Is your business different? Learn to escape competition with the book Different by Youngme Moon

Everywhere we look there are brands. I sit in Starbucks drinking something fancy and cold, typing on my Apple laptop in some reasonably crazy Top & Derby socks and my choices at some level were all designed to say something about what I value. In theory I value a decently made drink, a nice laptop and funny-looking compression socks. I have chosen those companies because they speak to me in some way. Their branding resonates with the image I want to portray.

While it feels super odd to talk about myself in this way, there is no denying it at an academic level. All of us choose products, at some level, by what they say about us. Sure we wrap up our decisions in lofty sounding ‘pragmatic’ reasons, but those are most often simply justifications.

Now the question really is, how do brands get to resonate with consumers? How do they stand out from the ever maddening crowd? That’s the question that Youngme Moon tries to answer in Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.

I seek to identify the outliers, the anomalies, the iconoclasts — the players who have rejected well-rehearsed business routines in favor of an approach more adventurous.

Different is broken down into three broad chunks. First, Youngme tells us where she thinks most brands sit currently. Second she walks us through three types of brands that have differentiated themselves. Third she adds a bunch of caveats to her work on brands, mainly revolving around the ever-changing world and how the work is so easily out of date or not completed.

Where are brands now?

The first major section of Different walks us through where brands are now, which is summarized with the word homogenized.

In industry after industry, business professionals have become so practiced in a particular way of doing things that they appear to have forgotten the point of it all — which is to create meaningful and compelling product offerings for people like you and me.

A homogenized market is one that only experts can really tell the differences in. Where most people hear a decent stereo, true audiophiles can hear thousands of nuances of sound and care deeply about which exact setup — down to the furniture in the room — will yield the best sound quality.

…where a connoisseur sees the differences, a novice sees the similarities. Where a connoisseur can discern subtle shades of distinction based on nuanced asymmetries, a novice lacks the necessary filters to canvas, to organize, to sift an assortment in a meaningful way.

Most of the brands around us are like this. While we may consider ourselves a Coke or Pepsi person, the reality is that in proper blind tests few of us can tell the difference between them. When we look at everything now being ‘bigger and better’ with ’20% more’ of some secret ingredient we no longer have the capacity to have any opinion on the products on the shelf.

In their quest to be better than the competition they’ve simply added more features to their core product until they all have the same features. The only difference is that they label them with their own marketingspeak which differs from the terms used by their competition.

On the contrary, as the number of products within a category multiplies, the differences between them start to become increasingly trivial, almost to the point of preposterousness.

In this product world how do brands compete? For consultants who can never pick a niche to market to, how do they compete on anything but price? Simply being able to do anything that their client asks for only says that they are not amazing at anything.

If you were to meet a brain surgeon who also claimed to be a pediatric orthopedist who also claimed to be a specialist in Botox treatments, you’d likely view all of his credentials with skepticism. Why? Because intuitively you understand that excellence on any extreme almost always involves a trade-off.

So in this world where almost no companies are willing to make a trade-off and say they’re excellent at one thing for fear of losing a single dollar, sit consumers. Consumers who are jaded. They don’t believe the crazy messages that companies are trying to push on them because no potato chip will give you great hair and bring cute girls (or boys) flocking to party with you.

Consumers knowing this are significantly less brand loyal today than they have been in decades past and this is a problem for all businesses.

Youngme cites three types of brands that stand out in the competitive landscape of dross most businesses sit in today. They are Reverse Brands, Breakaway Brands, and Hostile Brands.

Reverse Brands

Some of the biggest brands around now are what the author calls ‘reverse-positioned’ brands. A reverse brand takes all the great things that the competition is pushing and removes them. Their lack of feature is what positions them in the market.

A reverse-positioned brand is a very particular kind of idea brand, one that makes deliberate decisions to defy the augmentation trend in a category in which customers have come to expect augmentation.

One of the most well-known examples, and one that the author uses, is Google. In the midst of companies like Yahoo! building portal pages that had 1 million features on top of search, Google came along with a homepage with nothing on it but the search box. Even now with lots of services available the Google homepage remains firmly focused on search to the exclusion of so many other features.

In business generally and in marketing specifically, there are few greater sins than failing to meet customer expectations. So nothing is likely to raise eyebrows more quickly than a decision to strip away benefits that consumers expect to receive. This is what he concept of reversal goes against every instinct a businessperson has. When the entire category is racing north, it is no trivial matter to point yourself due south.

But you can’t just stop and be a ‘stripped down’ budget version of the competition. There are plenty of hotels like that, and few of us would stay in them because they don’t offer things like sheets that meet our expectations of cleanliness. The point is to strip away the things that don’t truly matter to customer satisfaction so that you can focus exclusively on the very few things that do matter.

Google did this when their homepage cut all the crappy advertising that the rest of the industry had around their homepage. That inverted the expectations of customers that a ‘free’ service simply had the right to plaster ads all over everything.

In business, it is easy to fall into the habit of thinking that the way to be better is to simply do more.

I’d add to this that it’s easy to fall into the trap of offering to do more, or the same job for less. This is especially true with consultants starting out in the business as they easily fall into the trap of wondering if the current client will be their last client ever. It seems odd to read, but at some point all of us (yup me too) fall into that mindset that if we don’t land this project no one ever will feel that we’re worthy of any money for our chosen craft ever again.

A reverse-positioned firm is one that refuses to get on the augmentation treadmill, not because it doesn’t care about its customers, but because it is operating under an inverse assumption—that given the hyper-maturity of the category, there are probably lots of folks who are over-satisfied, i.e., who are being given inflated sets of benefits they don’t necessarily care about.

Breakaway Brands

breakaway brands recognize that when it comes to consumption, our classifications tend to be both superficial and arbitrary.

Youngme starts this section with a question about robots. What if you had a robot to be your helper? Most of us would essentially build a custom household servant so laundry would get folded and dinner would get made. The problem is that no matter how much technology we put into it, we’re going to get something that’s buggy. This is where the Sony AIBO comes in, which is a $2000 ‘pet’ robot dog. When this dog doesn’t listen or does the opposite of what we ask we don’t expect it to be our robot butler. Because we’ve reframed it into a dog we let these defects off as personality quirks.

Reframing is so powerful most of us eat cookies for breakfast. Don’t believe me? Then check out my favourite quote in the book.

Cereal is cereal because it happens to be food broken down into spoon-sized bits; if the pieces were any larger, we’d have to call them cookies.

Think about the nutritional content of most cereal, which is little better than the chocolate chip cookie and while most of us will agree that eating cookies for breakfast is not good for your health we will happily eat cereal every morning.

By presenting us with an alternative frame of reference, they encourage us to let go of the consumption posture we’re inclined to bring to a product and embrace entirely new terms of engagement instead.

What are ‘pull-ups’ but diapers without Velcro? With this masterful reframing, diaper manufacturers reduced the stigma of having kids over two in diapers and extended the life of their product for years with kids and parents.

Cirque du Soleil did this as they reframed the circus from involving animals to amazing acrobatic and physical feats by humans. I’d never think of taking my wife on a date to a traditional circus and yet we’ve been to a number of Cirque performances and very much enjoyed each one.

Hostile Brands

One would think that getting your products to your customers when and how they want the products is what business is about. Not so for hostile brands.

Hostile brands are brands that play hard to get. Instead of laying down the welcome mat, they lay down the gauntlet.

Look at the advertising campaign of the Mini Cooper. It was a car much smaller than pretty much anything in North America at the time. Instead of minimizing that disadvantage the marketing campaign focused on it being even smaller than you thought.

In many ways Apple does this with the iPhone. There are only three models available currently, and that’s many more than there have been in years past. If you wanted on with touch-to-pay options in years past you were simply out of luck and they weren’t ashamed of it.

…hostile brands create divisions, but they create a magical kind of solidarity, too.

When Apple was a fringe brand that only enthusiasts were interested in, you could see someone with an Apple computer out and about and know that you had a kindred spirit.

CrossFit people feel this when they say that their warmup is everyone else’s workout. They tell you that if you thought working out was hard, well that was just the warmup. Sure you can do it, but it’s going to be harder than you thought it was going to be. Out of that comes the jokes about people that do CrossFit telling you every 10 seconds they do CrossFit, until you finally get away from them.

Hostile brands done right build immensely loyal consumers that are going to work to sell your brand for you as they tell everyone how awesome the brand is.

Some caveats by the author

The final section of the book is all about the caveats that the author feels she needs to make. Stuff like these three brand types are not the only ones out there and that many brands that fit into one category also fit into the other two at times.

All brands are a mix of the three in some fashion.

In my view this weakens the writing. Of course this is Youngme’s opinion, it’s her book. Clearly covering every type of brand would take more than a lifetime and even as you finished you’d find another rabbit hole to go down as you try to categorize a new brand. As she says in this section:

if all of us only dared to ever speak or write or put forth the things we knew to be unassailable, then we really wouldn’t have much of interest to contribute at all.

So why a whole section to ‘caveat’ the work?

Takeaways

Despite the flaw I see at the end I think there are a number of great takeaways for consultants and business owners.

First off is start to incorporate some of these traits of ‘winning’ brands. I already incorporate part of the hostile brand as I only take phone calls on Tuesdays and only inside a two-hour window. If that doesn’t work for you, you should find someone else to work with.

Another key inside this writing is that if you can pick a niche you can then market to it. Marketing your services to writers lets you build the brand that aspiring writers want to be a part of as they work to build a business writing.

By having this niche and focusing your marketing on that niche you can use these techniques of ‘hostility’ or to reframe the benefits that people get with your services effectively. When you can be everything to anyone, you’re in the game of augmentation that Youngme laments as breaking down the value that organizations offer.

Don’t get on the augmentation treadmill.

Recommendation

The purpose of the book was to identify the outliers in the branding space. To show you those that take an adventurous path and succeed at it. In that I think the book succeeded. It did show us adventurous brands and the author did provide some good takeaways so that we can learn how these brands position themselves in the market. With that knowledge in hand we can make some changes in how we market our businesses.

Now is it worth your time to read? I’m not so sure about that. It was mildly interesting to me, and there are a few takeaways, but I have a feeling that there are better books out there for those that are in the trenches and need to build a brand now that resonates. If you enjoy reading academically about brands, then this a good book to enhance your understanding of ways that brands operate.

Get Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd on Amazon

Tribes by Seth Godin: Which Tribe Do You Lead?

Seth Godin is the renowned author of books like Purple Cow and Linchpin and a myriad of other familiar books around marketing and being awesome at your work. Tribes is his book about what it takes to get leverage with your idea. That leverage comes from leading a Tribe and the leverage that leadership brings.

Tribes give you leverage. And each of us have more leverage than ever before. I want you to think about the ramifications of the new leverage. I’m hoping you’ll see that the most profitable path is also the most reliable, the easiest, and the most fun. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to give you a push on the path to become a heretic yourself.

To Godin the heretic is the person with new ideas that helps take a group of people where they wanted to go already. Maybe they didn’t know they wanted to go that direction but when presented with the ideas of the heretic they realize they fit suddenly.

And your Tribe is formed.

Tribes is a really a collection of essays. You’ll often find four or five that revolve around one theme, but I got around six essays in before I realized that these were not just titles inside a bigger chapter.

This is also not a book with a magic six-step process to build a Tribe. It explains the general dynamics of a Tribe and how they function. It explains how a leader leads a diverse group of people over which they have no power. If you’re looking for a book with that magic process (which I don’t believe exists anyway) then look elsewhere.

The closest Godin comes to describing a process to build a Tribe is his discussions around being comfortable with failure. All the greats had failures. Much like the Will in The Obstacle is the Way (my review) the greats just kept on going past the failure viewing it as another step on the path to success.

Here are some of the key highlights I had and why I found them interesting.

On Leading or Managing

Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.

One of the recurring themes in Tribes is the thought of the factory (which has employees) and the tribe (which has followers). One is great at cranking out widgets and following the status quo and one is built for change and tearing down the status quo.

The thing is, managers and factories have a vested interest in the status quo. Think of the music industry battling against the status quo of CD album sales vs. subscription services or a la carte song purchasing. They spent more time trying to protect the original way they made money while the needs of their customers passed them by, and other services went from little things not worth competing with to large competitors that now hold much of the power.

The same has happened in the cable industry. The only people I know with cable are sports fans, and even they say they look for a way to cut the cable and just go to Netflix or other digital offerings.

The big question to ask yourself in all the thoughts on managers and factories is, Are you a manager in a factory or are you a leader building a tribe?

You want that answer to come down on the side of being a leader.

Where power comes from

Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

Yes you can be a leader inside a traditional company though it may be a tough road. Far too often that leader with the unconventional idea gets their innovation beat out of them by the other factory workers who don’t want anyone to put their head up and be exceptional.

This reminded me of the famous experiment where researchers put bananas up a pole in a monkey enclosure. When one of the monkeys would go for the bananas researchers would spray the monkey with water to knock it off. Eventually the monkeys would try and stop anyone from going for the food. Then the researchers stopped spraying and started swapping out monkeys. Eventually there were no animals that had been sprayed or seen anyone sprayed and yet they still would pull anyone off the pole that tried to get the food.

