stop being efficient pen paper

Stop Being Efficient

Concept: Focus on results, not being “productive”
Book: The Four-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss

“Focus on being productive, not being busy” – Tim Ferriss

In the Four-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss says that, for most of us, being “busy” instead of actually productive is our default. I have considered myself a productivity nut for a long time, but, Tim’s idea still came as a revelation for me. Tim is 100% correct.

We who pride ourselves on being “productive” are usually focused on crossing off as many tasks on our todo list as possible. It feels good to cross each task off. Sometimes, we add an already completed item to the list just so that we can cross it off. At the end of the day, we can say “wow, I knocked out 12 items today” as we contort to pat ourselves on the back.

But, this method of productivity is a trick we play on ourselves.

Here’s the root problem: once all our todos are on a list together, it’s easy to fall into thinking that they are all at least somewhat equivalent in importance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The most important thing you could do today is probably 100X to 1,000X times more impactful than the least-important task that you could do.

One is Greater Than Ten

You should ask yourself, “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will be I happy?” – Tim Ferriss

What really matters is not “how many boxes did I check today?”, but, “what impact did I have today?”

You could do just one important task today and accomplish something very impactful. By the same token, you can check off 10+ low-impact tasks today and not make a bit of real difference.

The group that is doing just 1 truly important task per day will outperform the group doing 10+ low-impact tasks per day by thousands of miles over a lifetime.

This sounds obvious, but if it is, why do so many of us waste so much time on obviously unimportant and trivial things?

How do we separate the important from the unimportant? Tim suggests asking yourself about each of your tasks, “What will happen if I don’t do this?”

I think that’s a great place to start… if nothing will happen if you don’t do something, there is no reason to do it all. If nothing will happen for a while, then there is, at least, no reason to do the task right now. Not when there are better ways to spend today’s hours.

An important question for today is “What could I do today that would create some meaningful impact on my life? Or the life of my loved ones?”

If you ask these questions of your todo list items, you will find that some tasks are highly impactful while others should probably not even be on your list. Some items represent a possible 8, 9, or 10 positive impact. Others represent a 1, 2, or even a zero.

Identifying Your Most Important Task

“If you don’t identify the critical tasks and set aggressive deadlines, the unimportant becomes the important.” – Tim Ferriss

Often, the most important thing you can do is the task that you are most uncomfortable with. If in doubt of what is most important on your list, start by focusing there.

This is the task that you have told yourself is too time-consuming, too hard. Or the one you don’t want to even think about. It’s the one that you have put off for weeks while you are ticking off all those low-impact, easy tasks and putting out unimportant fires. Even if the uncomfortable task is not the absolute most important, getting it done will give you some great mental and emotional momentum to carry forward.

Past that, you should look for a task that has high upside. Look for a task that can be a “lead domino” that, by achieving this one task, you make your other tasks easier or less important.

For example, instead of focusing on that paperwork in front of you, ask what you work on that would make you enough money that you can hire someone to do the paperwork for you in the future? Or could you hire someone today and focus your efforts on something more rewarding immediately?

Are you just keeping the trains running on time? Or are you making an impact and moving forward?

The Most Important Task May Not be on Your List at All

Do you ever feel like you are doing lots of things, but, nothing is changing? No progress is being made? This is happening because the actual most important thing that you could be doing isn’t on your list at all. “Missed opportunities” quietly slip by instead of being loud squeaky wheels that demand your attention.

I can’t stress this enough – many lives have been wasted toiling away in a reactive cycle of dealing with unimportant tasks.

Get proactive. Make things happen. Come up with new tasks that will make tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year better than today. Open your mind up to what is possible and stop just reacting.

What could you do or what do you want to do? What is possible for you to achieve if you devote and energy to it? There is some path out there that can offer you enormous impact & upside… what is it? Put that thing on your list. You are the only person in existence who can do this for yourself. Everyone else will gladly add their priorities to your todo list, only you will add yours.

Give that important thing the kind of attention and energy that you gave all those less important tasks that you put on a todo list. Stop letting your todo list be a list of other people’s priorities and unimportant fires that you are putting out.

Get some clarity on what is important, remove the clutter, and free up some mental cycles to get on offense.

Toss the Efficient Clutter, Focus on the Impact

“A task will swell in perceived importance & complexity in relation to the time allotted to it” – Parkinson’s Law

Once you’ve made sure that your most important tasks are actually on your todo list, now you can get to work.

Remove the low-to-no impact items from your list entirely. Yes, that’s right, get rid of of them. Find a way to eliminate/automate those low-priority tasks, delegate them, or just let them go undone (if the impact of doing so is low or nonexistent) and remove from them from your list. These items are clutter that distracts from what is important.

