A simple guide to the fundamentals of being effective in life.
There is so much noise in the world today, so many options and choices to be made. I read somewhere (so it must be true) that a kid with a smartphone today has more access to knowledge and information than Bill Clinton did when he was president. The kid probably has less access to sexy interns of course but you know, swings and roundabouts.
I find it incredibly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, I spend ages looking at reviews of restaurants and hotels just so I don’t make the ‘wrong’ decision. I scour through hundreds of articles looking for little gems that might make my life a bit better (and read some amount of crap in the process). The internet is obviously fantastic, but it has brought with it too many options for me. And that means indecision, which leads to lethargy, which leads to cat videos. My brain can’t cope with so much stimuli, it will take shortcuts, and sometimes the shortcut is to give up and watch the slo-mo guys or some other nonsense. This is OK in small doses, but it’s never a small dose.
Zombie Side Note
On a quick aside I discussed a Zombie apocalypse with my friend (as you do). As we talked I became patently aware that if there were no WiFi signals when the time was upon us (I don’t know enough about the internet to realise if this is what will happen or not), I’d be fucked. While I’d like to think I’d be the guy wielding a sawn-off on top of a car while Zombies surrounded me the reality is probably more grim, and I’d be one of the hundreds of Zombies queuing up to try and eat that dude. Or more probably I’d already be one of the dead zombies with a shotgun sized hole in my head.
Removing the Noise
I attempt (and by that I mean fail a lot) to live a bit more effectively and efficiently. And by this I don’t mean I want to live a logical, emotionless, robot like lifestyle, eating 4 vitamin tablets for each meal, and monitoring my internet access on a minute by minute basis. But I have realised that I’m surrounded by too much choices or noise which can stop me from being effective. One solution could be to switch off the internet of course, but I’m not a hippie, and to be honest I had this problem my whole life, it didn’t just arrive with the internet (although this has amplified the problem). Plus switching off the internet or insulating myself from all the choices is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater (a saying which is bandied about in the workplace a lot and is step number 3 on the ‘How to look smart in meetings’ handbook.)
So, to tackle this problem I tried to apply the 80–20 rule to my life. And it has worked out pretty nicely so far, if I do say so myself. What follows are the simplest steps I took that produced fantastic results for me. After going through this process I immediately became more focussed, more hopeful and of course I felt I was achieving much more, and I’m getting closer to (and already achieved some of) my goals.
Step 1: What are your goals in life?
Indecision leads to stagnation in life, but how can I know what to do or where to focus or what decisions to make if I don’t know what I want? I had a fairly ambiguous list of dreams in my head, but they were never sorted, never prioritised. I want a house, I also want to travel, both cost money so it makes sense that one should be prioritised over another if I want to achieve at least one of them soon.
So I wrote down my goals, everything, anything, whatever came to me at first,. These were things I wanted to do, the type of person I wanted to be, the things I wanted to have in life. And before I go on, goals can change, I’m constantly revising this list (but the core stuff usually remains, but any direction is better than none).
Goals give you direction, I read them every other morning so that whenever I’m forced to make a decision in life I can do so with a clear target in mind.
Let’s say tomorrow I get a promotion (about fucking time), but I have to move to an expensive city and work longer hours. One of my goals in life was to work less hours and to own a house (which will be more of a struggle if I live somewhere even more expensive). Decision made, don’t do it, don’t accept the promotion. Simple. Well it’s a simple example of course but you get the point.
What if I didn’t know what I wanted from life? The extra cash would have blinded me to the bad decision I was going to make. Taking the promotion would have taken me further away from my real desired path. Further from my goals.
Below is just some of my examples I have as goals:
- Start my own business before I’m 30
- Make 150,000 GBP per year before 31
- Own an apartment with a roof garden
- Build a home cinema
- Get ripped before I’m 30
- Drive the Amalfi Coast in Italy
- Visit Iceland
- Write movie script this year
- Go on a family Christmas holiday in big log cabin surrounded by snow
- Implement a 4 day workweek or equivalent in a workplace.
- Be knowledgeable, unassuming and someone people like to be around.
You can see these goals are incredibly varied, and I can attempt them all but I’ll only ever get somewhere with them if I prioritise and take one at a time.
