Category Archives: Productivity

10 Lessons from 10 Mentors

I’m a thief.

I’m constantly reading and looking for ideas or concepts to steal from people. These people that I steal ideas from become my mentors, whether they know it or not. Some of these ideas are useful. Some I try and don’t like. Some really stick with me.

Here’s a list of 10 lessons from 10 mentors that really stuck with me. I take advantage of all of these, every single day.

1. Checklists save lives. Use them liberally. (Atul Gawande)

Your mind is fallible. You forget things. You skip important steps, especially in times of stress. That’s where checklists come in. A simple checklist gives you a baseline of performance, so you never fall below that standard. At the very least, you’ll do what the checklist says. Not only that, but the very act of writing a checklist forces you to evaluate a process and ensure it’s as effective and as simple as it can be. Read Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto for more on this.

2. Take a shit ton of notes, on everything. (Tim Ferriss)

I carry a notebook almost everywhere I go. I have Evernote on every device I own. And I use Twitter to capture ideas I’m thinking about or pondering. It’s not important to me that I can reference my notes — the very act of writing things down helps to cement things in my head, and stimulates more ideas. Tim calls this note-taking tendency ‘hypergraphia’.

3. To improve anything you’ve written, read it to yourself, out loud. (Tucker Max)

At Book In A Box Tucker recommended this as the best way to edit any piece of writing. Sit down, and read it to yourself, out loud. You’ll notice awkward phrasings, weird repetition, spelling mistakes, and much more. Tucker said that any author should always record their audiobook before the written book is published, because you’d pick up so many things to improve that the book would be 10-20% better. Another Book In A Box team member, Hal Clifford, is a fantastic writer and editor with decades of writing experience. He told me that anything he writes — from a 3 word text message to a 50,000 word book manuscript — he reads out loud before he submits it.

4. If you’re thinking about buying a book, just buy it. (Ramit Sethi)

Books represent the best bargain you can possibly find. For £10 or less, you can get the benefit of someone’s entire professional expertise or wisdom, in easily digestible form. And one good idea from a book can provide 10-1000x ROI. This has personally been true for me more than once. So just go ahead and buy the damn book already.

5. Eliminate all the minor annoyances in your life. (Joshua Kennon)

Your life is the sum of all the small moments in your day. If there is something that often frustrates you or annoys you, that’s a suck on your energy. You don’t want to spend a lot of your small moments annoyed by something that’s easy to fix. So go ahead and fix it. I was annoyed by one of the door handles in my apartment — it was loose, and every time I grabbed it, it would come out of the door a little. This went on for weeks. Then I finally grabbed a screwdriver and tightened it. It took 5 minutes. And now I don’t get annoyed every time I leave the room. That’s a big difference to my quality of life. Now multiply that across all areas of your life, and think how much better things could be. You can see an example of this in Joshua’s post here about fixing his front door.

6. Cash is king and creates optionality. Debt is fragility and slavery. (Nassim Taleb)

Having cash in the bank — liquid, easily accessible cash — gives you options, freedom and peace of mind. Private investor Brent Beshore says “Cash is the ultimate call option with no expiration date or strike price.” Imagine if you have the cash on hand to buy when the market tanks. When there’s a fire sale on assets and you’re the only buyer. On the flip side, imagine if you have to be the one to sell in a down market because the bank’s called in your loan. Or you have to stay in the same job you don’t like because you have credit card debt, and can’t afford to risk taking on a new job or starting your own company. Cash is king. Read Antifragile by Taleb for more on this.

7. Minimise decision-making. Forget the trivia and focus on the important things. (Barack Obama)

In this Vanity Fair profile, Obama told author Michael Lewis that he only has two suits: grey and blue. He likes both, and looks good in both, so he either wears one or the other. He doesn’t waste time or energy deciding what to wear each morning: he just picks one and gets on with his day, to save his energy for the important things that he needs to be ready for. Where are the areas in your life that you can remove friction and free up mental energy?

8. Write down your top 25 goals. Now narrow it down to the top 5. Those are your goals — and the other 20 are distractions you must avoid. (Warren Buffett)

Your attention, time, energy and capital are limited. You can only do so much. And so you have to focus. So focus on those top 5 goals, and don’t get distracted. Goals 6 to 25 on your list may seem worthwhile and deserving of your time — that is why they are such powerful distractions. Focus on what’s truly at the top of your list, and ruthlessly cut out everything else. That’s what the world’s best investor recommends.