While we could debate the humaneness of the experiment it does provide a powerful view of how many workplaces treat those who try to excel. They just keep pulling them back to normal. The sad part is that the workplace likely needs this innovation and it’s either trained out of everyone or the people who want to innovate just move on to another company that isn’t indoctrinated in mediocrity.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

Your question is: What type of organization have you built? Does it continually train mediocrity into people? Does it punish those who try something new which doesn’t work? That’s training people to never try new ideas.

How many fans/followers do you need?

Fans, true fans, are hard to find and precious. Just a few can change everything. What they demand, though, is generosity and bravery.

Before you go further read this great timeless article called 1000 True Fans. I’ll wait.

Welcome back. Good read, isn’t it? Eye-opening for those of us trying to build some sort of Tribe around our ideas. To turn this Tribe into something you can call your job you really only need 1,000 people willing to spend money on everything you offer.

While 1,000 people in the sea of millions really isn’t a lot of people we need to remember that true fans are hard to find. It’s easy to find lots of casual fans who will share your content on social media sometimes. They’ll retweet your product launches and even make the odd purchase. Those aren’t the true fans though.

I’m sure you’ve heard at least a variation of this joke.

An atheist, a vegan and a CrossFitter walk into a bar. I only know this because they told everyone within two minutes.

Yes they (we actually, as I do CrossFit) share their (our) views freely. They do it because they feel they have something awesome going on that they want people to have as well. They don’t share it to be annoying, they share it because they think that your life can also be better with the knowledge they have.

A true fan is like any of those people.

Your question is: Are you carefully cultivating your true fans? Are you taking them for granted?

Don’t just dream, take action

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of ideas. Ordinary folks can dream up remarkable stuff fairly easy. What’s missing is the will to make the ideas happen.

I get to talk to lots of people that want to run their own business. They are great technicians, they can design, write, code, or whatever. They want to keep talking about the awesome life they will live when they get out on their own.

I also talk to lots of people who want to give up their house, purchase a truck and trailer, and travel with their kids.

The key in both of those groups of people is that they want to talk about it. They don’t want to do the work to make it happen. They don’t want to sell their house and get rid of most of their stuff. They can’t take the trip now because the thought of homeschooling children seems like actual work. Much better to send them to school where you only have to think about it a bit.

The wannabe business owners don’t want to put in the hours needed to build six months’ savings when they start their business. They don’t want to learn about sales, marketing, invoicing.

They want to dream, not take action. They’d rather watch TV in the evening instead of reading that book about sales. Really it just feels good to talk about it and all they want is to be perceived as someone that would run their own business or take that big trip.

Remember in The Obstacle is the Way the second key to Stoic philosophy is to take action. Not just single-time action either, but repeated action over months/years/decades to get to your goal.

Unfortunately we are also complicit in people with ideas fooling themselves. We don’t call them on their bullshit idea they just want to talk about. We agree that with kids the trip can’t happen. That’s just too much work. We agree that whatever show they are watching is a good show and binge watching it is a great use of time.

Your challenge is: Start taking action! Stop letting people off the hook around you! Tell them to start taking action or stop talking about it.

Fear

If a critic tells you, “I don’t like it” or “This is disappointing,” he’s done no good at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. He’s used his power to injure without giving you any information to help you do better next time. Worse, he hasn’t given those listening any data with which to make a thoughtful decision on their own.

This is the essence of the trolls on the Internet. They can drive by and leave a comment with no recourse. As Brian D. Earp recently wrote in The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit:

In the case of Lord Voldemort, the trick is to unleash so many fallacies, misrepresentations of evidence, and other misleading or erroneous statements — at such a pace, and with such little regard for the norms of careful scholarship and/or charitable academic discourse — that your opponents, who do, perhaps, feel bound by such norms, and who have better things to do with their time than to write rebuttals to each of your papers, face a dilemma. Either they can ignore you, or they can put their own research priorities on hold to try to combat the worst of your offenses.

We fear this onslaught of negative comment on our work. But stop for a second — are you ever going to see the trolls? Do you know them personally? Do you have to interact with them?

It’s time to stop fearing the critics. They’re always going to be there and the true sign of the heretic Godin speaks of is that people oppose their ideas. You’re often onto something great when you’ve got haters.

Giving not getting

Leaders who set out to give are more productive than leaders who seek to get. Even more surprising is the fact that the intent of the leader matters. The tribes can sniff out why someone is asking for their attention. Looking out for number one is an attitude and it’s one that doesn’t pay.

I know you want to launch a new product and make millions so you can go sip drinks somewhere tropical. That’s all about you, though. That’s about the money you’re going to make and the life you’ll live after.

What type of life will your customers have after? Will they have a better business or better life? Are you truly giving them something of value or are you simply bundling up some stuff people will give you money for?

Bundling up ‘stuff’ is what we think of when we think of sleazy marketers and spammy ads. It’s just stuff and unfortunately enough people get fooled into making a purchase so the marketers make money and lots of it.

While this may sound attractive to some, I’m not one of them and I hope you’re not either. I have no desire to look back on my life and realize that I provided little value.

So I give. I try to give away much of how I’ve run my business and make six figures without working more than 30 hours in a week (and probably 10 of those are dedicated to writing this site, not client work).

Your question is: Are you really giving away anything that the customer will find value in? Why not?

The short life and thank God it’s Friday

“Life’s too short” is repeated often enough to be a cliche, but this time it’s true. You don’t have enough time to be both unhappy and mediocre. It’s not just pointless, it’s painful. Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you ought to set up a life you don’t need escape from.

I’m pretty famous for getting annoyed when someone in my office building says “Thank God it’s Friday”. I always challenge them with the sentiment above. While I may not check email over the weekend I do read books around business and may even write if the mood strikes me.

I’m amazingly lucky to wake up each morning and get a chance to write and read. I’m energized on Fridays when I finish my call with the mentoring group I lead or when I finish with a one-on-one coaching call.

I’m excited to see the success others have and happy that I can get a small part in it through some advice I gave. Often I just ask some questions and people talk themselves around to where they need to go and what they need to do to get there.

If you’re not happy with what you do, then change it. Stop wallowing in the misery that is excited for the weekend or vacation so you can get away from your work. Find work that’s meaningful.

Your challenge: Put together a plan to find work you love.

It’s my fault

If you hear my idea but don’t believe it, that’s not your fault; it’s mine.

If you see my new product but don’t buy it, that’s my failure, not yours.

If you attend my presentation and you’re bored, that’s my fault too.

I’ve long said that a great consultant figures out how failure is their fault.

Have a pissy client that’s rude and wants 500 extra things for the same price? It’s your fault that you didn’t catch those issues when you were vetting the client.

Have too many projects on the go? You should have said NO to some of the projects. Needed the money and you couldn’t? Well that’s your fault for not finishing other things faster and not budgeting.

Your challenge: Don’t blame, figure out how the problem is your fault then set about to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Recommendation

My biggest issue with the book Tribes was that it felt disorganized and lacking in a clear direction. I’ll let Godin speak to that:

I can tell you I’m going to get a lot of flak from most people about what you’ve just read. People might say it’s too disorganized or not practical enough or that I require you to do too much work to actually accomplish anything. That’s okay. In fact, criticism like that almost always accompanies change.

This made me smile as I was 90% done with the book and starting to think about writing down my thoughts. He addressed them. It did feel disorganized and there is a bunch of work. There is no clear plan to build a Tribe. But I’m not sure there can be.

Yes there are tactics that others have used that may work for you, but they may not. Banking on reading a single book to transform your idea into something that supports you via a Tribe of people that believe is a fool’s errand.

Overall Tribes is an easy read with lots of great thoughts. I pulled out about 20% of my highlights and notes. There is much more to dig into and I think that you should.

Get Tribes on Amazon

photo credit: peteashton cc

Learn to Triumph Over Trials: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. – Marcus Aurelius from The Obstacle is the Way

Right in the preface of The Obstacle is the Way author Ryan Holiday sets the tone for the book. You can tell this is not going to be some fluffy book that gets you to regress to former pains and work through them. You’re going to be told to look at them head on and alter your perception of them.

In fact, this first quote in the preface made me think again of my favourite quotes from Jeff Goins and Chuck Swindoll.

Sometimes the route to our purpose is a chaotic experience, and how we respond matters more than what happens. – The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. – Chuck Swindoll

I admit I didn’t realize it before reading The Obstacle is the Way but both Goins and Swindoll are channeling the essence of Stoic Philosophy in these quotes.

For those unfamiliar with, but interested in, The Stoics, this book is for you because the whole point of The Obstacle is the Way is to share the teaching of the Stoics in a bit more up-to-date manner.

This book will share with you their collective wisdom in order to help you accomplish the very specific and increasingly urgent goal we all share: overcoming obstacles. Mental obstacles. Physical obstacles. Emotional obstacles. Perceived obstacles.

This is not a book for those who want to blame someone else for their problems. It’s not for someone who’s happy to accept handouts while not looking for work. It’s not for someone who’s content living a mediocre life with mediocre results. This is a book for those who want to face their problems head on because they know on the other side of that challenge or fear is the goal they want to achieve. This is for the pragmatic, down-to-earth among us who love to think but don’t stand around with their heads in the clouds.

So this will be a book of ruthless pragmatism and stories from history that illustrate the arts of relentless persistence and indefatigable ingenuity. It teaches you how to get unstuck, unfucked, and unleashed. How to turn the many negative situations we encounter in our lives into positive ones — or at least to snatch whatever benefit we can from them. To steal good fortune from misfortune.

Holiday divides the book into three broad sections which cover, he asserts, the three critical steps you need to overcome obstacles. He calls them Perception, Action and the Will.

Perception

WHAT IS PERCEPTION? It’s how we see and understand what occurs around us — and what we decide those events will mean.

I think the key point, and a recurring theme in much of my reading, comes at the end of that sentence. It’s an acknowledgement that we choose what events in our life mean.

You can see this evidenced when you talk to two business people in the same town offering similar services. Often you’ll hear from one that business is not going great and no one really needs their services anymore. Talk to the other and you’ll hear that they’ve never been busier and they wish they could serve everyone around them.

What’s the difference? Simply the perception of the situation. Your perception reflects your reality. If everything is going against you and it’s all bad all the time, then of course the day you get a flat tire you’ll view it as another cosmic punch from some being that is laughing at your hardship. If things are going good, that flat tire will simply be something that happened and needs to be dealt with. Maybe you’ll even make a business deal with the tire repair shop.

You will come across obstacles in life — fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.

Control is another strong theme in the first section of the book (Perception) and a strong theme throughout Stoic Philosophy. When that tire situation happens to you do you fly off the handle and rage about the injustice of it all? Do you let out a sigh and then calmly pull out your phone to call someone to tow you? Which person do you think seems more in control of the situation? Which one do you think is going to make more effective decisions in their business?

The person with control.

Regardless of how much actual danger we’re in, stress puts us at the potential whim of our baser—fearful—instinctual reactions.

Don’t think for a second that grace and poise and serenity are soft attributes of some aristocrat. Ultimately, nerve is a matter of defiance and control.

This control must exist in a world where everything doesn’t go to plan. Where we have events outside our control. To the Stoics this would be the will of the gods which could be fickle and mean. While you may not believe in those beings of lore you have to admit that the world is a place of randomness.

Welcome to the source of most of our problems down here on Earth. Everything is planned down to the letter, then something goes wrong and the first thing we do is trade in our plan for a good ol’ emotional freak-out. Some of us almost crave sounding the alarm, because it’s easier than dealing with whatever is staring us in the face.

One of the best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read has the main character exuding this control in what would be extreme odds. Of course, I’m referring to The Martian where our protagonist, Mark, is left on Mars to fend for himself with not enough food to last until help arrives, and tools that weren’t made to last much past the 90-day mission. From having part of his structure blow off with him inside to short-circuiting his only line of communication to Earth, Mark continually lets that momentary freak-out happen then takes a deep breath and deals with the situation as it stands. Calm and in control and solving one little step at a time.

Also similar is the admonition in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: DON’T PANIC.

Perception is all about that control in all situations. Take that second but then move into calm control so that you can move on to the next section of the book…action.

Action

But you, when you’re dealt a bad hand. What’s your response? Do you fold? Or do you play it for all you’ve got?

Action is the next step from Perception. It’s not enough to not freak out — you actually have to move forward towards goals with the same level of calm with which you perceived the situation.

The opposite of action is knowing what the solution is but then sitting there doing nothing because nothing is easier. If we take action we risk failure. In that failure we fear what others may say about us.

But in our lives, when our worst instincts are in control, we dally. We don’t act like Demosthenes, we act frail and are powerless to make ourselves better. We may be able to articulate a problem, even potential solutions, but then weeks, months, or sometimes years later, the problem is still there. Or it’s gotten worse. As though we expect someone else to handle it, as though we honestly believe that there is a chance of obstacles unobstacling themselves.

