Before we get started, a couple announcements --
The first Ultraworking Work Weekend was a huge success.
We're having another one on 14 May and 15 May.
You can read more about the concept here. Starts at Noon Eastern Time on Saturday and Sunday 14/15 May. $140 to join if you're not currently a member at Ultraworking. Includes two 1-on-1 consulting calls and a 3 month membership to the Adherence League. You can sign up at this link.
If you're curious about Ultraworking, we've also fleshed out the concept of what we're trying to do more -- you can see it at the Ultraworking website.
Staying With It
Here's a problem --
Most success needs to unfold over time. Doing the right thing, today only, can be good -- but to reach high levels of success in most endeavors requires consistently doing the right thing, day-in and day-out, for long periods of time.
For most people, almost all people, this is somewhat unnatural and unintuitive.
We get really excited about a new nutrition or fitness plan, and we stick to it 3-6 weeks.
Then, inevitably, something stupid happens. A little crisis. A busy trip. An illness. The power or hot water goes out at your apartment for a couple days. Some dumb little thing.
And then you're not "staying with it", all of a sudden, and you don't even realize it until much later. "Hey, I was doing so great? Why'd I stop doing that?"
This is true for most personal progress, most development of skills and career, most business-building.
Staying with it consistently is key, but hard to do.
Four Tradeoffs to Consider to Help You Stay With It
I've been thinking and dialoging a lot lately on how to conceive of work, plan it out, get it done effectively and efficiently.
This isn't the whole story, there's a lot to it, but it's a big part of it.
Here's four tradeoffs you might want to consider next time you're designing a campaign or project for yourself.
1. Design vs Marching
When I decide I want to do something, one of the first questions I ask myself is,
"Is this a design-type thing, or can it be marched out?"
I think it's a pretty important distinction.
"Marchable" type work is pretty simple to understand: you can work on it nonstop until it's complete, and each hour cumulatively leads to success.
The key thing about marchable work is that the only thing you need is labor time, that is, hours spent doing it.
Some things resist marching, though.
If you want to get strong and put on muscle mass, you can't go lift weights 10 hours tomorrow. It doesn't work.
Design-type work requires calendar time to make happen. You design your life so you broadly do the right thing on a lot of days and weeks in a row, and then you kind of relax and let it happen.
While this distinction might seem obvious, I see many people failing to make it.
I strongly believe that great sales for a small business, for instance, should be approached as a design-type task.
I think, even if you have more customers than you can handle at this moment, you should still be doing anywhere from 5 to 20 hours of sales and developing prospective customers each week. It smooths out the boom-or-bust cycle that a lot of small businesses have.
Many small business owners, though, do just the opposite. They go heads-down on improving product or delivering services without doing sales for a while, then they see that sales have slowed, panic, and do a massive push of work to get new customers coming in again.
When you try to march out tasks that are better done by design, you get inefficient and erratic patterns of gains and losses.
Personal finance is done better by design than by marching, obviously.
Same with changing your body composition -- fat loss, muscle gain, developing athletic ability.
Trying to use inspiration for design-type tasks is typically a fatal error.
It's easy enough to be inspired for a week or two, but I would wager that almost anyone will get uninspired some time in the next 10-20 weeks.
Can your plans survive you being uninspired?
You need to design solutions for this.
It includes things like setting hard rules, having weekly and monthly reviews, and setting up other controls.
Meanwhile, attempting to use design on stuff you could march is also inefficient.
I see otherwise very smart people "doing 30 minutes per day" of some task they could just knock out in a single focused day or two.
This is bad, because every open project in your life increases complexity, drains bandwidth, and -- I believe -- results in a greater chance of overwhelm and lower morale.
When you could march something to done in just a day or two, and it's important, block out the time and march it out.
An obvious corollary: you should only have one active marching type project at a time, and pour all your energy into it until it's complete.
Everything gets harder at 80% complete. We know this. You know this. We all know this. A lot of us have some dreadful "tortoise and hare" style error where we run really fast until 80% complete, and then don't finish and get on to the next thing. The hare runs fast, stops, loses.
