The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
There are many things that are good, but only a few that are truly important, and truly great. Many times, what stops us short of greatness and our full potential is not failure or doing the wrong things. It’s giving too much time and energy to things that are merely good.
Good is answering every email in your inbox, and promptly too! (yay inbox zero). *Smh*. Good is tidying up your workspace and making everything extra super duper organized. Good is answering every phone call and every request, living at the whims of everybody’s agenda but yours. Good is accepting every social invitation, (you know you gotta nurture those relationships). Good is…well…good. Good is normal. Good is average. Good is mediocre.
Great? Great is harder. Great requires a little more time, and a whole lot of thought and experimentation. Great is uncertain. Great is what’s truly important even though it may not scream to you with the urgency of that last email with the title ‘Re: Incredibly Urgent! ‘. Great is the work that you really feel drawn to create. Great is that project you want to undertake, the book you want to write, the business you need to redesign and optimize. Great is that sweet spot of exertion, mission, creativity and impact.
Not everything is equal. It may take the same amount of time to make those edits for that client that it would take you to draw up a strategy for your business. One will reward you right now. The other will pay you dividends for months or years to come. One is good, the other is great.
Somehow we already know this but what keeps us running on the ‘good’ treadmill instead of steadily plodding along the ‘great’ trail we ought to be blazing? Lack of focus and misplaced priorities. If you are not focused, If you have not taken the time to be self aware enough to know what you want and what is truly important, you will not make it to great. You are not working at great because you want to please everyone. You are not willing to draw a line in the sand and say NO! You think you are multitasking god. You are trying to do everything, and eventually the days will slip into weeks and the months. You suck at everything because you have not committed to one thing.
You only have so much energy and time in the day. Spend the best of it on the most crucial things. Do the one thing that sets you up for more success in the coming year. Take care of the one thing that would make everything else easier.
Don’t procrastinate your great by focusing on the merely good.
There are two qualities of important great things that make procrastination so hard to resist:
- We are not clear on what it is, what it takes and how long it would take
- The great thing seems too big and insurmountable
It is much easier to take the easy wins, answer those emails, get on those other tasks. It makes us feel productive. It is easier to get stuck on just good.
To reach for great, you need a new set of tactics
- You need to block off time to sort out or get rid of the ‘good’ stuff. Get them done, outsource, etc.
- Block off time for the important. Block off time for great everyday. This is the time you shut off from the world and work only on the important thing.
- Break it down to its component parts and work on it piece by piece.
- Meditate on your great thing. Think about it all the time. Why is it important? What do its component parts look like? Flesh it out in your mind, make it tangible.
- Just start. Once you begin, you build enough momentum to make it stick and carry you to the end.
I’ve had the weirdest experience over the past few months. I’m not rushed, I’m not running from thing to thing like a rabid cheetah hopped up on coke. I’m not trying to do a million different things at once. My days are relatively relaxed and simple, I’m still quite productive, and my business is doing better than ever. Most importantly, I’m actually making progress towards my goals.
Before this, most of my life has been a series of frustrations, constantly overworked, trying to make things happen and failing woefully, leaving a trail of abandoned projects in my wake. True, you could account for the expected failure rate of trying out new thing. But that was no way to live.
What caused this turn around? The paradox – You have to slow down to go faster. Two books were very instrumental in helping me come to this new understanding. The first is ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, the second is ‘The One Thing’ by Gary Keller. I cannot recommend these two enough. I liked ‘The One Thing’ so much I bought it as a gift for my mentors.
How do you slow down to go faster? You have to come to terms with a few things. First, you don’t have to do a lot of things. In fact, if you can just identify what the most important thing is and do that, even if you did nothing else, you are still massively more productive than if you got a thousand trivial things done. That means letting bad things happen and relentlessly focusing on the most important thing until it is done. For the past two months, my One Thing has been pulling back from the technical nitty-gritty of my design business to working on the business itself, redesigning it from the ground up – the services and packages I offer, the clients I target, the value I deliver and the growth/evolution trajectory I wish to follow.
Obviously to make this practically work, I still need to juggle working with clients, attending meetings and other such tasks, But entire days and weeks are blocked off to working on the One Thing. And I work on the One Thing, not on the clothing idea I have, not on the book ideas I have, not on my blog, not on that other startup idea, just this One Thing, because when this is in place, it becomes so much easier to overlay everything else onto it.
When this One Thing is done, I will move on to the next One Thing.
And when I’m working on this One Thing, I’m not doing anything else. My phone is off, my internet access is disabled (unless I need to do research) and I’m just hacking away until the task is done. Thank you Cal. The One Thing is the most important thing, and the One Thing deserves the best of my attention and energy.
