Some activities pay huge dividends and insane gains, but don't feel satisfying. The flipside is that some activities feel incredibly satisfying, but pay no gains at all.
Take cleaning the house. If you clean the hell out of your house, you're going to likely feel great. You work up a little sweat, use your muscles, and you can get into the zone for four or five hours. Afterwards, you feel you really accomplished something.
But… even in the very most expensive countries, a solid cleaning can be purchased for $50. If you've got any skills and hustle at all, you could make more than that in four or five hours, and probably build up some long-term asset value or connections in the process.
Yet, after a good thorough clean, you'll typically feel great.
Whereas "sitting there frustrated and confused trying to figure something out" is typically not enjoyable at all. Yet, frequently six hours of sitting there frustrating and going over the same problem over and over again will lead to major breakthroughs.
Last week, Stepan and I were sitting around trying to figure out a better way to invoice and write service contracts. It took hours to get a simple two page document made. Most of the time was frustrating… we drew up some criteria on the whiteboard, and just sat there frustrated that we weren't getting it quite right.
Eventually, we settled a minimalist frontpage of an invoice, with this towards the bottom:
Please see our included “Flawless Service Promise” for terms – our terms are extremely client-‐ friendly, and we always value and work hard to win and deserve your business. Thank you.
Replacing a contract, we have terms that are tough on us, a complete and incredibly liberal guarantee, and emphasizing how hard we're going to work -- and emphasizing how we're going to keep working to earn long-term business from our client, make them look like a hero to anyone they refer to us, etc.
The end result between getting this invoice/contract best-in-class and not is a few percentage points of more sales, sales coming together faster, and more referrals -- quite a big deal. But in the end, we had a simple two-page document that took a few hours to put together. The end result is worth thousands of dollars over a lower level baseline, but it doesn't feel as satisfying as a few hours of cleaning.
Our bodies and minds grew up in a different environment, and oftentimes the highly profitable activities don't feel as good as just being busy. Sitting there confused followed by doing a highly leveraged small bit of work to a really high standard pays much larger dividends than mopping the floor, but the brain doesn't seem to recognize this naturally very well.
For those who like four quadrant models:
Q1: Satisfies and has gains. It's "what you're good at" and "what you enjoy" from another model.
Q2: Does not satisfy and has gains. This is the work you do to make Q1 possible on an ongoing basis. Q2 work turns into Q1 work the more often it's done.
Q3: Satisfies and has no gains. This is the place for rejuvenating/recreational indulgences like running an errand to get out of the office, cleaning, and drinking with friends.
Q4: Does not satisfy and has no gains. This is worthless activity that pretends to be both work (meetings, filling out to-do apps, contacting softie prospects with no budget) and play (flash games, refreshing hacker news, watching tv idly.) Acquiring a taste for this can destroy the ability to choose to do things in the other quadrants.
"Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here." -- Inscription on the Gates of Hell, Dante Alighieri's "Inferno"
The worthy detour? I think I've got a formula for "High Creative Mode"... just it's not particularly consistently effective yet, and it's playing a pretty high stakes game. On Day Seventeen, I made my first crack at applying it, and had an incredible day. I wrote a 5000-word piece, that after editing and getting the ending right, I think could be amazingly fantastic. Just writing it was a joy.
Following from that, I was walking on air for the rest of the day.
In Day Eighteen, I attempted the same thing, and fell short. This was maddening, and the whole day was aggravating. I think I've got a rough formula for High Creative Mode, but it doesn't produce 100% results. And when it fails, it's pretty ugly, at least so far.
I kept detailed notes on both days, much more fleshed out than usual. There's more stream-of-consciousness. They're... honestly, a little weird. You can evaluate for yourself:
It seems like almost high achiever I know finds the time to meditate and lift weights. Those are two fairly different activities which are usually associated with disparate stereotypes, but tons of high achievers do both. Not only do they do both of these things, but they ascribe some of their success to them.
Because of this observation, I've tried to meditate several times in my life. I went to a Vipassana retreat and left after two days. For a month I meditated for twenty minutes every night. The habit never seemed to stick, probably because I didn't know why I was doing it and didn't see any results.
Then I read a book called the Willpower Instinct. It said that both exercise and meditation increased will power. Further, it said that five minutes of meditation a day was enough, and that it would take two months for it to pay any dividends. Okay, I thought, I'll meditate every day for five minutes, and not quit for at least three months.
My technique, as outlined by the book, is to close my eyes, focus on my breath, and think "breathe in.... breathe out...". After a minute or two I stop the silent breathe in, breathe out chant and try to just focus on my breath. I used to find this process very frustrating, because I thought that if I strayed from thinking about my breath, that meant that I wasn't getting the benefits of meditation. It turns out the opposite is true-- meditation is supposed to be difficult, and it's this very straying and regrouping process that builds willpower.