Reading that now we smile at the absurdity of anyone who would think an obstacle would ‘unobstacle’ itself and yet consultants put off that painful email to a client when they’re behind. They wait months to invoice someone because they’re afraid of what the client will say. At work, you simply complain about a situation because it’s easier than doing anything about it.

We so often sit quietly looking at that obstacle hoping it just goes away and when confronted by it without some place to hide we will deal with it, but not until then.

No one is saying you can’t take a minute to think, Dammit this sucks. By all means, vent. Exhale. Take stock. Just don’t take too long. Because you have to get back to work. Because each obstacle we overcome makes us stronger for the next one.

But…

No. No excuses. No exceptions. No way around it: It’s on you.

The truly successful people you look up to go through the same challenges as you, or they went through them on the way to where they are now. When you sit down with anyone successful and really probe you’ll find fail products, bankruptcy, failed relationships. They took time to say the situation sucked but they didn’t stop. Like a large rock rolling downhill, they kept going towards their goal. They tried another path, took a road less traveled or bushwhacked their way through a path everyone said was impossible.

If you’re not willing to take that path, or forge your own, don’t expect to get the outsized results of the people you look up to.

So when you’re frustrated in pursuit of your own goals, don’t sit there and complain that you don’t have what you want or that the obstacle won’t budge. If you haven’t even tried yet, then of course you will still be in the exact same place. You haven’t actually pursued anything.

You need to risk that failure to get those rewards. If you don’t put all your proverbial chips on the table, then you can’t expect any return. Well maybe I should change how I said that. You shouldn’t expect any return. Many people today expect that simply going to school like everyone else should get them that huge paying job some guidance counsellor promised them in high school. So they took the safe path with everyone else. They took on debt and spent years trying to find themselves in the most expensive way possible.

Then when faced with their decisions in the form of loan bills they complain that the future they thought was coming is already full. All the others around them are vying for the same jobs with similar resumes in the same suit or dress and yet for some reason the mediocre effort with no risk should be rewarded with huge benefits.

Yet nothing was risked. This is their first experience of failure and many never get the chance to learn from it as family save them from dealing with any failure in the past.

But it’s no joke. Failure can be an asset if what you’re trying to do is improve, learn, or do something new. It’s the preceding feature of nearly all successes. There’s nothing shameful about being wrong, about changing course. Each time it happens we have new options. Problems become opportunities.

In your action, which problems will you turn into opportunities? Going through this process over and over is what will bring you success in your business and life. Thinking it’s going to be smooth sailing is a faulty assumption that’s simply going to put you years behind those who face adversity head on and deal with the world as it is, complete with the problems. They just keep taking action instead of complaining about how things are.

Complaining gets you nowhere — action does. But more than action is a force of will. To repeatedly try new ways to get to your goal despite setbacks. Which brings us to the third section of the book…Will

Will

…the will is the critical third discipline. We can think, act, and finally adjust to a world that is inherently unpredictable. The will prepares us for this, protects us against it, and allows us to be happy and thrive in spit of it. It is also the most difficult of all the disciplines. It’s what allows us to stand undisturbed while others wilt and give in to disorder. Willing and able to continue, even during the unthinkable, even when our worst nightmares have become true.

It could always get worse. Whatever you’re dealing with, there is always another step lower down, or many steps lower down. Is the budget tight this month and you need new shoes? You do have a house over your head and you’re sitting here on an Internet connected device reading a website in your leisure time instead of heading to your third job of the day.

It’s hard to see that though, in the midst of the very real problems we’ve all got going on. Too many of us revert to that inner five-year-old that sees the loss of a special paper plate as a cause to leave the family because nothing in the world could be worse.

This view that we can simply walk away from what troubles us if the problem gets too big is the opposite of a strong Will. Will keeps going. Like water encountering a rock will find a way around over years of relentless pounding, so the Will keeps pushing against the troubles until a solution is found.

A premortem is different. In it, we look to envision what could go wrong, what will go wrong, in advance, before we start. Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish.

I think that this idea of a premortem is one of the key takeaways in our third section of the book. Going through this process will help make our ideas much more likely to succeed as we work through each section of failure and do our best to mitigate the effect that a point of failure can have on our overall idea.

All too often we simply assume that if we build something and tell a few people about it our ideal will be the next big thing. We tie so much of our self-worth up in that successful launch as well and when it does fail we’re personally devastated.

Assigning our personal worth to an idea and letting its failure affect us for more than a moment is a failure of will. It’s a failure of stepping back and objectively looking at the way the world is, accepting it and having a plan to deal with it. The failure of an idea is nothing more than life telling us to not pursue that idea at this time, in this way, with these people.

If someone we know took traffic signals personal, we would judge them insane.

Yet this is exactly what life is doing to us. It tells us to come to a stop here. Or that some intersection is blocked or that a particular road has been rerouted through an inconvenient detour. We can argue or yell this problem away. We simply accept it.

This is not to say we allow it to prevent us from reaching our ultimate destination. But it does change the way we travel to get there and the duration of the trip.

These three ideas of Perception, Action and Will are so tightly tied together it’s hard to separate them. Indeed the message in this book often feels repetitive, just like above. This harkens back to the ideas in the section on Perception around how we decide to let a situation affect us. We could yell, or we could just shrug and take the new direction that’s left to us.

Strength of Will is tied up in Perception so tightly they are almost indistinguishable. Perception is how we deal with round one in our fight. Action is heading into round two and round three. Will is still being around in round 90.

If persistence is attempting to solve some difficult problem with dogged determination and hammering until the break occurs, then plenty of people can be said to be persistent. But perseverance is something larger. It’s the long game. It’s about what happens not just in round one but in round two and every round after — and then the fight after that and the fight after that, until the end.

Just because we have one success doesn’t mean we’ll roll into another one. And Will is what gets us back up and gets us to give it another try.

We idolize that strength of Will but do we actually train for it at all? Do our schools spend any time really developing Will in someone? Is there even a way? I’m not sure, but I’d hazard a guess that we can train into this by simply being held to our word from a young age and then needing to meet the expectations we set for ourselves with what we said we’d do. We need to stop giving people a pass. If you said you’d do A and then didn’t quite do A, you lied. You didn’t live up to your word. We can do more for the character development of those we love by calling them out in those times than by simply overlooking it and hoping that they learn from the experience.

Recommendation

Did the book accomplish its purpose of channeling the Stoics into things a bit more easily digested by those around today? I don’t know Stoic philosophy enough to say for sure, actually. Did I get a bunch out of this book to move forward and be a better person who’s growing in life?

Emphatically YES!

The collection of short essays found in The Obstacle is the Way should be required reading for anyone who wants to get an idea out in the world. If you want to be a leader or entrepreneur read this book and start girding yourself for the inevitable issues life is going to throw your way.

Get The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon.

photo credit: tico24 cc

Accomplish more of worth and suffer from less distraction: Deep Work by Cal Newport

Sure, Slack is great. So is Twitter, and Facebook. I loved it when OSX added iMessage as a core part of their operating system, giving us the ability to send and receive messages. With all of these things added to my life at no point did I realize how lean I was slicing my time. I was loosing any possibility of doing deep work.

I’m betting you haven’t really thought about it either.

In Deep Work, Cal Newport wants to convince us to step away from the ever-increasing series of distractions — those latest and greatest things that pull away our focus and keep us from doing deep work. Newport doesn’t just stop in telling us that distraction is harming us, but goes on to give us four rules to achieve a state of deep work with more regularity so that we can truly produce work that’s industry leading (without working evenings and weekends).

Early in the book he states the reason he wrote the book in the first place.

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Structure

Deep Work is divided into two broad sections. Newport begins by trying to sell you on the idea that you spend way too much time doing shallow work fraught with distractions and that you need to remove as many distractions as possible in favour of singular focus on the things that matter most.

The second section covers a set of rules to achieve this state of focus in the midst of the overwhelming communication tools that are around us now.

If you’re already sold on the idea that you’re too distracted and need to improve your concentration then you could just skip to the second part of the book. I think you’d miss lots of interesting research but you’d quickly get tactics and strategies to implement so you can get into work without distraction.

Deep Working

As one that’s been writing code for years I’ve felt the effects of getting interrupted. Distraction is a productivity crusher of epic proportions. There are even comics depicting what happens to a programmers brain when they get interrupted. The story closest to home for me is from the first week my wife was off work just before we had our first child. In the first two days she was home she must have entered my office about every hour. It got to the point that I took the $20 on my desk and gave it to her with instructions to take someone out for coffee and not return till 5 p.m. when the work day was done.

My wife and I laugh about it now, but her walking into my office so much is only one very obvious way that distraction stops the average worker from doing their job with excellence.

Before we dive deeper into the book, let’s look at what Deep Work is according to Cal Newport.

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Contrast that to the definition of Shallow Work.

Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

In terms of your daily tasks things like email, most meetings, all social networking, and many phone calls would fall under the definition of shallow work. Things like programming, writing, design, blacksmithing, and glass blowing would fall into the realm of deep work for their respective practitioners.

The insidiousness of much of the shallow work that’s in our lives is that it feels productive. Sending a bunch of email accomplishes the fabled ‘Inbox 0’ while at the same time usually producing little real value. Most email is much like shuffling the same set of chairs around the deck. Little gets resolved and no decisions are made, we simply defer them to some other time that’s nebulous.

Social networking is even worse in that it feels like ‘marketing’ our businesses. In reality much of it simply trains us to seek novelty like a big Skinner box. In fact the most addictive type of Operant Conditioning is when we randomly produce novel reward for an action. As we sit immersed in networking and the ways it allow us to connect with people around the world and how it can bring new opportunities, it’s so easy to forget that there are whole teams of people at these companies whose goal is to get us using social media more. They want to train us to ‘network’ more and they sell our attention to others.

The reason knowledge workers are losing their familiarity with deep work is well established: networking tools. This is a broad category that captures communication services like e-mail and SMS, social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and the shiny tangle of infotainment sites like BuzzFeed and Reddit. In aggregate, the rise of these tools, combined with ubiquitous access to them through smartphones and networked office computers, has fragmented most knowledge workers’ attention to slivers.

I’ve heard stats (which I don’t cite because I couldn’t find a source I trusted) that say the average office worker only gets two to three hours (maybe four) of real work done in a day. It’s certainly not hard to see this as truth. Take an eight-hour day, remove two hours for meetings of some fashion. That leaves us with six hours.  Now take out 15 minutes on each side of lunch for time they’re not really focused on doing work and we have five and a half hours. Take out another 30 minutes spread over the day for coffee breaks or bathroom breaks and we are left with five hours.

Now in those remaining five hours add in some coworkers randomly interrupting them via a chat application or by walking into their office. Let’s assume that at least some of this time is actually worthwhile work discussion and it’s not all just time spent talking about sports, or some other mutual interest. So we’ll take out another one hour instead of one and a half hours. Now we have four hours of work left in the day.

How many people surf Facebook, BuzzFeed, Twitter, or some other distraction of choice during the day? Let’s cut another 30 minutes for that, which is probably a conservative number and now we have three and a half hours left in the work day. That’s three and a half hours to get your real work done, but here’s the thing — in our math above we’ve been thinking of much of this time as solid blocks. It is unlikely that the time remanning resembles anything like a single solid chunk of time.

Using an online chat application you get a message and then a few minutes later you get a response, just as you were looking back at the task at hand. Add in some random email checks every 30 minutes and then break up more with bathroom and coffee breaks. It’s easy to see how you don’t actually get three and a half solid hours of work in. You get those three and a half hours split up into a myriad of 10-15 minute chunks. Maybe even small chunks of five minutes.

Looking at it like this we see that it’s going to be hard to accomplish anything of value that requires deep thought. Yes we can look busy and productive but we’re mostly just pushing those chairs around the deck again.

The whole first part of the book is dedicated to convincing you this work schedule habit is a terrible thing that is damaging your brain.

…there’s increasing evidence that this shift toward the shallow is not a choice that can be easily reversed. Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.

Is it any wonder that so many people end up working late into the night and on weekends? Is it any wonder that so many people report that going into the office an hour before everyone else allows them to get 90% of the work they need to get done, done?

You end up working late because you weren’t focused during regular business hours. You get so much done when no one else is in, precisely because no one else can interrupt you. You have a large swath of time with no distractions in which you can do work not sliced up into tidbits of limited attention.

We haven’t talked about the other aspect of insidiousness that creeps into our day and even our job descriptions, and that’s multi-tasking.

The problem this research identifies with this work strategy is that when you switch from Task A to Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow — a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.

For a long time ‘multi-tasking’ was the buzz word of productive people. It was thought that if you could pay attention to six things at once then you were awesome at your job and were of higher value. Really what happens is that you do six things poorly and slower as you constantly switch your attention to those six things and the ‘residue’ builds up — a series of loops that are never closed.

The results from this and her other similar experiments were clear: “People experiencing attention residue after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that next task,” and the more intense the residue, the worse the performance.