That leaves only the high-impact, important items. You should now ruthlessly focus your time and energy on executing these high-impact items. You will check off less boxes on your todo list each day, but, more things will happen.

If you want to have a fulfilling life you need to work on developing a proactive mindset about your life. Then, focus your limited time & energy on executing on what is important and achieving high-impact goals.


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I highly recommend Tim Ferriss’ Four-Hour Workweek (click here to check it out on Amazon), it’s on my list of 8 Books with the Highest ROI (click here to read the list).

Whatever You Do, Don’t Follow Your Passion

Concept: Don’t “follow your passion”, develop expertise
Book: So Good They Can’t Ignore You Cal Newport

I regret that I’ve given the career advice “follow your passion” to others before. I’ve become convinced that “follow your passion” is actually terrible advice.

Entrepreneur Mark Cuban agrees with me. Mark calls “follow your passion” the “worst advice you could ever give or get”. Along with real world experience, the turning point for me on the question of passion was Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Has “Follow Your Passion” Made us Happier with our Careers?

Newport begins by detailing the findings of Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor at Yale. Wrzesniewski researched how workers view their careers. She found that “the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but, instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do”.

Things become more interesting with Newport’s look at the growth of, what he calls, “the passion hypothesis”. According to Google’s Ngram 2 viewer, authors didn’t use the term “follow your passion” until the 1970 Richard Bolles book, What Color is Your Parachute? The phrase grew steadily in popularity thereafter, used more and more often throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. But, then the phrase spiked into 3X greater usage in the 1990’s than the previous decade.

The result of this trend on our overall satisfaction with our careers? We are more unhappy with our careers than ever. Today, only 45% of Americans say they are satisfied with their careers compared to 61% in 1987. 64% of young people say that they are actively unhappy with their jobs which is the worst mark in the 20 year history of this particular survey.

The fact that this rise in the “passion hypothesis” correlates with a decline in career happiness doesn’t prove that one causes the other. But, it does seem plausible when mixed with Wrzesniewski’s research and the anecdotal evidence offered in the book. Newport outlines his own view on the issue as follows:

The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.

A little more from Newport:

…our generation-spanning experiment with passion-centric career planning has been a failure. The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it.

So, if I Don’t Follow My Passion, What Should I Follow?

Mark Cuban says you should follow your effort. Newport offers a more detailed version of the same basic message: Become really good at something.

Newport encourages the reader to take a “craftsman” mindset to his or her work. A craftsman is someone who doesn’t approach his task as a simple “job”. Instead, they seek to improve both their skills and their results for the sheer reason of achieving excellence. In short, the craftsman wants to create a masterpiece.

You must take this mindset into your own field.  Seek to do your job in a much better way than anyone else is willing or able to do it. Whether it’s technical work, accounting, sales, design, engineering, or any other field, you should approach your field with the mindset of a craftsman seeking to create a truly excellent body of work.

That will require you to develop better skills or more expertise than anyone else. Work at this for long enough and it will eventually open the doors to greater income, more flexibility, more security, more control, more feeling of “making an impact”, and all the other components of a “great job” that we all want.

Doing these things consistently will eventually make you “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, as the book title suggests. You can only reach the highest levels of career happiness and fulfillment by reaching this skill level, according to Newport.

The answer lies, not in finding “the right career for you”, but, in becoming the best person for your career.

We will breakdown the tactics of the craftsman mindset in a forthcoming post, so, be sure to subscribe through the link at the bottom of this post if you’d like to learn more.

Want More?

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Read Cal Newport’s full book now: Get So Good They Can’t Ignore You from Amazon by clicking here.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You is also on my list of 8 Books with the Greatest ROI on Your Time. If you liked this post, you will also probably like some of the other books on this list.

fear setting

Are You Giving Up Big Rewards over Small Risks?

Book: Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss
Concept: Fear Setting

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky

Very often, I see very smart people overestimate risk. The smarter you are, the more prone you will be to this mistake.

The “less smart” among us, God bless them, don’t even realize that their idea shouldn’t work. So, they barrel ahead. And, they often succeed! Meanwhile, while the “smart” people took no action, and had no success, because they fretted about some potential risk.

Nothing worth doing is risk-free. Therefore, the only people who ever succeed in any big way are the ones who are willing to face their fear and take risks.

But, how do we do this? How do we overcome our Fear? If this is not naturally in your DNA (and for most of us, it is not), you need practical tools to face and defeat fear, so, that you can move forward and reach your potential. My favorite tool for defeating Fear comes from Tim Ferriss: Fear Setting.

