Focus on the fundamentals

Spring, 1995. San Francisco. It’s a wet Saturday morning, and any sane person would wake up, look out at the weather, and swiftly decide to get back into bed for a couple more hours.

Jerry Rice isn’t one of those people.

Right now, Rice is feeling pretty good about life. He’s the star wide receiver of the San Francisco 49ers, and he’s coming off the back of winning Superbowl XXIX a couple of months earlier. In that game, he scored three touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 149 yards, despite separating his shoulder.

The 1994 season was one in which Rice racked up just under 1,500 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. He became the all-time leader in touchdown catches, in his tenth season in a league where the average career length is just 3.2 years. He’s already had a career that marks him out as one of the best.

But Rice isn’t resting on his laurels. On that wet Saturday morning, he’s up and out at 7am. He’s lifting weights. He’s doing drills. He’s sprinting up a notorious local running route known only as “The Hill”. All told, he works out for 4–5 hours. And he repeats this workout 6 days a week. All summer long. With a separated shoulder.

And when he comes back for the 1995 season, it’s his best ever. Rice makes 122 receptions for over 1,800 yards and 15 touchdowns. After that he plays another 9 full seasons, playing almost every game, before retiring at the age of 42, having set a number of records that look unlikely ever to be broken. ESPN names him as the #2 NFL player of all time, and in 2010 he’s inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

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This looks like the classic tale of hard work leading to huge success. But it’s not. It’s much more interesting than that.

Yes, Rice worked hard — but he worked on the right things. His success came from a laser focus on the fundamentals.

Specifically, Rice makes sure that a) he’s in great physical condition; and b) he can run his routes inch-perfectly. These two things combined mean that he can play as many downs as possible, in every game of the season, for 20 years. And on every play, he’s exactly where he needs to be, when he needs to be. A perfect wide receiver.

Rice isn’t the only athlete to recognise the power of focusing on the fundamentals. The San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich does the same. Spurs Assistant Coach Ettore Messina says:

“[O]ne of the biggest things in coach Popovich’s philosophy is the “we can’t skip any steps” principle… At the beginning of the training camp we went over the fundamentals of offense and defense. Passing, catching, pivoting, sliding, moving without the ball — it was as if we were a junior team. That’s one of the major messages coach Popovich sends out to his players: techniques are much more important than tactics. You have to master the fundamentals.”

The result? The Spurs have won five championships under Popovich, and he holds the record for the most consecutive winning seasons in NBA history.

All from a relentless focus on the fundamentals. And the great news is that this doesn’t just apply to sports: you can do the same in your own career, and achieve huge results.

In fact, it’s much easier in a non-sporting context. You don’t have to work nearly as hard as Jerry Rice to see huge benefits. Think about it: he’s competing against other professional athletes who are also running routes, lifting weights, doing whatever they can to get better.

But your own colleagues or competitors: what are they doing? What percentage put any meaningful effort into improving their own ability? How many really, truly, deeply, have mastered the fundamentals of what they do? If you look closely, you’ll probably find that it’s actually not that many people.

That’s fantastic. It means that there’s a huge opportunity for you to stand out — if, and only if, you focus on the fundamentals.

(One other aside: think again about Jerry Rice’s workout. Note that in all his off-season workouts, he didn’t actually play a single down of full-contact football. So the way to get better at football isn’t repeatedly playing football, but rather mastering specific skills. Yet how many of us, when asked how we were making sure that we improved at our jobs, would say that we get better by doing our job over and over again?)

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Here’s an example from outside of sports. In Talent Is Overrated, author Geoff Colvin describes how Benjamin Franklin would take great essays, and write down the key point of each sentence. Then he’d re-write those sentences in his own words, and compare them to the original. He’d cut out each sentence, and put them in a drawer, leaving them for weeks until he had forgotten the original content, and then try and put them back together again to practice structure. He’d re-write essays in verse, and then re-translate them back into prose, again comparing them to the original. Again and again, he practised specific essay-writing skills. Over time, this deliberate practice turned Benjamin Franklin into an incredible writer.

