If there is one thing I’ve come to see over the years of working and living is that generally, things tend to take longer than you think and certainly longer than you’d like. From small things like the design jobs I work on, to the bigger long-term projects, they can seem to drag on and on, and then life gets in the way and you lose focus.
To remain focused and consistent in the face of a seemingly unending struggle is sometimes a herculean task. But it is one that must be handled if you will succeed. Because that is part of the dip, that long chasm between desire and fulfillment. It is a battle, it is war.
There is a quote I often mention to my friends, that ‘the work belongs to you, but the results belong to God’. It is an admonishment and an exhortation to focus on what you control.
You can’t control when certain things will happen. You can’t control when that deal will come through, or if it will come through. All you can focus on is doing everything that is within your power – preparing, poking holes in your strategy and fixing them, making your case stronger, improving your art, improving your marketing and persuasion. You just have to do all you can, patiently waiting for your turn, ready for the moment Lady Luck smiles on you.
But where does the line fall between being patient and wasting time? It is a tough one for sure. Your being patient with your situation might mean that you are not being proactive enough or doing things that will move the needle forward towards your aims. But sometimes the right and hardest thing to do is nothing. Sometimes all you must do is wait and let the situation resolve itself, let the weather pass, let the opportunity present itself. Other times you must take initiative.
Whatever we choose, whatever the right action to be taken, it is important to remain vigilant. Because if you lose sight of what you are trying to achieve, if you begin to drift, you will soon enough find yourself caught off course and unawares. Be patient but stay vigilant on the goal.
There is the parable in the bible about the bridesmaids and the oil. The entire party is waiting on the groom and he takes forever to arrive. But eventually he does, and when he does, half the party has burned through their oil and can’t light their lamps. The other half were vigilant and better prepared with extra oil and were able to continue with lit lamps into the celebration because they remained goal focused even in the midst of a severely delayed plan.
And that is a form of persistence, not merely of action, but a keen presence of mind.
What do you do when you are blocked? When you are stopped, and all you can do is wait? What do you do when you are forced to take a break? When even though it’s all you want to do, you just can’t move forward yet? Do you give up and lose steam, or do you lean in and use this gift anyway?
Ryan Holiday shares Robert Greene’s distinction between alive time and dead time. The difference between the two is what you do with it. What do you do with your waiting time? Are you passive, letting your skills atrophy? Do you lose your momentum, or do you find some use for the time you have? Do you keep studying and honing the skills? Do you keep learning? Do you keep preparing, do you stay sharp?
Gary Vaynerchuk has the mantra of ‘Macro Patience, Micro Speed’, it is an incredible encapsulation of a deep-rooted truth, that in the long run, things just take time, that’s why you have to take the wide view, the macro view. But in the day to day, you have to act, you have to hustle, you have to be vigilant. You have to stay hungry and motivated.
That is the dichotomy, the paradox. To make haste, but slowly. To do all you can do today, and this year, but knowing that your dream might take months, or years or decades. In all that, you must play the time, you must keep on working towards the goal. It is a long-term commitment to perpetually being excellent in the short term. It is not easy, but it is necessary if you will get what you want.
Burnout is one of the most insidious and pernicious things that can happen to a creative. Most times, you don’t even see it coming. Especially if you are someone like me. Always eager to put body mind and soul on the line for the sake of design. Piling on work unscrupulously, systematically going against everything I have been writing about – essentialism and all that.
Sometimes I do it for the sheer masochistic pleasure, I like being busy, being caught up in many things at the same time. It does something for me. I also like being able to do the impossible, being able to pull rabbits out of hats. But at some point, it catches up. Usually around June, the halfway mark of the year. This is a pattern now, it’s not the first time I’ve complained about burn out in June. Maybe it being Gemini season also brings some complication to the table.
It starts with the irritation, the annoyance, the loss of perspective. For a time, I forget why I do what I do. I start to hate design. I start to lose interest in doing my best, I just want to do enough to get by. But in all that I still push, still winging, still pulling rabbits out of hats. Until I can’t. I’m talented, I’m experienced. I make it look easy, but it’s not.
Then the more serious symptoms show up. It gets harder and harder to get out of bed. It gets even harder staying awake. The smallest tasks drain all my energy. Doing the dishes, cleaning, making food, replying emails for 15 mins can send me back to bed for the rest of the day. I wake up and sit by my desk and look down into the creative well, and nothing. No spark of genius rises up to greet me. It is then I know I am utterly screwed. I have worked myself past the point of no return. There is nothing I can do but shut down.
So, shut down I have, I write this from an undisclosed location, stealing some time away from the world. For the first time in days, I feel a little bit clear. I reach down to the well, and there is something there, a bit of water, a bit of magical creative energy.
