allows you to affect millions with just your phone. We are too distracted at our work or at our businesses to give the right amount of effort and focus on the key tasks or projects that would make a definite difference. Doubly so for creatives or knowledge workers who need to expend considerable mental effort to produce good work.
There is a feature of the iPhone (and most other phones I would imagine, I’m hopelessly lost to the Apple hype train) that is irrefutably the best feature of the phone. It is not the above average camera (Samsung kicks its ass in my opinion), it’s not the design and how sleek it looks, it’s not the fact that it makes me look cool when I whip it out. It is the airplane mode function. With a swipe and a tap, I can turn the device from a portal to the infinite distraction machine that is the internet into a shiny paperweight.
Deep Work is the reason my phone is on airplane mode at least 50% of the time. This book is the reason I am many times unreachable, much to the chagrin of my friends and clients (I am so sorry guys but let me explain). It is also the reason I have been able to work on my business and my brand consistently over the past 18 months. It is the reason my design work has gotten stronger, the reason I’m learning faster and the reason my general productivity (the ability to get things done) has doubled or maybe even tripled.
It is also the reason I am less stressed and haven’t tried to hug a kitchen knife.
You see, regardless of how urgent and pressing everything feels, ultimately only a few things really matter. Out of the 100 or so different things you do or get asked to do today, probably none of them actually move you forward in any meaningful way towards a better life or better experience in 5 years. But if we know where we want to go, we can focus on the things that matter and move intentionally towards our BHAGs.
When you combine those two ideas, you are able to focus on what is most important and devote the kind of time and attention that it deserves. It is doing Deep Work on your One Thing.
In the midst of life’s noise, you can take the time to figure out what you want, count the cost, define the key activities and line up the dominoes. Now is the time to cultivate empty space, to block out some time that you can pay attention to the things that really matter. To learn the new skill, to work on the new business idea, to make some art, or simply to give back or build relationships. This is the time for Deep Work.
If I get anything done, and get it done well, or even quickly, my first step is always to switch the phone off. None of that ‘I’ll just put it face down’, that doesn’t work. Psychically I’m still attached, I’m still wondering about who’s trying to get in touch with me. It has to be off, and then finally I feel shut off from the world enough to allow my ideas and creative energy to bubble up to the surface.
Give it a try. If it’s too hard, put your phone in the drawer or the laundry basket or wherever. Just practice being cut off from your phone. See what that does for what you are working on.
When last did you give your full attention to a task? It feels very tempting to multitask. The pleasure of scrolling through our Instagram feeds, or losing hours of time to YouTube is very compelling and addictive. But if you are to get things done, if you are to move steadily to that BHAG, its very useful to learn how to switch off.
Even if it is just to think. From the moment we wake up, notice how we are mentally highjacked by our feeds. My first impulse when I wake up is to check my messages. First Whatsapp, then the Inbox, then Twitter (never Instagram until I’m mentally ready for that kind of mental and emotional assault). And just like that, my day can get highjacked by the needs and demands for others. Live like this enough days in a row and soon you are swept up in a fog of distraction, mediocrity and dissatisfaction. We all need space to think, to connect with ourselves, to heal, to spend some time in reflection or in the quiet pursuit of an interest or a craft.
The ability to go deep, both in your craft, in work and in your life will produce many benefits. It is a required resource in the marathon of pursuing your BHAG and cultivating a happy life. If you can isolate your main thing, and steadily devote time to it, you will stop feeling listless and more focused. And as you get better at it, that momentum of actually doing things will propel you to do some incredible things.
Last week I wrote about goals, covering the idea that we need Big Hairy Audacious Goals, because they have the potential to help us evolve to greater versions of ourselves. Combining that with smaller ‘checkpoint’ goals keep us on track, steadily stretching and progressing towards the BHAG. But beyond goals as we understand them, systems are an underrated tool and approach that work even better than just goals.