And one more “knowledge-worker” example: me. Personally I’m not an essayist (although I play one on the internet). I’m an accountant. So what would my training scheme look like if I were to focus on the fundamentals?

Well, like many other professions, all accountants have to pass a series of exams to become qualified. But having passed them all, most people stop learning, never again consulting their textbooks.

Here’s an obvious win — I can take a few exercises from each of my textbooks (literally titled “Fundamentals of Accounting”) and run through them periodically. If I do one chapter from each of my textbooks at the start of each workday, that would only take about 15 minutes, but it would mean I could run through all of those textbooks in about 3 months — and then I could just start again from the beginning, always repeating these exercises and staying sharp.

The result: I would be able to run quickly through a trial balance and a list of adjustments, and create a balance sheet and profit and loss account, just using a paper and pencil. I’d be able to calculate variances, overhead allocations and absorption rates in my head. I could test myself on any number of technical definitions, and get the answers write every time. I can already do all of these things to a good standard, but if I practised, I would truly master them. I would have testable fluency in the basics.

(In fact, I could go even more fundamental, and run through all the maths exercises on Khan Academy to make sure that my mental maths ability is as sharp as it can be.)

That sounds incredibly simple and easy, and it is. But it’s a big win, because no-one else bothers to do it. It takes humility to admit that you need to brush up their skills at such a basic level.

That takes care of the conditioning aspect — the accounting equivalent of Jerry Rice’s hill sprints. But as well as running and lifting, he was also doing drills, and practising the exact routes he needed to be effective in the 49ers offense.

The equivalent for me would be:

  • to understand every aspect of my company’s balance sheet and income statement deeply, and how they interact and affect each other
  • to do the same with all our industry competitors
  • to be technically fluent on our accounting system and know every function, report, shortcut and display
  • to be a real Excel pro: again, understanding the majority of functions and formulae (not just the five common things that every accountant uses), know all the keyboard shortcuts, and be able to automate common tasks using macros or VBA

Again, none of these are particularly difficult or time-consuming: 30–60 minutes per day would be more than enough to master every one of these in fairly short order. It wouldn’t be five hours of intense workouts like Jerry Rice, but it would easily be enough to accelerate my ability far beyond where it currently is.

If you’re like me, it’s exciting to realise how little work this would be, and the huge impacts it could have on your career. I can’t wait to get started.

Further reading:

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

How to handle a down-market (and 3 book recommendations)

If you’ve been following the business news the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen bad news story after bad news story: a slowdown in China, the US market is down, the price of oil is down and oil companies are losing money, etc. etc. etc.

We’ve heard it all before. The most important piece of advice is: don’t sell. Turn off the news, stop refreshing your portfolio, and go do something else. Take a walk outside, meditate, read, write, exercise, spend time with your family.

(As an aside, I read an interesting paper today that says most investors who invest in mutual funds actually get WORSE returns than the funds they invest in due to bad timing: they pull their money out when the market falls, and buy in after it has already recovered. As economist Matt Yglesias says, the stock market is the only market where things go on sale and all the customers run out of the store.)

Anyway, while I was ignoring the financial news this week, here’s what I was reading instead:

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow

This is an epic, 800 page biography of an incredible industrial titan. One of the wealthiest men in history, Rockefeller’s net worth was estimated to be around $200bn in today’s money. What struck me from this book is his intensity of focus, and his stoicism — he accepted the reality he had to deal with, and just got down to work, with incredible results. (And thanks to Ryan Holiday for his post on the joy of reading long books, which drove me to finally pick this book up, having had it on my wish list for some time now.)

