The other day, I was watching a productivity course on Skillshare, and I learned something interesting about what separates very productive people from non-productive people.
It has to do with how they perceive and relate to time.
This idea was so profound, it has radically changed the way I approach my days and weeks. And that is understanding that the idea, the excuse we give when people ask us why we are not doing the things we are supposed to do, why we are not living the dreams, or operating at the level we seek, this excuse – ‘I don’t have time’ is just a myth.
This is a knee-jerk reaction that comes up a lot.
There are so many things and ideas we have. Many lives yet un-lived inside us that we want to get out and make real, but we sometimes we don’t never do. But it is not because we don’t have time. it is because we don’t use it well enough.
We all get the same 24 hours. How are some people able to get a lot done, balancing full careers, learning new skills, maintaining relationships, indulging in hobbies while others can barely keep it together.
I mean this guy I’m listening to is a doctor working full time, who also lectures, maintains a YouTube channel, creates courses on Skillshare, and runs a small business. How does he find the time to do all of that? And there are many people like this. What separates someone like that from someone like me who can barely manage a blogpost a week.
It is the relationship with time, and how intentional you are with it.
Exposing the excuse
When we say we don’t have time (especially for things we say are important to us), what we are really saying is, I cannot be bothered to make time for it.
Perhaps I’m already overwhelmed, or maybe I am just lazy. Whatever the reason, I have just abdicated responsibility for my life’s greatest asset – my time.
If you took a closer look at how you spend your time, you would most likely find a lot of time that is just spent…lost scrolling through feeds, or travelling, or watching something or just doing nothing at all. If we did a time audit on our lives, we would find that we do have the time, we could probably just use it well.
When we say we don’t have time, what we really mean, is that we don’t have enough time to do all we have to do as leisurely as we are doing everything right now. We live like we have all the time in the world.
And sure, unstructured time is also important, downtime, even wasted time can be useful in allowing yourself to be bored and receive flashes of inspiration. But for the times that you are ‘on’, when you need to get things done, you become more effective, the more intentional you are about how you use your time.
Being intentional with your time
The idea that you don’t have time is a myth. All you have is time, and not an infinite amount of it. It is about how you deploy it. It is constantly moving, it is up to you to use it in the things that are important to you.
You have to shift to the mindset of making time.
To decide that if a thing is important to you, be that a relationship, a business, a skill, a project, a goal, then you have to make time for it. As basic as that sounds, that is really what it comes down to. If you want to get it done, make time for it.
We all have the same 24 hours. And there is only so much that can be done in a day. For many of us, most of that time is already taken up by our responsibilities, it can be legitimately hard to get things done. Our time is limited, so we must maximise our investment. We have to be clear on what our priorities are, on what is important for us to get done.
It is easy to do this when the priorities are backed by social pressure, or imposed deadlines from work or school. But when it comes to self-directed projects, things we deem important to do, but because no one is holding a gun to our heads to get it done, it becomes way harder. There is too much distraction in the world around us.
That is the battle – making time for what is important, protecting and properly using that time.
What shall I do with this 24?
Is the question that pops into my mind every morning lately when I wake up.
I’m up to a new 24 hour cycle. What am I going to do with it?
I have responsibilities, I have errands, I have deadlines, I have people to talk to, and things to get done. I also have the projects I want to start, the thing I want to learn, the idea I want to research, the art I want to make.
If I’m intentional enough, I can plan ahead, I can consider my time, and only try to take on only what is appropriate. I can decide what to prioritise and what to put on the backburner. To set asides the times that are to be invested in certain activities, and make sure that nothing else intrudes on them.
I can systemise and hack my way to becoming better at using my time and better at execution. I can become skilled and massively productive, my results compouding over time, solving intractable problems quicker than normal and being present enough to pounce on opportunities as they arise.
Because if it is a lie that we don’t have time. Then the truth is that all we have is time.
And time can be anything we want it to be. It is literally a matter of what we make of it.
Or how to throw time at your problems.
We have all heard about throwing money at your problems, paying to get things fixed. The core of the idea is that of deploying the resources you have against your problems to get to optimum results.
But what of how we use our most valuable resource – time? How do we use it, how do we throw it at our problems?
Time is a surprisingly malleable entity, at least in perception. It seems to slow down and expand while you are stuck toiling away at a boring mind-crushing task, but then find yourself having a good time and watch it speed up and slip away like sand through your fingers
Sure, time is an objective thing that we measure with our watches and clocks, but it is also very subjective in our experience of it. Plus it is always moving and we all have a finite amount of it to use.
It is our most precious resource and asset because once it is spent it can never be recouped. Worse still, it is always being spent, and how we use it is everything. We can invest it, we can use it productively or we can waste and squander it. But it will always keep moving, with or without us.
