Or where I’m at right now and what that means for my content.
For the five or so of you who follow my blog, you would have noticed I have not been publishing at my usual pace. I have been coming up against a wall lately, when it comes to the blog. I tend to fall in and out of love with my projects, which can make it difficult to work on things long term, but I’ve embraced that as part of the process. Like Tim Ferris says in The 4-Hour Work Week– interest is cyclical.
I’ve also had a persistent sense of fatigue, so I decided to pull back from everything for a bit and disappear. Which was the perfect opportunity to do some reflection around this blog.
I have always said that I don’t know why exactly I write, just that I must. And I shared this sentiment with Kofi Ofori-boateng at a workshop the other day and he was quick to reply ‘of course, because it is a calling.’
This is important to me, so I always try to write from a place of authenticity. Meaning that whatever I post is something that is important to me at the time or reflective of what I am going through. I believe that is what makes for writing that resonates. I would never want to lose that, and have it feel like just another job because this is sacred space. This blog and platform has always been first and foremost, a space for creation.
The creation of what?
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” George Bernard Shaw
I have always viewed what I do here on this platform as a form of self-creation – birthing the person I want to be and the kind of work and projects I want to engage with. The more I blog about ideas like mindset and success, the more they are ingrained into my mind and my spirit. The more I put out books and projects, the more I become the person I want to be – a creative, an author, etc.
In a world where the old rules don’t apply and new opportunities abound, it is useful to create a brand and a platform for yourself, where you can be yourself, and live life on your own terms. You can create something that is uniquely yours and fulfilling to you.
So, that is what this platform is – a place to create something authentic.
Over the years, I have written mostly around mindset, exploring the thought patterns, predispositions and changes we need to make on the inside to get to where we are going and to get what we want. And over my years of writing, this blog has generally mirrored where I was at the time.
My earlier years 2010 – 2014 were concerned with asking the bigger philosophical questions of life. What is it? Why are we here? How do we find or create meaning? What do we do with this gift. It was a time of angst, of searching and wrestling. And my writing reflects that, distilled into my first book – The meaning of Life and other such nonsense.
My next phase after that was more mindset driven. I had come to some resolution around all my searching and had set course for a goal, to create a certain kind of life for myself, doing certain kinds of things. Over this period between 2015-2018, I explored mindset and the principles behind success. The things you must learn, accept and integrate to make anything of yourself. How do you reprogram your mind for success? It has been very rewarding season and truly changed the way I think and behave. This will become another book – How to get what you want.
But now I feel like I am in a different phase. More in a doing phase than thinking. I’ve got the mindset stuff cold, and yes, I will keep being a student of it. I’ll keep learning and reprogramming my mind sure. But this next phase requires a lot more doing, a lot more living.
I’ve seen my curiosity shift from the principles and mindset stuff to the tactical. I wonder how to fine tune my schedule to match my natural energy and give sustainable output. I want to know more about routines, how to create habits, how to stay organised. I want the perspective shifts, hacks and tools that maximise output.
And so in the same way, my content seems to be shifting away from the higher ideas to more tactical content.
End of last year, I inadvertently wrote a short book called – How to live intentionally. Primarily about setting intentions and then goals and systems to get there. I did it in 7 days and in the aftermath of releasing it, I realised that this had to become a full book.
But I had also gotten gripped by a new theme idea – How to max out your potential which I figured could be the theme for the new year.
Maximizing your potential means doing all you can. Leaving all on the table, breaking through to exponential results and all that. And that is where I really want to go. But as I wrote on the topic, I realized I had jumped the gun. You cannot maximize what you haven’t established.
In the journey of entrepreneurship according to Michael E Gerber’s book The E-Myth, there is the crucial phase between the technicianand the entrepreneurcalled the managerwhere you begin to design and implement systems, culture and execution that enable an enterprise to scale and become more than survival.
The same happens in the journey to personal development. You set your focus, and then you take action. But over time you realize that to do this sustainably over the long term, you have to set in place systems and routines to make things easier. It is only when those things are in place that you are then able to really push forward and optimize across the board to reach exponential results.
That is where I am now, exploring this process of establishment, of building. My content will shift more to the tactical, things like routines, organization, planning, systems, the tools and habits that enable us to live more intentionally. So our goals can become crystallized into the actions we take on a day-to-day, as we build a life by design.
In my previous post, I wrote about failure, and having the most unproductive week ever. I had an embarrassing fall off my high horse and my routine and suffered for it. But I bounced back. Because the art of success is really about how you respond to failure.