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

This had also been on my wish list for a few months — Chernow’s book got me in the mood for more biographies, so I grabbed this and tore through it in a couple of days. I actually learnt a ton about SpaceX from this book — I’ve been a Tesla fanboy for a couple of years now, but the story and accomplishments of SpaceX are actually more impressive from an engineering and innovation point of view. Reading this, I’m struck by the same thought that I had when I readWalter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs: this guy is a real dick, and I would hate to work for him. I understand why people would want to, because if you can deal with a high-pressured working environment, you can create things that literally change the world — but I don’t think I would like it, and I don’t think I’d do well in that situation. I’m not sure what that says about me though. Something to think about a little more.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Cal’s previous books helped me hugely when I was at university (How to Become a Straight-A Student) and in the early stages of my career (by becoming So Good They Can’t Ignore You). Now, in his latest book, Cal outlines his philosophy of Deep Work, which he defines as complex, cognitively taxing work that is difficult, but creates real value — as opposed to shallow work like reading and responding to email, which tends to be straightforward, and feels productive, but doesn’t usually create much value. Cal argues that by maximising the amount of deep work we do (and consequently minimising shallow work) then we’ll not only be more productive, and do better in our careers, but we’ll be happier too. This book had a big impact on how I view work as a whole, and I’m genuinely excited to put the ideas in this book into practice. My friend Kevin did a great summary of this book too, if you want to check that out.

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

Why don’t billionaires quit their jobs and start spending their money instead?

Someone asked this question on Quora, so I answered it there, and thought I’d repost it here.

This question is based on a false premise.

Elon Musk doesn’t sit down at his desk every day and think, “Have I made enough money to quit and travel the world yet?”

Warren Buffett doesn’t get to Berkshire Hathaway head office in the morning and check his portfolio and say, “Can I afford to pay off my mortgage and live off dividends for the rest of my life?”

The answer, obviously, is yes. Elon could retire tomorrow. Warren hasn’t had to show up to work for 50 years. But they do anyway. Why?

Because money isn’t money when you’re a billionaire. It’s just points on a scorecard.

When you’re a billionaire, your problems don’t go away, but your money problems do. You never need to worry about credit card debt, paying the mortgage, putting money into your 401(k) or anything like that.

You’re focused on bigger things.

You’re focused on questions like:

  • Is my business the best it can be?
  • Does anyone in my industry have a better business than me? If so, why?
  • Does anyone in any other industry have a better business than me? If so, why?
  • What impact have I made on the world?
  • Do I have a legacy that will outlast me?
  • Have I done the best in terms of investing and re-investing my wealth as I could have?
  • How much wealth should I give away to charitable causes?

So Elon isn’t focusing on whether he has enough to retire on. He’s wondering whether humanity will become an interplanetary species.

Warren isn’t sat in front of a spreadsheet, calculating if he can afford to live off dividend income for the rest of his life. He’s wondering if he truly is the best allocator of capital of all time, whether his deployment of capital has led to the greatest good, and how he should give away his money when he dies.

In both cases, these billionaires aren’t thinking, “Do I need more money? Should I quit working?”. They’re thinking, “Have I made the most positive impact on the world that I could have?”

And in both cases, Elon and Warren care much more about building something fantastic than they do about cashing out and travelling the world. They prefer work to relaxation.

Which, coincidentally, is the fastest way to get rich. Don’t focus on how much money you’re earning. Focus on what impact you’re having, and how much value you’re creating for other people. As Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

The number one way to increase your productivity, get healthier, and become a happier person

There’s a magic bullet in life. You might be ignoring it – even though I know of it, I go through phases where I refuse to use it. But if you’re looking for the keys to the kingdom, they’re right here.

Exercise: every single day.

If you’re already about to close this tab and go back to “inspirational” pictures on Instagram to avoid actually taking any action, you’re an idiot. If you’re about to stop reading because you know this already, then I ask you: do you actually exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY? 99.9% of people don’t. If you’re in the 0.1% then congratulations, but I’m guessing you’re not.

Days I worked out this month
“Yep, I’ve penned in my workout on the 21st, two weeks from today. I fully understand this post and need no more information. Cheerio!”

Pay attention here: I’m not just telling you to exercise, I’m telling you to do it every fucking day. Every day. No days off, no excuses — every single day. It’s Christmas? Fuck you, exercise. Hungover as fuck? Fuck you, exercise. Rushed off your feet all day, finally got home, and you’re just too tired? Fuck you, exercise.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that you know about the health benefits of exercise. Here you go. Literally thousands of results. That’s not what I want to talk about in this post. Instead, let’s look at:

The psychology of daily exercise

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls exercise a “keystone habit” – it’s the lead domino that, if you get it right, spills over in to every other area of your life.

