If you're striking off on your own, thousands forces outside of your control will conspire against you. You'll have to deal with politics, egos, deals falling throughs, markets shifting and crashing, competitors who do a variety of actions ranging from brilliant to insane to innovative to unethical... you'll deal with clients who are demanding or flaky, you'll see forces outside your control like breakups and divorces screwing up very good partnerships and employee/employer relationships...
...the list of things you'll have to deal with is legion. Quite frankly, in a way, you're somewhat insane for grabbing the reigns and trying to build the world of your own accord.
With many of the forces working against you, they're outside your control. But of the things inside your control, there's one that leads to winning and losing more than anything else, so remember --
Refuse to be outworked.
You might be outsmarted by people more brilliant than you, outmaneuvered by people more politically connected than you, out-executed by someone who cracks the nut faster than you, but if you refuse to be outworked you're almost guaranteed to be successful on some level and to live a meaningful life.
When I first heard this advice, I thought it was about putting in hours. And it is, to some extent. But really, that's a small piece of the equation once you're over a certain reasonable baseline.
To outwork people, you've got to do a few things:
*Employ consistency in your work life. You need certain times you block out for your key stuff. If you're haphazardly scheduling your work hours, you're going to get outworked.
*Get into full engagement when working. You need flow state. That means you need to work on a single task diligently and resist temptation. Some temptation is irresistible to some people, so you need to structure your environment so those temptations aren't near you.
*Work all the time you work. Something magical happens when you refuse to take procrastination breaks. You don't get twice as much done. You get twenty times as much done. Real breaks are incredibly valuable, those involve getting up from your computer and going for a walk, making a tea, eating some fruit, or otherwise disengaging. Work all the time you work, except for real breaks that actually relax. Literally refusing to procrastinate is not the norm and hard to do solo (perhaps impossible on some things), so recruit someone to work with and constantly check on each other.
*Begin to work at a faster pace. Not frantically. Just a cool fast pace. If you have any partner or collaborator, ask how long in hours or minutes until the next task is done. Then ask, "Does it really have to take that long?" Oftentimes something you blocked out 3 hours for can actually be done in 20 highly engaged minutes. If you do the math on pairing that constant work, consistency, and full engagement, you get insanely larger amounts of stuff done.
*Learn to like the hard problems. You should do the hard stuff first, because if you don't, it won't get done. Surprisingly, many hard problems don't take much time or effort to tackle. The reason we skip on them is fear, not because it's a bad of use. Hard problems are frequently the best use of time.
*Get obsessive about a compulsion for closure. Once the end is in sight, you become the Terminator. The last 3% to 10% is when most people slow down and scratch their head. Power forwards! It'll never be perfect, but the projects you've stalled out near the end are the largest wastes. You almost had it. Refuse to do anything else or switch what you're doing until you're done.
Adopting these habits have made me insanely more effective. And surprisingly, happier and less neurotic. When I'm spending time with my family or reading a book, I know it's well-earned time and feel no gnawing sense of anxiety. Try adopting even one of these ways of working and you'll do much more. Adopt all of them and you'll be insanely more productive.
Bonus tip: Start noticing excuses. Note that I didn't write "Stop making excuses." Yeah, do that. But most excuses are sneaky, they come cloaked in some seemingly reasonable concern. The thing is, you can almost always route around them. Just start noticing what's an excuse, and you're 90% of the way to solving it.
Pl look at the headings of your rss feed. This post read as 'Refuse to be outworked by Sebastian'. When I read the title in an rss feeder along with all other blog feeds, I wonder why would I be outworked by Sebastian?
Nailed it! I make a game out of figuring out what my excuses are and then explaining to myself why those excuses are stupid. I actually get excited when my brain comes up with excuses. It means I'm challenging myself on a higher level than ever before and when I successfully look an excuse in the face and say, "no, I'm going to work hard anyways," I'm proving that I have freedom from my clever scumbag brain.
These are powerful, actionable approaches - thanks for sharing! I especially like "Begin to work at a faster pace" and "Work all the time you work." My guess is the challenge might be to implement these on your own, without a coach or accountability partner? One approach might be to try daily or weekly journaling about progress in these areas.
I love this post Sebastian. I must say I am struggling with my work at the moment. I want to learn more about psychology and cognitive science, and yet I find myself lazing around wasting a lot of time. I know that the important thing is to just put in the hours-- about 12 hours a week is what I need to do. Time to get going!