Try to march out only one thing at a time. Really, it works much better that way. "A little of this and a little of that" on a slate of marchable type projects is dreadfully inefficient and leads to overwhelm.
2. Lead Indicators and Lag Indicators
Ok, you've got some design-type work to do -- perhaps generating sales and revenue for your business.
"Sales made" and "revenue generated" are both lag indicators.
A lag indicator is something that happens as a result of correct earlier action -- EX, # of sales made.
A lead indicator is something that produces the later results -- EX, # of cold calls made.
When you're doing design-type tasks, I think the lead indicators are just as important if not more important than the lag indicators.
When you only work with lag indicators, you can easily get both disappointed and misled by your results in every given week.
You can begin a sales process and reach out to 20 customers in Week 1... and get zero sales in Week 1.
But then, doing no new sales outreach in Week 2, some of those customers buy.
In Week 1, if you were only measuring sales and revenue, you were artificially demoralized -- "nothing is happening."
Week 2 is a different story: you make a lot of sales. Woohoo! You're great!
Wait, but are you?
Since a lot of success happens over time, it's easy to have the work that leads to success become decoupled from the results.
In this example, the businessman doing sales in Week 1 was doing the right thing -- contacting new prospective customers -- but didn't realize it, since he was only measuring the lag indicators of sales and revenue. This can lead to lower morale or wondering why success isn't happening.
During Week 2, the story is reversed -- the good lead indicators have stopped, but results are coming in. This can lead to feeling like you're doing the right thing, whereas you're actually just reaping the success of past work.
This is obvious when given a simple Week 1 / Week 2 example, but in many aspects of life -- getting great jobs, building great companies, developing one's net worth -- the decouplings are even further apart. In reality, really greatly overperforming and doing a great job now for someone might lead to some excellent referrals and better business in six months or even eighteen months from now.
Thus, you need to develop lead indicators that map to the later lagging successes -- and reliably put "lead indicator" successes on the board.
If you pick the right lead indicators and do it faithfully, the future largely takes care of itself.
3. Process vs Outcome Goals
I think there's broadly "right answers" to design vs marching, and lead vs lag indicators -- meaning, there's typically better ways to approach each of them.
Process vs Outcome is a little more elusive.
There's a strong benefit to sometimes only measuring outcomes and results, and there's a strong benefit to sometimes only focusing on getting the process right.
The former -- focusing only on outcomes -- keeps you honest and forces you to make things happen.
The latter -- focusing only on process -- helps you stay on track and ignore short-term disruptions and distortions to focus on the right thing.
Examples are legion. If you want to lose fat, tracking your caloric intake and running a sustainable deficit on good foods reliably will lead to fat loss -- but as we all know, your weight on the scale can fluctuate greatly based on a whole lot of things.
Tracking minutes worked vs tasks accomplished is classical process vs outcome.
I go back and forth. I do both.
When I switch into "process mode" and track how many minutes I'm working, and try to increase minutes on the most important thing, it's freeing and I don't need to constantly monitor how productive I am. I can stick with the process.
But it can lead to grinding away, putting in minutes and hours that aren't so productive. Sometimes you just want to say, "I don't care if things take a short time or a long time, I'm just getting X, Y, and Z done."
If you were only tracking minutes, spending 5 hours (300 minutes) on a single task would look just as good as getting 5 tasks done in that time.
So I go back and forth, and sometimes do a bit of both.
Other process/outcome tradeoffs --
*Time spent writing is a process.
*Following a method, EX Pozen's Brainstorm/Outline/Organize, every single session -- this is process.
*Word count written is a mix of process and outcome.
*"Great scenes written" is an outcome.
*Highly popular pieces, high-traffic pieces, bestsellers -- these are outcomes.
*Cold calls made is process.
*Sales made is outcome.
*Hours spent on customer engagement is process.
*Referrals to new customers gotten is outcome.
*Planning and scoping, and following the plan/scope, is process.
*Positive reviews and highly appreciated new features are outcomes.
Personal Finance --
*Tracking spending is process.
*On a weekly basis, experimenting with spend suppression or lower-cost substitutes for what you were doing is process.