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. (emphasis added) “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

– Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

There’s a great reason for this. While it’s tempting to think that you can change your life just by changing your attitude, it’s usually not the case. How many times have you tried to “get motivated” — maybe watch Rocky a couple times, look at some amazing pictures with inspirational quotes on them, and then ended up doing nothing?

Not pictured: inspirational music and self-loathing viewers.
Not pictured: inspirational music, subsequent self-loathing

One of the most self-destructive things you can do is describe yourself as lazy, unproductive, or any of those type of negative terms. If you do — even in a joking manner — it forms a small part of your identity, that becomes very hard to shake. It’s a pernicious form of self-destruction and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But what you can do is change your behaviour first, and your attitude will follow. If you exercise every single day, you will soon start to think of yourself as “someone who exercises”. If you also describe yourself as lazy, that creates cognitive dissonance — you hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. Your brain hates doing that, so it will push one of them out of the way. By maintaining the regular exercise habit, you force yourself to shed the idea that you are lazy.

And bingo! You slowly stop identifying as a lazy person, so you shift away from lazy behaviours like not doing the dishes, or binge-watching Friends for hours on end, getting up only to pee or fetch more beer, and you start doing things that fit with your new identity of a healthy, regular exerciser, like posting ab selfies on Instagram. I’m kidding, that part is optional.

There’s one more powerful reason behind exercising every day:

It creates a small win that means you accomplished something. Even if the rest of the day was crappy in every single way imaginable, hey, at least you exercised.

I can’t overstate how important this is. Look, we all have shitty days where we feel like crap, lounge around the house, and put off things we know we have to do. That’s life — it happens.

But if you exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY, then at the end of that crappy day you can say “Well, at least I exercised.” Retired four-star General Stanley McChrystal and bestselling author Tim Ferriss talk about exactly this principle in a recent podcast.

That creates a small win in your life. You got something done today. It’s something to feel good about. The rest of your life might be going to shit, but you’re making strides in at least this one area.

Exercise every day.

What type of exercise should I do?

Whatever you’ll stick with.

I tried to create a regular running habit last year, but I failed (for a lot of reasons). One of the biggest was that I simply don’t enjoy running. I do like lifting weights, so I do that.

If you like cycling, jump on your bike If you like jogging, lace up your shoes and hit the road. If you like boxing, join a boxing gym.

"OK, good. Now chase this chicken around for 45 minutes."
“OK, good. Now chase this chicken around for 45 minutes.”

What I will say is this: don’t do the same thing every single day, and don’t work out to full intensity every single day either. That’s a recipe for fatigue, burnout and injury. You have to work up a sweat — you don’t have to set new PRs every day.

Mix in a variety of different types of exercise, as well as a variety of intensity levels. Here’s what a typical week would look like for me:

  • Monday: Lift weights
  • Tuesday: Push-ups and sit-ups at home for 15-20 minutes
  • Wednesday: Lift weights
  • Thursday: 2 mile walk at good pace
  • Friday: Lift weights
  • Saturday: Push-ups and sit-ups at home
  • Sunday: Play tennis

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are always the days I lift weights. On the other days of the week I find something to do that I enjoy and want to do. If I haven’t done anything all day and I’m really pressed for time, I’ll do a quick bodyweight workout at home, some combination of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats. Whatever I feel like doing to work up a sweat.

How do I make sure I stick with this?

There are a few different things you can do. I recommend a combination of all of these.

1. Make it easy to win to begin with

Don’t expect yourself to run 10 miles a day, 7 days a week. Not going to happen. Start off just working in some short workouts each day, like push-ups and sit-ups. You can do this in 5-10 minutes when you wake up in the morning. Slowly build up the habit, and create momentum.

2. Be accountable

In my company we have a chat channel called #daily-intentions, where we each post what we plan to accomplish each day. When we’re all done with work for the day, we go down our list and say what from that list we got done, and what we didn’t get done — and why we didn’t do it — as well as our goals for the following day. This works for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it keeps us accountable. I HAVE to write down a daily to-do list, and I HAVE to go down that list each day and track my progress. Secondly, it’s public. Having to explain to someone why you failed at a goal is a powerful motivator – an idea I got from Legacy by James Kerr. But we also help celebrate each other’s successes. There’s positive and negative reinforcement.

