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Productivity

Insidious little voice

I’ve noticed that over the past few months, I’ve lost some steam when it comes to sharing my writing online.

After taking time for some good ‘ol fashioned introspection, I’ve realized that it’s probably because I’m afraid that I am no longer doing something worth hearing about.

I know deep down inside this isn’t necessarily true, but it’s still a valid concern nevertheless.

Back when I was freelancing full-time, I was doing something that was out of the ordinary.

Now that I’ve been working a 9-to-5 while also working for myself, I’m experiencing a relative amount of stability for the first time.

Because of this, a small part of my feels that my insight may not be as unique as it once was or that it’s not as valuable to others.

If I drown out all of the other noise, I know this is simply that insidious little voice inside my head.

Even though I’m no longer working for myself full-time, I’ve still created my own professional path and this is something I imagine others might find valuable.

The hardest part is breaking everything down in a way that makes sense and is interesting enough for others.

When it comes to creating something for someone else, quieting this voice is nearly impossible.

In fact, the more experience you gain, the quicker you realize it’s not about silencing this voice at all.

Being a professional means learning to ignore it while moving forward anyway.

Indecision is still decision

I’ve been hyper-focused making decisions.

From taking inventory of my current decisions to making better decisions for the future, I’ve been doing my best to become more mindful.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed something about myself that probably applies to many others:

I procrastinate with some decisions and immediately take action on others.

Can you guess which ones are which?

It’s probably pretty obvious - I tend to put off larger decisions that have long-term results and take action on those that are relatively easy and have immediate impact.

For example, I’ve set a goal to open a high-interest, online savings account in order to start a new emergency fund. This was almost a month ago.

Why haven’t I followed through yet?

Probably for the same reason most people use - I’m afraid of making the “wrong” choice.

It’s easy to forget that, in the grand scheme of things, indecision is still a decision. In fact, it’s the worst decision you can make because you aren’t owning the outcome.

Like most things, it’s a matter of simply making a decision and, if needed, tweaking it later.

Once you make one major decision, the momentum carries over to the next and, before you know it, each one becomes a little easier.

A harsh realization

Like most weekend mornings, I’m sitting here in the corner booth of a local coffeeshop, going through the paces of my morning routine.

While journaling this morning, I came to a pretty harsh (yet fairly obvious) realization:

I can’t do everything if I ever want to do anything extraordinary.

I know, I know. This isn’t anything revolutionary, but like most epiphanies, we come to them in our own time.

In today’s world, one of the hardest things to accomplish is focus.

I’m not talking about overcoming normal distractions like email and social media. I’m referring to identifying one long-term goal, breaking it down into short-term steps, and focusing on each one at a time.

Add the crippling, self-imposed pressure of mastering everything you try and it’s baffling that anyone gets anything finished.

Like many “creatives,” I’ve always prided myself on my ability to juggle several projects at the same time. From writing to illustrating to launching my own products and services, I’ve tried a little bit of everything.

If I’m being brutally honest, this is the very reason I’ve never reached a level of mastery with any of it.

At the end of the day, going all-in on any one thing scares the shit out of me thanks to one very real question:

What if I miss countless other opportunities simply because I chose to put all of my eggs in one basket?”

I’ve realized this is the wrong question to ask.

Instead, I should be asking myself, “How can I possibly carry all of these baskets anywhere without dropping them?”

I think I’d rather make extraordinary progress on one thing instead of making very little progress on many.

The one thing

As I’m reading The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, I’m starting to realize a hard truth.

Since starting my daily writing routine over three years ago, I’ve identified and written down one specific action for me to take each day. In my mind, this is one action that will make the biggest difference in working towards the future I want.

If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve realized that even though identifying one specific action is better than nothing, I haven’t really been identifying the right daily action.

Instead of looking ahead into the future, identifying a clear purpose, and reverse engineering it into a set of priorities (or dominoes as Keller describes), I’ve been going after low-hanging fruit.

Basically, I’ve been taking action steps that seem productive day-to-day, but in the grand scheme of things, they are leading me into a very nebulous, unknown future.

This has been a great habit to practice, but without the long-term purpose or direction, it’s simply leading me towards more uncertainty.