*Net-net-net income (after expenses, taxes, and personal spending) is an outcome.
*Net worth is an outcome.
Strength Training --
*Going to the gym on a regular schedule is process.
*Active recovery, foam roller, stretching, etc is process.
*Hitting a specific target on a lift is an outcome.
Process isn't strictly better than outcome -- it's easy to "screw off in the gym" and just go and put in lame workouts if you only focus on the process.
It's also possible to ignore nagging injuries stubbornly and hurt yourself badly if you focus too much on the outcome of putting up a personal best on a difficult lift.
Setting process and outcome goals takes some skill and judgment. But it's worth thinking through carefully for everything.
4. Trend Upwards vs "Come Hell or High Water"
Finally, if you set a goal, are you going to try to gradually do more of it and get it down, or are you going to maximally commit to it no matter what?
I typically prefer "Trend Upwards" -- you decide you're going to meditate every day. In the first week you get started, you meditate four days.
Next week you aim for five days, and so on. If you backslide a little and miss even an entire week, the next week you maybe reset your expectations and try to ensure at least a minimum or 1 or 2 sessions.
I prefer "Trend Upwards" -- it's more realistic in most cases -- and it tends to be my default.
But periodically, it can make more sense to say, "Come Hell or High Water, I will absolutely 100% make this happen."
For some things -- quitting tobacco, for instance -- a HOHW mentality is probably the only way to make it happen.
I think you can only have around approximately one HOHW target at a time. Maybe that's too much, even.
I don't casually set HOHW targets, because when you really vow you're going to do something, and put max effort to it... if you then don't do it, you're really breaking trust with yourself. It teaches bad habits.
HOHW targets are higher-stakes. They're trickier and more dangerous. When you fail at them, the failures look a lot worse.
I typically recommend people set HOHW type targets for only a short period of time and then reassess -- 30 days, for instance. We can almost always power through for 30 days. "Forever" feels like a very long time.
So HOHW can be dangerous -- I think haphazardly setting HOHW targets is a bad idea and leads to less success, loss of morale, and failure more often.
But it can be very, very powerful.
If you're doing the HOHW thing, I think you need to prepare for it rigorously beforehand. Examine everything that could go wrong, put defenses in place, really maximize all your chances, all your possible advantages, all of your environment.
It's not something to be done casually.
But it's pretty powerful when it works. If you set it up right, you start fanatically adhering to your target -- meditating every morning, running every morning, cutting some junk out of your diet or consumption, or whatever, writing every day, making a single cold every day, etc -- and it can be really terrific.
One thing at a time, max! Maybe two if they're synergistic... maybe... never 15 things. If you want 15 things to happen, set trend upwards. You gotta ensure your HOHW type targets survive the worst possible of days, and that means giving them max priority and only having one (two, maybe) at a time.
You can always add more later.
Don't do it casually! I'll typically start planing a week or two out before I set one, getting all the factors lined up to ensure it's a success.
"Staying with it" is key for success -- and can be hard to do.
Next time you're setting goals, here's a few questions to ask yourself --
1. Is this work completed better by design or by marching?
2. Am I measuring appropriate lead indicators of the later successes?
3. Should I approach this in a process-based way or outcome-based way?
4. Should I aim to "trend upwards" and gradually get it, or put in an insanely committed "Come Hell or High Water" type effort (in a very careful fashion)?
Questions/comments very welcome.
See you at Ultraworking Work Weekend, too, if you think it's a nice thing for you.
Oh my goodness, I'm so excited to finally announce this publicly.
My good friend and oft-collaborator Kai Zau started building a new company, Ultraworking, back in December of last year.
With Ultraworking, we're looking to fill a gap in the lives of people who are highly driven, highly analytical, achievement-oriented.
We're making technology, community, and content for our type of people.
This is perhaps the most challenging balancing act when you're looking to do more.
Let's say you're tracking your productivity on important stuff, you're doing your weekly review, and you realize that when you're in a loud environment, you get less work done.
So you realize that. Maybe you never realized it before, but now you realize it's true.
And you notice it keeps holding true, even when you try to concentrate through it.
This puts you at a very tricky crossroads.