3. Play for stakes

A recent addition to our company’s #daily-intentions was the idea of the “fun jar.” If there’s a big item that I’ve been putting off for a couple of days that I really want to get done today, I’ll tag it as a “fun jar” item. If I don’t do it that day, I have to put $50 into the company’s fun jar, that gets spent on fun stuff at our regular company meetings. It’s a way of adding stakes to daily life — and again, loss aversion is a powerful motivator.

4. Track it

Lastly, you want to be able to look back and see all the good work you’ve done. You can use the Jerry Seinfeld calendar method, that works pretty well. I used an app called Streaks that is perfect for tracking up to 6 regular habits that you want to maintain. Or you can use an old-fashioned notebook, whatever you want. I also created the Daily Practice Journal to track this and a couple of other things. But long as you have a visual record of your progress, that’s fine.

 

Summary

Working out every single day will literally change your life. Just remember everything I’ve taught you here:

  • Exercise is a keystone habit that will spill over into other areas of your life, which is why it’s so important.
  • Doing it every single day gives you a small win — no matter what life throws at you, at least you exercised.
  • Make sure you’re doing activities that you enjoy, and vary the intensity all the time.
  • Create systems like accountability, playing for stakes, and tracking, to make this easy and fun.

If you do this for 6 months — exercise 180 days in a row — then I guarantee your life will be better in so many ways.

Any other advice on how to build the regular exercise habit? Have I missed anything? Do you disagree? Leave a comment below!

 



Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

The Uberconomy: How Traditional Jobs Are Being Replaced By On-Demand Employment

Your job is going to disappear.

It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, it might not be for 10 years. But eventually, the job that you’re in now won’t exist.

Why?

Traditionally your job would disappear if it got outsourced overseas. Indian MBAs or Chinese manufacturers could do the exact same job that you did, but for less, so your employer moved your job overseas.

That still happens, and it will continue to happen.

But that shouldn’t be your biggest fear. The worst case scenario isn’t that your job just goes overseas.

The worst case scenario is that your job becomes irrelevant.

If you’re a black cab driver in London, that job won’t be outsourced – but it will be made irrelevant by Uber. No matter how much you protest against it.

If you’re a hotel manager, that job won’t be outsourced – but it will be made irrelevant by AirBnB. Hotel revenue is down by 10% in some places already.

If you’re a truck driver, that job won’t be outsourced – but it will be made irrelevant by self-driving trucks (like this one).

And so on, and so forth. Blue collar jobs are most affected, undoubtedly, but the middle class will be gutted too. Average is over.

No longer should you seek a steady, 40 hours a week job for a company that’s been around for 50 years and plans to be around for another 50. If you do, you are a fragilista in a world of rapid change, just waiting for something to happen that will make your job irrelevant.

The new model is on-demand, freelance work. It’s a new model of entrepreneurship in which you are a company of one, doing five different things to earn money.

You might work 10 hours a week for Uber, rent out a spare room on AirBnB, do some freelance consulting work on the side via Freelancer.com or PeoplePerHour.com, be a runner for Instacart or Favor on the weekends and, if you want to try something a little bigger, raise money for it on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

Don’t believe me? Uber reckons they’re creating 50,000 new jobs per MONTH. Kickstarter has had almost $2bn pledged towards projects. These are not numbers that will go down. The future is the Uberconomy, and it’s here to stay.

So what are you going to do about it? Moan to the government in the hope that they delay the inevitable? Or accept the reality of the situation and get to work?

 

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

How to make money blogging

That’s right, “blogging” is a career these, so much so that popular personal finance blogger Mr Money Mustache put it on his list of 50 jobs that pay over $50,000 per year.

Maybe you’ve decided that you want to get in on this gold rush. Who can blame you? It’s the 21st century, everyone’s making money online! So you go to WordPress.com, sign up for a free account, and just start writing. Maybe you even buy your own domain name, and start tweeting about all your new posts. If you build it, they will come, right?

