Your time on earth is finite. The seconds tick by and they are not replenished. What you do with your limited days here matters. Conquering everything on your list doesn’t happen by accident, it takes intention. Stumbling in the hopes of achieving your goals is an inferior strategy to making a plan and executing it. But most people approach their days in a sub-optimal way.
I believe that with these tools you can get a lot of things done and be world class at what you do, potentially in multiple areas of your life and work. Instead of being average at a lot of things, which no one wants, you can narrow your focus to make a bigger impact. Here’s how.
Check your schedule and subtract
Entrepreneurs are doing way too much and that has to stop. They say yes to too many invites, juggle too many roles, and ship too many products. Adding resources, rules, habits, and responsibilities means falling into addition bias, meaning that in response to a problem, our tendency is to add. But adding is not always the right option.
Traditional productivity training teaches you how to fit in more. To cram your days, pile up tasks, outsource them and use handy little hacks to get more done. But that doesn’t solve the problem at its source: we add without subtraction.
Subtraction means pulling up your schedule and doing an audit. Keywords: stop and less. What can you stop doing and what can you do less? Stop doing things you don’t want to do or have outgrown. Stop doing things other people want you to do. Stop reading the news, watching Netflix, scrolling social media. Spend less time worrying, speculating, gossiping, shopping. How much space could you free up if you checked your schedule through this lens?
Pay attention to the space left after your schedule has been checked. The next problem is that other people will try to fill this space. They will try to fill your schedule with their priorities and you should not let them do this. The phrase to get good at saying is “I don’t do that.” Not only is there a huge opportunity cost of doing things you don’t want to do, but you can often be just as kind to someone by being supportive in a way that doesn’t compromise your time. Send a link, record a voice note, point them to an FAQ page, or just slow down your response so they have a chance to find the answer on their own.
Define your profession, obsession and decompression
The only three things that should be in your life are your profession, your obsession, and decompression. Your profession is your job; how you earn money or how you make an impact. Your profession only includes what you can do, as CEO or artist. Your profession does not include the things that other people might do, such as planning, setting up, administration and pointless meetings.
Your obsession is the most important thing you do outside of your profession that you enjoy doing and find flow in doing. For some people this is a sport or a serious hobby, or their children, gaming, reading books. Finally, there’s decompression, which means you deliberately relax. Decompression is not simply time not spent working or training. Decompression is not running errands or organizing and tidying up. It’s not the time that happens to be between obligations. It’s intentional charging time and intentional shutdown.
Your profession and obsession shouldn’t be the same, and decompression shouldn’t include time to think about work or sports. Think of these three elements of your life as a Venn diagram and imagine the areas of crossover. These areas are where multitasking happens and should be avoided at all costs. Multitasking means thinking about your obsession when you are working on your profession, or doing small tasks for your profession (such as sending emails or making quick calls) when you are carrying out your obsession. It means that elements of your profession or obsession are creeping into your decompression practice. Multitasking is not the goal because no one wins when it happens. Each element is simply deprived of full attention, costing skill and profit.
Rely on your default mode network
When your mind is not actively thinking about something, it is processed by your subconscious mind. This is your network in default mode, buzzing non-stop in the background. Ever had a great idea in the shower, or come up with the answer to a huge problem right before you go to sleep? It’s because your default mode network came up with it. It is sifting through masses of information, categorizing everything you have taken in consciously and unconsciously, to find patterns and answers.
Defining and separating your profession, obsession and decompression means your network will run in default mode when you do other things. If something is always in your conscious mind, it never gets a chance to be in your subconscious, so your thinking is limited.
Someone who never switches off to work will never get the benefit of this powerful tool. Someone who multitasks between his three areas doesn’t do that either. Put your default mode network to work by monitoring the space between the three elements of your life and see what it delivers. Let it do its job. Make it your superpower.
Design your perfect repeatable day
Imagine having to live with the exact same structure every day. What would you do with every hour? Think of this in terms of your profession, obsession and decompression, for these are your unshakable pillars.
The traditional workday follows a simple pattern, work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with 30 minutes to an hour of lunch, a commute plus maybe a few hours of obsession, followed by an hour or two of decompression before bed. Alternate this with multitasking; texting friends throughout the workday, checking emails while relaxing, and thinking about work while working out, and faint lines are everywhere.
Instead of accepting everyone’s default pattern, choose your own. Create your own standard day based on your regular pillars and what you are currently optimizing for. Use your first pillar when it makes the most sense, for example a yoga class in the middle of the day or meditation and journaling in the afternoon. It can do deep work between 6am and 9am, followed by a long run and a massage. Block your time into chunks. Design your perfect repeatable day from scratch and make one you’ll love repeating.
Choose a cadence
It’s likely that you don’t want to run this standard day every day because you want adventurous days and days off. But getting things done and achieving success on a large scale takes months and years, so what you need is a sustainable cadence.
The cadence for most of the world is 5:2. Five standard days followed by two days off, in the traditional weekday/weekend pattern. But this is just a social construct that may not match how you want to spend your time. Re-imagine your cadence based on your own life, energy and preference. Maybe you run your perfect repeatable day four days in a row and then have four days off, maybe you choose 6:4 or 7:7, or even 1:1; one day on a day off, repeat. There will be a perfect formula for you in it, so experiment and find it.
You might think you don’t need structure. You might think you need spontaneity and hours of unstructured time to spend as you please. But it’s probably not true. Creativity happens within limits. Discipline equals freedom. By making time for creativity and putting your default mode network to work, you can get your art done and not be a starving artist, of which there are plenty.
Become less available
What happens when you make yourself available to your team and suppliers? They ask you questions. They do not develop ingenuity because it is not necessary. They have no reason to find out for themselves. Being too available is worse than not being available. Most entrepreneurs are guilty of being too available, especially in the beginning. If your team or your clients can click their fingers and call you, it means your whole standard day and cadence is falling apart.
One solution is to have “business hours” where the team and clients can contact you, but outside of these hours they know you won’t respond. Another solution is adequate training, a rule of thumb for individual decisions they may encounter, or a comprehensive resource of frequently asked questions. Whatever you can do to mean being unreachable and in airplane mode for most of the day is what you need to do.
But what about disasters? In reality, there are very few emergencies. It is only an emergency if it is urgent, important and you specifically need; nothing else counts. Competent and conscientious teams can solve all sorts of problems while their manager is away, if only their manager would leave and give them a chance to prove themselves. Being unavailable is a powerful tool and it is important to the success of your profession, obsession and decompression.
Get more things done by checking and subtracting your schedule. Define the only three things that should be in your life, your profession, obsession and decompression, and put them back into your perfect repeatable day within a structure that will become your standard. Then determine the cadence you want to run and fiercely guard your time and boundaries against the priorities of other people hijacking your day. If you can make this standard a habit, the need for willpower is taken away and you’ll be perfectly wired to get things done. It will be easier to get things done than not to get things done.