I like to think a lot, and as a result of thinking a lot I come up with a lot of theories and mental models. When I was younger I was one of those “Why don’t you believe me!?” types, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that I had been wrong so many times, that just because a theory I came up with made sense to me, it could very likely be false.
But if I immediately dump my theories, then I think I could be dumping a lot of value. Because all high level work — anything conceptual or longterm lives in the realm of theory.
So how does one make sure they're not stuck in theory, and that they're actually getting results that apply to the real world?
In my opinion, the easy answer, and the answer you hear most often is: "take action”. While this is accurate advice, I think it’s one of those simplistic pieces of advice that doesn’t really get you anywhere.
I want this post to be helpful to you, but in order to do that, I need to quickly explain what I think theory is.
I remember when I first wanted to get good at basketball. Like anyone of course, I Youtubed Kobe Bryant moves and tried to learn them. I remember thinking that his advice was generic and inapplicable. His advice, however, is actually really good advice, it was just that it was inapplicable for me. That’s how many people view strategy; their inability to value it isn't because the strategy itself is bad (although sometimes it is) but because they don’t have the referential compression to understand it and see how they would apply it. With those Kobe videos, I was still new to basketball, I could barely shoot the ball let alone do a post up—fadeaway jumper...
This perception of generic advice was very similar to my early days of attending business conferences. At the end of the conference I would ask my fellow friend/audience member what he thought of the keynote and they would say something like, “Wow, it was so good. Thinking of retargeting pixels as a form of long term branding, that’s going to be amazing for my business”, and I would be thinking What? why can’t he tell me something that I can actually do today.
Only after I got better at basketball and learned fundamental movements, could I appreciate Kobe’s strategic choice of moves. Since I now know how to do a spin or finish with a reverse layup, I can string them together. I can appreciate the strategy behind that combo: your defender thinks you’re going to drive hard baseline, so instead you spin back into the paint, since you’re in the paint the big will come in to block your shot so you reverse layup using the rim as protection.
And as for my understanding of business, back then I didn’t even know what retargeting pixels were, and I still don’t really know what they are. But I’ve practiced running Google ads and Facebook ads, and I know how to use the Divi theme for Wordpress, and I’m decent at writing copy so basically I just write three ads and copy and paste the script that Google gives me near my contact form. Quick note: I haven’t actually done that yet, and I intend to implement it soon.
And the result, well, it’s not perfect, and will take refining, but the point is I can scrap something together, and when I can do that I can appreciate simplistic advice that sounds heady and do higher level work.
I walked up to the front desk and asked, “I have some questions about my account, can I speak to a manager?”. I was at the gym, and my plan was to ask about why they charged a $30 fee, and a mailing I got saying they offered a $7 membership. I wanted to see if there was leverage in negotiating a waiver of the $30 or my membership fee ($15) down.
The manager explained that the $30 fee was a yearly fee and that the $7 membership is a special membership that allowed you to only go 3 times a week. So, I didn’t get a negotiation win from that —
If you know me, I’m a big fan of Ramit Sethi and one of his main financial teachings is to have you negotiate a lot throughout the course of your life. When I first read his material I immediately agreed with his advice, but the thought of negotiating things seemed weird and out of the norm. I mean, I’m Chinese so I naturally inherited a lot of my Mom’s skills, but I didn’t know how to apply these skills outside of flea shops or Craigslist.
But since for the past year I’ve been playing the credit card signup bonus game, and incurred credit card fees and bank fees, I’ve made many attempts at applying Ramit’s negotiation techniques. His blog posts basically walk you through each step, and by following it, I’ve experienced how easy it is to win at these things. For example, I lost track of my Amex card and didn’t realize I didn’t pay the card for 3 months. This resulted in late fees of over $100. But Amex’s customer service is so good, all I had to do was call in and ask for them to be waived, and they did. When you experience wins like that, success can be addictive.
