Soon I’ll have the time to exercise. The discipline to eat right. The focus to get this project done. The money to get to my dreams. The schedule to spend time with my family. The space to have some fun.
The idea that you can’t do it now is just a story you tell yourself. It might be true, but it usually isn’t.
Now, I’m talking about practices versus outcomes, so let’s take a minute to address the critics. If you want to run a marathon but you’re terribly out of shape, you can’t have that outcome right now. But you can start a practice of daily running today.
If you want to take your kids to Disney World to have an experience to remember but you’re broke, stretching for that outcome is a bad idea. But if you want a practice of bonding with your kids, you can start that today.
If you want to be 25 lbs thinner, that outcome is impossible to get immediately. But if you want a practice of skipping carbs, you can start that today.
I’m as guilty as anyone. I haven’t exercised in months. I’ve been consumed by urgent work and haven’t been spending quality time with Olga and Olivia. I’ve eaten like crap for weeks. And I promise I’ll get to it all soon.
The problem with soon is that it isn’t today. And since you are what you do consistently, what you don’t do today, you won’t do tomorrow. Anything you’re planning to get to soon is more likely to never happen.
The only way to have a chance at making it real is to start now. And if there’s one thing I’ve consistently regretted, it’s not starting sooner.
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As soon as a task or project is identified, take the extra time to get clear about what the outcome should be.
You won’t remember the context as clearly later. If multiple people are involved, you’ll struggle to get everyone on the same page. And if the outcome isn’t clear to everyone, you might not get what you’re expecting.
Then commit to a deadline. A few questions that might be helpful:
- How critical is this?
- Who needs this to get done?
- What is the “drop dead” date (the latest date this could be completed)?
- When could this reasonably be finished (within the constraints of the questions above, of course)?
- Who should be consulted for questions?
- Who should be notified when this is complete?
It will be easy to skip all this, jot down a quick note, and intend to come back to it later. But it will take twice as long to close the loops later.
Practice this on small things now so it’s already a habit when the big things come along.
It all started with, “How’s your day going?”
My Uber driver wasn’t having a good night. It only took two minutes to get a car (it’s usually closer to 10) so I wasn’t surprised when she said it was slow.
Her story went something like this:
“I only had one ride so far and it took me downtown. I’ve been stuck here for an hour waiting…
I have to drive Uber because I can’t find a job…
I quit my last job a year ago because my boss is a selfish prick—he’d been on his third tropical vacation in a year and was still paying me minimum wage…
The place had terrible management—he didn’t like women so he wouldn’t promote me…”
Look. Shit happens. Life isn’t fair. And the monopoly man ain’t standing at the corner to hand you $200 because you made it around the block.
Stop focusing on things you can’t control and put all that energy into things you can.
Once you stop being the victim and take control of your life you’ll be surprised to find yourself with much better luck. You’ll probably be happier. And you’ll definitely make for a more enjoyable ride home.
Says Jim Collins in his book on how great companies became great. His point is that when you accept good enough, you don’t push the limit and do what it takes to become great.
But great is also the enemy of good.
I have a great 6-day exercise routine. I’ve been researching heath and fitness for over a decade and am confident that this is the best program for peak fitness.
But exercising 45+ minutes 6 days per week is hard to maintain at this chapter in my life. I started strong 7 months ago, and have tapered off to—(drumroll)—zero days per week.
Trying to be great is fine, but you have to get to good first. And to do that, you have to show up consistently.
Once you’re good, then you can worry about getting great. But don’t get ahead of yourself or you’ll end up in a “Get fit in zero minutes” program that’s getting you nowhere.
But it’s not what what it seems.
It doesn’t matter how good it looks. It doesn’t matter how cool it is. And it definitely doesn’t matter how expensive, or authoritative it appears.
What matters is that it says what you want it to say. That when your audience sees it, they immediately understand what you need them to understand.
You can spend time cleaning it up, putting in some bells and whistles, and making it presentable. But the only thing someone will judge it by is whether or not it makes sense.
If all you have is 10 seconds, how can you make your point? Take some time to figure out what the punch line is and put it right in front.
That’s my dad’s phrase for being overcommitted.
To get through this phase, I have to clock up my focus. I have to be relentless about cutting through to the critical tasks because there just isn’t enough time.
It’s a good exercise and can have lasting benefits. But this makes it easy to mistake it as an ideal way of life.
To get it all done, I have to squeeze work into the empty space. I have to hit pause on important things—my family, my health.
For a short time, I can make it work. But pretty quickly, the stored up energy is burned through and anxiety builds. The irons start to look like enemies conspiring to defeat me. I question the decision to push through, fearing that I’ve condemned myself to martyrdom.
But I push through. The battle ends and I sweep up the debris. The clouds part and the sun brings back the empty spaces.
I’m better for this—I just won’t survive it again any time soon.
Success means different things depending on the context.
When I think about my life, success is being happy and fulfilled. I’m failing at life when I’m overwhelmed and not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.
But when I think about success with my work, it’s a completely different meaning. If I’m successful at my work, then other people are happy and fulfilled.
If you’re a successful artist, then people need to buy your work because they feel good having it.
If you’re a successful freelancer, people need to hire you because they feel good when you solve their problem.
If you’re a successful employee, your boss needs you to work for them because they feel good when you make them look good.
To achieve this kind of success, you have to understand what someone else needs to be happy and figure out how to give it to them. The more useful you are to them, the more successful you are.
And if you’re one of the lucky people that’s fulfilled by doing good work, then you end up happy too.
To make a habit, do it daily. If you skip one day, it’s easier to skip two.
Keep the bar low. Define the barest minimum: jog around the block once, write one paragraph, pick up the guitar and play one tune.
One quick run won’t make you healthy, but a habit of running will.
Obsession starts on its own. Suddenly, I’m consumed. I forget about the time (1:09AM). I forget about the alarm (6:00AM). I forget about the to-do list (2 pages plus miscellaneous notes scattered about). I’m in the moment and feel alive.
The hard part isn’t getting obsessed—it’s staying obsessed.
In the beginning, I don’t care about anything but the work. I love the process. I love the crappy, beta results. I love tweaking and improving.
But then my mind wanders. I get distracted from what matters (writing this) with all the stuff that doesn’t (getting a new logo).
The “stuff” is easy to get lost in. It’s common problems with common solutions, and it all seems important.
When the real work gets hard, the stuff is an escape to get a quick hit of Productivity-brand dopamine. It gets harder to push through the work and easier to escape.
Hi, my name is Russ. I’m a Productivity addict.
I’ve been clean for 47 minutes.