I broke my streak. I didn’t blog last week. I am hoping to be able to write two posts back to back this evening to make up for that. I really didn’t know what to write about last week. And I was exhausted and overwhelmed, it was hard to even marshal the strength to put two sentences together in any cohesive way.
I was going to write about the dip.
The Dip is a concept articulated by Seth Godin in his book by the same name. The Dip is that long chasm and space between the moment of excitement when you embark on a new journey/goal and the actual moment of fulfilment. It is easy to start, it is much harder to continue when you are smack in the middle and the initial rush has worn off and all you are left with is the freaking tedium of the grind.
The Dip is when you start off the year with the goal of blogging consistently, at least once a week for the whole year, and then you run into June feeling like you have run out of things to say.
There are two things to do in the dip. You can push through, or you can quit. And both are valid decisions. Winners know when to quit. In fact, winners are better at quitting than most people. The key is quitting the right things. The Dip provides you with the opportunity to really consider what you are doing and gauge its importance. Are you quitting because this thing is hard, or are you quitting because this thing was a mistake? And that is the kind of thing you have to wrestle with for yourself.
The Dip offers the opportunity to take a step back and catch our breath and gather our strength. The Dip is important because it separates the ‘men’ from the ‘boys’. It is the winnowing process that only leaves the truly committed and truly worthy standing. The Dip kills the competition and builds a moat of safety around what you do. If you use it well.
“Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment” – Seth Godin (The Dip)
So, I’m in a Dip right now. I know I want to keep writing, I know I want to keep creating. I feel like I should shake things up a bit, change the format, maybe write about other things. For a while, I have been feeling a bit over the whole personal development thing. Not personal development as a whole, just my consumption of content has sort of slowed. I feel more concerned with doing and action over contemplation and philosophizing. But that’s how I feel today, I know that can easily swing right back tomorrow.
But I’m in my Dip. I am resting, I am reconnecting. I turn 30 in a few days. It is a sacred week. I’m doing some reflecting over the past decade and looking towards the next. It will come to me, I’ll figure out what to do.
There’s an amazing analogy I read yesterday over at Farnam Street. It’s so good, I’ll just paste it here verbatim.
Imagine sitting on a commuter train and your stop is near the end of the line. If you were certain that you were on the right track, you wouldn’t get off simply because the train stopped from time to time. You know that stops are part of the journey. You can learn a lot from them, and eventually the train will start moving again. Yet when it comes to the goals that are most important to us in life, we tend to jump tracks the second we stop perceiving forward momentum. We’re choosing the illusion of progress over what really matters.
It is okay to be still, it’s part of the process of moving forward. I feel like I’m in a stop phase right now. A lot of my actions and planning over the past 18 months lead to this month. I’m still, waiting for the verdict, knowing that from this point, everything will probably change, things will fall off, things will be added, but whatever happens, I look forward to it because I’m pointed in the right direction. It’s just a matter of being patient. Stops are just as valid as frantic motion. Savor being still.
Here is the thing about life. You will fail. In the pursuit of what you want, you will fall many times. That is guaranteed. Fear it. Run from it. Failure comes all the same.
We are not perfect, no matter how much we may wish we were. We make mistakes, we drift off course, we betray ourselves. We fail in our actions and our inactions. In the heat of battle and the thick of the day-to-day, we grow weary, we lose strength, we begin to falter.
The initial euphoria of giving chase to our dream wears off, and all that remains is the tedium of the day to day, the dull thud of the process. Fear and doubt set in, and we find ourselves in a fog, lost in the woods of life.
Sometimes we give it a valiant effort. We do everything we can. We practice, we prepare, and we try. We hack and slash. But despite our best efforts, things just don’t go our way. Sometimes because we just weren’t good enough. Sometimes for no fault of our own. Sometimes, it feels like the universe conspires against us.
What do we do in those times? How do we respond to failure, to setbacks, to not getting our way? How do we respond to the inevitable fatigue that sets in during our quest for what we want? How do we stay strong? How do we endure?
How do we bounce back even stronger?
First we stop
“Sometimes it takes a good fall to know where we stand”
The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. We have to stop whatever we are doing. Stop thrashing about. Stop running the scripts and patterns in your mind. Stop and breathe. Admit you have failed. But know you are not a failure.
Stop regularly even before you get walloped by a big failure or setback. Failure often doesn’t just come in one fell swoop out of nowhere. The signs of impending failure are usually there if we know to look for them. The missed routine, the sloppy preparation, the work that keeps piling on to the point of overwhelm. They start off as benign and then quickly grow malignant.