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Fear Setting, at its most basic level, is simply defining the worst case scenario for whatever action you are considering. An action always seems the most risky, and often seems outright catastrophic, when its downside is undefined in your mind.

Once you define the actual risk, you will often find the risk is nowhere near as bad as it once seemed. Once clarified, the downside that we once so feared often turns out to be a minor bump in the road of our lives. Meanwhile, the potential upside of taking action could be huge.

Tim once described this in a podcast as follows:

We often pass up opportunities that could be, on a scale of 10, a permanent 8, 9, or 10 type of positive outcome… because of fear of what is really only a temporary 2 or 3 type of potential downside.

Once we start thinking of our decisions in this way, instead of obsessing over cloudy ideas of all the things that could go wrong, we will be much more open to taking risks.

An Example of Fear Setting

Starting your own business sounds scary. It feels like, if you do it, your life could be over if you fail. The truth, however, is that, if you fail, you are usually just out some time and money.

If things don’t work out, maybe you get behind on some bills. Maybe some things are temporarily bad for you financially. Maybe you leave the business in credit card debt.

But, you still have food to eat. You still have a home. You can always just go back and get another job working for someone else. In Gary Vaynerchuk’s words, “The practical world is always waiting with open arms”.

When all is said and done, this outcome is a “2” or “3” on the scale of bad things that can happen to us in our lives. And, it’s temporary. You go back to what you were doing before, maybe you have some debt to work off, but, you recover and life goes on.

But, if your own business worked out, maybe your life is altered in a positive way for years. Maybe you achieve fulfillment and you are happy. Maybe money ceases to be a concern. You are setting your own schedule, you’re your own boss. This is maybe a 7 or 8 on a scale of positive events and this is a potentially permanent development.

Starting your own business is only one example. You could use the same exercise for taking a new job, moving to a new city, starting a band, writing a book. When I go through this exercise I am often surprised to find that, for many things I held back from doing, I was really more held back more by fear of potential embarrassment of “failing” than actual material loss.

The Art of Fear Setting

Take a piece of paper and draw vertical lines to divide it into thirds.

  • On the left side, “define” your fears by writing down all the things that could realistically go wrong with whatever action you are considering taking.
  • In the middle, “prevent” your fears by writing down ways to prevent that particular defined fear from occurring.
  • On the right side, “repair” your fears by writing down ways to “fix it” if the fear happens.

“Cap the downside” is a term you will hear Tim mention often. For each of these bad things, is there a way you lower the chance of it happening? Or minimize the damage if it does? Is there a way to fix it if happens?

Maybe the fear is, “I might go in the hole $15,000 by starting this business and failing”. How could you prevent that? Can you negotiate terms to lower your risk? For repair, how could you earn the money back if it happens?

Simply going through this exercise will help to free your mind from your fears. Fear Setting is one of the most powerful tools that I have found to get comfortable with taking risks. Give it a shot the next time you are faced with a big decision.

You might be surprised to find that you are bypassing a chance at a “10” positive outcome over fear of a “2” negative outcome.

UPDATE: You can learn more straight from Tim at his blog by reading his post on Fear Setting by clicking here. It’s a great post and I heartily recommend it, any of Tim’s books, and his podcast.


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Want to read more of Tim’s best tips and tricks from the best and brightest in the world? Check out Tools of the Titans by clicking here.

Influence Others by Giving Away

Book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini
Concept: Reciprocity

Robert Cialdini’s masterpiece, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has been cited as “the book that appears most often on the reading list of elite performers like  CEOs and world leaders”. The book not only teaches the principles of persuasion, but, perhaps more importantly, teaches you to protect yourself from those who would persuade you to do things you would not otherwise do.

In this post, we are going to take a look into one of the most powerful and basic principles in Influence: the Rule of Reciprocation.

The Power of Reciprocation

As humans, we have a deep need to return the favor to others when a good deed is done for us.

This need is embedded into the fabric of human society. This is true to the point that those who don’t reciprocate get negative labels – moocher, ingrate, bum. These labels exist because there is an inherent understanding among humans that a person who has had something done for them should return the favor when the time comes.

For most humans, the need to return the favor is so powerful that our desire to reciprocate often holds no proportion to the original favor. In other words, a small initial favor can lead to a much “bigger” returned favor.

This is a very important concept to understand because it is frequently leveraged by salespeople, politicians, and persuaders of all stripes.