And don’t forget to sign up for an affiliate account at Amazon. That way, when you link to all the books you’re reading and thinking about, your readers will go and buy those books, and you’ll get a nice cut. Money in the bank!

Oh wait, that’s a terrible idea. Here’s a screenshot from my Amazon affiliate account this morning. I’ve been blogging for over 6 years.

I expect to retire around 9126 AD - maybe a decade sooner if my investments perform well.
I expect to retire around 9126 AD – maybe a decade sooner if my investments perform well.

So what can you do instead?

Here’s an idea: use your blog to think and write about new ideas, things you’re learning, books you’re reading, decisions you’re making. Write it for yourself, not for an audience. You’ll get smarter. Use your blog to showcase your skills, the fact that you can think and write coherently.  Then make connections with people, point them towards your blog, and see what happens.

It’s much less glamorous and interesting than chasing the dream of “passive income”, but it’s much more reliable.

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

7 weeks in Austin, TX

I came to Austin, Texas in mid-January, leaving behind my girlfriend, family and friends back in the UK for a couple of months while I’m here to meet a bunch of new people, try the food, see some culture and go to SXSW. I’ve been here for 7 weeks now, and I’m heading back home at the end of the month.

Austin is a fantastic city with great food, drink, music, nightlife, and weather. There’s a reason it’s one of the fastest growing cities in the US. A typical conversation will include the question “When did you move to Austin?”, mainly because no-one is actually from here (a bit like LA).

Some thoughts on the trip so far:

  • I’m surprised that I haven’t been very homesick. Maybe I’ve just been keeping very busy. But I do really miss my girlfriend. This is the longest we’ve been apart since we’ve been together (nearly 7 years now) and it’s tough.
  • But everyone here is SO friendly and has made me feel at home. I don’t know whether it’s the city in particular, whether it’s a southern US thing, or it’s just all of the US. But here, it’s weird to get on a lift (aka elevator) with other people and NOT talk to them. The exact opposite is true in the UK.
  • The building I live in is great. Pool on the roof, and a gym, and free coffee.
This is the view from the gym balcony. Pretty sweet.
Just your standard roof pool.
Just your standard roof pool.
  • Meeting people out at events or bars is much easier because of my English accent – Love Actually was right all along – but the number of people who have accused me of putting on a fake accent is worrying.
  • The weather here is weird. The first few weeks it was amazing: 18-25 degrees pretty much every day, and plenty of sun. Now it’s gone cold again. In fact it’s colder here now than it is in the UK at the moment. But by the sounds of it, summer would be unbearably hot here.
This is my office, on the roof of our building.
This is my office, on the roof of our building.
I actually got sunburn, having been sat on the roof of our building for an hour or so. It was January. This is odd to me.
And having been sat on the roof for about an hour, I actually got sunburn. It was January. This was odd to me.
  • The food is INCREDIBLE. My first taste of proper Texas barbecue was at a place called Smitty’s in Lockhart, TX, which is about 30 miles south of Austin. There is no food like this in the UK at all. Franklin’s BBQ here in Austin has sold out every single day since they opened in 2008, so you have to get in line at about 8am to have a chance of actually getting something. But it’s so worth it.
This place has the best barbecue in all of Texas, and therefore the world. Seriously.
This place has the best barbecue in all of Texas, and therefore the world. Seriously.
Here's the line outside Franklin's. Waiting in line has actually become part of the authentic Franklin's experience.
Here’s the line outside Franklin’s. Waiting in line has actually become part of the authentic Franklin’s experience.
They start cooking this brisket at about 2am, and cook low and slow for about 10 hours. It's incredible.
They start cooking this brisket at 2am, and cook low and slow for about 10 hours. It’s incredible.
  • Given that we’re in Texas, the Mexican food is great too. I’ve never eaten tacos as good as what’s available from a random food truck on the street. Favourite’s so far: Taco Deli and Veracruz on E Cesar Chavez St (get the breakfast taco with egg, cheese and chorizo).
So good. And so fresh.
So good. And so fresh.
  • I’ve also got to give a shout out to the Beef Cake Food Truck on Rainey St that does the best sliders I’ve ever had in my life. Get the original and the barbecue.
  • This will seem like sacrilege to some people back home, but the beer is better here, especially in Austin. There are so many microbrews and craft brews to try that you’re bound to find something to suit your taste. I like The One They Call Zoe.
  • I feel like I haven’t done enough tourist stuff yet. I haven’t visited the Capitol building, I haven’t shot a gun. I haven’t even seen that many fat people.
But I have tried on a stetson hat, so that's cool.
But I have tried on a stetson hat, so that’s cool.
  • Living in a city with Uber available is great. I’ve taken some Uber trips that have been insanely cheap (and some that were ridiculously expensive, like the 5.7x surge pricing at 2am on a Friday night). They also have Car2Go here, which is like the Boris bikes in London, except they’re cars. That’s America for you.