If you stop regularly and pay attention, you can recognize that you are failing before things really break apart. Unfortunately, it usually takes a serious failure or hit to our ego for us to finally stop. But once it hits us, once we see that we have failed, it is time to take pause.
Then we re-evaluate
“If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.” – Zig Ziglar
This part is crucial. It is no use to rush over our failure, eager to get to our next attempt, desperate for success. But failure invites us to reconsider our goals, our plans, and our strategies. Failure is an opportunity to learn.
Look around you, look at what you have done, look at what has happened. Mull it over and try and pinpoint the place where you went wrong. Try to tease out the trigger. Did you get overwhelmed? Did you fail to address bad habits? Did you not take the time to rest properly? Did you simply lack knowledge or fail to give your efforts the energy they need?
Diagnosing and carrying out post-mortems on our failures is an extremely vital leaning tool. It can help us be better prepared on our next attempt. It can help us update our strategies.
However, do not get stuck here. It is fairly easy to turn this exercise into a compulsion. Turning a situation in your mind over and over again and being paralyzed by your analysis. The purpose of the reflection is to help you learn, adjust and ultimately improve your odds for success.
Then we re-connect
“Failure isn’t so bad if it doesn’t attack the heart. Success is all right if it doesn’t go to the head.” – John C. Maxwell
Failure is never nice. It hurts, it disappoints. It causes us to begin to doubt ourselves and our journey. Have enough failure, and eventually you would quit. In the pit of our despair, we can choose to give in to the pressure and let go. Or we can forge our will to succeed and keep on trucking.
To make this decision, we must remind ourselves why this matters, why this is important, why we have chosen this journey. We have to reinforce our sense of mission, our commitment to the cause. What excites us about our vision? What do we truly want to create? What would we like to see happen in the world, in our world?
Are our actions still aligned with our values? Is this road you are on leading you to what you want? Can we rise to this challenge and seek to conquer it? Or should we pull back and take another route? Do we abandon this quest all together for a better one?
We have to get back to our why. We have to reconnect to our sense of vision, our ambition, and our desire for what we want. This is our north star, and our decisions and actions must stem from it.
Then we press on
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Once we are reconnected with our dream and vision, we take up new energy. With our faith restored, and our souls refilled, we embark on our journey again. We are creative and productive again. We are pressing towards the goal.
If it is a goal worth pursuing, it will not be easy, but it will be a little bit easier because you have failed, and you have learned. Now you have the opportunity to do something different, to try again more creatively.
So, we work hard. We do what we know to do, while staying vigilant against the things we must avoid. Knowing that we will fail again, but we have the tools to bounce right back.
I have been thinking about this idea for a while, and some time last year, I shared it as a tweet. After it gained a bit of traction, I knew at some point down the line, I would want to unpack my thoughts properly on the concept in a blog post.
So, here it is.
As creatives, we know all about the craft. To be a creative worth your salt, you must know your stuff. We get that. So, we practice, we work, we do what we do best, which is the craft. And that is most times, the most pleasurable part of our lives, working on and honing the craft.
And that part is important. It is the price of entry. The craft gives us a seat at the table. The craft is the soul of the whole creative ordeal. It is the muse we pay homage to every time we create. The craft is our raison d’être.
But on the other side there is commerce. Because everything exists in context. We live in economic systems that we have to contend and deal with. We have to make a living, we have to take care of families, and we have to fund our art.
For some reason, over time, we have absorbed the romantic idea of the starving artist as the prevailing creative archetype. We are comfortable with the person who loves their craft so much, they devote themselves completely to it to the detriment of their material needs. They focus exclusively on the craft and as such, they are unable to succeed in the real world of commerce. We nod knowingly and sadly at stories like that of Van Gogh who died penniless.
So, it becomes a two-option choice between starving for your art or giving up on your art and embracing something more ‘respectable’ to earn a living. Is there a way to reconcile this dichotomy? Is there a way to respect commerce and thrive as an artist?
A quick glance around would suggest that it is at least possible.
In every field of human productivity, there is a wide distribution of gains. You can find people at opposite extremes of the spectrum. There are peasant plumbers and there are multi-millionaire plumbing company owners. Some musicians play small taverns and cafes, others play stadiums.
Same with actors, same with comedians, same with visual artists. One tailor makes clothes in the back of her house for her community, the other one makes clothes that adorn super models on the biggest runways of the world.
In the same way, there are many creatives over the ages who were actually very successful. There are many artists even today, who dominate their fields and reap disproportionate rewards.
How do they do it? How do they win? How does Jay Z win, how did Andy Warhol win? How did Michael Jackson win? How did Da Vinci win? How did George Lucas win?
