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.
The road to getting what you want can be hard and treacherous. You have done the work of knowing yourself and knowing what you want. You have taken the time out to consider the cost, and what it would take to get there. Now it’s time to formulate the plans and action.
But before we dig into all that, let’s talk about something very important.
One big thing that stops us from getting what we want, is inertia. The law of inertia states that a body in motion will continue in perpetual motion until it is acted upon by another force. We know what it is like to have lived so long in the status quo, that it is difficult to move out of that orbit into a new level of action and being.
Short of a harsh wake-up call or near-death experience, many of us would keep on sleeping, being dead to our potential, and just doing enough to get by. How can you gain the momentum to start moving towards your goals, and the fortitude to withstand the obstacles that are 100% going to be in your way?
You have to cultivate burning desire.
When was the last time you really wanted something? Like wanted it so bad, you were obsessed with it. You spent all day day-dreaming about it. And it still plagued your dreams when you fell asleep. When last were you so excited that you couldn’t wait to jump out of bed in the morning to get started. So eager, that you loathe the fact that you needed to sleep at all.
You need that energy if you are to get what you want.
When you are truly 100% committed to reaching your goals, you move from hoping to knowing. If you want something badly enough, then quitting is simply not an option. You either find a way or make one. You pay the price, whatever it takes. – Steve Pavlina
You have to want what you want so bad, that everything falls away. You have to crave it so much that you will do WHATEVER IT TAKES. It is that fire in your belly that will keep you going long after your mind is tired, and your body is drained. It is that thing that would provide you with a second wind and a third wind. It is that burning desire that will shut your mind to the naysayers and keep you laser focused on your goal.
So how do we cultivate burning passion?
The same way we cultivate anything. By giving it attention. By feeding it.
There is a reason we are encouraged to write down our goals and make vision boards. These exercises give expression to our dreams. They also make them a little more tangible. They burn the images to our subconscious.
What you feed your attention to, will grow in your life. So why not give your desires your attention?
Some tactics to cultivate burning desire
Write it down
Write down what you want. Write your goals. Studies show that just the mere act of writing your goals down vastly increases the chances of you achieving them. Writing encodes the desire into your brain and lets it seep into your subconscious. Even if you take that piece of paper you wrote your goals on, put it in your drawer and only picked it up again a year later, you would be surprised at how much you would have accomplished. It’s quite magical really.
Make a vision board
I know, I know, it sounds corny. One of those ‘The Secret’ things blah blah. But do it. Make a vision board. You can make a cork one or take a large sheet of cardboard and cut up images of what you want and images that inspire you and stick them up there. Put it up somewhere you can see it always. Or make a board on Pinterest, fill it with those images. Go through it as much as you can, add to it, play with it. Let these images feed your desire.
Fantasize about it
Meditate about it. Take the time to map out your desire in your mind’s eye. Imagine yourself having the thing that you want. Feel the emotions and the vibe of having what you want. Walk through your dream house, hold your book in your hand, feel the sea breeze on your skin as you walk the beach with your lover on your honeymoon. Occupy your dreams in your mind.
Immerse yourself in it.
As you cultivate desire, and get more excited about the things you want, go even deeper. Go as close to full immersion as you can get. Surround yourself with the things that pertain to what you want. Associate with like-minded people, read books, watch programs around your interest. Make a playlist for it. Fill your down time with podcasts and videos that reinforce your desire. Go all in.
Experiment with these tactics and remix them with some of your own. Keep your vision firmly before your eyes and stoke your desire until it grow from glowing embers to a roaring flame that propels you forward.
Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success. — Swami Vivekananda
Book: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters
Author: Richard Rumelt
As a creative, brand strategist and entrepreneur, I’m interested in strategy, and in my travels across the web, this book, ‘Good strategy/Bad Strategy’ came up quite a few times as the one book to read if you wanted to learn more about strategy. I finally finished it last week, and it really delivered.
In the book, Richard Rumelt showcases the difference between good strategy and bad strategy. Bad strategy is nothing less than wishful thinking, and can be recognized by broad fluffy words, bad objectives and an unwillingness to face problems. Good strategy on the other hand digs in to the situation at hand, addresses the critical problems, prescribes a general guideline in tackling them and includes clear coherent set of actions to take to actually get there.
Good strategy/Bad strategy is a highly recommended reading if you are a leader, a consultant, an entrepreneur or just interested in strategy. The insights are profound and are widely applicable, from the board room to personal dealings.