The power of a goal is readily compelling. It is the shining beacon that calls out to us, it is the big thing we want to achieve. And so usually we set it and then we hack away at it every day, or whenever we remember, trying things, failing, learning and trying again until we finally get there. This typical process requires a great deal of willpower, motivation and drive to get started and keep things moving.
Systems make things easier, and I’m going to unpack how. Like I mentioned last week, this is directly inspired by Scott Adam’s idea that “Systems are better than goals’ as expressed in his book. Check it out, it’s a great read and explains the idea in a fantastic way.
The idea of ‘Systems > Goals’ strikes a chord with me because it dovetails nicely with things I have blogged about before like ‘trust the process’, and ‘making time work for you’. It is understanding the incredible power of compound effect and leveraging that in your favor. There is a reason why the most prolific artists and creators of all time swear by some sort of system or routine. Routines free up energy to be creative where it counts, doing the actual work. Systems provide the framework to achieve greatness over time.
Using systems to achieve your goal
Everything we eventually become are the sum of the decisions we make and the actions we take in the day to day. The habits we pick up or develop become stronger every time until they become our default settings. If you can control that process and make sure your habits are the right ones, it becomes that much easier to attain success.
The systems approach works backwards by looking at the thing you want to achieve and reverse engineering the conditions needed to eventually get there. A simple example would be the goal to get to a certain level of fitness, or to get a certain body weight. We can guess that the key things needed for this to happen would be eating right, exercising right, and rest. The systems approach takes these elements and grafts them into your life in such a way that is tailor made to your strengths. You take those steps and turn them into habits by hooking them up to trigger moments in your day.
Quite simply, break down your goals to the actions that would take you there and then make it easy to regularly take those steps.
You could deploy strategies like doing meal prep on the weekends, boxing up each meal for the week separately. Now you don’t have to think about what to eat ever. You decided over the weekend. You simply pick the box you need, warm it up and eat when you need it. You could begin a lunch time or pre-bed ritual, spending 30mins stretching and doing body weight exercises before you go to bed. If you successfully executed these two relatively simple habits daily and weekly, you would be eating right and getting regular exercise. The habits get easier to maintain the more you do them and the effects compound over time. Once the habit is on autopilot you can tweak things to keep them interesting or more efficient. Like tweaking the exact foods you eat or doing more intense training.
If your goal is to read more books let’s say 40 books in the next 12 months. You could approach this goal haphazardly, reading whenever you remembered or had a book handy, or you could bake reading into your day-to-day life. You could simply commit to reading for 30mins every single day first thing in the morning, or you could decide to use your commute to work to listen to audio books. With a daily habit like that it becomes easier to hit that goal.
Systems require a considerable investment upfront to set up. It can be long and arduous work. But once they are running, systems save you time and energy. As they hum along, they make it easy, almost effortless to achieve your goals.
Using systems to improve your odds.
So far we have looked at simple goals, the kind that fall under the ‘checkpoint’ category. Could a systems approach be beneficial when tackling the BHAG, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal?
The Big Goals generally do not have a clear roadmap to achieving them. They are the sort of goals that take a long time of work and learning to eventually achieve. They also tend to require a large degree of luck. Being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right people can play a huge role in what manner of success and experience you have. How do we get luckier?
We deploy a system to optimize for the odds. Simply put, we work to make it more likely that we can achieve the goal. That is the general idea behind formal schooling. You go to school, work hard, and get good grades in an area of high demand to increase the odds that you will get a good job.
Take a look at the things you want to get done. If you want to do cool, experimental events and be known for it or even paid for it. Then you have to do research into the area and see who else is doing that sort of thing. Who pays for that kind of stuff? Brands? Maybe look at the few events companies that specialize in out-the-box events and offer to intern with them for free. Make prototype experiences and document them. Choose to do the things that would increase the odds that you would be able to do the work that you want to do.