Thanks to this book, I’m starting to focus on bringing the future into the present.

Organizing the chaos

I’ve learned over the years that organizing the chaos of everyday life is one of the hardest parts of being a functioning adult.

Whether you work for yourself or within a larger company, distilling conversations, meetings, and opportunities down into tangible action steps is an art that, unfortunately, isn’t taught in school.

We’re taught how to “think critically” about writing and literature, but not about how we turn long-term priorities into short-term steps.

That’s why if I could create the curriculum for one course taught all over the country, it would be “Organizing the Chaos 101.”

It would be an intro course that presents frameworks, tools, and resources for creating your own accountability system. It might even explore various people and how they approach accountability.

I’m not usually a fan of looking backwards, but I can’t even imagine how much more I would have accomplished by now if I had created my own task management process sooner.

At this point, I’ve meshed my personal and professional lives together by mapping out long-term priorities like getting married or writing a book and breaking them down into smaller, more actionable goals, like booking a venue or finishing the first draft one chapter at a time (all using one Trello board).

As always, I’m constantly tweaking and updating as I come across other processes that work.

How do you manage your long-term priorities and short-term goals? How long did it take to get to this point?

Getting started

Over the years, I’ve learned that most people face the same challenge while working on creative projects:

Getting started.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Thanks to the Internet, we now have access to a million and one ways to tackle pretty much anything we come across.

With all of this information comes the inevitable paralysis-by-analysis.

As much as I tend to overthink things, I always come back to the same piece of advice: keep things simple.

Do you want to start writing that book you’ve been sitting on for years? Take out your phone and write the introduction using your Notes app.

Do you have an idea for an illustration series? Draw the first one and upload that sucker to Instagram.

Do you want to start your own clothing line? Lay out one t-shirt in Photoshop and share it with others.

I know I’m making the first step sound easy, but that’s because it really is. As always, we tend to overcomplicate things in theory.

At the end of the day, most things in life are just a series of steps.

All you have to do is figure out how to take the first one.


Early to bed...

Today, I was reminded of Ben Franklin's age-old adage:

"Early to bed and early to rise, makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

Depending on whom you talk to, these words either make perfect sense or, they represent a close-minded mindset when it comes to productivity.

As someone who has been self-employed throughout my professional career, I have (almost) always been in charge of my own time. Thanks to this flexibility, I haven't ever had a set schedule.

You might be wondering, "Then how the hell do you get anything done?"

Just because I don't have a set schedule doesn't mean I don't have a routine.

What exactly is the difference?

In my mind, a schedule is based on time - you do certain tasks at specific times. On the other hand, a routine is a rigid set of tasks that can be completed whenever necessary.

Even though I aim to I complete my routine in the morning, there are still some days where I don't start until the afternoon. To me, it doesn't matter, just as long as I finish what matters.

In other words, it doesn't matter when you go to bed or wake up. If you tackle the things that mean the most to you (and take care of yourself along the way), you're already healthy, wealthy, and wise.


Questions I often ask myself

  • What problem, if I solve now, will have the biggest impact on the rest of my life?
  • How can I set myself up for success tomorrow?
  • What is the most important thing I can accomplish today?
  • How can I live a more intentional life?
  • Are my short-term actions aligning with my long-term goals?
  • How can I do things that compound into the future?
  • Will my ambition get the best of me?
  • How can I create a routine around this goal?
  • Is this the best use of my time?
  • How can I help others create their own paths?
  • What is one step I can take to make this idea happen?
  • How can I avoid making the same mistakes?
  • Will I ever be satisfied?
  • How can I connect existing dots instead of creating more?
  • Will anyone find this valuable?

Change is coming

As someone who thrives amongst the chaos of everyday life, I tend to welcome change.

In my mind, it allows us to grow and adapt while learning more about ourselves in a shorter period of time.

At this point, I'm ready for a significant change, a new chapter in which I can reshape my story.

It's not that I'm unhappy, I just have veered a little off course and I would like to get back on track.

In an ideal world, I could make a change like this on my own. However, I'm self-aware enough to know that I am more externally motivated than anything else.