Returned Favors Much Larger Than the Original

Cialdini covers the details of a well-known experiment in which the power of “out of balance” reciprocation was shown. In this experiment, a disguised researcher offered to buy the test subject a Coke. Later, the subject was asked to buy 25-cent raffle tickets by the researcher The subjects that accepted a Coke purchased twice as many raffle tickets as the subjects who did not accept a Coke.

This doubling of average sales amounted to big returns for the Coke giver.  The value of a Coke at the time was 50 cents. But, raffle ticket sales went up by $2.50 if the test subject accepted the Coke.

This “out of balance” reciprocation is the reason a car salesperson offers you a Coke or a bottle of water. It’s also the reason a jewelry salesperson offers you a drink while you browse engagement rings. It’s the reason that salespeople of all kinds offer to take a client to lunch.

In all the above cases, the cost of a beverage or a lunch is miniscule. So, adding slightly to the chances of making a large sale more than makes up the difference. Going from a 15% chance to sell a car to a 30% chance to sell a car by giving up only a soft drink is a very good deal for the seller.

The Takeaway

  1. Most people feel a strong need to “return the favor” when something nice is done for them. At a minimum, acceptance of a favor makes it much harder to tell the giver “no”.
  2. The “returned favor” can often be much larger than the original favor. A $1 Coke can make someone more likely to purchase a car or award a contract. This is why ethics laws and policies are becoming increasingly robust.
  3. When you have extra time, money, or expertise you can give away, it’s often worthwhile to do so. The value of future favors made available by doing this will often far exceed your short-term cost.
  4. Don’t accept favors of any size from someone unless you want to give them some degree of influence over you. If you accept a favor from a person, you give that person some amount of power over you.

Want to read more about the power of persuasion? Check out Cialdini’s full book at Amazon by clicking here.

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The Power of Taking Action Now

Book: The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
Concept: the power of action

In The Obstacle is The Way, Ryan Holiday writes, “While you’re sleeping, traveling, attending meetings, or messing around online you’re falling behind. You’re going soft. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re not pressing ahead. You’ve got a million reasons why you can’t move at a faster pace. This all makes the obstacles in your life loom very large.

For some reasons, these days we tend to downplay the importance of aggression, of taking risks, of barreling forward.”

The above passage outlines a lesson I have learned in a big way the last few years. The lesson is simply this: 90% of achieving big things is simply taking Action.

Stop complaining about what the incumbents are doing. Stop daydreaming about what you could do one day. If you wanted to. Stop coming up with excuses why you can’t get started now. Most people will waste their lives away doing these things. You don’t want end up like “most” people, right?

So, get in motion. Take the first step. Dare to dream the big dream. Take bold, massive action. Those who created the machine in which you are a cog were no smarter than you. They simply took action.

Creating Momentum

As Holiday continues, “We often assume the world moves at our leisure. We delay when we should initiate. We jog when we should be running… or sprinting. We’re shocked – shocked! – when nothing big ever happens, when opportunities never show up, when new obstacles begin to pile up, or when our enemies finally get their act together.”

“We talk a lot about courage as a society but we forget that at its most basic level it’s really just taking action… If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started.

A half-hearted “I guess I will give this a shot, but, it probably won’t work” attitude will lead to you taking the kind of actions that get you zero results. You might as well not take action at all if you are going to have that approach to it.

Take big, bold actions. Throw yourself completely into your task with your whole heart. This is the kind of Action that creates greatness. Especially when you pair it with Persistence.

Want to read more about the power of Action and speed? Check out my breakdown of Gary Vaynerchuk’s take on the issue by clicking here.

The Power of Persistence

Will merely taking action solve our problems? No, of course not. This is where persistence comes into play.

Think of Persistence as the twin brother of Action. Action is strong, muscular, and full of energy. He is boisterous, and charges ahead, but, can quickly become discouraged when things go poorly.

Persistence is a smaller, quieter, calmer brother. What he lacks in physical strength, he makes up for in emotional strength. He is confident. When things go poorly, he does not become flustered. Instead, he encourages and points his “big” brother to try again with a new line of attack and Persistence knows that there is one course of action that will crack the puzzle. He knows that each failed action just takes him and his brother one step closer to finding the right action.

You will fail. You will fall down. Your “can’t-miss plan” will miss. You need the persistence &  the willpower to try and try again until you find the action that will work. There is one. You need to have the “I won’t be denied” attitude to try every angle until success is attained.

For more on persistence, see another concept from The Obstacle is the Way by clicking here.