To combat this time-sliced, multi-tasking day Newport recommends you work through his rules. He contends that following these rules will result in a significantly more productive day.

The Rules

I’m sure that little of the time-sliced, shallow life described above sounds like something you want for yourself. I think that there is a deep-seated desire in people to provide value and develop something of meaning in the circles that matter to them. That desire seems to remain unsatisfied if we can’t spend time working on what matters to us most without interruption.

To try and help us achieve a more regular state of focused work Newport gives us the ‘Rules of Deep Work’ in the second part of the book.

Rule 1: Work Deeply

This is probably the least actionable of the rules in the latter half of the book. It’s more like agreeing that “I am someone that quests after deep work and I will continue that quest to go deeper and cut distraction.” This rule is setting the stage for the rules that follow which have tactics and strategies more easily implemented in your day.

You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.

Your will, in other words, is not a manifestation of your character that you can deploy without limit: it’s instead like a muscle that tires.

Recognizing that and agreeing to its basic premise is the real thing to get out of Rule 1.

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.

I call these rituals and routines my Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and they cover things like:

  • not answering my phone if it is even in my office at all
  • not doing business via text message (I literally don’t respond)
  • only checking my email if there is time in the day
  • only conducting meetings on Tuesdays and only two meetings (only one with a new possible client)

By putting these SOPs in place I have a bunch of decisions I don’t need to make. If I hear my phone ring and it’s not my wife calling (who has a special ring) then I simply don’t even look at my phone. If I don’t have my basic prospect questions answered I am unwilling to book a call with a prospect. That means I don’t deplete my willpower throughout the day.

You could just try to make deep work a priority. But supporting this decision with the strategies that follow — or strategies of your own devising that are motivated by the same principles — will significantly increase the probability that you succeed in making deep work a crucial part of your professional life.

What Rule 1 does introduce us to is the broad ideas of what Deep Work can look like through a few models of Deep Work one could adopt.

  1. The Monastic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling: Shut yourself off and do your work. Ignore all distractions.
  2. The Bimodal Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling: Shut yourself away for portions of the year like the monastic way. The rest of the year you deal with life as it comes at you.
  3. The Rhythmic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling: This would be building a chain of say writing 1,000 words a day and then not breaking the chain. Look up Jerry Seinfeld’s method for writing jokes.
  4. The Journalistic Philosophy of Deep Work Scheduling: Paying attention in your day and seizing every opportunity to escape and work with focus. Like when a kid is taking a nap and putting in that hour of work with no interruptions.

I’m not sure where my main method of Deep Work fits, but I set aside at least 60 minutes a day to read/write. I don’t worry so much about word count but about the time focused on one of those tasks. I start my day with this, when I’m working on a review like this one I write, when I’m trying to finish a book I read.

I think that this method (probably the chain method) is the easiest to implement in your life. Get up an hour earlier, put some headphones on and do what you need to without distractions. Why do I say get up earlier? Few other people are up so the chances of someone simply texting out of the blue is much smaller.

Whatever your method for Deep Work is you need to create a place where that’s possible. One of the most effective cues I’ve found for my focused work is putting on my headphones. Put me in a noisy house with kids running around or a loud coffee shop and when I put my headphones on focus just finds me with ease.

Find your cues and then let those around you know what they are. When your co-workers, spouse, friends, or whomever sees you with your queues in force they’ll get the hint and leave you alone so you can stay focused.

I did this as a junior developer in my first weeks in a job. I put on headphones and then ignored a bunch of the people that were trying to get my attention. They almost never sent emails to follow up. They were just wandering the office looking for someone to talk to and figured that I could be interrupted. By establishing that “headphones on” meant I was working and likely wouldn’t respond, I had more focused work time and got more done and got higher pay than anyone else in the office.

You don’t have to be working on your own to make that happen.

Rule 2

What’s your first impulse when you’ve got two seconds of nothing to do? How about when you’re standing in the line at the grocery store or coffee shop? Next time you go in look around and see what most people in line are doing. I bet that you’ll have a hard time making eye contact with anybody as most of them will have their phones out and have their eyes glued to it.

This is my first reaction and as we talked about in the introduction, this constant need for something to occupy our brains simply trains us to search for novelty. That means focus without something new invading our brain becomes harder and harder. While you may want to work with focus succumbing to your first impulse when standing in line is simply going to make it harder to focus any time.

Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction. Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom.

It may feel productive to pull out your phone and read for two minutes or to always have some headphones in listening to some podcast or book but the truth is it’s not.

Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction , Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life — say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives — is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work — even if your regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.

This is the essence of Rule 2 — embrace the boredom around you. For me it means leaving my phone on top of the fridge and telling my oldest child to remind me to stay away from my phone if she sees it in my hand.

When I’m heading out to the grocery store it means leaving my phone in the car where I can’t access it. At worst that means I have a text waiting for me when I get back to the car and I have to go back in and get the one thing that we forgot to put on the list.

It means when I’m bike commuting I mostly don’t put my phone on the pocket on the outside of my shoulder strap, I bury it in my bag. Then when I stop for an errand I simply can’t get my phone out.

I know I’m currently a person with weak willpower. In the past I’ve often caught myself with phone in hand and eyes glued to the screen when I know I should be embracing the boredom.

One of the other key thoughts in Rule 2 is to change how you think about focus and distraction. Instead of making focus a break from distraction you need to flip that on its head.

I propose an alternative to the Internet Sabbath. Instead of scheduling the occasional break from distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule the occasional break from focus to give into distraction.

For me that’s a single task a day to check the stats on my website and check the comments. Without that single reminder I’d easily fall into checking it 20 times a day just to see if I’ve suddenly become hugely popular.

To put Rule 2 into action, keep your distractions where you can’t reach them. Simply exist in the moment and when you’re bored let yourself be bored. Start thinking of focus as your natural state and schedule a break or two (timed) in the day to allow for distractions like social media or checking in on all the other things that the Internet thinks is so interesting.

Rule 3

This is probably the most extreme and scary one for many people. Rule 3 tells you to quit social media. I’m sure that many of you may be reading this article via a link shared on social media. I am (in theory) on Twitter, Facebook and a few forms of social media, but note I said in theory. I actually rarely interact directly with them anymore.

Most of the content I share goes out through Instagram when I share a photo or through Buffer when I find an article I think would be interesting for my audience. As far as checking Twitter or Facebook, I block it for eight hours a day with an application called Self Control and I don’t have either application on my mobile devices.

The thing is, with most social media or messaging tools we fall into the ‘any benefit’ mindset according to Newport.

I don’t doubt, for example, that the first commenter from this list finds some entertainment in using Facebook, but I would also assume that this person wasn’t suffering from severe deficit of entertainment options before he or she signed up for the service. I would further wager that this user would succeed in staving off boredom even if the service were suddenly shut down. Facebook, at best, added one more (arguable quite mediocre) entertainment option to many that already existed.

or looking at forums…

Another commenter cited making friends in a writing forum. I don’t doubt the existence of these friends, but we can assume that these friendships are lightweight — given that they’re based on sending short messages back and forth over a computer network.

The key thoughts above are not that there is no benefit to social media but simply that we default to assuming anything online is good by default. We rarely go through a process to evaluate the good vs. bad in the use of these tools. That’s called the any benefit approach to evaluating options.

The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection: You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.

Looking at the negatives of Twitter and Facebook it’s quickly apparent that it’s so easy to pull out my phone and check something then get distracted for 30 minutes following the ever-entertaining rat hole that is the Internet. It’s easy to think that I’m continuing friendships with people I haven’t seen in 10 years by liking the latest picture of their kids doing something cute.

What if we cut out all that time checking Facebook and picked up the phone each week and spent one hour talking to a friend we wanted to keep a relationship with? I’m sure we’d still have a few hours of leftover time that was formerly spent on social media and we’d be putting more deep connection into those relationships.

Throughout history, skilled laborers have applied sophistication and skepticism to their encounters with new tools and their decisions about whether to adopt them. There’s no reason why knowledge workers cannot do the same when it comes to the Internet — the fact that the skilled labor here now involves digital bits doesn’t change this reality.

This thought would expand into another definition offered up by Newport.

The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection: Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

Looking at it this way, I get few clients from Twitter. I do make some connections with readers but when I look through my email list at those who are opening everything and purchasing most of what I put out, it’s the people that I’ve talked to on Skype or email with me once or twice a quarter. Cutting most of my interaction on social media and diverting it to emailing more of my email list one-to-one seems like a much higher benefit to my business.

This fact that most of my benefit comes from a small number of interactions is the old 80/20 rule in action. I get 80% of my results from 20% of my actions.

The Law of the Vital Few: In many settings, 80 percent of a given effect is due to just 20 percent of the possible causes.

Newport at least asks us (and I concur) to test this rule out and take a 30-day break from social media. At the end of 30 days we ask ourselves if we really missed out on anything important. This separation from ‘any benefit’ it makes it easier to judge if there is enough of a benefit to justify the bad parts that come with social media.

For me the answer is yes, there are some good parts, mainly in the interactions with my readers and being able to answer their questions. I’ll be using Twitter still, just only once my work for the day has been accomplished and only from my desktop.

This all comes back to my goals for my professional life which are to earn my income from writing and coaching and speaking. To accomplish those I need to connect with people at more than a shallow level. This is facilitated much better via email than social networks.

The first step in this strategy is to identify the main high-level goals in both your professional and personal life.

To be a writer I need to write and while social network sharing of my content does bring in a wider audience the only way to really be a writer is to write.

In my personal life I want to be a good husband and father. Neither of these goals is accomplished by email or social networking so I’m cutting them out of my home life. Additionally I don’t just show up at home and do whatever seems easiest after the kids go to sleep, I decide before hand the activities that I partake in.

It’s crucial, therefore, that you figure out in advance what you’re going to do with your evenings and weekends before they begin.

This is why I read around 60 books a year, because at least five nights a week I don’t turn on the TV, but instead I sit on the couch and read. I’ve made the choice that I’m not someone who watches TV during the week, and sometimes weekday Curtis joins me on Saturday night and he reads then as well.

If you get anything out of Rule 3 it should be to not just take any benefit as a good reason to use a new tool. Stop and take your time to weigh the utility of a tool against the backsides and only use it if that pro/con list comes out pro.

Secondly, be intentional with your time all the time. Don’t just default to the easiest/normal path. Remember normal is average and I’m pretty sure you don’t wake up in the morning hoping to be average. You don’t set out to train your brain to lack the ability to concentrate.

Newport offers a great summary as the closing paragraph in the chapter.

To summarize, if you want to eliminate the addictive pull of entertainment sites on your time and attention, give your brain a quality alternative. Not only will this preserve your ability to resist distraction and concentrate, but you might even fill Arnold Bennett’s ambitious goal of experiencing, perhaps for the first time, what it means to live, and not just exist.

Rule 4

Have you heard of the 4-day work week? No, I don’t mean working four 10-hour days — I mean just working four normal days and then not working on one day of the week. Yeah it sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Many people that try this out and stay serious about it find that they can get the same amount of work done in the shorter work week. Why is this?

I’m sure you’ve also heard the saying about how work will expand to fill the available time. That’s exactly why the 4-day week above works — you don’t have the time to waste on frivolous things that don’t accomplish your goals for the week so the work doesn’t expand.

Here’s a quote from Jason Fried on the topic of 4-day weeks.

Very few people work even 8 hours a day. You’re lucky if you get a few good hours in between all the meetings, interruptions, web surfing, office politics, and personal business that permeate the typical workday.

Fewer official working hours helps squeeze the fat out of the typical workweek. Once everyone has less time to get their stuff done, they respect that time even more. People become stingy with their time and that’s a good thing. They don’t waste it on things that just don’t matter. When you have fewer hours you usually spend the more wisely. – Jason Fried in Deep Work

You ‘drain the shallows’, which means you cut out the shallow work and that’s what Rule 4 is about.

The strategies that follow are designed to help you ruthlessly identify the shallowness in your current schedule, then cut it down to minimum levels — leaving more time for the deep efforts that ultimately matter most.

We’ve done some of this in Rule 3 as we worked to identify and use only the tools that hold enough of a benefit for our work, but Rule 4 takes it further.

Ninety-nine percent of the time email is shallow work. It’s shuffling those chairs around on the deck but it’s crucial to most businesses. I have no clients that are local to me — almost all of my initial contact work with prospects is done via email. I’ve written a whole book about how I do it effectively without a bunch of back and forth.

It’s far too easy to open up my email client and just see if something new has come in, yet doing so doesn’t move any of my projects forward at all, it just gives me a possible payoff in the form of novel stimuli.

I’ve cut email down to one 25-minute block a day and I schedule all my emails to send at 4 p.m. using Right Inbox. I know I’m not going to get replies to my questions because no one is getting my email until 4  p.m. and by that time I’ve already left the office and am at home. This scheduled email sending change alone greatly cut down my desire to constantly check email.

