How do you want to fill your day?
When you work for yourself, you get to be in charge of your own daily habits (to some extent of course—it’s hard to monetize eating vegan cheesy chips or hammock sleeping, for example).
I had a conversation with my buddy James Clear about this question, for my upcoming book, Company of One. He thinks that a lot of people decide what kind of business they want to run but don’t consider how they want to fill their days. They figure it’ll be fun to be a writer or run a software company or host a podcast because they see others succeeding at those things. But they fail to consider the work involved in actually doing those things.
It’s so easy to focus on the results—the accolades, the revenue, the outcomes of success. We see folks doing well and want to emulate them because we see that they’re doing well. Yet in doing so, we forget to consider the process involved.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve received emails from folks who want to have a popular blog, yet hate writing. Or people who want a successful podcast but can’t properly hold a conversation. Or those who want the freedom of being a freelancer but hate communicating with clients.
In each case, the outcome of success is their focus, not the process or daily habits required to get there. But the process is what fills our days. It’s the daily habits involved to achieve success. So if you don’t like writing, trying to become a famous blogger might not be the best career choice. Same goes with creating software—if you aren’t keen on doing a ton of both support and marketing once it launches, your efforts may be best spent elsewhere. Your attention is what dictates what your daily habits become.
After all, what we do is how our days are filled and what our daily habits are. So James thinks you should work the other way: first identify what you’d be most stoked about doing day to day and work backwards into what that ideal job would be. For him, it’s learning, researching, writing and using science to tell stories. He’s happy and motivated to work alone for long stretches with his ideas and words. That’s probably what makes him such a prolific and popular writer.
There are many actions he could take in his business to make more money—but everything must first pass through that filter. How will his days be filled if he takes something on? That’s why none of his revenue streams involve ongoing support or retainers. If he’s selling a course, there’s no monthly calls that come with it. If he’s doing a keynote speech, he shows up, gives the talk, answers questions and then moves on.There are no followups or ongoing consulting after the fact. He’s optimized for the life he wants and for how he wants to spend his days—mostly learning, writing and sharing—otherwise his life would be filled with things he’d eventually want to quit doing. He took the things he loves doing and worked backwards to devise his business model. He repeatedly says no to revenue so he can say yes to the way he wants to spend his time.
If you don’t like the sometimes-overwhelming amount of administration and marketing work, maybe freelancing and entrepreneurship is more of a dream you have after a crap day at the office. Maybe you shouldn’t chase VC money for your idea, unless you like someone else having almost complete control over every aspect of your business (and life, in most cases).
This is a good reason not to grow your company much larger than yourself or a tiny team. If James or I grew our businesses, our days would be filled with managing others and the complexity of running a larger business. This is why not growing makes the most sense for some businesswomen and businessmen —because on the surface, the outcome of growth and gaining a massive number of customers seems like it’s all rainbows and unimaginable riches. But that’s just the outcome. It’s the byproduct of successful growth. It doesn’t speak to the processes involved. It doesn’t speak to the reduction of freedom that comes with being responsible for others (both the employees required and much larger number of customers). Our days would be filled with administration instead of creation. That doesn’t sound like a good trade to me.
So next time you’re pining for a business life that seems super sexy in terms of the outcomes it can potentially provide, consider what the average day would be like to create and maintain it, and what those daily habits would need to become. If the actual work involved doesn’t sound like how you want to spend your day, it may be time to focus your efforts on something else instead.
What’s the point of productivity?
We read about productivity tricks so we have more time to read about productivity tricks. We optimize our morning routines so we can have 30 minutes longer each morning to work more. It seems like we collectively want more time simply because we want to cram more into the time we’ve got.
What’s the point of productivity?
Some days, after I’ve automated and optimized everything I can, I’m left bored. (Boredom is a crappy first-place prize.)
If there’s no reason to cram more into each day, then productivity, as a goal in and of itself, is worthless. In my early 20s, I wanted to make a million dollars a year, so productivity simply meant getting work done faster so I could do more work. This pursuit only lasted a few months because I realized I didn’t need more money than I was already making, so why kill myself with 16-hour days? I was much happier working 6 hour days and being less productive.
If you’re an office worker, the more productive you are, the more your boss will expect from you. And it won’t stop there either, because if you’re able to slash hours off your work and become some percentage more efficient with your time, those increases will be expected to compound (that’s how corporations work — good results will require even better results next quarter).