9. Use fixed schedule productivity as the meta-habit for your work. (Cal Newport)

Decide when you will start working, and when you will stop. Then stick rigidly to those hours. That’s what fixed schedule productivity really means, and it’s a game changer. It is a forcing function that means a) you need to make sure you’re working on the right things, and b) you’re being productive when you’re doing it. 60 minute meetings become 15 minute meetings. A disjointed, unfocused afternoon turns into a great session of important work. It takes discipline, but it’s worth it.

10. Write down 10 ideas a day to exercise your idea muscle. (James Altucher)

Just like any other muscle, you need to regularly exercise your idea muscle. You don’t have to do anything with the ideas; the important thing is that you get the reps in. Your ideas can be about anything and everything — you just need to do it every day. It will change your life within 6 months. You will become an idea machine. And hey, you might occasionally get a blog post out of it.

Those are my big 10 takeaways from these 10 mentors of mine. Do you have any big lessons you’ve learned from mentors? Drop a note in the comments.

How Michael Lewis writes such great books

I wish I hadn’t written what I wrote 3 days ago.

I wrote a post on The Power of Focus — how, when you concentrate on one thing, and one thing only, you get fantastic results.

That’s true, and I stand by it, but I missed a HUGE point that I should have made in that post.

I focused entirely on micro-focus. I completely missed macro-focus. And you need BOTH to produce fantastic work.

Micro-focus

Micro-focus is focus on the immediate task at hand, what’s right in front of you right now. Micro-focusing is what you do when you lock yourself away and shut off the wi-fi in order to write. It’s when you find a quiet place to read a book with no distractions. It means putting your phone away when you’re talking to someone. It’s doing deep work.

That’s what I was talking about in my last post. The fact that doing this kind of micro-focus produces fantastic results — better work, better conversations, more enjoyment. That’s all true.

What’s missing here is macro-focus.

Macro-focus

Macro-focus means that your actions over time also need to be focused — ideally on one project or long-term goal. It’s that old adage: you can have anything, but you can’t have everything.

So it means that rather than trying to build five businesses, you focus on one. Don’t try and learn French and the trombone at the same time. Don’t train for the Olympics while also trying to write a great novel — pick one or the other. And if you do pick the novel, then try and just write ONE novel at a time.

As Robert Greene says:

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another – intensity defeats extensity every time.

– Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces, The 48 Laws of Power

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t have multiple goals, or do lots of things in your life. You can. You just have to do them in sequence rather than all at once. Once you’ve built one business, sell it or hire someone to manage it, and build another. Write one book, and publish it, then build another. Or train for the Olympics. Whatever you want.

The combination

Let’s look at the different combinations of macro- and micro-focus.

The Focus Matrix

The real power comes when you can combine a macro-focus — a single, overarching goal — with the micro-focus necessary to achieve that goal.

Let’s look at Michael Lewis. However you want to judge success as a writer, he’s one of the best. Multiple New York Times best-selling books. Critical acclaim for the quality of his writing. Huge influence in his niche. And he’s probably made a ton of money.

Let’s take Flash Boys as an example of his process (because he talks about it in this interview, which I highly recommend). It started out as a potential magazine story for Vanity Fair, but when he interviewed a couple of people, he realised it had the potential to be a book.

So he went at it — hard. He spent a year interviewing Brad Katsuyama, the book’s main character. He talked to over a thousand high-frequency traders for information, for background, and for on-the-record comments. He did as much research as one person could do on this world. And then he spent the weeks and months to craft a fantastic manuscript.

That’s the macro-focus. One project, hard.

Now let’s look at the micro-focus. Imagine being interviewed by Michael Lewis for a book. Do you think he’s checking his twitter feed while he’s talking to you? No — partly because he doesn’t have twitter. Do you think he’s also watching the game on TV over your shoulder? No. He’s 100% in the room, getting the material he needs to get.

And when he’s writing, he’s writing. Here’s what he has to say about his process:

The day is not structured to write, and so I unplug the phones. I pull down the blinds. I put my headset on and play the same soundtrack of twenty songs over and over and I don’t hear them. It shuts everything else out. So I don’t hear myself as I’m writing and laughing and talking to myself. I’m not even aware I’m making noise. I’m having a physical reaction to a very engaging experience. It is not a detached process.