The Mindset You Need to Succeed

Holiday describes the mindset we need to succeed as follows: “We will not be stopped by failure, we will not be rushed or distracted by external noise. We will chisel and peg away at the obstacle until it is gone. Resistance is futile.”

Action and Persistence. It’s secret mixture used by anyone who achieved great things. Use Action to start, use Persistence to finish.

Along with these qualities, you just need the creativity to come up with new lines of attack when your first choice fails. The confidence to know you will fail at some point and that it will be okay. The audacity to try anyway.

These are the attributes that you must cultivate. These are the attitudes that will lead you to successes greater than anything you have ever dreamed possible.


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This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

How One Man Turned $100 into $1,050 in 16 days

In January 2017, 32/10 (a division of entrepreneurial non-profit New Leaf Digital in Huntsville, AL) ran a contest to see who could turn $100 into $1,000 in just 30 days. We called the contest our first 10X Challenge.

Nandish Dayal accomplished the feat in just 16 days.

With all the entrepreneurial talk about apps, Facebook ads, scalability, etc. you would expect Nandish’s methods to have involved something tech-related. But, Nandish 10x’ed his money in just over 2 weeks with some of the oldest, most tried and true entrepreneurial methods imaginable.

Nandish is a native of Fiji. In his words, “We didnt have a lot of resources so you learn to be creative.”

Nandish is not, in his words, a “tech guy”. His career is in healthcare. He just finished becoming a nurse practitioner and relocated to Oregon to work in a healthcare facility where he is negotiating a partnership. Making his hustle even more impressive, he achieved 10X returns while packing up for his big move across the United States.

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Nandish and wife Judith

Nandish’s Strategy

Coming into the competition, Nandish knew he wouldn’t win in some kind of tech or app competition. He decided to focus on something he knew really well. His hobbies have long included working on cars, specifically Subaru vehicles. For most of the last 7 years, Nandish has worked on Subaru’s as a hobby. He also drives them and has bought and sold them for profit.

Nandish found an old Subaru in very bad shape. It needed thousands of dollars worth of work to run properly again. The owner wanted $300 for the car. After a a lot of negotiating, Nandish got the cost for the car down to $100. The engine ran long enough for the car to sputter its way back to Nandish’s garage. The transmission was shot.

But, Nandish knew the value of the parts inside the car. He knew how to remove the parts. He knew that the parts inside the car were worth substantially more than the $100 he paid if they could be removed and if he could find buyers.

As luck would have it, while removing parts from the car, Nandish’s neighbor sees him and says he knows “a fella” looking for a front assembly for a car like that. Nandish ends up selling the complete front bumper assembly (both sets of wheels, hood, both fenders, front bumper) to the “fella” for a whopping $750.

A few days later, he sells the rolling shell that remains for $300 to put him $1,050 in just 16 days.

So, there you have it… a 10.5X return on investment 16 days.

Takeaways from Nandish’s Achievement

  • If you are accustomed to depending on someone to give you a job to make money, that’s not the only way. Our education system largely encourages us to seek careers instead of entrepreneurial opportunities. Nandish’s upbringing taught him to look for opportunities and not to expect anyone to give him an easy path to making money when he needed or wanted cash.
  • Nandish was willing to think of what was possible and be creative, not just what other people were doing.
  • When looking for a way to make money on the side or start a new venture, your best chance of success is to stick close to something you know well.
  • In Tony Robbins’ book Money, he covers a strategy that billionaires use in investment called the 5X Rule. Simply put, the 5X rule means that they must see a likelihood of 500% upside to make any investment. Smart businesspeople know they will be wrong and, if you follow this rule, you only need to right 1 time out of 5 to break even. It’s a low-risk/high-return strategy (what you learned in economics about risk and return being related is completely out of sync with the real world) and so was Nandish’s strategy. He was only risking $100 and felt certain there was at least $500-1000 worth of value in the car. These are the type of business bets you want to make. Too many people risk all their investment in hopes of a 30% return on their investment. This isn’t a good strategy because you will be wrong sometimes.
  • You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert to be on your own and make money. There are people who know more about cars than Nandish. But, he knows more about cars than most people know. That is usually enough to be able to make some profit.

I asked Nandish for a closing comment to those who might read this article. Here is what he said:

“There are often instituted drawbacks or obstacles that may hold us back. But the important thing to remember is that you are truly the master of your own destiny. It’s okay to have bad days but someone out there would kill to have the access to all the privileges that we have.”

Nandish shared with me that he plans to donate his winnings to a scholarship at his alma mater, the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

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The Productivity Trick Used by Nick Saban and Tim Ferriss

Book: The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday, The Four-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss
Concept: Focus only on What you Can Control

Why is that we all have only 24 hours in a day, yet some can achieve so much more than others?