If you succeed at maximum productivity, where will your own time and energy go?
Unless all this productivity is making us all exponentially happier or more fulfilled, it just feels like we’re working our asses off to work our asses off more. Without some bigger purpose or grander goal, like getting work done faster to spend more time not working, it feels like a hamster wheel of working more to work more to spend more so we need to work more.
Some days I want to be less productive. I want to take four hours to write one article, instead of 20 minutes. Or I want to have 3 days to solve a programming problem that should maybe only take an hour. Or have a day where I lay on the couch, or go hiking, or make kombucha instead of working. Because if I’m just being productive for productivity’s sake, I’m left with more time than I even need to fill my day with. Unless I have a better, more fulfilling use for that time, it’s an empty goal (which, to be honest, would probably be filled with watching cute rat videos on YouTube).
So unless I have a reason to squeeze an extra 30 minutes out of my day, I don’t care about being more productive. I don’t need 15 tips that will break my schedule into 15-minute increments for the next 4 hours. Some days I’d rather just enjoy my work slowly than get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A lot of the time, I’m happier when I’m less productive.
See one, do one, teach one
In medicine, there’s a teaching model for new surgeons known as “see one, do one, teach one” — it was started by William Stewart Halsted at Johns Hopkins in 1890.
Before that, there was no formal training program for people cutting into other people in hospitals (scary, right?).
Folks interested in becoming surgeons were either self-taught (“Need your appendix removed? I read about it in a book, so I got this!”) or learned through apprenticing (“Hey teacher, show me how to remove an appendix”).
Countless studies have shown that people learn best when they are actively involved — either physically or mentally — during the learning process. So the more tactile or stimulating the teaching is, the more people learn. On the flip side, a whopping 5% of information from lectures is retained (because it’s just one person talking at others). The same amount of retention happens with simply reading something.
So why are people online rushing to skip the “do one” phase?
What I mean by that is the internet is chock full of people offering secondhand knowledge. Courses teaching us how to run a business from folks who read about running a business. Or webinars on marketing tricks from people who watched a course on marketing. Articles about a topic written by people who read an article on the topic, which was written by someone else who read an article on the topic, which was written… you get the point.
It’s like getting your appendix removed by someone who watched a video on YouTube. You wouldn’t sign up for that. Why? Because the person doing the operation has no firsthand experience.
So why is it ok for people to teach others without firsthand experience?
It’s not just giving students or readers info that isn’t based on doing, it’s also harming the person sharing or teaching because they skipped a step. They didn’t get to apply what they learned before they started sharing it. How can you truly understand something you haven’t tried?
In this rush to “share what we know” in content marketing, we can sometimes forget that “what we know” is different than “what we’ve actually done”. Maybe the rule should be “share what you’ve done” instead?
I’m not trying to dissuade people from writing and teaching online. Far from it. The world is absolutely becoming a better, more open, more accessible place because we’re all teaching others how to do things. No admission boards, no 6-figure student loans, no need to live in a country of privilege. We can all teach whomever will listen.
What I’m saying is that before you rush to write your next article or create a course that’s based on something you learned (not something you’ve done), take a step back. There’s no rush. Practice what you’ve learned a little. This will not only give you a better grasp on the subject, but it’ll show you what you actually, personally think about a subject. You’ll end up with a more unique and original take on things.
Don’t skip the middle step, it’s really important. You may not be removing appendixes, but you’re putting information out into the world that’s based on a tiny bit of retention instead of firsthand knowledge.
Happiness and gravy
I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and gravy… and expectations. And not just because gravy (even vegan gravy) is delicious.
People are always telling me that I seem really content with my life. Granted, it’s been fairly easy (I wasn’t born in a country at war, my family had enough money to clothe and feed me, I mostly have my health, and I’ve found a way to make a living off of my creativity). My life isn’t without some struggles and loss though. That’s unavoidable, regardless of who you are.
Sometimes folks ask me what my expectations are with my freelancing business or product launches.
My answer is always that I expect very little from anything I do.
When I released my first book I hoped to sell 12 copies. 12. With Creative Class (my first course) I hoped to make a few thousand bucks over a year, to give me extra money on top of my freelancing revenue. And I was just as stoked with this mailing list when it hit 146 subscribers as I am about it now.
This is not because I’m a pessimist, not because I don’t believe in myself and certainly not because of some reverse entitlement or guilt.