Despite all of these amazing positives, I’m looking forward to going home. But if I was going to move to the US, I’d move to Austin in a heartbeat.

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

A simple mental model for business and finance

This is the simplest mental model in all of business and personal finance. Any business or personal finance issue, and the solution to it, is inevitably contained somewhere in this model. You ready? Here it is:

Profit = Revenue x Margin

Let that sink in for a minute.

Every issue your business faces, and everything you hope to accomplish with your own finances, can be tackled with that one equation.

First, let’s look at how this applies in business.

Business

So you’re running a business, and you want to make more money. Good for you. Well, how do you do that? You can either increase revenue, or increase margin.

Increasing revenue means either increasing the number of customers, increasing the number of transactions per customer, or increasing the average order size per customer.

Increasing margin means either increasing prices while keeping costs the same, or decreasing costs while keeping the price the same. It’s that simple.

Increase revenue while keeping margins the same, or increase margins while keeping revenue the same. Either way, the result is more cash in your hand.
Increase revenue while keeping margins the same, or increase margins while keeping revenue the same. Either way, the result is more cash in your hand.

That is almost every single business problem contained right there. In fact, it’s what a management consultant would call a Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive set of solutions. Of course, there are multiple ways to increase the number of customers, or their transaction frequency, or the average order size, just as there are multiple ways to decrease costs. But this gives you a framework to think about your problem.

Personal finance

Most people don’t think about their own personal finances as if you were a business, but you should. You might not think that profit, revenue or margin are relevant to you as an individual, so let’s substitute in some words that you might recognise:

Increase in net worth = income x savings rate

There it is: everything you need to know about getting richer. Your personal income is your revenue; your savings rate is income minus expenses, aka your margin. And the difference is your profit.

So if you’re living paycheque to paycheque, spending money on credit cards and slowly racking up debt, you’re no different to a business that continually spends more money than it brings in through sales. You will inevitably go bankrupt unless you either a) increase your income, or b) decrease your expenses.

More to the point: in a business, you might be able to blame other people for this. “Sales aren’t hitting their quotas!” “R&D spent way too much money and produced nothing!” But when it’s just You, LLC, then you’re the only one responsible for the result.

Income can take many different forms: the income from your job, a bonus, a severance package, an increase in the value of your assets, like your home, or your stock portfolio, rents, dividends, royalties, unemployment cheques, etc. They all count towards your top line.

And everything else–mortgage interest, credit card interest, food, drink, petrol, tuition, student loan repayments, clothes, DVDs, movie tickets–eats into your margin.

Therefore, the fastest way to get rich is to increase the gap between income and expenses.

This may seem obvious, and in many ways, it is. But like a lot of mental models, its simplicity is part of what makes it so profound.

Anyway, now you have a framework to start thinking about every problem in your business or your personal finances. You’re welcome.

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

How to land a job you love

Most people are delusional about their own abilities.

If you apply for a job you really want, and on your covering letter you say anything along the lines of “I don’t have any experience in this field, but this looks like a great opportunity because it’s exactly what I want to do”, then you are a moron. You’re all me, me, me, and not thinking about what you can actually offer.

Why would that person hire you over someone who instead says “You want someone to do X, Y and Z. I have done X, Y and Z in the past in these other places, and here are the results I delivered. I can do the same for you.” That guy is offering something valuable.

Do you know how you get a job in a field you’re interested in? It’s really simple.