I also practice a weekly schedule so I know I write on Fridays for the whole day (which is my day off client work). I don’t go as far as Newport recommends and schedule by the minute, but I do have a plan by the hours going into any week. There is no autopilot in my work week and that’s how I work from 6 a.m. till 1:30 p.m. daily, with a lunch break and 90 minutes to work out, plus take those Fridays off client work as I work to get my writing/coaching/speaking business off the ground.

We spend much of our day on autopilot — not giving much thought to what we’re going with our time. This is a problem. It’s difficult to prevent the trivial from creeping into every corner of your schedule if you don’t face, without flinching, your current balance between deep and shallow work, and then adopt the habit of pausing before action and asking “What makes the most sense right now?”

Using a variation of this method I create that single task a day to check my site stats. I decide that I can only check social media when my work for the day is done early. I give myself one 25-minute Pomodoro block to check email. Inside all this structure I get enough work done that when I feel unproductive and talk to other people about it they laugh because my ’unproductive’ days still usually include 1,000 words written and a few hours focused writing code for clients.

On top of that I’ve cut out much of my shallow work. I no longer enter any of my receipts for tax purposes. I don’t set up my weekly emails to the email list. Pretty soon I’m going to stop checking my email and delegate at least a first pass through my inbox to my assistant. None of that is stuff I really need to do. At the very least for my email my assistant can flag the emails that I really need to deal with.

This is the essence of the ‘say no, automate, delegate’ philosophy you see often. If you can’t simply say ‘no’ to something (and you can say ‘no’ way more than you think) then look to automate it with services like Zapier. If you come up with some things you can’t automate then delegate them. Only do the things that are left over.

To start this process Newport says you need to give yourself a ‘shallow work’ budget.

What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow work? This strategy suggests that you ask it. If you have a boss, in other words, have a conversation about this question…If you work for yourself, as yourself this question. In both cases, settle on a specific answer. Then — and this is the important part — try to stick to this budget.

See, it’s so easy to end your day and realize that you really didn’t push anything you needed to forward. Sure you were ‘busy’ but nothing has been produced. That’s because you spent the day in shallow work and didn’t realize it.

I bet if you took stock of your day you’ll find that you spent way more time in shallow work than you initially guessed. By setting a budget of time you can look back at your day and figure out if you’ve really been effective that day.

Even as an employee who’s past the entry-level position it’s highly likely that your boss won’t want you to spend more than 50% on the high end doing shallow work. That means that the boss is going to be on your side when you start turning down meetings or when you say no to a project that you shouldn’t be involved in.

I, too, am incredibly cautious about my use of the most dangerous word in one’s productivity vocabulary: “yes.”

I’ve written about the opposite of this before when I wrote about the most productive word in your vocabulary: no. Long before I read Deep Work this was the reason I only took meetings one day a week and don’t join many of the ‘groups’ that could have some benefit to me.

If you want to be truly effective in your life then you need to get comfortable saying ‘no’ to people. I regularly say ‘no’ to coffee with friends or helping out with some opportunity in my city. Yes there would be some benefit gained by them, but they most often don’t match up with my goals so I say ‘no’ and wait for an opportunity to come along that does match up with my goals.

While there are more interesting ideas in Rule 4, those are the keys that will yield the highest level of change for you.

Recommendation

Yes I do think that this book is worth your time. Despite my lengthy look at it I still just skimmed the surface of the interesting research cited and strategies given. I feel that through this book, Cal Newport achieved his goal of convincing us that Deep Work is crucial and that we need to build out strategies in our life to make it happen with regularity.

If you’re looking for a little bit more practical book on productivity in general and already agree with the premise that Deep Work is needed in your life then you may want to start with David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It skips a bunch of the research and simply gets down to the business of organizing your life. Just don’t stop there. When you’re done with Getting Things Done, go read Deep Work for a bigger picture on what it’s going to take to be effective in your work.

I know that after years of pursuing this philosophy of cutting distraction I still found many things in Deep Work that helped me cut out even more distraction and get more done with my time working.

Get Deep Work on Amazon

photo credit: 133199512@N08 cc

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World Book Cover Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Cal Newport
Time Management
Grand Central Publishing
January 5 2016
287

Great book by Newport on how distraction is keeping us from achieving the things we want to achieve and what we can do about it.

Fighting Resistance and Listening to your Muse: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is an oft-cited book for any ‘artist’ to read. While Pressfield mainly talks about a more typical artist in the book (painter, sculptor, writer…) I extend this to anyone doing creative work. Even those writing code.

In The War of Art, Pressfield attempts to address the invisible force we all deal with that stops us from getting to our work — or art, using his words — and keeps us operating in the realm of mediocrity as we evade our calling.

He contends that all artists — and I’d expand this to knowledge workers and people in general — have Resistance looming over them sucking their will to be productive. It’s in those 900 emails you deal with instead of writing that report, or getting your 1,000 words done for the day. Only those who fight the Resistance and Turn Pro are truly writers — or artists — and cease being wannabes.

It’s in this striving to be Pro that we live our lives. It’s a tension that we all feel and are scared of. Pressfield is trying to get us to Turn Pro so that we can be the artist we were meant to be.

Structure

The War of Art is broken up into three sections, which he labels ‘books.’ First Pressfield addresses the Resistance we all feel as we try to accomplish things, the life-force-sucking entity that’s so hard to pin down and eradicate.

Second the author looks at what being a Pro means. Covering topics such as just showing up every day even when you’re not ‘inspired’ and what it means to follow your muse despite what may be marketable.

Book 3 is the least readable as it covers the ‘spiritual’ realm and how it affects the creative.

Outside of these three broad sections, the book is a collection of essays, some of which expand on the ideas in the preceding books and others which jump off in an entirely new direction without warning. I’ve found this structure to be fine in books like ReWork but here it felt totally disjointed and hard to read.

Despite that scattershot structure this is a very quotable book with a fair bit of gold to mine for those that can get past the loose structure.

Book 1

There is a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

All knowledge workers deal with this siren song of Resistance. It shows itself in the checking of social sites as part of ‘work’ or in going through 900 emails waiting for you because that act feels like accomplishment. The truth is, neither of those things usually moves the needle on the projects of importance in our life.

Checking my email to see if something came in to respond to doesn’t get this post written. It doesn’t get any code written for my clients. But it does feel productive to see inbox go to zero.

To use Pressfield’s words this is simply Resistance cackling behind us as it knows we’re doing nothing worthwhile and it’s winning the battle with any value we can create in the world.

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms the spirit.

Pressfield doesn’t speak about resistance as someone who hasn’t dealt with it though. He’s sat right in the middle of it for years without even realizing what it was that was holding him back. This book encapsulates his 20/20 hindsight vision of those times in his life when he has succumbed to Resistance and simply made excuses instead of producing his art.

We’re not alone if we’ve been mowed down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: We don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from East Coast to West and back again thirteen times. I never even knew it existed. I looked everywhere for the enemy and failed to see it right in front of my face.

So the big question of this book is “What is Resistance?”. How can we recognize it so that we can fight it? Putting aside that it’s super sneaky and lets us think that email checking is actually getting work done, Resistance is: any act that delays gratification or calls us to be better versions of ourselves. The bigger and better the idea is the bigger and stronger resistance is in our lives.

Sit back and think about the last time you really delayed the gratification of anything. I won’t go as far as saying that it’s impossible today but it’s certainly harder in so many ways. We have entire companies that employ thousands of smart people whose only job is to stir consumers to make that impulse purchase. This is why we have 1-click shopping and see it as a great revolution in shopping that makes our life so much more convenient.

This lack of delayed gratification is what causes housing bubbles. The banks capitalized on us fooling ourselves into believing we deserved a house even though we didn’t have the money for it. Then things collapsed and people realized they should have just waited and saved more instead of seizing this amazing opportunity that was anything but good for them.

To put it as Dave Ramsey often does: We are a culture that purchases things we don’t want to impress people we don’t even like or know with money we don’t have.

All of this is Resistance acting upon us. How many people are so caught up in debt that they have to stick with the job they don’t like to pay the bills on that stuff they don’t want? Resistance has won in their lives as it has burdened them to a point where pursuing their calling is such a great risk that it gives them cold sweats. With no debt and a house they can really afford how much easier would it be to take that risk and go for their calling with abandon?

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

That quote above is probably the best single summary I can see of Resistance in our lives and how we feel it. It’s often said that when you feel scared that’s the avenue you should be pursuing even harder. That fear is a way that Resistance is showing itself.

Book 2

The artist must be like that Marine, He has to know how to be miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.

Book 2 is all about what a Pro does. It can probably be summed up in a single idea — the Pro turns up every day and spends time doing their work.

The writer writes every day. The painter paints. The developer ignores her email and all the social feeds that call so strongly and she writes code. This continual production without waffling around is what it means to be a Pro.

But even in Book 2, which is about Turning Pro, Resistance is still dominant. It still feels like Book 2 is mostly about Resistance and a little about what a Pro does in the face of that. Despite this feeling of disorganization there are good thoughts for entrepreneurs.

Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash.

Entrepreneurs are a terribly fickle lot. They have a great idea and spend a few weeks or months executing on it but then they have another idea. This new one is so exciting that the first idea grows pale in comparison and thus is left 80% finished but never launched to the world as they embark on the new idea.

This shiny new idea is Resistance at work again. It’s cleverly disguised as doing work that matters, but if you never ship an idea it doesn’t matter. Just like knowledge is useless without application, an idea or product that no one gets to use is entirely useless to the world. Only when we share these ideas do they provide any value to the world.

And that is what a Pro does. They don’t stop at just sitting down and doing their work every day. They ship that idea when it’s ready. They don’t wait for perfection because it can never be attained. They find that point where they’re only 90% ashamed of the idea and ship it to the world so that others can benefit from the idea and it can provide value.

If you’re sitting on ideas that are partially built but never shipped you’re still an amateur succumbing to Resistance.

Putting our ideas out in the world is hard because that also exposes us to the ‘trolls’ of the anonymous Internet world we live in.

Remember, Resistance wants us to cede sovereignty to others. It wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can.

This ceding of our self-worth to others is a crucial thing that amateurs do and Pros know to avoid. If you’re onto a truly revolutionary idea you’re always going to have someone — or many people — who think you’re an idiot and shouldn’t bring children into the world so your DNA doesn’t get passed along.

This is shown as you read the reviews of your work on Amazon or read the emails you get from the haters, and take them to heart. If you want to succeed then you can’t do this. Those naysayers are simply there to drag you down and usually the only thing they’re producing is complaints about someone else. That means they’re producing nothing of value to the world.

Ignore them. Or better yet, just don’t even provide a path for them to interact with you.

The final core thought I want to highlight as being worthwhile in Book 2 is the head that we need to find and pursue our purpose not follow the path that we idealize as a way to success.

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

This idea is what The Art of Work was all about as well, encapsulated in the quote above. We need to devote time to figuring out who our authentic self is and then when we find it to pursue that authentic self with abandon.

You can even see this idea shine through in Pressfield’s great work of fiction, The Legend of Bagger Vance as Bagger Vance tells Rannulph Junuh to find his authentic swing. Vance spends the whole story helping Rannulph find that swing he lost.

This swing is really a metaphor for the purpose that Rannulph lost and needs to find again. This is what we should all be spending our lives doing. Find that purpose for your existence on earth. What can you do that no one else can do as well as you, and how can you use that to provide value in the lives of those around you.

A life that finds that purpose and executes on it is a life well lived.

Book 3

Book 3 is probably the most difficult to read. Right in the first sentence I wondered what it would have to offer and while there are a few good points here and there, most of it felt like ‘hippie dippy baloney’ to quote Lord Business from the Lego Movie.

https://youtu.be/p0f4gQEIm-w?t=4m58s

The next few chapters are going to be about those invisible psychic forces that support and sustain us in our journey toward ourselves.

Even being a Christian and having a strong faith of 30 years — with a belief that there is a metaphysical realm, the way that Pressfield portrays it didn’t sit well with me. He does offer us an out if we are uncomfortable with the idea of a metaphysical realm. He says to consider the ‘angels’ he refers to in the abstract but it didn’t calm my internal discomfort.

Leaving that theme aside there are still some interesting thoughts presented in Book 3, mainly around how we follow our muse toward what we should write, or if we look to what’s popular and produce some of that because it may create a sale.

He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important? Instead he asks, What’s hot, what can I make a deal for.

Pressfield contends that the true artist does what they feel is important and lets that work stand. This contrasts with much of the Internet business world where we are advised to research an idea and then test its viability by asking for a sale. The whole purpose of the book Will it Fly (which I wrote about) is to show us a process for doing just that. Finding an idea that people want and asking for the sale so that we can build it once it’s validated.

What someone says they’re going to do, and what they actually end up doing can be completely different, so you need more than just words in order to count on them. – Will it Fly

And yet even inside this framework of evaluating an idea and pursuing ones where people have put money down, author Pat Flynn acknowledges that you must have passion for an idea for it to really have life in the long term.