My expectations are low because I consider anything beyond a little bit of success to be gravy. Sweet, delicious gravy.
I think about success like a scale with a start and end point. If the left is failure (i.e. a product launch that has zero sales) and the right is winning (not even sure how to quantify that… all of the sales, perhaps?), then somewhere in between is the point where I’m content with things and the rest is gravy. In fact, that contentment point is only slightly past the left edge.
The reason I set the bar so low is because I don’t want to hinge my life, my happiness or my feelings of worth on any given launch or product or thing I do for work. Especially since launches are mostly out of my control and good ones are the result of a billion tiny things going right. Outcomes like a successful launch rely on external factors and other people. That’s not a safe place to draw worth from.
I require very little from what I do to make me happy or content. Past that point (which is mostly a point chosen that covers my costs), the rest is gravy. Meaning, further success is just a bonus. Your meal is what you sustains you. Gravy isn’t required, but it’s nice when you can add it on top of something.
This doesn’t mean I don’t get angry, lose my mind or stress-the-hell out sometimes. Because that totally happens (especially ON launch days). It just means that over-all and on average, I’m more content than feeling those bad things.
I have more fun focusing on the process. Because that’s controllable—if you like what you’re doing outside of the results, then you’re going to like what you’re doing regardless of those results. Enjoying what you’re working on? Then KEEP DOING IT. Positive outcomes are great, but they’re just gravy on an already-delicious meal.
Which do you focus on, the process or the outcome?
If you’re not sure, consider your self-talk. Do you say:
- What if this fails?
- What if in doing this, I’m thought of as a fraud?
- What if this doesn’t make 5 or 6 figures in revenue?
- I really enjoy doing this sort of work.
- I’m stoked to be consumed by making what I’m making!
There’s obviously a huge difference, yes? The first way of thinking is outcome-based (and can lead you to not even starting something) and the second is process-based (where any positive outcome is really just gravy).
Developing a mindset that attaches some worth to the effort you put into something makes the process enjoyable and rewarding. Otherwise, it’s too difficult to start (let alone finish and launch) what you’re working on.
A lot of times people confuse being content with not being driven. This logic is flawed though – because contentment means I’m happy with where things are at right now but still endlessly strive to do more, to create more and to make the things I’ve made even better. The contentment is what drives me forward to want to do more things. (Like a jetpack!)
Things won’t always go right. Which is a nice way of saying that sometimes life is going to shit on your face or your mind is going run off to become a ninja. But with a low enough bar, those obstacles are overcome-able. And the wins, even the tiny ones, those just become delicious gravy.
It’s safer to be busy
When we’re busy, we just keep reacting to what’s in front of us. There’s no time for introspection or deep thinking because there’s so much on our plate. Business busyness (say that three times, fast) can hurt.
What happens when we stop filling all of our extra minutes with refreshes, updates and consumption? What happens if we let ourselves stop and be alone with our thoughts, by removing constant stimulus?
Scary shit, that’s what.
A study done at the University of Virginia by Timothy Wilson found that some people would rather be doing something, even if it hurts them, than sit alone with their thoughts and do nothing. 12 of 18 men favoured electric shocks over just sitting and thinking (interestingly, only 6 of 24 women favoured the shocks).
The biggest fear that most of us have now is that our internet will fail or our tiny pocket devices will run out of power and strand us on a desolate island of not being connected to everyone else for upwards of 5–10 minutes at a time.
Like your thoughts, unless you’re vigilant, your day easily fills up if you let it. It requires work (not busywork mind you) to not let the spaces disappear. It’s almost part of our autonomic nervous system (the part of our body that works without us thinking about it—like our heart beating and stomach digesting) to fill a few seconds of free time with something.
Your mind is designed to engage with the external world. This is totally cool. Not everyone is down with introspection, or meditation or whatever you want to call it. But where this falls into the realm of not-so-awesome (a clinical term) is when you fancy business busyness over productivity.
When your work requires you to be creative, you need to be alone with your thoughts. You can’t get around it. You need the mental space to create. And it’s a fact that’s sometimes scary to the point where we enjoy electric shocks more.
But business busyness seldom equals momentum.
Some days it takes me 8 hours to accomplish 1 hour of actual work. There’s social media, and emails, and Slack, and chores and 500 other things that I dabble in before I actually finish what I need to finish. It feels safer because those extra 7 hours were spent avoiding the required alone time with my thoughts so I could create what I needed to make. Shocking right?