Understanding this phenomenon starts by realizing one important fact – our time and energy are very limited resources. They are also our most valuable resources.

Every time that we choose to spend time or energy on one thing, we are left with less to spend on other things. I, personally, feel that most of us develop bad habits when we are young… young people have a surplus of both time and energy. There is a tendency to “carry forward” the attitude of being overly free with both into adulthood.

So, here’s the trick: focus 100% of your time and energy on the things that you can control. Spend 0% of your time & energy on the things that you can’t control.

The default behavior for the average person is to spend the majority of their time and energy worrying over things they can’t control. News, sports, gossip, decisions that are for others to make. Yes, even mindlessly scrolling Facebook on your phone for 15 minutes is burning precious time and brain cycles.

In addition to lost time & energy, these things we can’t control (politics, sports, etc.) can cause us stress. Stress further damages our ability to be productive and makes us unhappy.

When we focus on things we can control, we feel empowered. When we focus on things we can’t control, we feel powerless.

The lesson that high performers teach us is that those who tune out the distractions and get focused can achieve amazing results. When you dig into high performers and their habits, laser-like focus (and the accompanying ignorance of trivial matters) is the most commonly shared behavior among all different types of high performers.

Why do high performers achieve more in 24 hours than the average person?

  1. They “create” time & energy for themselves by not wasting their limited time & energy on things that they can’t control.
  2. Because they are focused 100% on the things that they control, they develop a mindset of confidence. They don’t feel like helpless bystanders watching other people do things. This makes them more prone to take action (click here for more on the power of taking action) in the future.

Diverse Example #1 – Zen California Entrepreneur

Author Tim Ferriss details this “focus” philosophy in his book, The Four-Hour Workweek. This idea is, in many ways, the core idea in Ferriss’ productivity system.

Ferriss encourages avoidance of media which has no impact on your goals. To have good ideas and to be productive, we must “turn down the noise”, Ferriss warns us. Ferriss was warning us of this way back in 2008, the noise has only cranked up in recent years.

Diverse Example #2 – Hard-Driving Southern Football Coach

At the other end of the spectrum from author/entrepreneur Ferriss, we have University of Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban. Focusing only on what you can control is the cornerstone of the system that Saban calls “The Process”. The Process has netted Saban multiple national championships and the most dominant college football dynasty in decades.

The only media consumed by Saban is 10 minutes of the Weather Channel each morning while having coffee with this wife. When asked about the 2016 Presidential Election the day after the election, Saban answered that he “didn’t even know that yesterday was Election Day”. He didn’t appear to be joking. It’s not a coincidence that this was in the middle of football season.

Saban is also the same man who, in 2006, famously skipped dinner with President George W. Bush because his Dolphins team had practice (not a game) that night.

Saban continually coaches his players to think only about the current play, the present moment. He tells them not to think about what the score is or what the outcome of the game is. For Saban, it is all about complete and total focus only on what you can control at this very moment.

The Power of Focus

In Ryan Holiday’s words in The Obstacle is the Way:

Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But, every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted… So much power – ours and other people’s – is frittered away in this manner.

What are the things you can can control? “Our emotions, our judgments, our creativity, our attitude, our perspective, our desires, our decisions, our determination” according to Holiday.

The things you can’t control? Who is President, who won the Broncos game, what Kim Kardashian did today. Quit opening the news app. Unfollow those noisy folks on Facebook that are going on and on about these things. Turn off notifications for non-essential apps.

There are less obvious things we can’t control that can sap our time & energy. You can’t control if the customer accepts your proposal. You can only control giving the best proposal possible. If you are part of a team pursuing a goal, you can’t always control if your team achieves the goal or not. But, you can control whether or not you gave your best effort.

Even in your own life, you can only control your end of the deal. Focus your time and energy on that. Focus in on the things that you can control. Leave the rest. Simple, but, by no means easy.

Eliminate Distraction, Focus In

Your career, your family, your friends, your dreams, your happiness and fulfillment are the things that deserve your time and energy.

The events that our society watches from afar and talks endlessly about will only waste your time and energy away. The same goes for burning time and energy worrying over the choices that are up to others to make.

If you tune these things out and focus 100% on what you can control, you will seem unusual to many people. But, those who are the most successful always seem unusual to everyone else.


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This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

We used the above images in accordance with the Wikimedia Commons license.

The Obstacle Is The Way

Your Problem Might be the Key to your Success

Book: The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
Concept: Problems can be turned into Opportunities

What if the big problem that you face today is actually the springboard to your greatest success?