Highlights from Good Strategy/Bad Strategy
Despite the roar of voices wanting to equate strategy with ambition, leadership, “vision”, planning, or the economic logic of competition, strategy is none of these. The core of strategy work is always the same: discovering the critical factors in a situation and designing a way of coordinating and focusing actions to deal with those factors.
A good strategy does more than urge us forward towards a goal or vision. A good strategy honestly acknowledges the challenges being faced and provides and approach to overcoming them.
A good strategy has an essential logical structure that I call the kernel. The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action.
The most basic idea of strategy is the application of strength against weakness. Or, if you prefer, strength applied to the most promising opportunity.
How can someone see what others have not, or what they have ignored, and thereby discover a pivotal objective and create an advantage, lies at the very edge of our understanding, something glimpsed only out the corner of our minds.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses, assess the opportunities and risks (your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses), and build on your strengths.
If you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you have either a stretch goal, a budget, or a list of things you wish would happen.
Strategic objectives should address a specific process or accomplishment, such as halving the time it takes to respond to a customer, or getting work from several Fortune 500 corporations.
Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favorable outcomes.
Good strategy is not just “what’ you are trying to do. It is also “why” and “how” you are doing it.
A good guiding policy tackles the obstacles identified in the diagnosis by creating or drawing upon sources of advantage.
Returns to concentration arise when focusing efforts on fewer, or more limited, objectives generates larger payoffs.
…he invested where his resources would make a large and more visible difference.
One of a leader’s most powerful tools is the creation of a good proximate objective – one that is close enough at hand to be feasible.
…imagine that they were allowed to have only one objective. And that objective had to be feasible. What one single feasible objective, when accomplished, would make the biggest difference?
A master strategist is a designer.
But the truth is that many companies, especially large complex companies, don’t really have strategies. At the core, strategy is about focus, and most complex organizations don’t focus their resources.
Extending a competitive advantage requires looking away from products, buyers and competitors and looking instead at the special skills and resources that underlie a competitive advantage. In other words, “Build on your strengths”.
The other way to grab the high ground – the way that is my focus here – is to exploit a wave of change.
You exploit a wave of change by understanding the likely evolution of the landscape and then channeling resources and innovation toward positions that will become high ground – become valuable and defensible – as the dynamics play out.
A good strategy is, in the end, a hypothesis about what will work. Not a wild theory, but an educated judgement.
To guide your own thinking in strategy work, you must cultivate three essential skills or habits. First you must have a variety of tools for fighting your own myopia. Second, you must develop the ability to question your own judgement. If your reasoning cannot withstand a vigorous attack, your strategy cannot be expected to stand in the face of real competition. Third, you must cultivate the habit of making and recording judgements so that you can improve.
The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. – Sun Tzu
Like I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I had this little success formula I ‘came up’ with in high school. I say ‘came up’ with dramatic air quotes because obviously it’s not a new formula and many before me have expressed it in some form or the other across the ages. But bear with me…
To get what you want, all you have to do is three things:
- Know what you want
- Count the cost
- Pay the price
So far, I have talked about knowing what you want, and how you need to know yourself first so that all you seek comes from a deep authentic sense of self. Once you have figured all of that out, you have to figure out what it would take to get what you want.
This step is what separates dreams and wishes from true goals and desires. To get what you want, you must pay the required price.
To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people.”
—Charles T. Munger
What will it take to get what you want?
There is the gulf between where you are now, and where you need to go. How will you bridge the gap?
Some costs are easy to figure out. Want a summer body? The cost is regular exercise and a healthy diet. Others are a bit more complex. Want career success? Learn more about your field and industry, make a career plan, invest in gaining new skills, get a mentor, and be on the lookout for opportunities.
1 + 1 = 2
Sometime around 2015, a few friends and I are busy working to get a fledging startup off the ground. We are hustling our asses off, taking two steps forward and five steps back. We are going to meetings, pitching to clients, investors, and being very busy. In the midst of this flurry of activity, and after a few years of dealing with all sorts of business people, it finally dawns on me.
1 + 1 = 2
There is a deep sense of wishful thinking that is so difficult to keep at bay. Hollywood has conditioned us to think that someone is coming to save us. That by some stroke of luck, or magic, things will somehow work out. We see it in the ‘so-called strategies’ of companies. We see it in the hopeful entrepreneur eagerly pitching his idea blissfully oblivious of the holes in his logic and product. If you are to get what you want, you have to work hard to shed this warm blanket of delusion. You have to know no one is coming to save you. It is all on you.