The quantity of time spent working rarely equals the quality of the work. Just because you put more hours in, doesn’t mean it’s better work. This article isn’t 4x worse because it took me 15 minutes to write, instead of the usual 60. I was just more productive in my focus on writing (i.e. I didn’t let myself fall into the busy trap, and instead sat scarily alone with my thoughts until they flowed into words).
We prefer doing to thinking, even if our livelihood requires us to think as much as we do.
We’ve got the ability to create intricate fantasies out of nothing in our minds, and they’re full of memories to think back on, yet still, we cringe about it. Even as children, being told to “sit and think about what you’ve done” is the ultimate punishment.
The only way I’ve found to get over this is to sit with the discomfort. Like most creatives, I’m at my best when there’s a bit of fear and a lot of uncomfortableness thrown into the mix. Being alone with my own thoughts is truly frightening, but truly necessary.
So next time you find yourself with a few seconds or a few minutes to spare, resist the urge to pull out your phone (or to start shocking yourself). Instead, just see what happens…
Motivation < Action
We’ve somehow led ourselves to believe that we can’t act unless we’re motivated to do so. It’s tricksy (like a Hobbit), because wanting to be motivated is so alluring (like the Ring).
Motivation is to action as reading about exercise is to being in shape. Certainly, both can happen, but simply being motivated accomplishes nothing while seeming like it’s accomplishing something.
Our problem is never motivation. Look at January 1st for everyone, ever. We’re all gung-ho about making changes at the start of a new year. Our problem isn’t a desire to do things, it’s just that most of us never follow through.
Being motivated to write articles doesn’t mean I’m going to write a single word. Feeling motivated to eat less vegan chocolates doesn’t mean I’ll eat less of them. Motivation feels important because it feels like action, but it’s not.
We attempt to motivate ourselves by getting excited about outcomes or thinking about how much better our lives will be once we are motivated. The issue isn’t that we want something, it’s that we think our desire for something automatically makes us more likely to achieve that something.
Motivation, even for mundane things like exercise or writing more, is theoretical. Whereas action is tangible.
When our theoretical ideas of wanting something take us further and further from putting something into practice, we get down on ourselves. We give up and often do the opposite (i.e. “I didn’t eat a healthy lunch today so it doesn’t matter if I have junk food for dinner” or “Why write anything now? I should have been writing for the last two weeks and be 10,000 words in already”).
The issue with motivation isn’t that we’re not motivated, it’s that we imagine that we need to be motivated in the first place, instead of just doing the work. With creativity specifically, it’s easy to get into the mindset of waiting for the muse, when really, the best way for the muse to pay us a visit is to start working.
Co-exist with the lack of motivation as you act on what you feel motivated to do. In the end, the motivation doesn’t matter at all, it’s the action that does because it’s the action that produces the work.
Action requires that we tell our minds to shut up. We need to stop telling ourselves to be motivated or feel down when we don’t act on our motivation sooner. We can’t argue with ourselves because even if we win, we lose.
Small actions often lead to bigger actions. Adding “write a book” to your todo list will result in exactly zero books ever being written. It’s too massive of a task to sum up in a line. If you actually want to act, you need to break things down a bit. Instead of “write a book”, add “come up with 3 ideas for a book”. This can be done by sitting down for 30 minutes and writing. Not writing well, not editing, not waiting until you’re motivated, but just sitting your ass in a chair and writing down ideas for 30 minutes. If you think too much about everything it takes to write a book and what can come from succeeding or failing after you’ve written it, you’ll talk yourself out of doing it before you even start.
Don’t let your brain talk you out of things! You can be smarter than your brain. You don’t need it or anyone else to motivate you to do something, you just need to shut yourself up and start doing it.
I don’t wait for motivation to strike, instead I get down to work. Motivation isn’t required for action. Frodo was the same, he acted instead of waiting to be inspired to act (with the help of Samwise of course). In the end he wasn’t powerful because he had or didn’t have the Ring, he was powerful because he kept taking action (and really, because he let Gollum defeat himself and fall into lava).
We have to pay attention to our work, and not just stay busy doing it
Ask yourself this: are you someone that you’d want to pay attention to?
It’s a hard question to answer. Not because we’ve all got self-doubt and fears of inadequacy, but because we sometimes sacrifice ourselves for our goals.