In his Book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, Jeff Goins shares the story of the startling discovery of Michelangelo’s true net worth by Professor Rab Hatfield – an amount in excess of $47 million dollars in present day value. This goes against the perhaps popular perception that renaissance artists were of meager means simply beholden to their benefactors. Apparently, this wasn’t the case, they were forces in their own right.
With razor sharp instincts, Andy Warhol rose from obscurity and poverty to become the most successful and highly paid commercial illustrator in New York in the 50s and eventually a celebrity and icon synonymous with the Pop art movement in the 60s. Constantly blurring the line between art and commerce, Warhol once remarked that “making money is art and working is art, and good business is the best art.”
Sean Carter aka Jay Z has built a $800 million-dollar strong empire spanning entertainment, fashion and hospitality by systematically parlaying his art and creativity and business smarts from one height to another and one endeavor to another.
Scott Adams made a fortune off drawing Dilbert Cartoons. Zaha Hadid left more than £70 million from her illustrious career in design and architecture. George Lucas created not one but two wildly successful film franchises, amassing a $5,4 billion-dollar net worth along the way.
I could list example after example of creatives coining it. And sure, these are the outliers, the absolute best of the best, but what principles may we glean from studying these phenomena? What makes some artists win at that level while others struggle to make it.
What separates Cassper Nyovest from the struggling rapper recording in his bedroom studio right now?
If you work your craft because you enjoy it and engage with it for the sheer spiritual pleasure of it, then by all means do that. There are few things of greater value than the soul nourishment that comes from creative endeavor.
But if you want to succeed commercially in your craft, if you want to be able to live off your art, and build a legacy, you absolutely must understand the business of your craft.
So how do we bridge the gap between art and commerce? How do we break the myth of the starving artist?
There are some principles I can think of as a starting point:
Learn about business
Business is really not that hard. In its simplest form, it is about finding a need and fulfilling it. The nature of the need and the nature of the solution is what will determine how much value you create and how much you get paid. Understanding in even the most rudimentary ways how businesses work will help you structure what you do in such a way that you are better positioned to succeed. The more you learn, the more sophisticated you get, and the more you can do.
If you want to win, you have to start to wrap your head around business. This is an underrated aspect of being a successful craftsperson. It teaches you to understand your worth, defend that worth, target those who value that worth and provide immense value to them.
It teaches you to learn your audience, to have empathy for them, to get a sense of what they want, what they are interested in, and what they respond to.
Learn the business of your craft
Every craft has its own business environment. As a designer, there are many ways to play in the market. From print design to UX, from working in agencies or corporations, to freelancing and building companies, there are numerous ways to be a part of the value chain, and each one comes with its own possibilities. The more I understand the business environment, the more strategic I can be and the better I do.
Put the business of your craft under such scrutiny. Where is the money? Who makes the most of it in your field? Who are the rockstars? Who plays at that level? Who pays at that level? What are their needs? Should you focus on consumers directly, or should you interface with companies? What are the different niches in your craft? Could you focus on just one aspect? Can you combine your craft with another? Do future changes in your field open up new opportunities to be seized?
There are a million and one ways to look at your craft differently and come out ahead.
Rewrite the rules if need be
Sometimes, If you really know what you are doing and you have paid attention to the business of your craft, you can actually change the terms of the game.
In 1979, George Lucas invested $20 million of his own money to finance the production of his sequel, The Empire Strikes Backand used this investment as leverage to finesse a deal previously unheard of in Hollywood, participating in up to 77% of the profits of the film and owning almost all the rights to merchandising.
Jay Z already in the full swing of his career, used his appointment as president of Dej Jam as an opportunity to regain ownership of his music masters, eventually starting Roc Nation and in 2008 signing a record-breaking $150 million dollar 10-year touring deal with Live Nation. In 2017, his new deal was worth $200 million dollars.
The more you understand about business, the more creative you can be, and the more you can rake in the rewards.
Which brings us to the fourth principle.
Bring your craft to business
Creative work comes with unique advantages because they speak to real and archetypal needs of human beings. As artists we are afflicted with a unique perspective on the world which fuels our creativity. It is such creativity that can breed innovation even in business.
Is there a way your knowledge of drama and storytelling can help you revamp sales as we know it, and help you move product in a way that feels almost effortless? Is there a way your skills in design and problem-solving can help you develop new hit products or new ways of servicing customers?
There are many ways creative skills can become an asset in the business arena. It just takes a little imagination.
If we are to succeed not just in our art or our craft, but also in the economy and our lives as a whole, we must not only know the craft, we must also understand the commercial context in which our craft exists.