If you want to create a successful start-up, then you have to work out a system to increase your odds of success. What do you need to succeed? A good product or service, a large and growing customer base, ability to deploy and scale. There are a thousand moving parts and factors that affect your success. But imagine what the long-term outcome would be if you had a system for learning more about business every day. Maybe every weekend, you brainstormed and built a landing page for an idea and put it out there. 52 weeks down the line, one of them catches off and gains incredible traction. The idea is that every day or every week you increased your odds by learning, making stuff, putting it out there at low risk, watching it fail and then improving it the next time.
See how taking a systems approach makes everything easier. Sure, it takes some time to get used to and build new habits, but it’s a worthwhile investment to make. Your key job becomes making the system even better and more effective over time.
Systems thinking is a powerful framework to use in approaching your goals. If you used this way of thinking to go after your checkpoint goals and used it to improve the odds of success on your Big Hairy Audacious Goal, you will be leveraging the power of process and the compound power of time to create something incredibly remarkable.
And eventually you will win.
Book: The One Thing: The surprising simple truth behind extraordinary results
Author: Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
This book is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. So much so, after finishing it, I went ahead and got copies for my mentors. And my copy is riddled with notes and highlights all over the place. In fact, choosing the highlights to share in this post was so tough, this post will be 4x as long as usual.
Like Essentialism, The One Thing is a book about the central idea that not everything is important, and while it may seem like everything is urgent, there is always that ONE thing that if focused on would bring disproportionate results.
Success in life comes from understanding what your ONE thing is, what the big thing you want your life to be all about is and then working that question down until you have some direction in the day-to-day execution of your dream.
Gary tackles the typical traps that stifles our progress like multitasking, balance, and relying on will power. He then goes on to give practical tips on how to focus on the ONE thing and make it easier to follow. Tips like time blocking, asking the Focusing Question and striving for mastery.
The ONE Thing is a powerful book that connects the idea of big goals, with the reality of focused and persistent execution. Dream big, dare to accomplish great, focus on the ONE thing and let it propel you to greatness.
My Highlights from The One Thing
Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success had varied, my focus had too.
You want your achievements to add up, but that actually takes subtraction, not addition. You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing things with side effects.
Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life.
Highly successful people know this. So every day they line up their priorities anew, find the lead domino and whack away at it until it falls.
…extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous. What starts out linear, becomes geometric.
Applying the ONE Thing to your work-and in your life- is the simplest and smartest thing you can do to propel yourself toward the success you want.
The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.
In fact, most to-do lists are actually just survival lists – getting you through your day and your life, but not making each day a stepping-stone for the next so you sequentially build a successful life.
Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list – a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.
Sometimes it’s the first thing you do. Sometimes it’s the only thing you do. Regardless, doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.
Multitasking is a lie.
It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.
You can become successful with less discipline that you think, for one simple reason: success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.
When our willpower runs out, we all revert to our default settings. This begs the question: What are your default settings?
Nothing ever achieves absolute balance. Nothing. No matter how imperceptible it might be, what appears to be a state of balance is something entirely different – an act of balancing.
A balanced life is a lie.
Purpose, meaning, significance- these are what make a successful life. Seek them and you will most certainly live your life out of balance, crisscrossing an invisible middle line as you pursue your priorities.
The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.
Every level of achievement requires its own combination of what you do, how you do it and who you do it with. The trouble is that the combination of what, how and who that gets you to one level of success won’t naturally evolve to a better combination that leads to the next level of success.
Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity. Fear waste. Fear the lack of living to your fullest.
Once you’ve asked a big question, pause to imagine what life looks like with the answer. If you still can’t imagine it, go study people who have already achieved it. What are the models, systems, habits and relationships of other people who have found the answer.
Why focus on a question when what we really crave is an answer? It’s simple. Answers come from questions and the quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question.
Great questions are clearly the quickest path to great answers.
Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it.
Powered by the Focusing Question, your actions become a natural progression of building one right thing, on top of the previous right thing. When this happens, you’re in position to experience the power of the domino effect.