While making a living online, it’s easy to get lured into other people’s vision of doing business. You see something work for them, or something they’re sharing that netted them great results and you want to try it too. Why wouldn’t it work for me? we think. And sure, maybe it would.
What we neglect to account for is if how we’re going about building a sustainable living accurately reflects not only the life we want but how we want to be perceived. By others, and by ourselves.
The Internet can be like an aisle of shiny metal toys, and we’re all 6 year olds with no-limit credit cards. There are so many ideas, so many things to try, so many opportunities, so much “more” to be had. We can easily lose track of why we are doing what we’re doing.
There’s really no wrong way to build to a business. What I mean by that is that it’s your business. And guess what? You’re in charge of it. You can build it however you want, in whatever way works for you—regardless of expert opinions, thought leader advice or what some guy with a Sunday newsletter tells you to do.
Building a business in your own way is easier said than done. The shiny toys! The proven tactics! The people already where you want to be, telling you that you can have the same in just 6 easy steps! So… tempting…
Am I someone that I’d want to pay attention to?
When I ask myself that question, sometimes the answer is no. Not because what I’m sometimes doing isn’t working, but because what I’m sometimes doing isn’t working for me. I lose track of my work because I’m so busy doing work. And that’s dangerous. So I pull back, or adjust or completely scrap something.
I typically don’t pay attention to others who do things simply because that’s the way things are supposed to done. I’ve always been on the edges, so I pay attention to the folks who are experimenting with ideas that could absolutely fail, because they’ve never been tried. Or who are being so radically honest about who they are, regardless of outcome, they haven’t failed.
This all might sound like a petulant child shouting, “you’re not the boss of me!” but we’ve got it backwards. Kids actually need to listen because they don’t know any better yet. Don’t put your shiny new metal toy in the socket Timmy, you’ll get electrocuted… and can I please cut up your credit card?! But as grownups, we do know better. Seriously, we do. And we know enough to know what suits us. We’re smarter than we give ourselves credit for and if we listened to ourselves half as much as we listened to others, we’d always be in a much more suitable-to-us place.
We have to pay attention to our work, and not just stay busy doing it. Otherwise we could end up becoming someone that even we wouldn’t want to pay attention to. And I wouldn’t trade all the shiny metal toys in the world for a successful business that didn’t suit who I am.
I could never…
One of the things I hear the most from people after reading something I wrote is “That’s all well and good for you, but I could never…”
They could never…
- charge what I charge for web design.
- get super specific with who their audience is (and ignore everyone who’s not).
- fire a client because they aren’t respectful.
- price by the value of deliverables instead of by the hour.
The massive problem with someone telling themselves these sorts of things is that at the surface they’re believable, and then horribly self-limiting.
Every single thing on that list is something I thought I could never do until I actually did them.
If you think you could never charge more for the work you do, you’re not going to raise your rates. If you think you’ll have no work because you get super specific with defining your audience, you’re never going to do it — regardless of how many articles or courses you take that show the benefits or reasons or rationale behind changing up your work to be more beneficial and rewarding to you.
If you’re a person who likes reading about those things but personally “could never” do them, then you’re right. You won’t. Our desire for being right is so strong that chances are if we convince ourselves of something, we’ll stop questioning it.
We all have self-imposed limitations. We all have stories that we tell about ourselves — to ourselves — that are true only because we make them true. We look up to others who do things the way we wish we could do them and respect that they didn’t limit themselves. But we have a hard time making the connection between admiring them for something and making the same changes ourselves.
The more I have the opportunity to talk with budding freelancers, the more I notice that the mark of working for yourself and succeeding (where succeeding is being financially and emotionally rewarded) doesn’t come down to having the most skill, being the best salesperson, having the biggest ego, or even being the most driven.
A successful creative freelancer is rarely limited with “I could never…” thoughts.
Sure, talent and intelligence are important, but they’re also grossly overvalued. More important is a willingness and mindset to push against the unknown and talk yourself into taking action.
It’s difficult and I’m not immune. For the longest time I told myself that I could never write or have a business that was more than just designing websites for clients. It took me almost 15 years to get over that. Sure, I still have days when I feel like “I could never” continue pushing against my fears. But then I stop myself. How?
- I try to question conclusions that I come to in my own mind. Why did I reach the answer I reached? What is it based on? Can I test this conclusion instead of accepting it as fact? Making a conclusion based on assumption versus testing an idea to see if that conclusion is right is a gap as wide as an ocean. Byron Katie writes a lot about this.