There is something else I discovered in my week from hell. I wasn’t that stressed. And that is because I am presently pretty organised.
At any point in time, I can take a glance across 3 A4 sheets and a few post-it squares and I know exactly what’s on my plate, what needs to be done, who needs to be followed up with, what is urgent, what can wait, what’s important and so on.
When you are that organized, a bad week is manageable. Because even though you can’t go all out and crush the way you really want to, at least, you can handle the bare minimum. You can do what you need to do to keep everything humming along.
In each of the days where I was either running around, being too tired and sick, or having to devote a chunk of the day to meal prep, I was able to sneak in an hour to four of work. But because I am organized, I was effective, I knew what to focus on, and what could wait.
I also knew what to aim at. Everything I was doing was so that I could get back to routine and tackle a specific set of tasks on my list.
This is not just an idea that works well in managing your to-do list and general productivity. This is an underpinning idea behind successful businesses and organizations. Being organized is a superpower, and it has many other benefits other than capping the downside of a failure.
It gives you clarity
If you are organised in your business, you have clarity. You know who you are, what you do, what you should focus on, what your metrics are, what you need to be doing to get there. You simply just press play and follow the plan. A lot of stress in life and business comes from chaos and not knowing what to do. Being organised reduces all of that.
It helps you bounce back
Failure is inevitable. Even the best-laid plans go awry. But as long as it is not a catastrophic failure, when you get knocked off, and everything falls apart, to get back, all you have to do is consult the plan, adjust and continue where you left off.
It super charges your chase for success.
I’ve always been organized or at least fairly so. I can be quite OCD and I need everything to be just so. But it is one thing to be organized just because you like it, and then to be organized towards a goal.
If you have done the internal work of figuring out what you want, getting your mindset right and then building a plan to get it, setting up routines and being organized are the support structure and systems that put your efforts on automatic. All you have to do at that point is just ride the wave. Being organized is a huge leverage point that regularly gives exponential results.
It reduces cognitive load
Being organized allows you to build a second brain around you. You are able to outsource things to this second brain and free up mental bandwidth for what truly matters. You don’t have to spend energy remembering things when your calendar pings you at the right time. It is easier to work and remain in flow if all your tools are well placed within reach to facilitate the work. You don’t have to juggle things if they are well mapped out.
Like I said, I have always been somewhat organized and you probably have been too, but taking the time to fine-tune and improve those processes and tools can really be like strapping a rocket to your back and jetting off while providing a safety net for you to land on if anything goes wrong. Let it be a core tool in your journey to your success.
It was honestly quite embarrassing. I had just written a piece about the importance of routines and how they have helped me be consistent with blogging and a better creative as a whole, and then the very next week, I go on to blow that routine to smithereens and have an absolutely terrible week. Okay, I’m wildly exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad a week, I just felt very untethered for most of it.
I had failed. I failed my routine and I failed to post.
It is not ideal. But it’s okay. It is bound to happen from time to time.
On the road to success, failure is guaranteed. Your getting to the place you want to be, depends on how you react and deal with failure. Do you spiral down even further, or do you bounce back?
I had failed. What next?
A good strategist and executioner always plans contingencies. What happens when things don’t go your way? How do you recover? What do you do next? The answer for me was simple. And the answer was a question, a paraphrase of the focusing question from The One Thing.
What is the ONE most important thing for me to do right now that would make the most impact?
And in the stupor of my week, floating disconnected from my routine and usual momentum, I asked the question. On the day I was sick and tired, the most important thing to do was to get groceries done, it was simply all I had any energy for and what needed to be done. The next day, the most important thing to do was to do meal prep. And all of that was simply foundation, so I could wake up on the third day and get right to work and spend all day being productive like I wanted to.
It would have been easy to spiral, to feel anxious and guilty, to try to over compensate for the failure of routine by doubling down and pouring yourself back into the grind. But failure is a feature that can be used to improve routine because it is an invitation to pause and reflect, to recover and then improve.
If we design routines and rituals to control and direct the chaos of life, then we must also be aware of and prepare for the points of failure. So when you fail, you have the response mechanism to get you back on track.
But it is not just enough to bounce back. How far can you bounce back? Can you bounce back from failure better and more anti-fragile?
Failure is inevitable, but what matters more than the failure, is your response to it. The quicker you can bounce back, and the more you can milk that failure for all its worth, the faster you get back on to the road to success.
Failure is an opportunity to pause, reflect and recover. It is also an opportunity to learn. To figure out what went wrong, and to anticipate it the next time.
