Paul Jarvis

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.

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