The truth is if you don’t have a passion for what you are doing, your energy will eventually fizzle out. It always does. – Will it Fly

This contrast between blindly following your muse to the things that you think are important and validating your idea in the market is a tension that every entrepreneur must live with. As Henry Ford is often cited as saying:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses – Henry Ford

Following strictly to the ideas in Will it Fly will not yield the revolutionary ideas of our time, or at least that model has a higher chance of squashing a truly revolutionary idea. Sticking to the idea Pressfield presents of following your muse and sticking with what you think is important to produce will yield ideas that transform the face of culture.

These culture-changing ideas have a danger though, in that they may not be accepted until after you’ve passed. Vincent Van Gogh, while now considered one of the masters, never really had a standing during his life.

For one with children and a house to pay for, taking this huge risk without validation is scary — which Pressfield would call Resistance — and not to be undertaken lightly.

Further, finding this ‘authentic muse’ is hard. I’ve undertaken changes in my content on my site a few times and have felt differing degrees of comfort with them. Even as I wrote recently about my writing workflow and my content calendar I feel slightly ill at ease with how I plan what I write. The thought continues to nag at me that I don’t get to write about what inspires me and just follow a script that was set out for me.

For those seeking to influence others and pay bills at the same time this tension between ideas being validated in the market and staying true to your own ideas that are revolutionary will always be a struggle. My current true wish is to do away with client work and coach full-time, so in theory I could sit and read for a good portion of each day and share those concepts with you, but as bills come in I have to temper the draw of my muse with the needs of my family.

I’m not sure this tension will ever really be at ease in anyone. I feel that Pressfield’s view of simply following your muse may lead many people to follow his examples of living in vans or other shady places only out of necessity because they haven’t found a way to provide value and thus are earning little to nothing for their work.

I hope that at every point in my life — and yours — that we can provide value and use that value to leap into the next phase of the calling of our muse.

Recommendation?

I have to say I was disappointed in this book. Hearing it spoken of in hushed tones so often built it up in my mind to be a revolutionary tome. Obviously I had idealized the transformation that it would bring about in my creative life and that transformation didn’t happen.

As you can read above there is much to be taken from this book, but it felt like it was an artist that is now sitting securely on enough money that more wouldn’t really mean much in their quality of life. From that vantage point it’s easy to idealize the days living in a van or struggling with jobs that barely made ends meet.

Further, the structure felt non-existent. It felt like a lazy collection of thoughts that later had some loose structure applied in the form of three books.

Now did Pressfield accomplish his purpose in the book? Does he convince the reader that there is Resistance hanging over their work and that it needs to be fought by Turning Pro? In a wide way sure, but there is little direct action to be taken from the book. The best direct recommendation is to show up every day and write if you’re a writer. If you’re a painter, then paint every day.

I think that The Art of Work does a much better job dealing with the concepts of what being an artist means. The ideas of the portfolio life and how to hold them in balance feels significantly more practical to me.

Sure The War of Art is heralded as a great tome of import to artists but I just don’t see it. I’m sure I’ll reference it for quotes again because it is a book that’s very quotable but I’m not convinced that many of the people calling it a great book for any creative weren’t simply not willing to admit they didn’t get it. They were not being true to their muse and were pulled along to follow the crowd which said the book was so awesome.

So I’ll be true to my muse and say, don’t bother reading it. Read The Art of Work, or 48 Days to the Work You Love, or Start with Why. Any of those books have significantly more power to affect change in your life and help you get on the path to being honest with your purpose and producing value in the world.

photo credit: clement127 cc

You already have Enough: A look at contentedness with Patrick Rhone author of Enough

Are you content? I don’t just mean with your earnings or family or relationships, but I mean with everything? Do you feel you’re ‘famous’ enough? Are you happy with the number of pants and shirts you own?

Alternatively, are you just waiting for the next released T-shirt from whatever your favourite band is? Are you on the treadmill of phone upgrades every two years? Do you just wait for the first opportunity to upgrade your computer, or … whatever electronic device is your particular vice? It doesn’t even have to be electronics — are you simply waiting for an excuse to upgrade your bike (motorized, mountain, road …)?

Enough by Patrick Rhone is all about the internal quest for contentment or for enough stuff. Not simple asceticism where one casts off the digital world forever and heads out to the wilds never to be heard from again. While this holds allure for many trying to get away from their jammed inboxes it is simply running from the problems that they have typically put on themselves.

The message is about having enough. Where you’ve tested what it means to you to have enough of something. You’ve signed up for all the social networks and then cut out the ones that didn’t suit your needs so you currently interact with enough people on them.

I’m convinced that a successful life is largely driven by balance and moderation. Not too much of anything. Not too little either.

Just enough.

More is easy. Our natural proclivity is to have just a bit more. Our society reinforces this idea. More means safety. More means security. With more, you will never be hungry. You will always be just a bit full. Because more means you don’t have to fear less.

Fear of less drives us to more.

So I ask you again: Do you have enough? Are you content with life as you now live it?

My Enough

From December 10, 2015 to January 13, 2016 I lived on 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of shorts, 5 T-shirts, 1 dress shirt, 4 pairs of socks, 5 pairs of underpants and 2 sweaters. In this case I was more or less forced into this limit as we were travelling by plane with 2 kids and 1 dog for a full month, visiting family across the country. I could only take one bag and most of my bag was full with stuff for children, so I really just had my own backpack which held my laptop, all the family electronics and our dSLR.

But after a month of working out, living, dressing up, swimming with kids, shovelling driveways and all the other things a month on the road threw at me, I was pretty much fine. I had enough for the trip and while I was missing a few things that would have been nice, I could make do with everything I had with me.

But this lack of ‘extras’ brought home to me that I have so much stuff I rarely use. Looking in my closet now I see a huge stack of T-shirts that are single-duty and only 5 that are double-duty where I can wear them to the office and work out in them.

The goal, then is not to find what is, or will be, Enough forever. That is impossible. The goal is to discover the tools and strategies you need to find what is Enough for you right now and provide the flexibility to adjust as the conditions change.

On Constraints

You’ve heard that we should be embracing our constraints, but Rhone challenges us to not just embrace those that we encounter but to create new ones to see what comes of our work inside those constraints.

If you have a project that will cost thousands of dollars and take two months, ask yourself what would happen if you only had five hundred dollars and had to do it in a month. How would you do the project differently? Where can you reduce expenses and save time? Can you make it simpler or reduce steps? Would you do the project at all if your resources were cut in half?

Going through the questions above can lead to so many leaps forward in a project. If you would cut 20% of the project because it’s not worth it in light of less budget, why are you even doing it? It’s clearly not essential so is it wasted time with the larger budget as well?

All too often we plow ahead with ‘great’ ideas without truly diving into their worth relative to our life and our overall goals. We can eek out a bit of time here and there to work on the idea, so of course we should. Again this is a faulty assumption and our first answer to anything new should be ‘no’. Only once convinced that we can’t do without the idea or feature do we say ‘yes’ to it.

This brings to mind the ‘hell yes’ sentiment from Derek Sivers.

Those of you who often over-commit or feel too scattered may appreciate a new philosophy I’m trying:

If I’m not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, then I say ‘no’.

Meaning: When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” – then my answer is no. – Hell yeah

How many things do we apply a simple ‘yes’ to because it feels easier on the moment to acquiesce to the request than say no and experience some momentary social awkwardness?

Stop that and move to ‘no’ or ‘hell yeah!’

On communication and networking

Rhone doesn’t just take on material possessions — he takes on the communication lines we allow ourselves. Is it worth allowing notifications on your device? Is it truly an effective use of your time to check email every 10 minutes?

Treat your email as sacredly as you do anything else that requires the high value un-replenishable resource that is your time and attention. Do not allow things in that are not worth it.

Reserve specific times each day to check and respond to email and do so only during those times.

For years I’ve been doing the same and recently I’ve added that I schedule all my email sending. I may check my email at 10 a.m. but all outgoing emails are scheduled to send at 4 p.m. For me this means that I can check it at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. but not have a constant flood of back and forth (which Rhone also rightly speaks against). With this practice the fabled Inbox 0 is easily achieved almost every day of every week, all year.

You can have this too by simply changing your inbox and not letting it rule your life. I’ve written about my process before and it still remains almost exactly the same. Email is so seductive in that it feels productive without actually pushing most projects forward. It steals you from your own day as you put out the fires that people send you.

Take the advice found in Enough and you’ll cut the stress out of email.

Recommendation?

This excellent short read has much more to it than I could cite in a single blog article. From evaluating the purpose of our tools and making sure each tool we add has a specific purpose, to the fear we deal with as we look at disconnection, to the price of ‘free’, Patrick Rhone provides much for anyone to think about. Take some time and read Enough. Leave yourself time to evaluate how your life operates in light of the essays provided. You may just make some changes, and you’ll certainly be challenged.

Get Enough on Amazon

photo credit: tim_norris cc

Is Happiness an Advantage? Looking at The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

We all know people who are generally happy and others who are generally unhappy. Some people just seem wired to be one or the other. The happy ones remain so, despite the tough world that sometimes wages around them, while the unhappy ones could win the lottery and be upset that they had to spend money on travel to pick up their winnings.

So why are people like this? Which state — happy or unhappy — is most likely to give you success? Can you affect change according to where you stand on the happiness scale?

To answer briefly, yes you can change where you stand on the happiness scale and that is the point of The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor. The author wants to teach you that being happy is a huge advantage and that success follows happiness, happiness doesn’t follow success.

If you work hard, you will become successful, and once you become successful, then you’ll be happy. This pattern of belief explains what most often motivates us in life. We think: If I just get that raise, or hit that next sales target, I’ll be happy. If I can just get that next good grade, I’ll be happy. If I lose that five pounds, I’ll be happy. Success first, happiness second.

The Happiness Advantage is divided into three sections. The first section works to show you how positive psychology is a huge revelation in the field of psychology. A big enough revelation that it’s equated to the revelations Copernicus made when he said Earth revolved around the sun.

Before positive psychology came on the scene almost all research focused on the negative aspects of a person. Now positive psychology puts focus on the positive traits of a person and tries to figure out how to increase those traits rather than simply inhibiting the less-desirable traits.

The second section of the book is all about the 7 Principles of the Happiness Advantage. These are seven things that you can learn about and implement in your life to help infuse happiness into your daily routine — and through that infusion you can increase the success you have in work and life.

The third and final section is all about how changes in an individual can affect those around them. In this book it’s called the ripple effect, but many people are familiar with the old saying that the single flap of a butterfly wing can create a hurricane across the world. The little things we do that affect our mood and increase our success ripple out and affect everyone that we interact with, and the people that our friends interact with.

A recurring theme

One of the biggest recurring themes in the book is that different people will interpret the same set of circumstances in totally different ways. Going outside on a warm sunny day one person will praise the nice weather and the other sitting directly beside them will lament the heat of the day and how uncomfortable it is.

I started to realize just how much our interpretation of reality changes our experience of that reality. The students who were so focused on the stress and the pressure — the ones who saw learning as a chore — were missing out on all the opportunities right in front of them. But those who saw attending Harvard as a privilege seemed to shine even brighter.

This also brought to mind a quote by Charles Swindoll I’ve been familiar with for years.

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. – Chuck Swindoll

And another from a book I just finished by Jeff Goins from The Art of Work.

Sometimes the route to our purpose is a chaotic experience, and how we respond matters more than what happens. – The Art of Work

I’ve been a firm believer in the sentiment of the sayings above long before I first heard the concept via Chuck Swindoll, and while I’ve heard it a number of times in books, reading The Happiness Advantage presents real studies to prove that how you choose to react has more bearing on your outlook and success than what actually happens to you.

The 7 Principles

Great — you may now actually believe that how you react and your attitude is one of the greatest predictors of success, but how on earth do you work to increase your happiness? That’s where Section Two and the 7 Principles come into play.

Lets take a quick look at each principle.

Principle 1: The Happiness Advantage

Principle 1 is all about how happiness gives your brain and your organization a leg up on the competition. The whole goal of the chapter on Principle 1 is to show you how people capitalize on happiness, why this works to bring success, and how we can also profit from this focus on happiness.

As we work towards our goals, happiness is either irrelevant or an easily dispensable luxury or a reward only to be won after a lifetime of toil. Some even treat it as a weakness, a sign we’re not working hard enough.

First you need to recognize that there is no single answer about what happiness is. For me it’s hanging out with my kids and heading out into the mountains with my family. For you it could be a long drive on your motorcycle or curling up with a good book and your cat. The only one that can really judge if your current life is a happy one is you. You set the parameters for what happiness is in your life.

This means you can change the parameters — which is what this book is about — changing how happy you are to increase your success.

The most competitive people, the ones with the competitive edge, don’t look to happiness as some distant reward for their achievements, nor grind through their days on neutral or negative; they are the ones who capitalize on the positive and reap the rewards at every turn.

Even at work those who are generally happy, that have generally positive emotions, are more productive. They earn more and produce higher sales for the company. They get higher performance ratings and have more job security. Happy people take fewer sick days and stay in that happy job longer.