In The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, we learn that you can turn almost any problem into an advantage. But, only if you start thinking about your problem the right way. What you need is to reframe your problems and look for the opportunities inherent in them.

Reframe Your Obstacles

Why is it important to reframe problems? Couldn’t we just focus on solving our current problems? After all, once they are solved, it’s clear sailing, right?

But, this doesn’t work. We tell ourselves things like this but the truth is that problems and obstacles will never go away. All our problems will never be “solved”. No matter how far we progress, how much we accomplish, or how much money we make, we will find and face new problems.

A brief look at human history illustrates this very well. Our ancestors faced far worse problems than we do today and solved them. If you’re reading this, you will probably never worry about having food to eat or a bed to sleep in. Or, if you’re a parent in the developed world today, you can reasonably expect all your children to live to see 18 years old. However, in the year 1800, a staggering 43.3% of children would die before their 5th birthday.

But, even though humanity has solved so many serious problems, we still face plenty of problems and worry plenty about them. The reality of human existence is that problems are a part of it. Since problems aren’t going away, we need a framework for thinking about them. We must not shy away from them, sweep them under the rug, or live in denial.

We must, instead, look for ways to flip those problems into advantages. In fact, your current problem contains an advantage specifically for you.

The Advantage Built In to Your Biggest Problems

Intel CEO Andy Grove once stated that: “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”

Holiday says that this quote is equally true of individuals: “All great men and women used their greatest challenges as the fuel to achieve their success”, writes Holiday.

All those who were regarded as great individuals or great leaders faced tremendous challenges. Have you ever heard of a great general who led an army through a time of peace? Have you ever heard of a great politician who led a country during a period where nothing bad happened?

Any sailor can look good on a clear, calm day at sea. The great sailors are only separated from the terrible sailors on the stormy, terrifying days at sea.

At a minimum, this problem is an opportunity to show what kind of sailor you are. The worse the storm, the bigger the opportunity to better yourself and prove yourself. And, maybe, just maybe, this problem you face opens the door to new opportunities you never before considered.

Examples of Those Who Turned Weakness into Strength

Over 33% of all entrepreneurs are dyslexic, including billionaire Richard Branson. Dyslexia is almost twice as common in entrepreneurs as the general population.  Some estimates put the percentage of entrepreneurs with any learning disability as high as 50%. These entrepreneurs developed resilience and got used to overcoming difficulties early in life and it served them throughout their lives.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was rejected repeatedly during auditions and told that he could never be an American movie actor due to his accent. The accent became the signature of Arnold and a key reason that he became one of the world’s most famous actors.

President Barack Obama turned both his own multi-racial background and the racial issues raised during his 2008 bid into a vision of hope, change, and a speech on race relations still considered to be one of the best in history. Arguably both Obama’s “disadvantages” ultimately made him more remarkable and fueled his meteoric rise to the White House.

President Donald Trump has been widely ridiculed and sometimes despised for the things he has said in his political career. This very criticism has only made him stronger with his base. Why? In large part, because Trump has leaned into the very things he has been criticized for rather than run away from them. He turned a disadvantage into the source of his strength with his constituency.

How to Start Turning Your Problem Around?

The simplest place to start turning your problem around is realizing that, just like the examples above, your problem may contain hidden advantages. What positives can you draw from your problem? Could a certain way of handling this problem maybe even make you better off than you were before?

I also highly recommend checking out The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

Want to read more great books but don’t have the time to spend hours on a single book? Click here to join the Five Minute Book Club Mailing List for 5-minute summaries of the most valuable concepts from the best books delivered right to your inbox. No spam, 1-click unsubscribe at any time.

This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

Don’t Compromise with Your Haters, Double Down with Your Fans

Many were stunned by the surprise announcement of the closing of Ringling Brothers’ “Greatest Show on Earth” Circus. Animal rights activists targeted the circus in the years leading up to its closure for the circus’ treatment of its animals. In 2016, Ringling Brothers’ quit using elephants in its shows after years of legal battles, but, what happened next (according to this Chicago Tribune article) outlines an important principle that will change the way you look at your life and your business:

…when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.

I’m going to stay out of taking sides in this animal rights issue, what I want to look is the broader lesson of the unfortunate fate of Ringling Brothers.

The Takeaway

The lesson is a simple one: the people who are criticizing you or your business are almost never going to be your customers or your fans even if you give in to what they want from you.

Appeasing your haters won’t gain you their favor or their business. They don’t like you. They weren’t and aren’t going to do business with you. If you water down yourself or your product to please your haters, it may actually cost you the favor of your fans, the people who actually do really like you.