- I consider my habits of speech/writing. We automatically discount ourselves when we talk about ourselves in certain ways — in our minds and to others. When I say, “I could never…” do something, and give myself a reason — I think about what and how I tell my story.
- Anytime I assume I can’t or shouldn’t do something, I take myself out of the equation for a minute. I imagine someone else doing what I think I can’t do, seeing what happens when they do it and thinking about how much it benefitted them. Then, I think through the same scenario, but with me in it.
- I communicate. Sometimes the limiting beliefs we have need to be talked through with others. That’s why I’ve got a tiny group of friends I trust, along with a mastermind group I talk through these thoughts with on a weekly basis. And even, to some degree, why I write (like writing this for you, right now). Are you surrounded by people who help you question those thoughts? Who help push and inspire you?
Next time you assume that you could never do something, challenge it. The only thing stopping you right now could be the story you’re telling yourself. Stop what you’re doing and duke out that limiting belief until you come to a conclusion that’s based more on reality or tested actions instead of assumptions.
I’ll do the same.
Stop consuming, start acting
We live in a world of tips & tricks, listicles and deep thoughts (in 140 characters or less). This is a world we actively perpetuate by continually showing how eager we all are to consume this type of information – all while avoiding taking action. It lures us in with promises of saving time, building better habits, retiring early by working less, etc…
“19 ways to optimize the way you learn about productivity!”
Like ravenous dogs, we refresh our feeds — even though we just spent the last 20 minutes reading some life-hacking article. Maybe a new one will appear with even more hacks! We salivate for more, unsatiated by the last.
Does all this information make us more prone to act? Does it really make us more efficient? Does it move us forward in any significant way? Are our lives better for consuming these optimizations?
More importantly, is the world now a better place, a place where more action is taken and more time is saved, because we’ve got instant access to this hackery?
“5 mistakes you’re making that are slowing killing your ability to save time!”
Or, are all of these tips ultimately doing the opposite — simply distracting us?
“Declutter your mind with these 108 efficiency tricks!”
Think about it. If you’re focused on learning about productivity, you’re not technically productive at all because you’re spending all your time learning about productivity instead of working. What percentage of lifehacks do you readily apply to your life and are then much better for it? Do you simply consume these tips because it feels like you’re taking action without having to actually act?
It’s a trap. A perfect trap. And it’s one we’ve all had our foot caught in at some time.
“Feeling overwhelmed? Here are 4,539 tips to overcome anxiety — and the 675th one you’ll have to read to believe!”
While small wins can certainly be had from optimizing our lives with the help of tips we read online, how many of us are literally working 4-hour work weeks, while simultaneously learning how to overcome every fear we’ve got, and unlocking ultimate happiness?
We’ve somehow put ourselves in a place where “expert” advice in these types of articles holds more weight than it should. It’s become the holy grail, the secret sauce, the one thing we need to learn in order to improve our lives.
In reality, the act of figuring shit out for ourselves, becoming less afraid of looking stupid because we’re learning, and actually having a little fucking self-reliance in our attempts at greatness can take us much, much further. Not just because hacks on the Internet are distracting, but because they’re a crutch.
“23 inspiring quotes from cats who learned how to stop reading quotes and started taking control of their own lives… plus one funny story about a poodle in a top hat!”
These hacks circumvent our own innate intelligence in favour of letting some expert who has a way with words have all the power to lead us. Those words could lead us not only around in circles that seem like progress, but they could potentially lead us to doing something in a way that just doesn’t work for how to process information.
More often than not, there’s more than one way to boost your efficiency. Maybe you work best at night (even if experts say “morning people” are more productive). Maybe your path to happiness can’t be backed by science. Maybe the only reason you have anxiety is because your RSS feed has too many unread life-hack articles in it.
So, next time you see an article on life hackery or some list of actions you could be taking if you weren’t reading a list on taking action — ask yourself why you’re searching externally for advice/shortcuts when you could be working on taking action, in your own way, using your own brilliant mind to figure things out.
You, dear reader, already have all the tools you need to start doing what you want to do. The only thing stopping you is your assumption that what you already know isn’t enough. Challenge this assumption, realize there’s never “knowing enough to start”, and act.