Step 2: Get specific about those goals
If I want to do the 20% that gives 80% of the results I’ll need the goals to be measurable and specific (you’ll note some of my examples above are neither). Too often I’ve put down ‘Get Fit’ as my goal or ‘lose weight’, and then just tried a myriad of things to ‘get fit’, I’d spend more time on this (without gaining much) than if I’d made the goal actually attainable.
So I put a * against the top 3 goals I listed from Step 1 and think of ways to make them measurable. Below are my own personal examples:
- Start my own business before I’m 30 — Create a legal entity for my business before my 30th birthday and have made at least one sale with that business. (Probably could be a little bit more ambitious but see the final step for the reasons why it’s good to do this).
- Get ripped before I’m 30 — The definition of ripped is to look super fit and healthy, as decided by my brothers, friends and girlfriend, need <10% body fat for visible abs.
- Write a movie script this year — By December 31st 2015 have written a fully formed movie script, formatted correctly, between 110 and 120 pages, proof read by 4 individuals, and sent to multiple movie studio’s and/or agents.
Step 3: What’s the 80–20 path you need to take?
So now I know exactly my aspirations, this is the bit I find fun, how can I achieve these with the least effort possible? I’ve never done something efficiently and effectively by rushing into it, so I take my time with this.
Let’s take one of the goals, ;Write a Movie script This Year’. To figure out the route I can start by writing down a few first actions to take. Usually these actions take the following form:
- Investigate how much work is needed to complete the goal? (In this example how many pages are needed on average and what number of pages do I need to write per week on average?)
- Can any parts be outsourced? This is a very important question, sometimes goals require very little effort if they can be outsourced (I could not bother with script formatting and let an outsourcer do this?)
- Research what the quickest way to complete the desired goal is. This usually involves searching the internet (time-box anything like this though. Hopefully I’ve taken the pain out of this for the topics of my blog posts if your goals are aligned to mine). In this example I found that writing a detailed outline is the first step to being able to churn out a movie script quickly.
- Really think differently about the goal (see this box here? Well I do all my thinking outside of that!), is there is a clever way to achieve the goal in less time? Is there a quick hack that you think will get you the results you need? Again for my movie script I already wrote a pilot TV episode a few years ago, maybe I could recycle that into a movie script? Or I’ve seen cool posts on reddit where somebody just starts off a story (puts some simple parameters on it) and then each subsequent post carries the story forward…just an idea.
I complete these first few actions immediately, finishing these actions shouldn’t take longer than 30 mins really. Once they’re complete I’ve got a fair idea of the 80–20 route I want to take.
Step 4: Action
Now, I have my prioritised goals, measurable and specific, and I know the simplest way to achieve it. So what next?
Taking action is an obvious next step, but I struggle with willpower a lot, or starting things, sometimes I’m afraid I might be taking the wrong route and I think to myself “I don’t want to waste time going down the wrong path”.
How I fight off these issues is by following the below steps:
- I’ll pick 3 small (and I mean small, 10–20 minutes max.) things I can do that’ll bring me on my route towards my goal
- I do the first immediately
- I’ll do the second the very next day
- I’ll do the third action the day after.
- Then I reflect, does it feel like the correct route?
- If yes, I note down 3 more smaller actions that bring me further along towards my goal
- Repeat 2–6 until my goal is achieved
Picking small actions lessens the need for a lot of willpower, in my movie script example the first action for me would be to research and download the best app for script writing. I give myself a time constraint when looking this type of stuff up so I don’t get bogged down in too many choices (although sometimes I inevitable get dragged into watching a new movie trailer).
The second action could be to write an outline, which I found out from researching the best route, is the greatest way to enable quick writing.
Doing one of these actions immediately counteracts my fear of getting started, I’ve started before my brain has anytime to freak out about it.
To begin with, doing only one small task a day is ideal, I don’t want to go over my willpower quota (which is laughably low) and risk having me doubt the goal, the route or anything else. But as I get flowing I’ll string a few more actions into a day.
Finally, after three actions I try to reassess, quickly, if I think I’ve been going the right way. I’ll usually know straight away if it feels right or not, the act of doing makes it abundantly clear what is working or not (whereas thinking about it is only ever theoretical). Once I’m happy I rinse and repeat, if I’m not happy I go back to the route and try and think of another way.
Let me know if you’ve done anything similar or have any advice for me (maybe you can help me achieve some of my goals and I can help you)?
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