The greatest distance in the universe… is within us. It is the distance between our potential and our actual performance.
When we are young, we have so much potential: talents, dreams, and capabilities. Most of these possibilities remain just that – potential, unmanifested and untapped. It is horrible to look at the chasm between what we could potentially achieve and what we actually do.
“Actions speak louder than words.”
Intentions are the seeds of every great deed, but only action has the power to change the world.
Good intention with no action is like a car that never leaves the garage. It might be comfortable to sit in, but it’s going nowhere.
So, how do we bridge this gap? It starts with self-awareness, the courage to act, and the acceptance that most action steps are very small.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step… and you’ll reach it within a year if you go for 3 miles a day. I’ve been running 100kms every month for the last 4 years… and I’ve learnt a lot about consistency over this time. A few kms every 2-3 days and I’ll make it without undue suffering. A week off and it gets harder. 10 days off and it gets really hard. You don’t want to be coming into the last week of the month with much more than 30kms left to go.
Everything important in life takes time… and steady, daily progress
You only need to be productive 7 minutes a week to be a youtuber
I get requests for advice from people starting youtube channels.
My first piece of advice is “make bad videos”. When you are starting out, don’t aim for good… aim for done. If you make 1 “bad” video a week for 52 weeks… you will make many bad videos, but you will accidentally create a few good ones, and at least 1 excellent one.
Don’t wait for excellence. Have the courage to make rubbish videos.
Greg shared a story about the Kremer prize. This is a prize that was established in 1959 where Henry Kremer put up money as a prize for “Human powered flight”. It was 18 years before the prize was claimed.
There were many approaches by people seeking to win the prize – most involved lots of careful building with delicate and expensive parts… and then a test flight… mostly ending with a crash.
Paul MacCready, the eventual winner of the Kramer prize, approached the prize in a different manner. He saw that if he could make the cost of “failure” extremely low (in both damage to his own body and damage to the kit and to his finances) he could incrementally improve his system over many many iterations.
Crappy test… and iterate… and repeat. He had to repeat many times, but slowly started to improve the parts and his own skill. It was more of an “evolutionary” approach to design. It took many iterations, a lot of experimentation, a lot of steady slow improvements… and then he won the prize.
Gossamer Condor in flight, By Laura Bagnel
The Gossamer Condor approach to Youtube & blogs…
Make a bad video, with the kit you have right now. The phone in your pocket has more than enough quality to make a first bad video.
If you keep making videos, you will get better.
Focus on what makes it easy to keep making videos, not on making great videos.
This idea doesn’t work where there is a high cost of failure. Youtube videos, blog posts… they have a very low cost of failure. If they are bad, few people watch.
The winner of the 100m in the Olympics might also win the 200m, but will never be competitive in the 10K… or marathon …or rowing, or judo…
Gold medal athletes focus on their strengths and work to amplify their strengths. Usain Bolt doesn’t spend training time trying to improve his long distance capacity. He works on his start, on acceleration, on sprinting and finishing. He works on his strengths.
Recently I’ve felt a lot of pressure to spend time on areas that for me are weaknesses. I am writing this blog post mainly as a reminder to myself to stay strong, and accept these weaknesses. As a leader, I am responsable for making sure there are people and systems around me so that our business doesn’t have weaknesses… but it is not me that should spend time in areas where I am weak.
Dan Sullivan on working on your strengths
If you work throughout your life on improving your weaknesses, what you get are a lot of really strong weaknesses.
In order to do well in school, you need to get good grades in all the subjects. If you are good at sports when you are 12 or 15, you are probably the best at most of the sports you try.
I did well in school. It became painful for me to not get good grades… in any subject… even the ones that I really didn’t care about.
In business (and professional sports), you do well by being really good in one subject. In order to be excellent, you need to deliberately choose to be bad in almost everything else.
I am good at some things, I am not good at lots of things. A lot of the people around me are great at letting me know what I’m not doing so well… I have to stay mindful in order to not get drawn into trying to spend effort improving my weaknesses.
Stephen King says “I was lucky. I was born only good at one thing. Imagine how hard it is for people who are good at 2 things… or what is truly difficult… being good at most things.”(I paraphrase as I can’t currently find the original quote)
On returning from the summer holidays, iPhone Screen Time showed that I had used my phone for over 4 hours a day.
I hated this idea. That 4 full hours each day in some way were glued to a small screen. There is plenty of facetime calls and zoom calls… but a large portion has become the mindless scrolling down through instagram in particular.
I immediately deleted instagram, facebook and twitter from my phone. I left some of the other apps that were getting a lot of use: WhatsApp, Chrome, Linkedin, Chess.com, YouTube.