In my mind, there are 3 different ways we can use time.
On a long enough timeline…
There’s the quote attributed to Jeff Bezos I think, that basically says that on a long enough timeline, you can find the solution to any problem. I always liked that quote. It meant that no matter what problem I was facing, if I approached it with the right timeframe and worked on it consistently, eventually I would crack it.
That is what I would call throwing long time at it. Investing an extended and consistent period of time moving in a certain direction. We already do this automatically in many areas of life. School is one such example. You throw 3-4 years at the problem of obtaining a qualification. You make the consistent effort at the time, eventually, hopefully, you get there.
I have expressed this idea in a previous post about making time work for you. You do so by installing the right habits and routines into your life, so that as time passes, you get better, things grow exponentially, life improves. This is investing. Making your resources work for you.
If we think in this way, then we know that every action we take today is an investment to recoup or a price to pay for tomorrow.
So we are intentional and deliberate about what we do. If we fail to do so, if we laze around without direction, we will find ourselves lost to time.
Shorten the time
Tackling things over the long term is good. It works well for tackling particularly thorny issues and solving intractable problems. But shortening the time you use can also be a very powerful tactic.
This is the power of the deadline. Restricting the amount of time you have to get something done, forces you to work faster, smarter and more efficiently. It causes you to bring massive effort within a focused concentrated burst of time and can this yield powerful results.
It is when you give yourself 3 hours on a Sunday to get your finances in order. It is spending 30 minutes to bang out a blog post.
If there is a nagging problem in your life, an absolute thorn in your side, something you have been procrastinating on, you could probably go extremely far in solving it if you spent a few hours just working the shit out of the problem – googling, YouTubing, researching and experimenting until you solved it.
Here the quality of the time you spend here must be high. This demands full focus, no distractions. So, unless you need it for what you are doing, put that phone far far away and get to work.
Or capturing the moment.
Kairos is an ancient greek word meaning the right, critical or opportune moment. In rhetoric, it is described as a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.
This is taking advantage of time as opposed to merely using it.
There are those special moments that arise. Sometimes, out of the blue with no warning. Other times as a slow steady build you can see coming. But this is a moments when things come to a head, where the all the factors collide and something powerful happens.
Usually this is a time of great volatility and instability. If you are awake, if you have been preparing, using long time and short time to position yourself, you can seize this moment and take advantage. This is the moment of the big opportunity, the big break. It is the chance interview, or introduction. It is the moment of chaos where sparks fly and the great flame erupts. This is when the iron is white hot, this is when you must strike.
It is the time ordained by God, the universe, the higher power and powerful things happen if you are at the right place when this moment arrives.
So use time, in all its glory, in all it’s forms. We are bound to it and its relentless flow. It is up to us to be skilful in our use of it. In this way, we honour it, by making the most of it.
We all know that person. The one full of hot air. The one that talks a whole lot but never executes. They can regale you of tales of their ideas and plans. But nothing ever comes of them. You will most likely find them in the same place in a decade. Still talking about their ideas. They probably thought of Uber before Uber, and Amazon before Amazon. But it never went further than a fleeting thought in their mind.
Don’t be that guy.
Don’t be the person who just talks and never takes action. Because, you miss out on a lot. It is important to execute on your ideas. The ones that come to you, the ones that are uniquely yours. The ones that never seem to go away. Sure, you don’t have to execute every single thing. But it is important and massively impactful when you take a concept of yours from idea to reality.
Here is why.
The more action you take on your ideas, the more they will come.
Creativity is an infinite resource. The more you use it, the more you of it you get. Ideas beget more ideas. And clearing out ideas by executing them provides the space for new and more interesting ideas to emerge in your mind. But if you do not act in the first place, those new ones never come. If you are stuck for ideas on what to do and work on, take look back. What ideas did you abandon without executing? Revisit them, dust them off and work on them now, or release and let them go. Create the mental and psychic space for new ones that you will commit yourself to executing on.
Executed ideas open up doors
When you execute on an idea, make it real and release it into the world, it provokes a response. Sure, they might hate it, or they might like it. Either way, it is a response, far better than the deafening silence that is the back of your closet or mind where that idea resides wasted. When you put something out, it allows you to be seen, heard and interacted with. People can find you, talk to you, and open more doors for you. Imagine if JK Rowling never published the first Harry Potter book, or George Lucas never made the first Star Wars movie, the entire massive cultural phenomenon they both became would never have existed. Execute.