1 + 1 = 2
Which means that there must be a clear logical sequence of things for you to get what you want. Getting what you want will not happen by magic. It will happen by respecting the amount of work, the amount of time, and all the factors involved in actually making it happen, and then executing 100% against that.
To make the MacBook I am typing this on right now, teams of people at Apple had to work together to create the software, design and manufacture the hardware. It took incredible coordination to finance the deals, make the product, package it, market it, and ultimately sell it to me at the iStore. None of it happened by magic and none of it happened without due deliberation.
You’ve got what it takes, but it will take all you’ve got.
I want to build the company of my dreams. I respect what it takes to do that. The entrepreneurial spirit, the leadership skills, the communication skills, the sales skills, the deal-making skills. I understand the cost, the potential decade or two or three it would take me to get there. I understand that I have to become a dramatically different person to achieve this. I respect the lessons I must learn about design, about culture, about finance, about process.
I think I’ve got what it takes, and I’m sure it will take all I’ve got and more. It is what I want. I’m prepared to pay the price.
So, think about what you want. What will it take to get there? What are the steps you must take? What are the gaps in your knowledge you must fill? What commitment must you make? Will you respect the law of cost? That 1 + 1 must equal 2.
You must pay the cost to get what you want.
“The first step to getting what you want is to have the courage to get rid of what you don’t.” —Zig Ziglar
The cost is not just the things you must do. It is also the things you must not do or stop doing.
Every choice comes with an opportunity cost. Sometimes, getting what you want will need you to make dramatic changes in environment or associates. Sometimes you must give up something you hold dear, to get something even better.
All of this is incredibly hard, but it can be easier, if you cultivate burning desire…
I read this book for the first time back in early 2015, and I even blogged about the core idea here and a related idea ‘Deliberatism’ here. This is a crucial book, and it holds a hard-to-live-up-to idea that has the ability to transform your life, if implemented well. It pairs very well with ‘The One Thing’ which I will blog about sometime soon.
Too many times, we take on too much and we try to do everything. This is an excellent strategy when starting out. When you are new or young, try everything out, try different things, taste the berries, like Gary Vee would say. It’s this being open and saying yes to everything that will open doors and fuel your success. But once you get to a level of success, to move to the next level, you have to evolve and change your approach.
In every endeavor, there are the small proportion of factors that disproportionately affect the outcome. It is basically the 80/20 principle. There are the trivial many and the vital few. It is a profoundly important skill to be able to delineate between the few and focus your efforts on the things that really matter.
Imagine being able to accomplish more by doing less. This is the promise of Essentialism. How can you be more focused, more effective and less stressed?
Check out my selected excerpts below, and you can buy the book here.
My Highlights from Essentialism
In this example is the basic value proposition of Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
… Less but better. A more fitting definition of Essentialism would be hard to come by.
Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.
It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at your highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.
The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.
Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.
If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
The pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure. Put another way, success can distract us from focusing on the essential things that produce success in the first place.
To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and ‘I can do anything but not everything.”
When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless. Drip by drip we allow our power to be taken away until we end up a function of other people’s choices – or even a function of our own past choices.
Is there a point where doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes?
To discern what is truly essential, we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.
…and the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflective spaces in which we can truly focus.
When there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for, and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress and frustration. When there is a high level of clarity, on the other hand, people thrive.
We do a similar thing in our personal lives as well. When we are unclear about our real purpose in life – in other words, when we don’t have a clear sense of our goals, our aspirations, and our values – we make up our own social games. We waste time and energies on trying to look good in comparison to other people. We overvalue non-essentials like a nicer car or house, or even intangibles like the number of our followers on Twitter.
Creating an essential intent is hard. It takes courage, insight and foresight to see which activities and efforts will add up to your single highest point of contribution. It takes asking tough questions, making real trade-offs, and exercising serious discipline to cut out the competing priorities that distract us from our true intention. Yet it is worth the effort because only with real clarity of purpose can people, teams, and organizations fully mobilize and achieve something truly excellent.
Don’t ask, “How will I feel if I miss out on this opportunity?” but rather, “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”
We all have some people in our lives who tend to be higher maintenance for us than others. These are the people who make their problem our problem. They distract us from our purpose. They care only about their own agendas, and if we let them, they prevent us from making our highest contribution by siphoning our time and energy to activities that are essential to them, rather than those that are essential to us.