I remembered when I first got out of college. I spent half my time building my video production agency and the other half doing content marketing for Fuzed. Once I got the hang of managing the podcast, Jake, my boss, gave me the project of creating feature release landing pages with an accompanying explainer video for each new integration that came out. (Fuzed makes integrations similar to how Zapier works)
At the time, it was such a struggle to write the copy for the video, then write the copy for the landing page, then go into Wordpress and put it together. It took me days to get one done, and was painfully frustrating. This frustration lead me to think I would be much better off putting my time building my agency, why am I working for Jake? My agency work is creative and fun and these copywriting tasks are a pain. Of course, this attitude lead to a lack of initiative on my end, leaving Jake with disappointment.
When we parted ways, my initial thought was Yes now I have the free time to work on what I want to work on. But It’s been a year since that time and I regret dropping the ball and allowing Jake to be disappointed in me. It's not that I feel regret because of a loss of opportunity to work at Fuzed, but because I went from being an A player to being a C player once I was assigned set of projects that I wasn’t excited about.
If I think about completing the same project now, I could knock out a feature release landing page + video in a few hours. It seems so easy now.
I use this to take all of my ideas, no matter how irrelevant or how low it is as a priority and I write them all down into swipes. Then I just "later" those ideas far into the future so future me can be reminded. Maybe then I'll decide to actually take action on those ideas when its a better time.
In this video I:
Mailbox is an App by Dropbox that syncs with your laptop and your phone. The best thing about this app is that you can boomerang emails to yourself so that when you want to reply to an email later you don't have to do it right away.
In this video I cover:
If you've followed my blog so far, you'll notice productivity patterns. One pattern, or habit, if you will, is the ability to just work on one single task or one single project for a set block of time.
Naturally, as the day progresses, we open up more and more tabs as work and other interesting content gets shared with us.
So in the video I cover:
As a creative or strategist, there seems to be a never-ending flow of good ideas. Ideas that we are really hyped up for, but for some reason we just don’t execute.
What tends to happen to me is that during times where I’m driving, showing, or when I’ve just had coffee, I get flooded with ideas and visions of things I could do. I immediately start actioning them in my head. It goes something like:
Okay I’m going to set up this joint venture program, what does that look like. Okay, this works and this works but I don’t have these resources to actually make it work.
Then I get distracted before I fully develop the strategy in my head. This is detrimental because while I’m spending energy half-determining the upside and resources involved, I waste a ton of mental energy thinking about what those action items will be for myself. I don't write it down because I’m not fully convinced — because the concept isn’t thought through.
After reading Getting Things Done, I’m convinced that this is the reason why I often feel mentally drained. If, when you’re planning out the strategy and don’t fully plan out the action items, you actually waste will power by halfway thinking through implementaion task even though you aren’t actually implementing. Meaning, you spend energy “implementing” when you haven’t actually implemented anything.
I started habit tracking on pen and paper a year ago. It has been one of the biggest (if not biggest) influence on my productivity and my ability to habit stack.
But doing daily tracking is hard, because who wants to check off stuff on a piece of paper and print out sheets for next week? I even made it easy by printing 4 weeks at a time, and I bought a clipboard on my desk for easy organization. I still didn't do it.
But now I do it, because its a game. Something about human nature and us seeing a character representing us level up is very very addicting.
“Why don’t you just do it? It takes like 10 minutes”.
There are those tasks that we know we should get done, there’s a clear benefit to completing them, and we can probably finish them very quickly but for some reason we just don’t. Why? Because even though those tasks don’t require a lot of time to do, it requires a lot of focus.
If we scan our task list the tasks we procrastinate on are ones that we don’t really want to do, aren’t very clear in which action steps to take, and require a ton of focus to complete. For example if you had a task that said “automate follow up emails”, this task might actually only take you 20 minutes to go on infusionsoft, write a few emails, and sequence them together and it would be highly valuable for you — but if you just put that into your task list you’re not going to do it because it takes you twenty minutes of concentrated attention. Working in infusionsoft is very different compared to a task like cleaning your room where you can sing along to music while you pick up your dirty laundry.
According to Eben Pagan, the ability to focus on a single task is one of the most rare and valuable states. And I would agree to that statement because we really do only have a limited amount of energy every day to spend on focusing our attention. Personally I think we get about 3 hours a day of mental energy (maybe 6 if we train in this area), so to be effective, we have to choose wisely what things we’re going to spend our precious attention on.