They help you learn
Executing on your ideas will teach you more than any amount of theory could. The actual experience of learning, practicing and creating encodes lessons deep into your mind and soul. They teach you about who you are, in the process, in the failures and heartbreaks, and the successes. They give you character, they build grit. You will learn as you execute, and you will learn after the execution. Did the idea work? Did it resonate with people? Did it fail? Why? What can we do better next time?
Executing on your ideas builds your confidence
Confidence is a huge part of the game of success. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should the world? The act of executing is a bold statement of belief, in yourself in your ideas. You move from being a passive consumer, to being an active creator, contributing to the fabric of the world around us. As you execute, you learn to value yourself and your opinions more. You hold a higher respect for yourself as you can point to tangible things you have done and created. The more you execute, the better you get at it, the more confident you become in your skill and in yourself.
Executing on your ideas helps you become more YOU
Our ideas are an extension of ourselves, our programming, our environment, our life and experiences. As we create and execute them, we are forced to come to terms with a lot of things, to examine our biases, to clarify our thoughts, to define ourselves more clearly. The creation processes allow us to become more of who we are. As we create things and execute things, we create ourselves, we affirm what we believe, we engrain the values and traits we believe in.
Honour your ideas and dreams with execution, and watch your life transform.
It is a general principle of life that for all things, there are two sides of the same coin – pleasure and pain. Everything is a delicate dance between these two extremes, good and bad, pleasure and pain, light and dark. And even each extreme contains the seed of its opposite. This is the essence of the tao.
Relax all day and enjoy the pleasure of watching movies or playing video games, and then get hit later with the pain of depression or self loathing, feeling like you wasted the entire day later. Endure the pain of working through the day, and enjoy a leisurely guilt free evening later.
Endure the pain of going for a run every morning and enjoy the pleasure of higher energy levels throughout the day and the feeling of accomplishment. Enjoy the pleasure of sleeping in and living a sedentary lifestyle, feel the pain of bad health and weakness.
Pleasure and pain. Always present.
If these two things are always constant, How do we balance them? We could indulge in pleasure first and tackle the pain later. This is the essence of procrastination. Avoiding the pain of a task to bask in present pleasure or delusion. Until the pain of not getting it done is too much and now we are forced to deal with it. Or we can do the opposite, paying the pain upfront to reap the pleasure later. Sure, this can also backfire, deferring reward so much that you never get it, or you get it when you can’t enjoy it.
Balance as with all things.
Another thing to understand is that the more you let something accumulate, the greater force or impact it has when you do release it. So if you avoid paying the pain now, it accumulates over time and becomes an even bigger pain. If you pay it early, it is still painful sure, but it is relatively smaller.
The reverse is also true. the longer you delay gratification, the bigger the payoff. Think of saving or investing or studying. It is the same premise. The more you save or invest without tapping into the account, the more money you accumulate to use down the line. Endure pain today, endure it long enough, and maximise your pleasure down the line.
Of course, the alternative is tempting. Why wait. You could die tomorrow. Or who is to say, that tomorrow will be better than today. As with all things, there is always the risk. The trick is managing it.
This principle of pleasure and pain is important because everything we do as humans is predicated by deep instinctual reactions to those extreme poles. We are constantly trying to maximise our pleasure and minimise our pain.
But life itself is a mix of both, we cannot hope to have all pleasure and no pain. It is impossible because life by its nature is full of challenges. And those challenges are the gift.
In a video interview with Tom Bilyeu, Mark Manson speaks about talks about this fact, expressing that we should not seek to have no problems at all, that is impossible, what we should strive after is gaining better problems.
Problems exist at every level of life, and for good reason. It is these problems that inspire us to act, that move life forward. Without challenges, we would wither away. The rich have problems, just as the poor do, just different ones. With every choice, and at every level there are challenges. You just have to choose what problems you are willing to deal with.
Because getting what you want is about tackling the challenges and problems surrounding that which you want. If you want to excel at your career, you have to tackle the problem of developing yourself, of improving your skills, of networking and being more seen and heard.
If you want to make more money, you have to tackle the problem of creating or proving something useful, of learning to sell it, of getting paid for it. Problems everywhere. If you want to gain better health, you have to tackle the problem of working out and eating correctly, and there are many problems to be tackled around that.
If life is full of challenges no matter our station and circumstance, then it is better in general to live with a predisposition to the pain, with a bias to taking action, responsibility and tackling problems. And the longer we lived this way, the easier it would get.
If you woke up everyday looking for the price to pay, looking for the pain to endure, you would get better at tackling and managing the pain . Over time, you would begin to even derive a perverse joy from the strain of pain. Pulling out the seed of pleasure from your pain.
All things have pleasure and pain, even pain, even pleasure.
It is in this way that we become skilled in the art of living. We learn to pay in pain, we learn to do it upfront, to maximise our gains and pleasure down the line.