In the case of Ringling Brothers, the circus was left little choice but to compromise due to legal pressures. But, as long as your haters are not dragging you through court, you have much more freedom in responding to your haters than Ringling Brothers.

You can choose to listen to haters and water down yourself or water down your product. Or, you can double down with your fans.

You can change yourself or your offering to attempt to make fans out of those who don’t like you. Or, you could just try to find more people who are like your fans.

Chasing the Uncatchable

If Alice Cooper had quit biting the heads off of bats would the disgusted parents have begun attending his shows? If N.W.A. had quit using profanity in their songs, would censorship activists have begun purchasing their rap albums? Or, if cigarette companies changed their marketing tactics, would critics begin smoking?

The answers to all these questions are obvious. But, how many times do we do the same thing in our lives or businesses? How often do we kowtow to criticism (or simple fear of criticism) expecting that to make us more appealing? The fact is that appealing to all different groups and interests simultaneously is simply not possible.

In fact, trying to be everything to everyone is the path to being nothing to anyone. Double down with those who already like you and/or your product. Ignore your haters or, alternatively, your fans may even love to see you take a stand and roast your haters on social media. Feel out what is right for you and your circle.

But, be sure to build your future on a solid foundation with your fans, don’t ever make the classic mistake of trying to build a future on the sinking sand of criticism.

Gary Vaynerchuk

8 Powerful Tips for Entrepreneurs from Gary Vaynerchuk

Book: #AskGaryVee by Gary Vaynerchuk
Concepts: Speed, Focus, Don’t Be Romantic

In the #AskGaryVee book, Gary Vaynerchuk provides a quick hit list of his top tips for success. I love the list because it is to-the-point, actionable, and it sums up most of Gary’s philosophy into a compact, tactical package.

Gary’s original advice is in bold, my comments are in plain text next to the original points.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s Hit List

  1. Have shorter meetings. Go down from 1 hour meetings to 30 minute meetings. Then continue to push to shorten meetings more and more. Gary is down to 4 minute meetings. We all know meetings are a colossal waste of time and time is our most valuable resource. Start doing something about it. Maximize your productive time in the day, reduce your unproductive time.
  2. Don’t focus on things you can’t control. You can’t control who will be president or what the economy will do next month or who will win the Broncos game tomorrow. Focus on the things that your energy, your ideas, and your effort can have an effect on – your career, your family, your company, your friends.
  3. Don’t be afraid to break things. We can waste a tremendous amount of time with endless discussions about whether a new idea is worth trying or not. Quit talking about it & make a decision. If the idea has merit, just try it. You can usually fix it later if it goes badly, sometimes you find something great. Making no decision is the same as making a decision.
  4. Don’t be romantic about your business. This is one of Gary’s staples and I love it. I run into so many business owners that won’t face the current reality because they want their business to be like it was 5 years ago. And, some of them are actively angry that the market has changed. None of this is healthy. It distracts from execution in the present and from what you need to do to be competitive in the future. The “good ole days” are gone, you might have more good days, but, they will look different.
  5. Don’t get slower because you think you “made it”. Once you make it, all eyes are on you, your competitors want what you have. If anything, it gets more demanding, not less. I’ve personally witnessed several individuals who have been ruined by taking the attitude that they “made it” or that their company or the market owes them something for their past success. The race is never over until you retire.
  6. Keep moving, don’t take a breather. Many people take a break because they feel that they “deserve it” because they did something good yesterday. Instead of doing that, how much more momentum could you have, how much more could you get done if you just kept going and kept pushing? Is there a more perfect example of this philosophy than Gary Vaynerchuk himself?
  7. Don’t go for perfection, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Another thought in the same vein as some others – speed and momentum matter a lot in business. You can’t afford to fritter time and capital away by making something “perfect”. In many cases, even if you think you have achieved perfection, you will have to change it later anyway because the market will disagree. “Done and pretty good” beats “unfinished, unreleased, and perfect” any day of the week.
  8. Speed kills in sports and business. The perfect summary of all the thoughts above. How many colossal companies have been killed simply because a small company could move faster than them? The colossal company was busy having 3 hour meetings, getting romantic about yesterday, being afraid to break things today, trying to build the “perfect” new product, and taking a breather from past successes… meanwhile, the new company, the fast company, takes the colossal company out before the big guy knew what hit him.

I highly recommend checking out Gary’s book #AskGaryVee if you want to read more of Gary’s philosophy on business. I also love Gary’s earlier book, Crush It!

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