I just read a book from start to finish. And it feels weird.
Let me be honest with you for a moment about why that feels weird. Normally, I have about ten books on the go at any given time and they all have bookmarks in them about half way through. Does that happen to you? Most of the people I talk to say it’s the same way for them.
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I have stacks of books that I started but haven’t got back to. Partly because I may have lost interest, but more likely because my self-diagnosed ADD kicks in and I am on to the next shiny object. That doesn’t just apply to books, but to my life as well. And it is happening to everyone!
Let’s talk about the lesson here and what we can do to really get things done this year.
First, let me tell you about the book I’m reading! It’s called Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel who co-founded Paypal. I was given it to read by a friend and at first I thought, “I will just add it to my list of other books I need to get to.” Hey, I’m a busy guy, right? Thiel gives some awesome advice on where we are all going wrong and I love his contrarian approach because it was fresh. The biggest takeaway for me was the concept of building whatever you do as a conceptual monopoly. Become a monopoly of one and be the best at something. Forget about trying to copy what others are doing or get into a market where you can be a competitor. To create and capture lasting value, the lesson for the entrepreneur is very straight-forward: don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.
Of course this is easier said than done. But the underlying message in the book is around the singular focus on one thing at a time. You’re probably just like me and think you can do a bunch of stuff all at once, right? Well, this year for me is going to be different.
I’m going to work harder on focusing my energies on one project at a time, whatever it is.
Don’t be a prisoner of your own goal setting
Some personal disclosure: I haven’t written a blog post for about a month and that was on purpose. I felt extremely guilty too. I took time to step back, reflect, and meditate on my goals for 2015. But not in the sense of goal setting that I see everyone writing about.
I knew that at the beginning of the year, Facebook, email inboxes, and conversations would get blasted with:
- Make 2015 your best year ever
- Goal setting mastery
- New Years resolutions
Of course, I will be writing more on goals over the coming weeks too. But I wanted to look at goals a bit differently.
Through December we took some time for ourselves, got a cabin with no cell or internet service, had a great holiday season, and connected with our friends. I wanted to step away from the “busy” stuff and see what I really wanted to do in 2015 rather than jump right in.
I asked myself questions such as, “Do I really like writing blog posts?”
It’s easy to get caught up doing “stuff” all the time. You will hear me talk about that a lot. But does the stuff you work on actually help you today, tomorrow, and into the future? Or are you simply adding more to your plate?
And, just like me, do you feel guilty when you don’t start aggressively setting goals and just getting to work because you feel you have to? So instead of diving into everything, I wanted to get a clear head and FEEL my future. Taking the time to reflect is a very powerful tool. Now, I can set my goals that really matter and I feel completely in control of everything.
Tomorrow I am going to talk about making 2015 my most AUTHENTIC year ever. Stay tuned for that!
I recently wrote about being laser-focused where I went through a few solid ideas to get more done, so check it out. I have always subscribed to this idea, but like most people, have a hard time eliminating distractions.
Have you ever been in a state of flow? You know, where everything was effortless? Was it when you juggled a bunch of different things, or were just super into something on it’s own. For me, it is always when I get things done. One at a time.
When you jump from idea to idea or project to project, you lose momentum, and it takes more energy from your brain to switch back and forth. The more projects you have on the go, the more energy you lose. Our brains can only process so much.
Perfect example: I just got a text right now while I’m writing this post. I opened it, read it, and replied. Took about 30 seconds. Just a quick text, right? But I felt the effect when I came back to write. Does this happen to you? First, there was the distraction of the phone vibrating and lighting up. And the crazy curiosity of “who is it!!?” Then the time to slightly physically move my body to grab the phone and switch to the task. There is also the mental switch to “texting” mode and not “writing blog post” mode. Then when the text is done, I have to re-shift back into writing mode. When writing, there is a flow that happens, and getting back into it is hard. I listen to classical music when I write which helps me focus and maintain that flow too, so why would I let other things throw me off? Now that I am consciously aware of all the steps, I understand why multitasking kills me. Add to this the fact that now the person has replied back and my phone went off again. But, this time, I didn’t look! I kept going. There it goes again. Not looking!
Nice work, Joe! Thanks Joe.
How many times does that happen to you throughout the day? What may seem like minor distractions actually add up to huge losses in what you can actually accomplish every day. We have been pre-conditioned to respond to the cries of our smartphone as if it was a baby crying.
This has also happened to me when I read books. And why I wrote this post in the first place. I realized it wasn’t anything other than me letting myself get distracted. I thought more about how I read. I have my phone beside me, I allow it to summon me, and I keep switching back and forth. Or I have another idea or project I feel I need to get to and that takes my mental focus away from reading.
Also, I noticed that my mind even seeks out odd distractions too. When I was reading, I was touching my beard and thought, “Hey this one hair feels longer than the others. Maybe I should trim it.” Does that happen to you? Where stupid ideas pop up to take you away from the thing you try and focus on?
This morning, I FORCED myself to finish the book. And like I said, it felt weird. It felt odd to get to the end and flip the page to “acknowledgment” and “image credits.” I don’t remember the last time I did that. But it was awesome. What else do you do each day that is only partially complete?
I read a tweet the other day that perfectly summed this up:
Is your future a matter of chance or design?
This is really the burning question. As you set out to set goals this year, what will you do differently? Will you try to pile more on your plate, work harder, or take on a variety of projects? All because you see everyone else doing the same? Sometimes I feel like what I’m doing is not enough, so I do more. And more. And more. And then I realize I got nothing done.To control your future, you must control your activities. Learn to say no. pick one thing. Do it until it’s done.
Going back to the book, Zero to One, there was a powerful passage that really resonated with me and I want you to take a minute to reflect on it:
You can expect the future to take a definite form or you can treat it as hazily uncertain. If you treat the future as something definite, it makes sense to understand it in advance and to work to shape it. But if you expect an indefinite future ruled by randomness, you’ll give up on trying to master it. Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options.
This describes Americans today. In middle school, we are encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time the student goes to college, he spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse resume to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready – for nothing in particular.
A definite view, by contrast, favors firm convictions. Instead of pursuing many-sided mediocrity and calling it “well-roundedness,” a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it. Instead of working tirelessly to make herself indistinguishable, she strives to be great at something substantive – to be a monopoly of one.This is not what young people do today, because everyone around them has long since lost faith in a definite world. No one gets into Stanford by excelling at just one thing, unless that thing happens to involve throwing or catching a leather ball.
How awesome is that? How can you make yourself a “definite person” and shape your future? Instead of relying on Darwinian evolution theories that accept the way things are, what will YOU do to carve a new path? Can you resist the temptation to follow what others are doing? Will you make an impact?
For me, this year will be about finding those few key things that make the biggest difference and doing much deeper work on them. Instead of trying to be everywhere at once, I will read books from start to finish, do projects from start to finish, have less tabs open on my computer, and create space from my smartphone. And I will tell you all about it throughout the year.
As my first post of 2015, I am excited to kick things off and help you do your best work. My goal this year is to help you understand the psychology of our behaviors, ways to do more with less, and how to unshackle ourselves from the “stuff.” This also means selling more, doing more, and of course being more.