I fail at running my daily routine, so I execute this other small sub-routine (the focusing question) to get myself on track. I don’t just get back on track, I learn what went wrong, what to avoid the next time and how to improve my routines. I learn to regulate my energy and pay closer attention to my diet. I learn to manage expectations and protect sacred creation spaces. I learn how to increase my creative output. I return even better.
So, when you fall off the wagon, as we are all bound to, don’t beat yourself up. Take a breath, reset, learn, and do what you need to do to get back on track stronger than ever.
When you think about successful creatives or artists, you would probably conjure the image of weird people prone to flights of fancy, brilliant sure, but often capricious, unstable, or unreliable. You would imagine that they value large swatches of unstructured time and need complete freedom to be creative and do their work. You would probably think they wake up every day at different times to do different things. You would be very wrong.
About 2 years ago, I came across the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. He compiled and highlighted the diverse rituals and routines of famous accomplished artists, scientists and philosophers. From Salvador Dali to Chris Ofili, they all had something in common apart from their great minds and accomplishments. They had their specific routines and rituals.
See, to be productive and successful, especially over a long period of time and consistently, you cannot just rely on inspiration or on the ‘feeling’. The creative muse is notoriously fickle. You have to embrace structure. It is that structure that ultimately frees you to be creative, to explore vast ideas and birth something new.
Like all things in the universe, it’s a delicate dance of opposites.
The creative muse is be balanced and even enhanced by routine. As individuals, doubly so as creatives, we are faced with chaos on a daily basis. There is the noise within – the voices in our head, our anxieties and hopes and fears. And there is the noise without – society, traffic, bosses, clients, the needs and requests from family. There is a lot that can derail your work and path. Routines and rituals become the guards that protect it.
Routines and rituals do two main things. They provide and defend the time needed to do the work, and they provide the right conditions to do good work. They direct the chaos of the day, the chaos of the mind and set them across well-defined paths every day. It is the only way to get any real work consistently done over time and move towards accomplishing your goals and maximizing your potential.
I have been telling people lately, that if you want to embark on a creative project, like doing podcasts, writing a book, or working on a business – you have to bake in the process into your daily life. You have to create a routine for it. Otherwise, it will never get done. What is not scheduled, does not happen.
For instance, I generally write my blog posts on Sunday. It is part of my ritual to prep for the week. It usually follows a set pattern. I sit down at my desk, I meditate for 15 mins, then I journal, mind dumping whatever is going on upstairs, and only then am I clear enough to write something. Afterwards, I plan my week and get into some work.
Of course, many times, for whatever reason, that does not happen. Some Sundays, I’m out with friends or doing something else. But I still have to execute the ritual when I can, on a Monday or Tuesday morning, whenever I do get the chance to get it done. The point is, the ritual facilitates production. It gives me a set time to work and provides the conditions necessary for good creative work.
The idea of ritual shows up everywhere, even in doing the work itself. To be effective at designing and solving problems, I have to use certain patterns. I follow processes, either documented or subconsciously. I dig into the issue at hand first, letting it fill my mind. Then I have to explore ideas and look at incredible work by others to prime my mind. Then I sketch and design and test till I get something. And I need to have the phone off for hours sometimes just to really get that focus and enter the right zone to produce good work. If I disrespect any of these conditions, the work suffers.
Routines and rituals go a long way.
It is how we trust the process.
It is how we get what we want, how we maximize our potential. It is where living intentionally really becomes tangible in your life. By designing your life in line with your goals. Putting in the conditions and systems to make it work. You focus on winning the day-to-day. Because if you win at executing the most important thing on a daily basis, over time the actions compound to deliver you great wins.
Your routine would look very different from mine. We all have what works for us. In Mason’s book, the routines of artists varied wildly. Some woke up nice and early starting work at 9am like Chris Ofili, others like Pablo Picasso could not be bothered before 2pm. The point is, they found a rhythm that worked for them and maximized their creative output.
However you do it, start right and end right.
We all have the same 24 hours, beginning our days at some point, and ending them at another. In the time between waking and sleeping, we have things to do, obligations to fulfil and projects to execute. If we want to crush it. We have to pay attention to how we start and how we end. A good morning routine sets the pace for the day. A good wind-down routine at the end of the day helps us get a good night sleep and start the next day on the right note. With those two things created and applied consistently, we supercharge our lives, our creativity and productivity. A good routine takes care of the important little things – a noisy mind, unclear focus, eating, etc and allows us to focus on actually doing the work.