Stop doing shit you don’t like
Many emails I receive start with, “I hate doing X, but…” and go on to explain that the sender wants to figure out how to force themselves to do something they don’t like in order to achieve something else.
Here’s the thing: stop doing shit you don’t like.
Stop wasting your time and energy. Especially if you work for yourself. Especially if you have the choice not to do that thing you hate. Especially if it doesn’t feel right for your personality or jive with your values.
- Ditch that networking event.
- Stop saying yes to every single project that falls into your lap.
- Decline interviews if you’d rather be in heads-down, work mode.
- Don’t use that software tool just because others do.
- Quit Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, InstaYoSnapWhatever.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, don’t have a choice to stop doing things we don’t like. Rent needs to be paid, food needs to be eaten—and often—it’s more than just ourselves that depend on us. Do what it takes to get yourself out of those situations, to get a point where you do have a choice.
That choice is what I’m talking about here—having a choice and picking the wrong one, just because someone else said it was right.
I hate public speaking and events. It’s not that I’m afraid of it—or rather—it’s not that fear is the most prevalent thing, it’s just that I’d rather do other things. So I politely decline. Same with Facebook. I don’t care if it helps build audiences, or that I could be part of private groups or anything else—it’s just not my jam. Never joined, never will. Regardless of income that could be made, fame that could had or some other success that could be achieved, I’m not doing it. My life, my terms. I don’t bother with shit I don’t like.
If I work for myself, I’m to blame if I’m always miserable. (Apart from the extenuating circumstances where choice is removed.) So I’m very intentional about what I do and what I don’t do. If I’m going to work for myself, it’ll go a lot better if it’s in a way that suits me. It will also last much longer if it’s enjoyable (I just passed my 17th year working for myself in February).
All too often, well-meaning experts tell us what we should do, and how we should do it. They tell us it’ll help us in the long run, or make us bags and bags of money, or set us up for success. Advice can be great when we need to learn how to do something. The problem is that there’s pretty much a gazillion ways to do anything. Especially when it comes to working for yourself or freelancing, and thinking about things like building products, finding clients, building audiences, making money, etc.
It’s not enough to blindly follow advice/best practices or the way someone else does their own shit. There also needs to be an internalization step where you ask yourself some (sometimes tough) questions:
- Is this something I care about?
- Does this conflict with my values, personality, or style?
- Is this how I want to spend my day?
- Will this light me up and want to keep me going?
- Is this something I need in my life right now?
The other thing to consider is that you don’t need to be happy 100% of the time with your work to enjoy your work. I can be stressed about one project deadline, or disagree with a client about a small change request, or be on my computer working when I’d rather be hiking in the woods some days, and still like freelancing. But if more things went to the other side of the ledger all the time, I’d have to sit down and reevaluate.
Evaluating where you’re at with yourself, regardless of how busy you think you are, needs to be a priority. If you are too busy to see you’re pretty much only doing shit you don’t like to do, you’re going to keep on doing that shit until it’s too late. Until you’re known for doing only that shit, or until you don’t know how to do any other shit, or until you die (while doing that shit you don’t like to do).
Think about why you don’t want to do something. What’s the reason behind your hesitation? If it’s just a fear of something new or something that will push your limits, that’s an awful reason not to do something. Typically it’s those scary things that lead to the most growth. But if it’s simply a lack of interest or the fact that something just isn’t your style or you can’t stand behind something, then there’s a problem. Then that’s truly shit you don’t like.
Working for yourself isn’t just about the money and success, it’s about crafting a life for yourself you actually, really enjoy. It’s about aligning the values of others with your own. If working for someone else gave me that, I’d drop all my shit right this second and get a “job.” Because it’s not, working for someone else falls into the shit I don’t like pile. I don’t care if I could make more money, be famous, or anything else—I don’t do shit I don’t like. It’s a tougher road, for sure, but a more fulfilling one to me. I don’t want to be at the end of the road, only to realize I was living someone else’s life.
This isn’t advocating some crazy hedonistic adventure here either (although, let’s face it, that can be good fun). Doing shit you do like involves very focused work, and putting in the time and effort. But luckily, working toward more shit you like can be extremely motivating. And conversely, doing shit you don’t like, just so you can do even more shit you don’t like, is horribly demotivating.
If you hate doing something, but do it anyway just because you think it’ll help in the long run, you might want to think again and think hard about it. You’ll start to cultivate some self-knowledge and direction to move you toward doing your own shit, on your own terms.