It has been a week without Instagram, facebook and twitter. I have not noticed missing anything. I got a couple of emails from instagram saying “you have 3 new messages” – but I can still see instagram when I am at my laptop so it is not that I have left completely.
Screen time this week is down 27% from last week (and down over 45% from my peak distraction week!)
It is still pretty high.
…and it is such a powerful distraction.
I pick up my phone to do 1 thing – make a call, send a message… and then spend 10-20 minutes doing a cycle through a couple of apps… I am addicted to deliberate distraction.
I tell myself that I have discipline. I have spent a lot of the last decade working on using time intentionally and effectively… and I am not able to cope with an iphone.
I worry for humanity.
If this distraction were making us kinder, better, more informed, more worldly-wise then this would be a gift. These distractions are not making me kinder… if anything more impatient and rude to those around me.
I have decided that I have a problem. I am addicted. I do not have intentional control over my usage of this device.
It has so many useful features that make my life better – the camera and video in my pocket, google maps is brilliant, facetime with family has been wonderful during Covid times, whatsapp allows coordination of groups and meetings… I will not be getting rid of the iphone.
I will be honest with myself and say that I am not in conscious control of my usage and I need to set limits for myself.
I don’t like admitting it, but I guess this is an addiction.
I don’t like the idea of being controlled by a little device.
I share a tool that I have used to become mindful of my daily activities.
This video is from the IESE EMBA Intensive week and I share an exercise that I have been doing for the last few months – that has shown me that “feeling in a rush” is one of the big detractors of my quality of life.
The graph below gives one particular view of the level of productivity per hour for the world’s countries. Mexico works lots of hours with little output, whilst Luxembourg work little hours with very high productivity.
The horizontal axis represents annual hours worked and the vertical axis represents annual GDP per capita in U.S. dollars.
Shades of blue represented relatively high worker productivity while shades of red represent relatively lower worker productivity. Worker productivity is calculated by dividing annual GDP per capita by annual hours worked, which yields productivity per hour worked.
My first comment would be that there is a bit of a flaw in how this graph is put together. Productivity is divided by hours worked, so there is going to be a mathematical effect that showing higher productivity where cultures encourage people to get out of the office quickly. The graph is still interesting 😉
First understand the do-or-die importance of focus.
“If you don’t learn to focus, you will have a shallow and unrewarding life without any meaningful achievements.” Derek Sivers
That is worth repeating.
“A shallow and unrewarding life.”
You Need to Learn to Focus
So make it a priority.
Yes it’s hard. The world is designed to distract you. Facebook is a research laboratory focussed on human distraction. They invest billions and are excellent at their work. When facebook slip up, hard on their tails come Apple, apps, youtube, caffeine, bored friends, problematic neighbours and general office bullshit.
Apps are designed to be as addictive as possible.
Assume you are dealing with crack cocaine. If you can see it, you will use it. If you can hear it, you will use it. Willpower is not going to get you through this.
There are many reasons why we delay work. I think the most insidious is that I have a belief that the person I will be in future will be better than the person who I am today. I have a consistent inner belief that I will be smarter, better, faster in the future. The work that is hard today will somehow become easier for the better future me. But, what if’s not? I will only be better in future if I do the hard work of pushing through distractions today.
Who is Good at Focus?
I have spent a lot of time interviewing high performance athletes. My goal was to understand their motivations, how they train, how they prepare mentally, and how they face anxiety. These successful athletes have an ability to focus on the one next step and, in the words of Nike, Just do it!
Josef Ajram, one of Spain’s top endurance athletes, tells himself “I will run another 15 minutes. Come on. Anyone can run another 15 minutes.” In Josef Ajram’s words, he has completed the Marathon de Sables – 243km across the Sahara desert in 6 days – by only ever allowing himself to think about the next 15 minutes.
How to Learn Focus?
Use The Pomodoro* Method.
Here are my simplified instructions for following the Pomodoro method.
Pick a specific project you would like to work on. For example “Write a blog post on focus”.
Set a timer for 20 minutes
Work only on this project until the timer stops. Stop completely no matter where you are when you hear the timer. Mid sentence is excellent (it makes it easier to re-start this work later).
Count how many timers you can complete in a day. I bet you will not complete one single complete timer the first day you begin this habit. I didn’t.
*Any interruption*, you must reset the timer to 20 minutes.
If you need a drink of water, go get the water, then reset the timer.
If you need the bathroom, go, then reset the timer.
If you must check wikipedia to find out a fact, check wikipedia, then reset the timer. (better… resist the need to check facts now, and use a future timer to work on the project “research focus and collect sources”)
If you must respond to a phone alert, respond, reset the timer.
I think you get the idea. Only by working on 1, and only 1 project for the full 20 minutes = you get to count it as 1 timer.
* You can find the original Pomodoro Method described here: Pomodoro Method.
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