– Do shit related to that field. Do it well and keep getting better. Do it for free.
– Document everything.
– Build up a track record of delivering results and improving abilities.
– Start charging money for what you do.

That is all. It’s really fucking simple. Not easy, but simple.

Read Recession Proof Graduate or watch Charlie’s speech here if you need more information. Also, check out Cal Newport’s great book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, which will absolve you of the notion that good jobs are handed out to people with nothing to offer in return.

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.

I’m glad I worked terrible jobs

Working in a meaningless corporate cubicle job for 3 years was the best experience of my life.

It seems to be in vogue today to argue that rather than working for a big company straight out of college, smart, ambitious graduates (or dropouts) are better off striking out on their own and starting their own company.

They may or may not be right — I’ve never started a company so I don’t have the authority to talk about that. What I will say is that I followed a traditional path out of university and went to work in a classic, corporate job (insurance company with 4000 employees and >£1bn revenue). I did it for a few years, learned some skills, and then made the jump to becoming employee #1 at a startup. And I wouldn’t have been able to do it, nor would I be nearly as valuable to my new company, if I hadn’t spent all that time working in a corporate job. Here’s what I learned:

A) Repeatable processes are what count. You might have a great value proposition that and a great marketing plan that means customers are beating your door down. That’s great. Now you need to scale it up. And that means building a clear, repeatable process with checklists and clear action items, so it’s clear who needs to do what and when. And you need to write all that down and properly codify it, otherwise you’ll spend your whole life so busy training new hires that you won’t be able to run the company. Or worse, you’ll be so busy DOING the process that you won’t have time to codify it and teach it to new people – so you will never scale. You need to be working on the business, not in the business.

B) Not everyone thinks like you. Don’t assume that everyone reads Tim Ferriss’s blog, knows what “lean startup methodology” means and is ultimately aiming to found a company, scale it, sell out and become an angel investor. You need to know how to deal with people that aren’t like you. I’ve worked with senior managers who have been doing their job longer than I’ve been alive, young people who just aren’t that bright or ambitious, middle-aged women who are already working towards retirement, and everything in between. To get shit done, you need to know how to work with all of these — because if you scale, at some point you’ll either hire them or sell something to them. Learning how to connect with people is one of the most valuable skills you can have.

C) Stuff gets done when it’s clear who has to do it and by when. Yes, meetings are usually a waste of time — but the good ones have a clear agenda, a lead, and when the meeting ends, there is a clear list of action items with owners and deadlines. I remember the first time I heard someone say in a meeting “let’s assign that action to Jamie, with a deadline of two weeks from now.” I thought, “Huh, that’s smart. I never would have thought of that.” Admittedly, I’m pretty slow.

D) Accounting. My company had a generous training budget. So they paid over £15k for me to learn accounting, which I never would have had the time or discipline to sit down and learn on my own. Turns out, having a great understanding of things like cash flow, margins, forecasting, income statements and balance sheets is useful in any company.

E) Continuous improvement and lean methodologies. We had a whole department, led by an expert who used to work at McKinsey, dedicated to rolling out continuous improvement across the company. The guy was a genius, and was happy to talk to a young buck like me about it all the time, lend me books, and all that. Then Eric Ries took lean methodology and applied it to startups. Instantly I have a great background in that, and I know how to build great processes from the ground up.

F) Public speaking. Like I said, we had a generous training budget, so my company paid £1k for me to have a day’s training from a professional actor and speaking trainer (he had trained multiple politicians and a Prime Minister). It was fantastic. Now I love speaking in public.

And finally, I learned:

G) You should leave and start your own thing. The highest paid people in our company were all guys who had learned what they needed to know in a corporate role and then struck out and become one-man band freelancers, or started their own companies. I saw guys doing exactly what I was doing and earning twice the money. They had more autonomy, more freedom, more money and enjoyed their work more.

So I left. I took all the skills and experience I’d gained at a shitty job, and found one that was much more exciting and fulfilling where I can actually have an impact on real projects. But I never could have done so if I hadn’t worked a shitty job first.

Want to change your life in six months? Check out the The Daily Practice Journal for more on how to become a better, healthier, happier person.