Put me in an environment in which others are thriving and succeeding, and I will rise to the occasion. Ask me to do the same on my own, and admittedly, it will take me much longer.

I look forward to the discomfort that inevitably comes with change. This sort of friction is productive, much like the pressure needed to turn carbon into a diamond. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with carbon but, if you ask me, I would much rather be a diamond.


Coffee and tea

This morning was like any other.

I woke up and groggily stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee.

However, instead of grinding coffee grounds, I decided to try something different: I chose to make a cup of tea.

It's funny how coffee and tea are essentially the same - grounds or leaves steeped in hot water, but we look at them in very different ways.

We hear famous phrases like, "Coffee is for closers!" or "Never trust anyone who doesn't drink coffee" implying that coffee is meant for those who want to be awake and productive.

On the flip side, tea is seen as a way to relax or a soothing drink when we're sick with a sore throat.

With this in mind, I realized I should probably drink more tea. I'm always constantly thinking about what I need to do next and how I can be more productive. What I should be doing is finding ways to relax and be more present.

Regardless of whether or not I drink more tea or coffee, I think it's safe to say that either one is better than having another beer...


Compromise

Whether we realize it or not, compromise is part of everyday life.

From navigating workplace politics to finding common ground in a relationship, playing well with others is key when it comes to future success. 

Just because this is true doesn't make it any easier.

I have to admit, as someone who can be very stubborn, I sometimes have a hard time with compromise. I'd like to think that when it comes to major decisions, I can go 50/50 on almost anything.

However, my stubbornness tends to come out with smaller, more frequent choices.

You know, the "Where do you want to eat?" kind or the "What do you want to watch?" variety.

Regardless of the kind of compromise you're making, I think the most important part is paying attention to long-term trends.

Are you unwilling to compromise nines times out of ten? Do you always have your way when it comes to one specific type of decision?

If you ask me, these trends say a lot more than a one-off decision.


Decisions

I'll be the first to admit - I'm not the most decisive person.

Like plenty of others, I have defaulted far too many times to the nefarious decision by indecision.

Decisions like choosing a movie on Netflix or finding a place to eat don't really require that much effort. After all, we're not talking about life and death here.

However, when an important decision comes along, we can't help but fall back on our habits.

Do you have a new job opportunity? Are you deciding where to travel for vacation? As you can tell, these decisions impact our lives way more than other, more trivial things.

We've all heard practice makes perfect, right? Why not apply this mantra to the way in which we make decisions. Use the smaller choices to practice being decisive and, when the larger ones pop up, they won't be as paralyzing.


I'm tired

I'm tired.

I'm tired of being complacent.

I'm tired of not being challenged.

I'm tired of working in isolation most days.

I'm tired of simply surviving instead of thriving.

I'm tired of being the most ambitious person in the room.

I'm tired of not being able to invest in myself and others I care about.

I'm tired of not being in love with my life and not doing anything to fix it.


Friction can be good

I would describe myself as nonconfrontational.

Growing up, I was a huge people-pleaser who always tried to talk my way out of uncomfortable disagreements.

At this point in my life, I've realized how important friction actually is when it comes to tackling important problems.

When you put a bunch of ambitious, passionate people in the same room and task them with solving a problem, friction is inevitable. In fact, in this sort of environment, friction is healthy.

It shows that intelligent people are working together in order to find the best solution.

Notice how I didn't say easiest or quickest solution - I said best.

Ask any high-achieving, innovative team how they work, and I guarantee friction will be part of their process, whether it's accounted for or not.

Sure, I still might be nonconfrontational, but when I need to, I can accept and embrace productive friction.

Can you?


What do I believe?

• I believe in growing a community using honesty, transparency, and a little humor.
• I believe in setting unreasonably high expectations for myself.
• I believe that shared ideas are the best way to form deeper connections with others.
• I believe in doing my best work possible and sharing it with others.
• I believe in taking my work seriously and not myself.
• I believe that people are more important than profits.
• I believe in asking harder questions and listening to those answers.
• I believe that time is the most valuable thing any of us have.
• I believe in focusing on quality over quantity.
• I believe it's never too early to share your story and help others.
• I believe that labels don't matter - results do.
• I believe that every one of us has the ability to create our own path.
• I believe it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
• I believe in taking everything with a grain (or two) of salt.
• I believe ideas are worthless until you share them with others.


