Sometimes I think about variance. The question is most interesting when you've got a day that's totally free and not blocked off with any appointments or requirements, and you wake up in a highly creative, very healthy mode.
On that kind of day, you've usually got between 8 and 18 hours to really make a big dent in whatever is important to you in your life. But, what to do?
The first and most interesting question to me is, "Should you do something you know will produce gains if you do it, or should you do something more speculative?"
There's a lot of activities that you already know will produce predictable results for you. You might have email to answer, or thank-you notes you've been meaning to write, or fulfillment work that's already on-schedule but which you could accelerate on this sort of day, or whatever is in your backlog of stuff to do.
There's also things like trying to come up with new lead sources, new marketing campaigns or product offerings, trying to write an ambitious piece of writing covering a topic that's interesting but stil fleeting, trying to create something new or break into some group or sphere you're not into currently...
...and these sets of activities have vastly different predicted outcomes.
The first set, the well-defined stuff, is going to give you a solid predictable gain. If you put three hours into answering your email, your inbox will go way down. Presuming you've already covered the really leveraged urgent high-impact stuff, it just means you get the incremental gains from answering your email. Which is something, and it matters, but it's not huge in the way that discovering a new marketing channel for your business or services are huge.
On the other hand, you can get knee-deep in research and messing around looking for something new, and get nothin' out of it. It's also easy for a day where you start out like that to go off the rails.
It'd be nice if there was a good answer to this. Some sorts of activities give you guaranteed predictable gains, but also a chance of huge upside if you do a better job than normal -- creative work like writing, or getting in touch with people who have previously purchased from you, things like that -- and these activities could be good.
Sometimes, the answer really isn't straightforward though, especially if you're already on top of everything crucial and you're having one of those days with huge wells of energy and creativity, the kind of day where you would make a major breakthrough some percentage of the time.
How do you handle these days? Maybe we can get a good discussion going in the comments.
Just about any speculative activity will produce results on a long enough time line. When it comes to research or trying to break into a community it's really just about putting the time in consistently Within any of my projects I have a list of "neverending tasks" Things like "Become a presence in Forum X", "Write blog post", or "Go through entire sales funnel again slowly,find places to optimize". My free days are generally spent broken into a few hours on each.
To me, highly creative days are more conducive to risk taking whereas lower functioning days almost require specificity for any positive gain. I'm exploring this now by seeking definitive results in the form of knowledge & information rather than conducting my days around meaning & transformative experiences/relationships. Personalities always seem to be my obstacle, so when obligations are pulling and I'm not effectively connecting with people I will turn to the certainty of my personal craft or hit the books for satisfaction. When I'm incredibly on, it's way more worthwhile to utilize the spontaneity and intuition, especially when working with unpredictable &/or closed minded people.
Jason Shen has achieved tremendous success in athletics, technology entrepreneurship, writing, and living an outstanding life. To promote his recent GiveGetWin deal on The Science of Willpower, he sat down to tell us how he started learning about willpower, the state of what's known scientifically about how willpower and the brain work, and how you can start improving your life right away by implementing a tiny habit, thinking and systems, and using some powerful thinking tools. Enjoy:
Developing Willpower by Jason Shen, as told to Sebastian Marshall
Willpower has been an undercurrent in my entire life. In gymnastics, you have to use your willpower to overcome your fear of an activity and go for the skill you want, to get over the fear, to push yourself to finish your conditioning and strength training a part of you doesn't want to…
It didn't come automatically to me. When I was a student, I wasn't automatically self-disciplined. There were actions I knew were useful, like doing my homework in one session without getting distracted, or not throwing clothing on my apartment floor. But I wouldn't always do them, and I didn't know why.
I started to learn those answers during a student initiative course at Stanford called The Psychology of Personal Change. That's when I first started reading academic papers on the topic. In academia, willpower and self-discipline is often called "self-regulation," and in 2009 I started to get really serious about it from an academic perspective -- and saw gains from it in my personal life.
Almost everyone I know is busy as hell. Running companies, contracting, doing creative work, and keeping a huge mix of projects going on.
Keeping busy is good, but sometimes it turns into a tragedy where you've got your head down doing work and duties, but you never get some of that real juice out of your life that you're wanting.
And many of the busy people I know -- myself included -- periodically have a day where they snap back to reality and really feel it for the first time in a while. "Oh god, I'm out of shape, my energy is low, I feel like crap, I'm not doing some of the key projects I love, I'm passing up a lot of really big opportunities stuck in the grind, I'm neglecting my hobbies and what I want to train... and for what?"
This applies just as much to entrepreneurs as people on salary, maybe even moreso. It's very easy as an entrepreneur or executive to get caught up in running around, getting stuck in the "errands" of business, dealing with what's on fire, and really neglecting the really expansionary projects that aren't urgent, your health, and maybe worst of all -- forgetting to have fun.
Is there an answer? Read on...