When I’m not working, I chill, I relax, I think, I read, I say NO.
Slowing down, working DEEPLY on the ONE Thing allows me to build with perspective. With the added time to think and reflecrt, I can take my time to understand the lay of the land, to line up the dominoes so that I know that what I’m doing right now is directly in line with what I want 5 years down the line.
So far so good.
Or ‘Don’t choke at the finish line’
I noticed something interesting a few weeks ago. Lets say you’ve been chasing something you really want – just putting in the hours and ploughing right through in pursuit of this goal you must achieve. Sure the days are long and hard, but you really really want it, so you push as hard as you can. Long enough that you catch a glimpse of it, you finally see your target ahead of you.
Somehow in that last stretch, the temptation to give up creeps up a bit harder than it has this entire time. You almost want to sabotage yourself, because the only experience you’ve had is ‘wanting’ that thing. You are almost to finally have it, because you will lose the comfort of the struggle. Wanting it is more familiar and safer than actually having it. Because once you have it, you have to adjust, you have to seek out the next thing, the next struggle.
In this stretch, be even more vigilant, resist the temptation to fold, to make careless mistakes, to lose the opportunity, to snatch defeat out of the jaws of defeat. Keep running, keep pushing, cross the finish line, dare to win.
Time is a beast of a thing, we are all enslaved to it, we are all trapped in it. It flows on whether we like it or not. In a blink of an eye, an entire lifetime springs to being and fades away. It is the great equalizer. All things must fall to time. It is inevitable.
And because it moves so immutably, it can either be tyrant or benevolent ruler. You can wake up, months, years, decades later to find that time has passed you by and you have nothing to show for it. Or you can look back to memories of growth of triumph and joy. There is the intervention of fate, but a lot of it is really up to you.
The tyranny of time – the fact that it is relentlessly moving is the very thing you can grab a hold of and harness for your benefit. Once you accept that the time will pass anyway, the question remains, what will you do with it? Will you identify your goals and desires? Will you identify that which makes your heart sing and nourishes your soul? Will you search and discover that thing you were birth to give to the world, to the rest of us? Will you find your greatest contribution?
Will you put in the work, every day, every week in developing that potential of yours, in learning the skills, gathering the knowledge, in practicing the craft? Will you invest the time in your family, and nurture your relationships? Because after all is said and done, the people we love are all we have. Will you let time work for you? So as it incessantly flows, you are becoming better, your bonds are becoming stronger, and you harvest the fruits of your labour as they ripen in due seasons.
Will you establish the right routines and habits to basically make most of this automatic. So the way you spend your days, which is really the way you spend your life, compounds over time to raise you to greatness. Or will you squander all of it in laziness and excuses and unfocused action? Will you let time sweep you away, until you have to get off at the end of your allotted portion, with nothing but missed opportunities and regrets?
It’s really up to you. Time is the prime instigator in the physical universe, let it work for you.
What’s most important to you? Focus on that. Focus on your goals. Save your energy exclusively for that.
When people are tripping all around you, stirring up drama and getting all worked up over nothing, observe impassively. Do not engage, do not get sucked in. Offer your two cents, try give some guidance. But don’t get sucked in. Its not your cross to bear. You have your things to worry about. You have a gift to tap into, to give to the world. You have a potential waiting to be worked out and unleash. Worry about that. Focus on that.
Blinders on, eyes on the prize.
Last week, on valentines day actually, I wound up working through the night with a client on a proposal with an impossible deadline. I didn’t know that was going to happen. Well, I had ample warning from Friday that this was how Sunday was going to go down, but I thought I’d be back home by evening time, with enough time to prep for my Monday 10am meeting.
I got home at 6am, and yes we made our deadline. Took a quick shower, made a cup of coffee and sat down to continue at it. No dice. Couldn’t even put two thoughts together. Shit. Now I’m thinking to myself, I really wish I could prep properly the way I want to for this meeting but I can’t. Ah fuck it, might as well nap a bit and hopefully I get enough juice to bullshit my way through.
I sleep till 9:30am, get up and make my way out into the world. All the while contemplating the delicious idea of going awol and staying in to sleep anyway. Agh, I gave my word and my team is depending on me. So I go, and I show up. I show up, not just physically, but I show up, I bring the best I can to the table. In my sleep addled state, I engage and do my best, and it goes alright. Successful meeting.
Now this might all read as a humble brag or whatever, and I have not always been this conscientious, but I’ve gotten okay at being consistent at it so far. My point is, sometimes you might want to hold back, skip out on things, especially uncomfortable things out of fear, or fatigue, or just not being in the mood. But show up anyway. Some times, that’s all you gotta do. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to have it all together, you just have to show up. Time and again. It’s the best way to make things happen for you.