But you may think that these people just put their nose to the grindstone and after lots of work are happy. You’d be wrong.

Study after study shows that happiness precedes important outcomes and indicators of thriving

Principle 1 is all about working to improve your positive emotions and to get the bosses that are reading this book to really care about creating a happy environment.

Really, to me this feels like the introduction to the book. In my opinion The Happiness Advantage should have 6 principles and Principle 1 should be the introduction to the book. The best takeaway from this is to add some ‘fun’ areas to an office to promote play. If you do, you’ll get happier people.

While this is attainable for some businesses it’s far out of reach for many. The examples of companies doing this all fall into the category of huge companies dominating markets without much to take away for smaller companies.

Principle 2: The Fulcrum and the Lever

Happiness is so much about mindset as we cited above in our quotes. How you view a situation has more to do with the outcome and your feelings than what actually happened.

Happiness is not about lying to ourselves, or turning a blind eye to the negative, but about adjusting our brain so that we see the ways to rise above our circumstances

This is what Principle 2 is all about. Changing how we view the things that happen to us by changing where our fulcrum is (our mindset on a topic) and how long the lever is that we operate with (the potential power we believe we have).

If we move the fulcrum so that we provide all the mental leverage to the negative mindset we can never hope to move it. If we choose instead to push the fulcrum towards the happy end of the scale we change what is possible for us to accomplish.

Here the author cites a study where 75-year-old men were sent away on a retreat. On this retreat they were told to act like they were 55. Listen to music from the era. Dress like they did when they were 55. At the end of the week-long study they had measurably better health. They even looked younger in their pictures at the end of the week than they did at the beginning.

Simply moving their thoughts towards being younger hauled their bodies along and made them operate as younger versions of themselves.

Before the retreat, the men were tested on every aspect we assume deteriorates with age: physical strength, posture, perception, cognition, and short-term memory. After the retreat, most of the men had improved in every category…

Next time something looks tough, simply start acting like it’s not, which moves your fulcrum on the event towards happiness. Look back in a few days and you can really ‘fake it till you make it.’

Principle 3: The Tetris Effect

The Tetris Effect gets its name from the supremely addictive game of the same name. It turns out if you get people to play Tetris for a number of hours straight they will head out into the real world later and with their brain primed to fit things together, they’ll actually try. This is really just the brain being used to acting on a pattern and trying to continue to act on that same pattern.

For days after the study, some participants literally couldn’t stop dreaming about shapes falling from the sky. Others couldn’t stop seeing these shapes everywhere, even in their waking hours. Quite simply, they couldn’t stop seeing their world as being made up of sequences of Tetris blocks.

The positive psychology principle at work here is “cognitive afterimage” which means they are stuck in one way of thinking. The pattern of playing Tetris stuck with them after long exposure of playing Tetris.

Moving into something a bit more practical than Tetris we can use this to increase our happiness by putting good patterns into play. If you once walked into the room and found something to complain about (a bad Tetris Effect) change that to mention something you like about each room you come into.

Stop the pattern of scanning for the negative and start the routine of scanning for the positive. At our house we talk about the three things that we’re happy about or thankful for in the day. This helps focus us all on the positive aspects of the day and increases our happiness.

For you maybe it’s writing three things in your journal every day or talking about it with your spouse or friend. Either way, use the ability of our brain to stick with a pattern for good by focusing on what’s going well around you.

Principle 4: Falling Up

If a problem has only two options then you’re probably being lazy. If the two options are both not great and you’re simply choosing the best of bad options, you’re really being lazy.

Falling up is all about choosing a path that’s not polar — i.e. success or failure — it’s about choosing a path that, even in failure, can push you forward. You may have heard it as the concept of failing forward.

All the greats you see online have a myriad of failed products, launches, businesses to their name. They are only successful because of the lessons they learned via that failure.

…the Third Path, that leads us from failure or setback to a place where we are even stronger and more capable than before the fall. To be sure, finding that path in challenging times isn’t easy.

Have you ever had a bad client relationship or a bad day at work? How about a rut of those bad days and bad clients. Where some people view these times as something to barely survive or to run away from there is a third path here that those looking for growth can take.

What can you learn from the situation?

Study after study shows that if we are able to conceive of failure as an opportunity for growth, we are all the more likely to experience that growth.

With the a steady stream of clients that aren’t going well it’s time to evaluate your client intake process. What are you doing that’s missing the bad apples? If every client recently has been bad, what are you doing (or not doing) that brings out the worst in the relationship? Only be really digging into how you can affect the issue can you take ownership of it and thus possibly find a solution.

Choose that path that turns failure into something to learn from. Don’t wallow in that failure, it happens to all of us.

Principle 5: The Zorro Circle

With the Zorro Circle you’re supposed to think of yourself like Antonio Banderas…nah I’m just joking. The Zorro Circle is drawn from the training of Zorro — in the movie starring Antonio Banderas. In this movie his initial training is inside a circle just barely big enough to contain his feet in a proper stance. Only once he owns the space inside that circle does his master give him permission to move outside that and start to accomplish bigger tasks.

Few of us have masters living in a cave teaching us to fight the system but we can still apply the same principle.

The concept of the Zorro Circle is a powerful metaphor for how we can achieve our most ambitious goals in our jobs, our careers, and our personal lives. One of the biggest drivers of success is the belief that our behavior matters; that we have control over our future. Yet when our stresses and workloads seem to mount faster than our ability to keep up, feelings of control are often the first things to go, especially when we try to tackle too much at once. If, however we first concentrate our efforts on small manageable goals, we regain the feeling of control so crucial to performance.

If you have a messy office, take five minutes and clean off a corner of the desk. Now spend the next few days guarding that corner as if your life depended on it. Once that success is firmly ingrained move on to another part of the desk or the whole desk.

This idea of small manageable bits of a task is exactly how you should tackle any project, really. Find small easy wins to start and let the momentum build. Soon enough, each project has a tsunami-sized force of success rolling along behind it and things get much easier.

All too often we bite off a huge revolutionary change, like cleaning the entire office and committing to keeping it all clean until the end of time. Once we let a few papers stack up we are creating a small failure and as those build up we lose the motivation to even try.

Take small bites and jump from small success to small success. Look back in a year and you’ll see a mountain moved.

Principle 6: The 20-second Rule

I get up around 5 a.m. every day. Two days a week I work out at 5:45 a.m. and then come to the office. Three days a week I work for a few hours and then work out. Every day the first thing I do is put on my workout clothing before I head out the door to ride my bike to the office. But this habit really starts the night before.

See, the night before I set out my workout clothing and pack away my change of clothes at the bottom of my bag. This means that I have to dig out my ‘regular’ clothes if I try to decide to skip a workout. It’s harder — though just barely — to do that than it is to put on my workout clothes.

Then when I’m at the office people see me and assume I’m going to work out. I mean the clothes I’m wearing aren’t typical office garb. This assumption means that at least once a day someone asks me about my workout.

Because of a choice I made to make it easier to put on my workout clothes in the morning my whole day is oriented around that workout until it’s out of the way. That’s the essence of the 20-second rule.

Without action, knowledge is often meaningless. As Aristotle put it, to be excellent we cannot simply think or feel excellent, we must act excellently. Yet the action required to follow through on what we know is often the hardest part. That’s why even doctors know better than anyone the importance of exercise and diet, 44 percent of them are overweight.

Do you want to start a reading habit? Take the batteries out of your TV remote control or unplug the TV. Take the book you want to read and put it in place of the remote. Hide the remote away on a bookshelf. Now when you hit the couch after a hard day it’s much easier to pick up that book instead of mindlessly turning on the television.

Even for myself — a voracious reader — I found that having an iPad around was too distracting. I didn’t even have social networks on the iPad outside of Goodreads, but the simple fact that I could check my RSS feeds or maybe the stats for my site, or even dip into a comic I enjoyed regularly meant that I’d read for two minutes then dip into something else.

Simply having my phone around meant that I’d pick it up sometimes and start flipping through something I knew took away from my real goal of reading. To combat this I purchased a Kindle Paperwhite. This single-purpose device still allows me to update my reading progress on Goodreads. I can even add books to my wishlist and purchase new Kindle books from it.

What I can’t do is flip around in meaningless wonder at all the amazing things my phone or iPad can do. I also put my phone on the table at the other end of my house and put it on vibrate. Most nights my kids are upstairs and my wife is sitting beside me. Nothing emergent can happen that I need to deal with instantly with those people close so I have no need for a phone.

Making these few simple changes increased my already speedy uptake of books.

What do you want to do? If it’s work out, get your shoes out the night before. If it’s eat healthy, make your healthy lunch the night before so you don’t have to scramble and take the easy way out in the morning.

Make it easy to do the things you want to do and hard to do the things you don’t want to do.

Principle 7: Social Investment

So many people now work alone flung far from their colleagues. As a solo business owner I literally have no one around that I must interact with for work outside of my clients whom I confine 90% of the time to my project management system.

What is the cost of this isolation though?

Unlike many others I connect regularly with friends via text and coffee. I make a point of talking to people at church and asking how things are going with them. We carry these conversations over into the week through digital means of communication.

Where do these relationships go when things get hard though?

…the heart of Principle 7 — that when we encounter an unexpected challenge or threat, the only way to save ourselves is to hold on tight to the people around us and not let go.

It’s so easy and it feels so safe to retreat inside when things are not going as we planned. We may cower inside at the thought of revealing our lack of success to others when we so often simply show our highlight reel to the world. But this is the exact wrong thing to do.

Faced with a daunting project that will tax our ability to complete it on time we withdraw and ‘put our nose to the grindstone’ working all hours. We neglect our friends and family and coworkers in focus and they all understand because things are busy and we need to work.

One of two things happens at this juncture. Either we falter and fail to finish the project, or we power through and get it done, then immediately get rewarded with another challenging project, though we now have zero oxygen left in our tank. Either way, we’re not only miserable, dejected and overwhelmed, but lost in a dead end, unable to perform — and all alone.

The most successful people take the exact opposite approach. Instead of turning inward, they actually hold tighter to their social support. Instead of divesting, they invest. Not only are these people happier, but they are more productive, engaged, energetic, and resilient. They know that their social relationships are the single greatest investment they can make in the Happiness Advantage.

The final principle is all about taking steps to continue to invest in those relationships. It’s actually a good thing to talk at the water cooler for two minutes about the sports game or whatever TV show has captured people’s attention.

Business owners should be okay with some work time spent on these endeavours. In fact they should have some spaces to facilitate them. I know years ago when I worked at a local canoe store it wasn’t uncommon to simply find staff standing at the front desk on a slow time talking about the paddling adventures they wanted to have or had already experienced. While these times didn’t last hours, it wasn’t uncommon to spend 20 minutes doing this a few times a week.

Being friends with the owner’s son I knew that they felt the staff was the best they had ever had in 20 years. We spent our weekends together kayaking or hiking or … something, just enjoying the company of the friends that we worked with. This social connection meant that when some shipment came in randomly at midnight and one of us happened to be driving near the store the call to help in the middle of the night in the snow and rain was something we did happily. If one of us was out there then of course we’d help.

If you’re a solo worker, make sure you have a group around you that you can actually see that can support you. Continue to connect with them at church, or over bowling, or over coffee. How strong these relationships are is a key indicator of how well you’ll weather the tough times that will inevitably come.

Is happiness an advantage?

In one word…YES!

Can you add a happiness to your life? Again the answer is a resounding YES!

Should you read The Happiness Advantage? YES you should. While the core of each principle is written here there are many more practical examples of how to put them into action inside the book. There are many more fascinating studies cited in the book to drive home how big a change you can make in your mood and your physical health by choosing happiness.

Get The Happiness Advantage on Amazon

photo credit: clement127 cc

Reviewing the Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Do you have a calling? Maybe ‘calling’ is too heavy a word and you can’t relate to it. Do you have a purpose? Or maybe a better question is, do you know your purpose? If you’re not sure yet then do you have any idea how to find it — or are you simply adrift in life hoping that one day you smack into the wall that is your purpose?

I can answer the first two questions for you. Yes you do have a purpose and a calling. But only you can answer the remaining question, and that answer will be specific to you.

In The Art of Work, Jeff Goins, tries to walk readers down the road to finding their purpose.

This is not a book about miracles. It is a book about finding your calling, about how you discover what you were born to do.

Jeff is a great storyteller and pulls us into the exploration of purpose and how to find it by using a number of stories of real life people who have found their calling. Throughout the book he uses the struggles and successes of those people to illustrate his points.

Arranged around these stories of people the book is split into themes based around Awareness, Apprenticeship, Practice, Discovery, Profession, Mastery and Legacy.

The real-life examples serve as powerful illustrations to drive home the points in Jeff’s book. From a young lady, unwed and pregnant, living in a country where she’s stigmatized, to a successful business person, now retired, who works with drug addicts because he just can’t let them suffer more. These are real people living their passion.

When “real life” began, you gave up, but called it growing up instead and abandoned the dream altogether.

