I'm getting tons of "let's chat" and "let's catch up" and "can I introduce you to so-and-so" who I'm asked if I could help out... the amount of these I get has gone up steadily each year. Which is really super cool and flattering, I'd have killed to have this many quality people wanting to come into my life 5 years ago.
Right now I'm on a heads-down project cycle, kind of sequestered away from anyone and anything I know in Istanbul except a few smart collaborators and colleagues. But I like everybody, and I'm so grateful since so many people have helped me so much in my life, so I do what I can. For calls that I'm going to take, I've been looking to schedule starting in mid-July or late-July when I should be stable and on a less intense pace.
That said, I got referred to a bright young kid by a buddy of mine I really respect, who asked if I can help him. I like the guy who referred him to me and I said ok, I can't get on Skype right now with my schedule, but have him email me.
He sent me an email, and yup, probably brilliant -- four languages at fluency (the three besides English are not commonly mixed together, too, thus opening opportunities), web development skills, knowledge of law and patents, good work background, background in chemistry and some design/engineering type stuff, and entrepreneurship.
And he writes that he's got all this great stuff going on, but is falling down a bit, and out of money, etc.
Ah, I can relate with this tremendously. This is a failure pattern I fell into for years and years and years.
Here's what I wrote back to him --
It sounds like you're a little all over the place, and not focused on any one thing that would produce results for you. I'd pick a single thing that satisfies your short-term criteria, and make a single project plan to spend an intense 3-6 months on it, and then execute on it a minimum of 6 hours per day (ideally the first hours of the day). Since you need money, it should pay you in the short-term. Life is long... you can dabble in international trade or writing your book AFTER your six hours into your first thing, but you need to do the first thing first. You've got at least a half-dozen skillsets that would get you paid, but you need to commit to one of them for 3-6 months to get a good reputation, money, and lessons from that area, and then pick another project after that once you've got some income either saved in the bank, or on part-time autopilot.
PS: This is hard and sucks; no one likes cutting down on possibilities. Here's what Ray Dalio, the billionaire who built Bridgewater into the largest hedge fund in the world and all-around genius said on the topic --
"You can have virtually anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.
The first, most important, and typically most difficult step in the 5-Step Process is setting goals, because it forces you to decide what you really want and therefore what you can possibly get out of life. This is the step where you face the fundamental limit: life is like a giant smorgasbord of more delicious alternatives than you can ever hope to taste. So you have to reject having some things you want in order to get other things you want more.
Some people fail at this point, afraid to reject a good alternative for fear that the loss will deprive them of some essential ingredient to their personal happiness. As a result, they pursue too many goals at the same time, achieving few or none of them."
That's from "Principles," which I recommend you read -- www.bwater.com/Uploads/
FileManager/Principles/-- but read it after your six hours are complete on something that (1) produces cash, and (2) you can commit to doing it for 3-6 months, and (3) ideally synergizes with future stuff you want to do. Bridgewater-Associates-Ray- Dalio-Principles.pdf
We could get into the psychology and analysis of why brilliant people often don't want to cut down. There's lots of potential reasons.
But it's less important than just executing it. Sleep 8 hours, work 6 hours on your biggest thing, figure another 4 hours for general life maintenance and staying sane and healthy, and you still have another 6 hours per day to explore and dabble and do whatever you want.
Now, this doesn't mean you need an overwhelming single project. You might go into "Resource Mode" for a while, meeting a ton of people, increasing your luck surface area, etc. But once you've stirred up a ton of possibilities, all of them quite palatable, then it's time to realize that the castle is a bunch of rocks, no opportunities will be excellent without the occasional slog and push-through, and that's where being able to nail down and focus and push comes in.
Somedays you'll fail and won't get any work done, and you still need to come back to it first thing of the day. Once things are tremendously improved, you can put them on autopilot and keep going your way. If you've got solid income, you might focus just on meeting more high-quality people, or do an intense fitness cycle, but it's very nice to have a single stake in the ground that you're going to persist on until success or at least until you've given it a very honest try in a reasonable timeframe.
Accumulating theoretically possible opportunities does not accumulate you tangible rewards. Scope down, etc. But I'm done preaching; I've been more of a hypocrite than not on this topic, though I realized how that held me back and decided to slow down to consolidate more and achieve things one at a time, consolidating the gains in the process -- which has, unsurprisingly, led to a lot more achievement.