Whoever it is that’s trying to siphon off your time and energies for their own purpose, the only solution is to put up fences.
The way of the Essentialist is different. The Essentialist looks ahead. She plans. She prepares for different contingencies. She expects the unexpected. She creates a buffer to prepare for the unforeseen, thus giving herself some wiggle room when things come up, as they inevitable do.
What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.
…highly creative individuals use strict routines to free up their minds. Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise,” Mihaly says. “they wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important…personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.
Focus on the hardest thing first.
They know that execution is easy if you work hard at it and hard if you work easy at it.
Essentialist never attempts to do more than one thing at a time.
“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many tribal affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day;…so simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real” – Henry David Thoreau
The way of the Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose.
I’ve been an avid reader for years, and out of the many books I’ve read, there are a few that truly stand out. These are books that contribute a unique idea, a new perspective or a tool that propel my life. So I’m starting a new series where I profile my favorite books, the ones that have had the most impact on me. Hopefully it inspires you to pick up one of these books, or at least you can pick something from this series and allow that to spur you into new action.
I had heard of Grant Cardone years ago through a friend who works in sales. I knew Grant had a lot of content on sales training and had a very balls-to-the-wall kinda vibe. I did not know just how much until I started listening to his podcast late last year. Cardone has insane energy and insane expectations lol. Watching, listening to or reading him is definitely a kick in the pants. He takes no prisoners and goes all in.
His book The 10X Rule is about thinking big, setting huge goals and taking insane massive action towards achieving them. I think it’s an important book because as far as getting what you want goes, we tend to under-estimate just how much effort it would take to achieve our goals (if we even dream big enough). if you do 10X more than you need to do to get what you want, the chances of you getting it simply skyrocket.
My Highlights from The 10X Rule
It takes the same amount of energy and effort to make $10 million as it does $10 000. Sound crazy? It’s not – and you’ll see this when you start operating at 10X levels. Your goals will change, and the action you take will finally start to match who you really are, and what you are really capable of doing.
Another component that is required for success is the ability to estimate the right amount of effort necessary for you – and your team – to achieve a goal.
As I look back over my life, I see that the one thing that was most consistent with any success I’ve achieved was that I always put forth 10 times the amount of activity that others did. For ever sales representation, phone call, or appointment others made, I was making 10 of each. When I started buying real estate, I look at 10 times more properties than I could buy and then made offers to ensure that I was able to buy what I wanted at the price I desired. I have approached all my business enterprises with massive action; that has been the single biggest determining actor in any success I have created.
In order to get to the next level of whatever you’re doing, you must think and act in a wildly different way than you previously have been.
Only you know your true potential and whether you’re living up to it; no one else can judge your success.
Take massive amounts of action at 10 times the levels you think necessary
This is the focus of the 10X Rule: You must set targets that are 10 times what you think you want and then do 10 times what you think it will take to accomplish those targets. Massive thoughts must be followed by massive actions.
There is nothing ordinary about the 10X Rule. It is simply what it says it is: 10 times the thoughts and 10 times the actions of the other people.
The 10X Rule is about pure domination mentality.
A person who limits his or her potential success will limit what he or she will do to create it and keep it.
As long as you are alive, you will either live to accomplish your own goals and dreams or be used as a resource to accomplish someone else’s.
It is not enough just to play the game; it is vital that you learn to win at it.
One of the greatest turning points in my life occurred when I stopped casually waiting for success and instead started to approach it as a duty, obligation and responsibility.
Discipline, consistent, and persistent actions are more of a determining factor in the creation of success than any other combination of things.
Instead, you must acquire the discipline, muscle memory, and achievements that result from taking massive action – while others think, plan and procrastinate.
Attack, dominate and keep your attention on the future, and then continue to repeat your actions – and your courage will grow. Do things that scare you more frequently, and they will slowly begin to scare you a bit less – until they become so habitual that you wonder why you ever feared them in the first place!
The successful know they can quantify what works and what doesn’t work, whereas the unsuccessful focus solely on “hard work”.
Results (not efforts) – regardless of the challenges, resistance, and problems – are a primary focus of the successful.
You can only be as successful as the individuals with whom you involve and associate yourself.
Stay focused on the future, be unreasonable about it, continue to add wood, and don’t focus on what people say has been done, can be done, or is possible!