Want a fun, profitable, healthy experiment to run for a month?
Try drinking only water.
I've switched onto "Water Only" a few times in my life. I'm running it right now. It's terrific.
The merits of the policy:
-- No liquid calories and all the downsides that come with those: unless you're playing sports or doing heavy manual labor, liquid cals basically come in two forms: bad and worse. Merely bad liquid calories are things like juice that have some other micronutrients. Why are they bad, then? Because you're missing out on all the fiber and satiety that comes from eating that apple instead of drinking apple juice, and -- again if you're not getting lots of fitness -- the spike in blood sugar, followed by insulin, leads to a crash. And that's juice, which isn't all that bad. The "worse" is Coca-Cola and similar stuff that really ought not to be put in the human body if you're aiming for mental and physical performance.
Two months ago, I offered a streamlined test consulting service called "Get Your Next Project On Rails" -- and I got to see some tremendous results and growth from people who participated.
One of the women who participated has been very gracious in allowing me to publish her experience as a case study. She said I could share her experience in full, as long as her name and location are omitted. So we'll call her "Alice" for this case study; she can chime in if she wants to take credit for her achievements.
In this post, there's some nice actionable and universal lessons on behavior change and I'm grateful that Alice is letting us share this.
Time is really important — perhaps the only completely non-renewable resource for an individual.
Kai Zau and I are running a group training improving this over the next 4.5 weeks.
The Basic Idea
We all have 24 hours per day. We all spend some of those hours in ways we are greatly happy we spend them, and we waste and feel dumb about how we spend some of those hours.
We want to improve on that. We’ll do two things —
Have you ever gone into your email to search for something, saw a new important email, and forgot entirely what you were searching for?
Computer usage in general seems to be conducive to doing that. You go to Wikipedia to look up some fact, and suddenly it's two hours later. Ok, you're much more knowledgeable about the Cold War or Ancient Mesopotamia or something, but was that really how you wanted to spend the last two hours?
I've found this to just be something about computers in general: they're such marvelous multi-purpose machines that it's easy to get sucked off one's current objective into something else.
I'm always exploring better ways to work, and a couple years I had an idea of doing "tally marks" as I worked: I would mark down every single action I did. If I was lost or stuck, I would cut down to the simplest possible action, rapidly marking down tallies.
At first I did this on the computer, but eventually I came to a way of working with a notebook and pens right next to me that's been an absolute godsend and marvelous boost.
I just emptied my firstname.lastname@example.org email address for the first time in a while; I got so much mail after the final issues of Upstream Effects series (#7/8/9), I wasn't able to get to all of it processed until now.
What's interesting is, about 30 minutes into to a "I'm finally going to get this empty" session, I wanted to get up and do something else. It's like, some little tiny pressure in the back of my head is telling me to go do something more novel.
It felt like the email would never end.
This is a good problem to have, I admit. Getting to read feedback from people who send notes saying that an issue made them re-think their week, helped them set huge plans, helped them get a project successful, or that they shared the writing with their kids -- this is amazing.
And I want to write back and not let all those emails go stale. And yet, there it is, when I finally have some time, my mind tells me to go do something else.
The Case for Dennis Rodman is one of the finest things on the entire internet.
If you hate statistics, you'll hate it.
If you can merely muddle through statistics -- you don't have to like them -- it's a set of essays where bombshell after bombshell of epiphany and mental models break through.
It looks at bias, naive and advanced statistics, hubris, winning, contributions to team efforts, resource usage, utilization, media, narratives, historical eras and change... it's sometimes meandering, sometimes laser-focused, highly aware of itself and its own potential flaws... it's a masterpiece.
You should probably read it, but that's not the point of this post.
I don't really get excited too easily, but this has me really excited -- it looks like the time tracking app I've been wanting for years.
Eternity Time Log is an iOS app (iPhone, iPad) that lets you track time easily.
Why do I like it?
Setup takes like 5 minutes to figure out, to create a bunch of different hierarchical categories. So I can add "blog" and "TSR" under writing, and when I track time on either of those, it both adds up to writing time... and then it takes only a single button to start and stop --