A week and a half ago, I was in a deep funk, like I mentioned to my email list. For whatever reason, I entered a dark place, feeling unbalanced, feeling doubtful. Until I came across this video, and had two epiphanies – one, I am not my mind, which is a topic for another day, and two, I should get back to some kind of routine. So, the next day, I woke up, I exercised, I meditated, I visualized, I journaled, and went on to have a very productive day. Like magic, the darkness lifted.
Turns out, all I needed was to get back into rhythm. That’s the power of a good routine.
I don’t have anything to say.
And yet, I must blog. I must write and publish something. Because I made the commitment to. And part of the journey towards success is respecting the process, when it is easy and when it is hard. So, I will write.
And because I watched Hassan Minhaj’s Patriot Act yesterday so I’m going to call this ‘a bunch of thoughts’. That’s what this will be about – different ideas that have been lingering lately.
Like I said, I have nothing to say. I just feel quiet. In a world and culture, where we feel the need to fill every empty space with something – words, activity, sound, noise, entertainment, the willingness to stay still and empty and quiet is hard to find.
But it is important. It says something about us, about the phase we are in, and what we must do next. Sometimes there is nothing left to say, but everything else left to do. And once you do things, you will have more things to say.
In the season of quiet, it is good and important to embrace empty space as just as much you cultivate occupied spaces. You have to create a vacuum to invite new things in. Sometimes you just have to be quiet and wait. Wait for the signal, wait to move, wait to strike.
Easier said than done. But doable.
I have nothing to say, because I have everything to do. And it is in the doing that new ideas come up, and new insights develop. New lessons are learned, and a new dimension of expression opens up. Because when you act you learn. You see new things, and you are able to create something new. You are able to develop truly unique and interesting ideas when your theories now intersect with cold hard reality. That sparks up new things.
Afraid to Press Play
There is also fear. The fear of launching. It never goes away; it rises up every time. That moment you are about to ship, and you wonder, will they like it? Will this succeed? You have defeated the Resistance throughout the process, sitting down to work, being faithful, and pushing through. And yet, here, at the door, at the side of the stage waiting to walk through, waiting to be called up, the Resistancerises again to greet you in a last-ditch attempt to stop you.
The fear can be very visceral, but in these times of nervousness and fear, we have to remember that these things are ephemeral. They will not last forever. They come…to pass. But it only passes if you embrace it. It does not pass if you do not go through it and implement it. If you do not experience. The more you delay it, the more eternal it becomes, looming as a specter of guilt and shame, never leaving, always tormenting.
So that’s the thing about fear. Knowing that it won’t last forever, so might as well dive into it and embrace it and enjoy it while it’s here. Because, soon you won’t feel it anymore. This would be your status quo.
Reclaiming who you could have been
A friend suggested I write about this. The idea of salvaging. Of rescuing and restoring everything you have quit or put on hold. Taking hold of your un-lived dreams.
How do you do that?
I think a lot of people go through this. You were on a path and for whatever reason, you quit. You let go. You dropped out, you changed routes. Maybe it wasn’t right for you, maybe you shifted to find what you are truly called for. Sometimes it is needed.
Sometimes though, we let go of the thing we really wanted. Maybe it is the fear. The fear of failure, or even the fear of success. Or maybe it was the process itself, you start working on this thing, studying this thing, training for this thing and you realize that it’s actually harder than you thought it would be. So, you lose motivation and run away.
But now, you are inspired again. You have grown. You see things differently. Well, it is never too late to be what you might have been. You can always jump right back into the fray, and get into it. Maybe it is time for you to reclaim your lost dreams with renewed vigor.
Remember the fear, like everything else in life is impermanent. Embrace it and it will pass. Embrace the process.
Working to Live
In the last quarter of last year, I came across Jason and Caroline Zook’s ‘Working to Live’ and just going through their content challenged the way I think about work. As entrepreneurs or freelancers, it is very easy for your work to own you, to be constantly working and pushing. The proliferation of ‘hustle porn’ also doesn’t help matters. We think we have to be ON all the time, constantly moving, constantly getting things done.
But that doesn’t always work does it. Sometimes we run around frantically for months or years or end and eventually look up and realize we painted ourselves into a corner, or that life has literally passed us by. Do we live to work, or do we work to live? I’m guessing you are trying to live. Let the work you do help you live not take the place of life.
That starts by being clear, strategic and allocating time for what needs to be done. Then you are forced to be effective, not just busy. Being strategic allows you to snap between two modes of activity.
Sure, sometimes you need to be ON, 18-hour days, head down, just pushing and getting things done. But then once you have gotten the right things done, you can pull back and rest, like really rest. Because the main things are taken care of.