And as we grow in this knowledge, we have the chance of getting what we want. We have a better chance of living the life we choose, funding the art we really want to make and having a real impact we know we can.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is start.
Especially when you are trying to chase the dream, do something you have never done before, create something new. There is that initial feeling of ‘ugh, I don’t even know where to begin?’
Coupled with the weight of expectation, the desire for perfection or the right working conditions, it is very easy to never start. But there is a simple antidote to this problem of inertia.
Start by doing it badly.
The creative process works in exactly this way. The first strokes on the canvas, the first words on the page, the initial snippets of code…are always rough drafts. They are never perfect. But they are where we begin. It is very seldom that I am hit with a flash of inspiration and I’m able to sit down and crank the whole thing out in one sitting. It does happen, every once in a blue moon, but that’s usually not the case. And for something like that to happen, I am usually already in a primed state. I have been writing or creating for extended periods of time and I am in complete flow.
Instead, it is really just the act of just sitting in front of the blank screen, the empty canvas and feeling a bit intimidated. All you have to work with is the urge, the spark, the vague idea, the nebulous potential of what you want to create. And that is where you must start, somehow to make all of that concrete.
My blog posts begin as drafts in my notebook app. Just a few lines, or paragraphs if I’m lucky, outlining the core of what I want to say. It is rough, riddled with errors and sometimes incomplete and slightly incoherent. But it captures the core idea. It gives me something to work with. Instead of the blank page, now I have some words, I have some ideas, I have the pieces. Imperfect pieces sure, but nonetheless, something to work with, something to shape and manipulate, to cut out from or to add to. It is still a long way until it is finally done, but at least with the drafts, the process has begun.
If you want to get what you want, you must be able to get important things done. And to get important things done, you have to be able to start.
But ‘what if you fail?’ That is one great fear that can keep us from starting. It’s not just the pressure of perfection now, it is the fear of failure. Let go of that fear. You are definitely going to make mistakes. You are definitely going to fail first. Of course, you will, you don’t know what you are doing. You are not very good at this yet. But you are moving, you are not standing still. You are transforming your potential into actual reality. Your first steps are not great, but they offer learning opportunities that move you forward.
Allow yourself the luxury of doing things badly the first few times. You don’t have to be perfect. If you fail, it won’t be a train smash. Just start. There will plenty of time down the road to correct, refine and make it great.
Now, when you begin a project or a journey towards a goal, you start off with an ideal in mind, a mental picture of what you want to achieve. Let’s call it your ‘star’. As you move towards it, it also moves. Your initial vision or goal was based on your perception before you started. But, as you do things, you learn, you get feedback. Your actions create results, and in turn, they teach you, they change you. As you act and move, your vision evolves. Your star moves as you move towards it.
And I find that interesting. As you grow, your vision grows with you. You never know where this path will ultimately take you. So even your goal can be imperfect. You can have a target right now and hold an idea of where you are going, but you can’t really say for sure that you will end up there. You start off trying to make a couple home computers for the electronics store on the corner and then decades later, end up with one of the biggest brands in the world (Apple). Taking hold of a vision and following your star will lead you down some interesting roads and bring you to unimaginable destinations.
I personally have been chasing this dream of being a designer and building a studio for a while now. Fresh out of university years ago, I read Computer Arts Magazines a lot and decided I was going to have a design studio like the ones I saw in there. And into that dream was woven other ideas and things I want to do all revolving around being creative, making art, exploring ideas and creating interventions that provoke thought and instigate action.
From being a freelancer to working on teams, that dream has evolved over time to cover branding, and strategy and products and business. These things are revealed to me over time, only as I walk the path. The vision gets deeper, more layered, more defined, the same ultimately, but different at particular points in the journey.
And as I think back, I can trace my path through construction and architecture, to performance, to being drawn in by the conceptual and the digital, to loving graphic design and pursuing that and over time combining all these other ideas and interests into my present pursuit of branding, design and entrepreneurship.
The vision is a bit different now, but I would not have gotten to this point without following my star, even as I morphed and changed, my star has morphed and changed and moved.
So, it’s okay to start badly. With little skill and bad aim. Because, what is the alternative? Stand still? Do nothing? The time passes anyway. And if you are standing still, you are really moving backwards. That is not something you can afford.
So, think about the things you know you need to start. Whatever that might be – a new habit, a project, a business, a relationship, whatever endeavor. Start it. Start it badly. It is okay to suck at first but start.
However imperfectly, take that first step. Follow your star.
I’ve been watching a lot of Jordan Peterson videos over the past two weeks and this post was inspired by a video by the same name of one of his lectures. It is worth a watch.
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.