"How to resist temptation" would be a great post in and of itself. There must be some CBT/schema-therapy esque mind tools that one could use.
Maybe a Litany Against Idle Browsing?
Substitute HN, Slashdot, GoogleReader, Tumblr, TvTropes, or your personal poison/crack du jour...
I must not surf. Reddit is the productivity-killer.
Reddit is the little-death that brings total procrastination.
I will face my ADD.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fog has gone there will be nothing.
Only work will prevail.
"You need flow state. That means you need to work on a single task diligently and resist temptation. Some temptation is irresistible to some people, so you need to structure your environment so those temptations aren't near you." When you put just a little time on ONE THING, repeatedly, the compounding effects are enormous. Procrastination is putting off what you know you should do. Resisting temptation means remaining focused on one thing, even when you have a viable alternative seducing you away...I've found that be an enormous key to "good work."
"Refuse to be outworked" - fabulous.
I'm really working right now to get some level of consistency in my life... I mean, even 3 hours of flow work everyday can have a huge payoff in 3~4 months.
Want some crazy gains? Block out a single time for your most important activities, do the core activity and that alone during that time, never miss a day, and refuse to be outworked in that timeframe.
Battling off procrastination and really focusing is hard enough.
But success can be even sneakier in a way. The next time you get a run of much-bigger-than-usual wins in a row, you might be surprised at your own reaction.
You'll likely get a burst of adrenalin and positive euphoric hormones... followed by a crash.
Bank on it. Count on it. Plan for it.
One of my favorite quotes says " The quality of your life is determined by the questions you ask yourself". Nothing could be more true.
I was going to make this a detailed post about productivity and the like. I was going to talk about how I've been swinging between intense productivity and mild productivity and how far I've come from the days of playing hours of video games or mindless socializing where it would either be mild productivity or no productivity Of course productivity is subjective. For some making one killer design or writing one killer program a year is insanely productive, for others they want to make various designs and programs. Some prefer to pour their heart out into a business and kindle it, while others are fine getting it to an "okay position" and focusing on building more business. Ultimately thought, productivity is gauged by the quantity and quality of time your are allotting to achieve your goals.
Frankly, being productive isn't hard. I've written posts about how to be productive. If you want to do something, no one is stopping you. I've come to believe the true thing stopping must people from being insanely productive is their inability to make decisions. This happens to me all the time. I made the decision to learn German. But that doesn't really matter. What matter is the decisions you make now-- Decisions can only be made in the present--. You must decide in the present, in the now, to pick up that book, to close Facebook to turn off the TV to uninstall that game, to open up a learn-to program or start a course, to right that article or to run that mile. So many times I might want to go to the Gym or read a book, but I am not taking action. I then ask myself,"Alexis why I'm I not doing X?" But the fact is I haven't even made the decision to do X yet. And thus I consciously say " I am going to go to the gym right now". Right now I'm going to read 10 pages of that book. If you come up with excuses like I have to do Y first or whatever; ask yourself is Y more important than X? does Y or X require constant attention? in other words can you do X while you do Y in the background (happens a lot when you have to write an email or maybe wait for a phone call). Constantly force
In the end the broad decisions we all make are too vague to spur action. That explains why goals like "run three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes" are much more effective than "lose weight" : the first one spells out exactly the decisions that must be made in the present, in this case run 30 minutes, the second one doesn't. Ultimately the easier you make it to make the decision in real-time, The more likely you'll be to succeed. This is why things like making your environment conducive to success to, dissecting your goals and surrounding yourself with people on the same boat is so effective.
Of course sometimes what to do isn't always obvious. There was a time when I was unmotivated, kind of just going with the flow. I would play video games, socialize, watch you tube videos. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I would invest hours into Japanese (only to later find I was learning it in an extremely ineffective way), I learned everything about nutrition and exercise and start getting into business. Most of my motivation came to me passively. Personally I find most people who don't know what to invest their time into have the wrong mentality. They don't say yes to enough things, and thus they never find their passion. Lower your expectations for yourself, lower your barrier to entry. Go to meetup.com and join and participate in 5 random groups. Travel to a nearby city and just walk around thoughtless and walk into random stores and see what you like and don't like. Some suggest your write, this never worked for me, but your mileage may vary.