Are you even listening?

The first step on the journey to finding your purpose is to start looking for it, so it’s fitting that this is where the book starts. While you may think you are looking for your purpose, the truth is, most people are simply waiting for their purpose to find them. They are putting no real effort into finding it because it’s easier to sit back and wait. You can’t fail at waiting you can only fail if you start taking action and something doesn’t quite pan out.

Most people waste the best years of their life waiting for an adventure to come to them instead of going around and finding one.

While it’s great to take courses and follow plans to help you find your path, Jeff contends that one of the things we often skip is simply being silent with ourselves and taking the time to listen. When you look back at your life and let the events that are meaningful speak to you, what are the common threads? It’s in these threads Goins feels we can discover our purpose.

For many this can be a scary experience because it means shutting off all the outside stimuli and possibly finding out that whatever you’re currently doing is far from your true purpose. Instead of fear, you should be feeling excited. You’re not going to be wasting time anymore on things that don’t matter. Once you discover you’re on the right track you can finally course correct to start pushing towards the purpose you’ve discovered.

Before you know what your calling is, you must believe you are called to something

Wither the apprentice

Generations ago we had this amazing way of learning a trade, we called them apprenticeships. A young person would start working with a master around the age of 12-15 and would spend years learning the trade. In many instances they’d even live with the family. During this time all the work the apprentice did was put forward as the master’s work.

From there, the apprentice would become a journeyman and would actually journey around doing their trade under various masters while getting paid to do it. They’d often get their name on the work as well but under the master’s name.

Only once they’d been doing this for a few more years could they take their work to a guild and have it judged to see if it was up to the quality of a master. If it was, the journeyman could now call themselves a master and start the apprenticeship cycle again.

Goins uses this fact of work to analyze how we learn things today. We simply don’t have formal apprenticeships like they had in years gone by. In many fields you can even just train yourself and hang up your shingle and start charging for your work. While this is amazing in so many ways it also is sad as we have to watch the next generation of business owners make ludicrous mistakes due to simply not having the knowledge required to avoid them. Money is lost and clients are angry because the beginning business owner had no one with years of experience to watch their backs.

Sometimes the route to our purpose is a chaotic experience, and how we respond matters more than what happens.

Since we don’t have this formal mentorship in most professions, and never had them in the online world, what is someone to do? Jeff gives us lots of tips on how to watch for those mentors that will crop up in our life for a period of time and how to use them to give us a proper mentorship as we walk towards our calling.

The mentors are there; it’s really just up to you to take advantage of the opportunities that life provides for mentorship.

A second big point about apprenticeships is that they took 10 years — or the fabled 10,000 hours. You started the journey and then stuck to it for at least this time then you finally could go practice your craft on your own.

In our world today, we have a commitment problem. Everywhere you look, it seems you can find a lack of commitment or follow-through. Leaders shirk responsibilities. Politicians blame the “other party.” And many drift from one job to the next, never fully committing to any of them.

With the world highlighting the supremely rare true overnight success we end up comparing our every day toil to them. In truth most overnight successes have invested 10 or 20 years in related fields as they meandered their way to the calling they are now known for.

We never saw them struggle, but they did. We never saw them fail, but they did. We need to take advantage of the opportunities these people bring into our lives and stop comparing our every day life to their social media highlight reel.

It’s about the work but not just about the work

We’ve been conditioned to think of work as drudgery, a chore you endure in exchange for a paycheck. And this is a problem.

“Ugh Monday”

“So glad it’s Friday”

Both of those are a typical refrain in workplaces around the world. Even among those that run their own businesses the sentiment is often the same. Work is something necessary to pay bills, not something done for the sheer enjoyment of what we accomplish while we work.

Here is the problem with finding your calling, according to Goins, and then working into a place where you can do it as your income generator. You’ve been taught for your life through those around you that work is drudgery not that it’s something to get enjoyment out of.

Once you’ve found your calling it’s time to learn something new about work — it’s supposed to be fulfilling. It’s something you should look forward to. When you find your purpose, work simply won’t feel like drudgery because you can think of doing nothing but that which you are currently doing.

Life is not a support system for your work; your work is a support system for your life.

The Portfolio Life

Do you view your work a single pillar in your life or a complex legacy of interconnected interests and skills that you weave together to generate the life you want to live?

The Art of Work proposes four aspects of the portfolio life. These four pillars are what make up the life you want to live.

  1. Work. This is the part that we call a job.
  2. Home. Outside your work, with the people that matter to you.
  3. Play. Much like children do, we all need to have lots of play in our lives. Adults are just terrible at it.
  4. Purpose. This is the big thing that influences the choices you make and really the reason you work at all…to accomplish your purpose.

These four aspects make up the portfolio life, according to Goins. They’re not so much different phases, but pillars that hold you up, and neglecting one will affect the others. Putting them all together you should see your purpose flowing through each part.

At the same time we must hold these in tension, not balance. Balance is weak and just waiting for one small puff of breeze to shift the balance and push everything into a fall.

Tension is strong, like the lines supporting a telecommunications tower. Each line is under tension pulling against the others and thus in concert they keep this tower upright and strong as it weathers storms.

Looking through the lens of your calling at your portfolio life you should see the threads of your purpose coming through. It should permeate that which you do.

Key takeaways

Here are my key takeaways from The Art of Work

  • You have a calling and need to put effort into finding it
  • Look for mentors in your journey and take advantage of the opportunities they provide
  • Your vocation (work) should be fun
  • Build a work that suits the life you want to live; don’t put living that life off until ‘later’ because it won’t come and you may have broken the things you want to have by then
  • Your income will likely come from many spots and this is good since it insulates you from a single point of income failure
  • Put some thought into your legacy and make sure that you look for opportunities to be a mentor

To read or not?

The Art of Work is a great read that weaves a series of stories into a coherent book on finding your purpose. It’s more than just a feel-good book to help find your purpose — it gives you some great tips on how to work your way towards fulfilling that purpose in your life.

This is a great book to read as you walk down the path to your calling and implementing it in your life and work.

Get The Art of Work on Amazon

photo credit: clement127 cc

Reviewing Will it Fly by Pat Flynn

We’ve all got ideas. Occasionally we even think we have a good idea. However, it’s rare that any of us actually take the time to execute on an idea.

Good ideas are common, but those who are willing to take action and execute those ideas are far more rare. – Will it Fly

One of the reasons many of us fail to execute (or execute well) on an idea is that our good idea isn’t something we’re truly passionate about. Our friends may be succeeding with a similar idea or the big internet celeb we follow made their money selling info products — but while that good idea may be profitable for others, it’s just not something that truly fits in with the core of who we are and the life we want to live.

This is where Pat Flynn’s new book, Will it Fly starts, helping us figure out the life we want to live and whether our idea fits into that life. This is an important first step in the journey of any entrepreneur. Much too often you can talk to someone making $20K a month and learn they actually hate the life they live and the business they’ve built for themselves. This comes from a mismatch in the core of who the person is and the core of their day-to-day in business.

The truth is if you don’t have a passion for what you are doing, your energy will eventually fizzle out. It always does.

One of the most useful exercises Pat walks you through as you ‘design your mission’ is what he calls the Airport Test (yes, much of the book is couched in flight metaphor). The basics of this exercise is to divide a blank sheet of paper into four quadrants and label each quadrant with the four most important parts of your life.

Beneath each of the four headings, you list specific details about what would make your life awesome in that area in five years. For example, if one of your quadrants is labeled family then you may — like me — write down that in five years you’ll be homeschooling your kids and being around for it most of the time while your business earns money without your direct input every day.

Going through this exercise and then later on comparing it to every business idea you have is going to help you cut those ideas that don’t really match up with the life you want to live. Knowing I want to be around for my kids and help with homeschooling most days of the week means I know I need to work myself out of direct web development for clients, since that requires my input every day to earn money.

It also means that while I could build plugins for WordPress I don’t want to deal with support tickets every day as plugins get popular and earn more. So any idea that would be me building another plugin that I have to support regularly is dead in the water no matter how awesome the current need.

Testing ideas

After you’ve gone through and thought hard about your ideal life, Will it Fly walks you through finding your business niche and validating your idea in that niche. This validation step is so important.

Many people have a great idea for a course, or book, or product, and figure everyone will just fall in love with it when it launches. They may assume the day after the launch they’ll have six figures in sales and be on their way to more success.

Yet in some cases (perhaps more than we like to admit), a product gets launched into obscurity, with few sales. This reality grates on the business person the day after launch — and for many more days after. I’ve experienced this with a course I launched a few years back which no one bought at all.

Instead of working away in secret, Will it Fly prescribes a plan to find people with a need you can fill and then build a relationship of trust with them. Then you get them to “raise their hand” expressing interest for the product and you ask for a sale before you’ve even built the product in anything more than very rough form. When you ask for the sale you literally ask them for money for something that doesn’t exist.

What someone says they’re going to do, and what they actually end up doing can be completely different, so you need more than just words in order to count on them.

Will it Fly contends (and I agree) that the only way you can truly know if someone would pay for a product is by asking them to pay for it and and taking their money. Any interest before that is simply theoretical and you shouldn’t count on them as a customer when you ask for a portion of their earnings in exchange for the value you feel you’re providing.

Recommendation

In my opinion, the most insightful part of Will it Fly is the exercise to define your ideal life but its usefulness will really come down to how much effort you put into it. If you sit with the work for a few days and revise the sheet a few times then it’s going to be worth it.

If you simply put two minutes into the exercise but never reference it again it’s still going to be decent but it won’t achieve the goals of the book. It won’t help you to have a business that truly matches with your life if you never invest in the work and reference it with every new business idea.

All the work that Will it Fly asks you to do around validating your idea is also good but feels like it’s more geared towards internet marketers building a niche site, or info product as a tendril of their income stream. This makes sense since this strategy is exactly how the author initially built his business and how he still makes a decent amount of income monthly. I’m not saying that the formula isn’t good for other businesses, just that all the examples in the book are geared towards the niche site marketer.

If you’re not a niche site marketer reading the book will still be good — you’ll just have to put a bit of time into adapting the steps to validate your idea to your needs. It’s not an off-the-shelf validation formula, though anything purporting to be that is more likely snake oil.

So yes, I think the book is worth your time especially if you truly put the time in to the Airport Test exercise and then reference it moving forward as you build your business.

Get Will it Fly on Amazon.

photo credit: torontorob cc

Review: The Front Nine by Mike Vardy

Today I’d like to offer you my review of The Front Nine by Mike Vardy. In this book, Vardy uses the game of golf as an analogy to illustrate how we approach and launch projects (or start a new year) in business. His point is that we don’t have to begin a ‘new year’ on January 1st, which is typical for many of us, but that we can start a new year or new project any time we want.

Mike Vardy (of Productivityist) splits up a project — or a year — into 3 stages, mapped to a game of golf.

Stage One: The Drive
Stage Two: The Fairway
Stage Three: The Green

Let’s take a look at each of these for your business.

The Drive

The Drive is the beginning of your project. At this stage, you survey the landscape and any possible obstacles to make sure that you start strong and end up in a good spot on The Fairway.

The Fairway

In both golf and business, this is where people spend most of their time, moving toward the goal, with obstacles (like rough grass, sand traps, water…) all around them.

To win at golf, you must avoid the obstacles and continue to make “strategic, efficient, and effective progress as you go.” Business is no different. Bad shots — or bad decisions — can land you in the trees, requiring a lot of extra swings to get you back on track.

The Green

Ah, that beautiful green, where you can see the flag just within reach. In your business, this is that last 10% of your fiscal year or project. When you reach this stage, the end looks so close, but sometimes finishing that last 10% seems to take just as much time and effort as the first 90% of the year/project.

Not only do you need to finish strong here, but you need to stop and reflect on the strategies that got you here. What went well, and what didn’t? What will you do different the next time?

Recommendation

Author Mike Vardy makes a lot of great points in the book, but I struggled with the golf analogy at times. I don’t golf and thus really didn’t connect with the analogy.

To me, this book seemed a little too heavy on the golf and a bit too light on business, unlike works like The Legend of Bagger Vance which had a story that included some golfing. In Bagger Vance I always felt firmly rooted in the story and not immersed in the golf element.

Despite the book being a bit golf-heavy at times, I think that there are some valuable points in here for anyone who strives for productivity and wants to consistently get strong project launches.

My favourite point in the book is that the first step, The Drive, is just that — make the first step and get started. Don’t freeze up over what lies ahead, what obstacles you may face, or what may happen. Gather appropriate information then start.

Way too many people just gather, gather, gather and try to pass off the gathering step as progress. Beyond gathering some very basic information, continuing this process is not progress — it’s procrastination.

My second big takeaway can be found in this quote.

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove . . . but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” – The Front Nine

Live your eulogy and you’re not going to care if people thought you were a good coder/designer/yak farmer. You’re going to care that they knew you loved your family, friends and community.

So don’t let work push those priorities out of your life.

photo credit: christophe_pelletier cc