That is a sharp contrast from continually being stressed and running around like a headless chicken like we usually do.
Another meditation on the process and experience of getting things done.
The last stretch of any serious project is usually the most grueling part of the whole ordeal. It is almost like birthing. The bulk of it has a lot of work sure – conceptualizing, designing and building, but that last bit, getting it across the finishing line, is super intense.
That’s when emotions are at an all-time high. You are tired from all the work so far. At this point, you doubt the validity of the entire project. On one hand, you wonder if you have wasted all your time and effort to get here. On the other, you just want to finish the damn thing and get it out your sight.
But if in the midst of all that strain and pressure, you are still here, still in the game, then you know you have yourself a winner. You love what you do, so much so that you are willing to embrace a high level of suffering and anguish just to get it done.
There is a key thing about getting things done that is important to note. This is especially true if you are working strategically. There is a lag time between effort and results. In a world, where we expect everything with microwave immediacy, this can be jarring. We expect everything fast; the lag violates that expectation.
If you are building something important, especially if you are still in the early-ish stages, there is a lag time that you have to be patient with. You need to be patient and disciplined.
If you are working with intention, you have identified a ginormous goal, something you are working towards. You have also looked at the short term and figured out what the next most important thing to do is.
So, you are working on it and pushing. Especially if it is product development – writing a book, creating a course, designing clothing, designing a business, creating a website, it’s a lot of work upfront. And while you are making the thing, you are getting no feedback from the market place beyond whatever testing you are doing. There is no validation, no emotional boost from likes on Instagram. It is just pure grunt work.
It takes discipline to keep pushing and working on it for weeks, months, even years without tangible results. It takes discipline to push and get the important things done, knowing that you might only see the impact in a year or in the next 5. But that is the core of true strategic intent and level-headed execution. Doing things now that will pay off much later.
The lag is also a call to be clear-headed and practice accurate attribution. Know where your results are coming from.
Where you are right now is as a result of the choices and actions you took years ago. From the habits to the results in your life, the place you live, the job you have, and the money you make. To move yourself to a new place, you have to invest in new actions and habits now. But for the change to be visible, it will take time and you have to be prepared for that.
It is in the lag that people lose heart and quit. In the lag all you have is the work, and your dream. You look around and people seem to be moving on without you. While you toil and labor away in obscurity to create your vision. Seth Godin also refers to it as the dip – the chasm between the start and finish of a project, the valley that separates those serious about achieving the goal, and those who are mildly interested.
The lag does not mean you are failing. The lag means your reality is still catching up with all the changes and actions you are making. You have to stay strong, you have to stay the course and keep pushing. But how do you know the difference between lag and actual failure? Maybe the fact that nothing is happening really means that your project, vehicle, business is not adequate to get you where you want to go.
You don’t. It is a tricky thing to figure out, but there are ways to mitigate the risk.
Because there is a lag time from effort to results, there is something I like to do in designing the projects I work on. When I take on a project, I set intentions for both the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario. I design it so that if it works out really well, the potential upside is very high. Which is why exercising leverage by working on important projects is key. A successful one can literally change your life. But I always like to bake in success into the failure scenario too. Even if this project fails, I have most likely used it also to gain new skills, new knowledge, new network, new insight.
I have been spending the past few months working on the next level of my business, and I have spent time designing the website, designing the way the company functions and learning so many new things about customer research, product development, communications, hiring, business plans, investments, and so on. It has been a long road so far, and an even longer road ahead. But here’s the thing about this exercise. Even if I launched everything the way I have been planning and it fails epically, I would have still gained a lot from the process. I would have learned more about business than I would have otherwise.
But if I succeed, I win big. All the planning and set up lays the foundation for explosive and exponential results. Because once the lag has passed and the results start coming in. They come in fast!
This is why we focus on the process. Because that is what this is. A process. Getting successful is a process, staying successful is a process. The process is all we have, not the results. So, we mind the lag. We recognize it, but we stay focused on the day-to-day, on creating the plan, executing the plan, recording the results, adjusting the plan, executing again, reviewing the results, ad infinitum, until we get what we want, maximize our potential, or run out of time.
We don’t know how long this will take. We don’t care. All we care about is handling today’s task. This is a lifestyle now, this is just how we do. And it is what we will do, till we are past the lag and the harvest comes.
This post was inspired by Sam Oven’s video on Cause and Effect Timeframes: Why today’s results came from last year’s work. Well worth the watch.