The Focusing Question collapses all possible questions into one: What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
The Focusing Question is a double-duty question. It comes in two forms: big picture and small focus. One is about finding the right direction in life and the other is about finding the right action.
The Big-Picture Question: What is my ONE Thing? Use it to develop a vision for your life and the direction for your career or company; it is your strategic compass.
The Small-Focus Question: What is my ONE Thing right now? Use this when you wake up and throughout the day. It keeps you focused on your most important work, and whenever you need it, helps you find the “levered action” or first domino in any activity.
Your one-two punch for extraordinary results – Ask a great question (think big and specific), find a great answer (research & role model)
Low goals don’t require extraordinary actions, so they rarely lead to extraordinary results.
Answers come in three categories: doable, stretch and possibility.
High achievers understand the first two routes but reject them. Unwilling to settle for ordinary when extraordinary is possible, they’ve asked a Great Question and want the very best answer.
Highly successful people choose to live at the outer limits of achievement. They not only dream of but deeply crave what is beyond their natural grasp.
Anytime you don’t know the answer, your answer is to go find your answer.
A college professor once told me, “Gary, you’re smart, but people have lived before you. You’re not the first person to dream big, so you’d be wise to study what others have learned first, and then build your actions on the back of their lessons”
The research and experience of others is the best place to start when looking for your answer. Armed with this knowledge, you can establish a benchmark, the current high water mark for all that is known and being done. With a stretch approach this was your maximum, but now it is your minimum.
Because your answer will be original, you’ll probably have to reinvent yourself in some way to implement it. A new answer usually requires new behavior.
“Purpose” may sound heavy, but it doesn’t have to be. Think of it simply as the ONE Thing you want your life to be about more than any other.
It can be a little like a Russian matryoshka doll in that your ONE Thing “right now” is nested inside your ONE Thing today, which is nested inside your ONE Thing this week, which is nested inside your ONE thing this month…it’s how a small thing can actually build up to a big one. You’re lining up your dominoes.
You are training your mind how to think, how to connect one goal with the next over time until you know the most important thing you must do right NOW. You are learning how to think big – but go small.
Time blocking is a very results oriented way of viewing and using time. It’s a way of making sure that what has to get done gets done.
Make an appointment with yourself and keep it – Time block your One Thing – Protect your time block.
If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time.
To achieve extraordinary results and experience greatness time block these three things in the following order: 1, Time block your time off. 2, Time block your ONE Thing. 3, Time block your planning time.
Resting is as important as working.
There is magic in knocking down your most important domino day after day.
Extraordinary results become possible when you want to go is completely aligned with what you do today.
You must continually seek the very best ways of doing things.
Are you doing this to simply do the best you can do, or are you doing this to do it the best it can be done?
..when you are going about your ONE Thing, any ceiling of achievement must be challenged, and this requires a different approach – a purposeful approach.
Highly productive people don’t accept the limitations of their natural approach as the final word on their success. When they hit a ceiling of achievement, they look for new models and systems, better ways to do things to push them through.
You can’t put limits on what you’ll do. You have to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things if you want breakthroughs in your life.
The Purposeful approach says, “I’m still committed to growing, so what are my options?
Taking complete ownership of your outcomes by holding no one but yourself responsible for them is the most powerful thing you can do to drive your success.
An accountability partner provides frank, objective feedback on your performance, creates an ongoing expectation for productive progress and can provide critical brainstorming or even expertise when needed.
If you can’t say no a lot, you’ll never truly be able to say yes to achieving your ONE Thing. Literally, it’s one or the other – and you get to decide.
One of the greatest thieves of productivity is the unwillingness to allow for the chaos or the lack of creativity in dealing with it.
Hanging out with people who seek success will strengthen your motivation and positively push your performance.
Actions build on action. Habits build on habit. Success builds on success.
Big lives build the powerful wave of chain reactions and are built sequentially.
Success is an inside job. Put yourself together and your world falls into place.
All success starts within you. You know what to do. You know how to do it. Your next step is simple.
You are the first domino.