Or what the Holy Trinity and The E-myth can teach us about being successful
A few weeks ago while giving a personal update on my content and blog, I briefly alluded to Michael E Gerber’s book ‘The E-myth‘, and how it closely mirrors elements of the personal development journey. Here, I break it down further.
Now if you have never read The E-myth, I encourage you to do so. It is one of the top books to read on the topic of entrepreneurship and small business. Consider it an indispensable part of your journey. In the book, Michael highlights the fact that just because you know how to execute the product or service of the business, does not mean you know how to run and grow the actual business. Those are really two separate skills.
Sounds very common sense, but it is often a glaring blindspot for excited and new entrepreneurs. They go into business super eager and passionate. They feel because they are passionate about cakes and can bake a terrific cake, they are qualified to own and run a bakery. Sure, passion is a good ingredient to have. It will drive and move you forward when little else can. Being able to deliver on the promise of your business is important, but, the big picture of making it work requires a broader set of skills than just baking.
Most new entrepreneurs are good enough at this one thing – executing the actual job of the company, but they suck at the other two legs of the tripod needed to make a business work. To successfully start and run a business according to Michael, you need to wear 3 main hats – the Visionary, the Manager and the Technician.
The Visionary is the entrepreneurial energy. It is the spark of inspiration that says, ‘What if this solution existed? What if we solved this problem? What if we took advantage of this opportunity?’ It is the drive to begin, to start, to set things into motion. It is the prime instigator, casting the vision, showing us where we can be, and where we need to go. Without a solid dose of this hat, we remain stagnant at a survival level, never thriving or breaking through to new heights. Too much of it, and we won’t ever get anything done.
The Technician is the worker bee part of the equation. This is the actual job, the value proposition, the point of the company. This is what you sell, or deliver. Like I mentioned earlier, we are usually heavy on here. We know how to organise the event, or design the logo, or build the model. We know how to bake the cake. Without the technician, nothing moves, but with too much focus on this function, you end up working all the time and never building an actual business.
Between the technician and the visionary is a gulf. One personality is usually too busy in the clouds, dreaming of the next big fluffy idea. The other is usually too stuck in the dirt, busy with the nitty gritty of getting things done. The one who bridges the gap, the one who makes sure the wide eyed directives from the top are effectively translated to day-to-day action is the Manager. The manager is the one who designs and sets up the systems, processes, checks and balances to ensure that the big plans are executed every step of the way.
Incidentally, this idea maps out to the process of achieving personal success, and just achieving goals in general.
There is the clear need for vision. We know we have to have meaning, purpose, a reason for being, a grand vision to achieve or contribute to in our lifetime. There is also a clear need to be able to get things done, to take action, to book the meetings, to do the work, to make things. It is our inner manager that helps us connect the two.
When we begin our journey of growth, we start off by being visionary about it. We think deep and try to figure out what we want to get done, what we want to build. And then we come down from our high perch and get down to the ground, and start building. We oscillate between the Visionary and the Technician.
Half the time all we have is a hunch. We don’t even know what exactly to build. we are building and learning at the same time. But after a while, after a lot of trial and error, and learning, we figure out enough of what we need to build and develop enough skill to actually build it.
At some point, we cross a threshold. It is not just enough to take some action sometimes. Now, we understand that it will take a bunch of different actions all working in concert towards our defined goal. We move from just being able to do a set of push-ups, to an entire system of workouts to maximise strength and gains. We start to operate more in the Manager role. It is this energy that establishes order.
We need all 3 hats, all 3 personalities working together to create a well oiled harmonious ecosystem, where we are able to set large scale intent and see it come to fruition. We are able to set the goal of getting fit, learn to do the exercises, and then create the systems and routines that propel us forward.
That is a big chunk of the work. The actual building phase – the manager portion. Making the plans. Creating the processes, documenting them. Building and instilling habits. It is the system that holds all the bits together. Here we experience the lag. We are busy setting up, but there are no major rewards yet. Here we must patiently build. Once we have sturdy systems in place, we are able to rise back up more into the visionary aspect, riding and driving these systems where they need to go.
And if you think about it, this is really just an archetypal pattern. It is the pattern of the trinity. The father, the mother, the child.
The father, the spirit, the son.
The instigating force, the conductive force, the active force.
Our intentions crystallise from the rarified world of ideas into the plans and patterns of actions which give key results.
If you are busy, and frustrated by not getting results, perhaps do a diagnosis on these 3 states of being. Is your intention and focus right? Do you have a vision? Are you taking right action? Are you doing what needs to be done? And are they organised and directed enough? Are they repeatable? Are they sustainable? Will they take you where you need to go?
Are you wearing and operating in all 3 hats?
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.