More frustration, too! At first. But the existential angst of "am I doing the right thing...?" is gone. Things come into my life, get completed, and then are pleasantly in the rearview window. It's a nice feeling. Cut down and actually achieve.
Professor Marshall that advice sounds eerily familiar! ;)
Focusing on the important thing that was actually working (selling) vs. the thing everyone told me I should be doing (marketing) allowed us to crush our 2014 goal (we wanted $25k MRR by December, we'll have it this month).
There are 2 attributes I think determine success more than any others. Focus and Action. Stop talking about what you are going to do and just do the 2-3 things that really matter, BUT do them all the time.
The most important lessons in life are always simple, never easy, but simple.
Also, I relate so much on the "am I doing the right thing...?" angst.
My solution was to not give a fuck. I decided at some point in my life that THIS was what I was going to do, I put countless hours into it, and by God I'm not going to stop until it's done.
I realize that no matter what I do with my time I'm going to question whether it would be better spent elsewhere, but the more time I spend entertaining that feeling, the less time my brain has for any project at all, so I march onwards and do what's natural.
I can understand the problem of having too many personal connections to maintain. It can become a job on its own. We can't be there for everyone, and oftentimes it's far more efficient to touch the most lives by writing a blog post or building a product than to maintain constant one-on-one connections.
Derek Silvers wrote a nice post about this dichotomy: http://sivers.org/local
As for spreading yourself too thin, I agree there too. Focus is important. Ensure that you build on yourself by learning languages, and picking up skills, but most importantly spend a large chunk of your time on your Primary Objective.
The 6 month timespan is perfect, and I think that's golden advice. My biggest accomplishments almost all took around six months to get to their initial launch, and they've all been the most rewarding both mentally and physically in that they gave me something new to call my own.
The kid sounds like he branches out a lot. Branching out is amazing for self-development, but if you want to really launch forward in a domain, you need to focus.
My best wishes on his endeavor!
Very sound advice. It reminds me a lot of Gary Keller's The One Thing, if you have read that. He also recommends focusing on one thing instead of spreading yourself thin. And it makes a lot of sense, especially in the kind of hyper-connected world we live in, with the next distraction just around the corner. And still, at least for me personally, knowing is not necessarily doing... Every couple of months or so, I catch myself taking on another big project that WILL destroy the recent progress I have been making by just focusing on one thing... And still you feel the oh so strong urge to comply with that urge, it's crazy. I guess we are all addicted to experiencing the rush of excitemet that comes with anything new... Anyways, great post, really straight to the point. And sorry for my English, it's not my first language ;-) Nicholas
Last week, I wrote "On Getting More Done – Top-down, or bottom up?" -
I described two strategies of getting more done. The first way is to take on a lot of unbreakable commitments and follow through on them, and you'll naturally be forced to optimize to make all of your commitments. So if you play a competitive sport, work full time, study full time, and are helping run a charitable project - well, you'll naturally move fast and optimize your time. If you're the kind of person that always sees unbreakable commitments through, this can work quite well.
The downside is that you risk burning out or crashing. And that's a very real downside.
The other strategy for getting more done would be to gradually reclaim parts of your life. This would be identifying where your time is currently going, and gradually transitioning that time from activities you'd like to do less of into activities you'd like to do more of. I elaborated on this in "Want to read more? Okay, here’s a few ways to do so" -
What does it take to read? Well, you need a book or some sort of words or something. Some light. And – time.
I'm thrilled that Tynan is coming to you with two things -- first, he's offering a breakthrough session through GiveGetWin. It's geared around doing more of the kind of excellent work you want to do, becoming more internally focused with your emotions, having a more enjoyable life, building great habits, and producing a lot of value in the process. There's five spots, so check it out now.
Second, we have this wonderful tour-de-force interview: it starts by covering how Tynan made the shift from unfocused to focused, how to derive internal enjoyment from things, useful actionable exercises you can do right now, Tynan's method and mindset for producing creative work consistently, how to set up great habits and an excellent mental and physical work environment, and how to make blogging work and similar endeavors work for you.
Total Focus; Total Enjoyment by Tynan, as told to Sebastian Marshall
When I turned 30 and I had a minor freak out… I thought, "I'll be 40 in not long, and then 50… there's things I want to do in my life, and they're not happening at this pace."
Before that, I had a general idea of things I wanted to do and have in my life, but I went about in an unstructured way. It was good in a lot of ways. It made be a broad process, but not much depth.