Uninspired

I woke up this morning feeling rather uninspired.

No matter how fulfilled I might be, these feelings always seem inevitable.

Instead of beating my head against the wall, my first instinct is to find out why.

Why do I feel uninspired? Which piece of the puzzle is missing?

More often than not, I find myself losing inspiration when I go on autopilot. I've learned there is a very fine line between creating a productive routine and getting stuck in a rut.

If you ask me, there is one major difference between the two:

A routine has a purpose or goal and a rut doesn't.

With a routine comes forward motion, small steps that add up to big progress. On the other hand, a rut is simply a routine without a point.

It seems as if I need to refocus my goals and remind myself why I am doing what I'm doing.

I don't need to solve everything right away.

I'm just trying to find a little of the inspiration I lost along the way.


All-or-nothing

I'm an extreme person.

For the most part, I'm either happy or sad, talkative or quiet, productive or lazy.

As you can tell, there isn't a whole lot of gray area.

My ambition constantly gets the best of me, which means adopting an "all-or-nothing" mindset can be even more dangerous.

For example, if I wake up feeling less-than-stellar, there's a good chance my morning routine will completely crumble. It's hard for me to simply check off a few tasks and call it a day.

As I get older, I'm learning not to be so hard on myself - things happen and no one is perfect.

This doesn't mean we can't hold ourselves to a higher expectation. Instead, we must do one of two things:

1. Manage our own expectations
2. Change our actions so they rise to meet those expectations

For me, this means embracing the messy middle. It means being OK with getting something accomplished even if I have to push a few things off until tomorrow.

Life doesn't have to be all-or-nothing - it can be filled with an imperfect something.

After all, something is better than nothing.


Peace of mind

All I want is a little more peace of mind.

What exactly is keeping me from this?

Obscure health issues, professional uncertainty, the list goes on and on.

At the moment, my answer is to create a more stable income for myself.

When we hear, "Money can't buy you happiness," we forget that it can buy you something else:

Time.

During this time, we can explore, create, learn, live with intention, and ultimately find peace of mind.

I'll be the first to admit: I can usually handle individual problems fairly well, but the real issue is when these stressors overlap and eventually come to a head.

This is when I lose my peace of mind. Instead of strategically picking apart each problem, I become overwhelmed and switch into survival mode. This is the last place you want to be because, instead of thinking long-term, you are simply finding quick fixes that don't add up.

We all deal with issues in our own ways. If we pause to find out why we don't have peace of mind, we can use this as a starting point for living a more intentional life. 


Love it or fix it

I was recently asked an unusual question during an interview:

"How will you fail here?"

Before opening my mouth, I paused for a few seconds.

Plenty of companies claim they support "failing fast" and learning from failure, but how many actually provide ways in which people can productively fumble?

I answered by admitting that, at times, I may be a little too eager to execute on ideas and my impatience could end up getting the best of me.

Seemingly satisfied with my answer, he went on to talk about how he uses one simple phrase:

Love it or fix it.

I can't tell you how close I was to jumping out of my chair and giving this man a hug.

As someone who is still developing a bias towards action, I can confidently say most people complain about problems without offering up solutions.

I get it. After all, it's much easier to focus on problems instead of creating thoughtful solutions - it's the path of least resistance.

Since hearing these simple words, I have already taken steps towards identifying the parts of my life I don't love and doing something about them.

What about your life don't you love? What will you do to fix it?


Seeking opportunity

Opportunity is a funny thing.

When you can't find it, there really doesn't seem to be any around for miles.

On the flip side, whenever you find a little, there is always more on the way.

Whether you're looking for a new job or simply searching for a new project, opportunity tends to follow preparation or, at the very least, some amount of effort.

That's why whenever I am looking for new opportunity, I never stop once I've found one option - I always aim to give myself more eggs in more baskets.

In other words, I try to diversify as much as possible.

You will never regret giving yourself too many choices in life, especially when it comes to finding or creating your own path.

Remember, in this case, more is more.