That’s micro-focus, applied to a macro-focused goal.

The end result? Michael Lewis has written not one but multiple fantastic, best-selling books over his career.

Fixing habit loops

You’re totally irrational.

Sure, you might think that you have complete control over your actions. You set goals and then make reasoned decisions that will lead, inexorably to achieving those goals.

Except it never works that way. You’re much more prone to irrational actions and harmful habits than you think.

One of my goals for 2016 is to spend my time more productively. I wanted to spend less time playing video games, and more time working, reading, writing, exercising — basically, anything that would be considered “productive”.

But my sister got me a copy of FIFA ’16 for Christmas. I really enjoy it — it’s fun, competitive, and fast-paced.

So I played it. A lot.

I would sit on the couch, grab the controller and say to myself, “I’ll play one game of FIFA, then hit the gym.”

3 hours later, I’d look up, realising that not only had I wasted a lot of time, but I’d also made myself angry, frustrated and miserable because I’d played badly and lost a few games. And that anger and frustration was compounded by my anger at having wasted so much time.

Obviously, the answer would be to just stop playing after one game, right? Or to only let myself pick up the controller after completing a set amount of productive behaviour? That would be the rational way forward. Still have the option to play FIFA whenever I want, but limit myself to a set amount of time.

Great ideas. In theory, at least. Except I’m well aware that I lack a certain amount of self-control. And at this point, firing up the PS4 first thing in the morning had become a strongly-ingrained habit loop.

Source: http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/habitrpg/images/d/d6/Habitloop.png/revision/latest?cb=20141010040839

A standard habit loop has a cue, a routine, and a reward.

(For more on habit loops, read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)

Cue: wake up, make tea, sit on couch.

Routine: pick up controller, start playing. Each game starts automatically after the next, so I don’t need to consciously decide to play again, it just happens.

Reward: variable bursts of emotion, happiness and dopamine when I win, score, equalise.

It’s hard to break habit loops like that.

So about a month, I just got rid of the game. Traded it in for a few quid — although I would have happily thrown it away.

And, almost unconsciously, my routine changed.

Cue: wake up, make tea, sit on couch.

Routine: pick up book, read 2-3 chapters slowly while enjoying tea

Reward: feel refreshed, awake, and happy at spending time productively.

I kept the same cue, and there was still a reward, but the routine changed.

And, would you believe it? Now I get a lot more done. I read more. My mood is better throughout the day. I even work out more, so I’m in better shape. I write more. I work harder. I’m happier.

An easy, simple action, that had a dramatic effect on my life. I wonder where else I can make such big gains? What other, more subtle, improvements am I missing?

Force multipliers

I’m about to give you the keys to the kingdom.

There are certain cornerstone actions, routines and habits that, once in place, ripple out and have a positive effect in all areas of your life. Combined, they each reinforce each other, combining to have a huge impact on the quality of your life, and what you can accomplish.

I call them Force Multipliers.

1. Exercise

Being healthy and strong is great. In fact, being strong is one of the key ways to slow the ageing process. For that alone, you should exercise regularly. But you’ll also think more clearly. You’ll be less likely to suffer from things like depression. You have more energy and can be more productive. And you’ll become “the type of person who exercises“, making you more likely to eat better, save money, waste less time, and have a positive self-image. Plus, you’ll look better, which means you’ll make more money and you’ll get more attention from the opposite sex.

2. Eating healthily

Just like exercise, eating well is great because of the health benefits. Fat loss, muscle gain, more energy, less feeling sluggish for an hour after lunch. And on top of that: you’ll save money because you cook at home more. You waste less time browsing at the grocery store, or choosing off a restaurant menu, because you’re narrowing down the range of choices you have. (Should I get chips or chocolate? NEITHER!)

3. Living well below your means

Spending less than you earn is good for the obvious reason: that it prevents you from getting into debt and hurting your credit, paying money in credit card interest and overdraft fees, and so on. No arguments there. But there’s other advantages of having cash on hand. You can usually get a great deal on bigger purchases if you can offer to pay in cash, right there and then. You can take advantage of business opportunities that need a bit of capital up-front, or do things that have a smaller short-term payoff, but a big long-term payoff. You can afford to take a different job that might pay less, but makes you happier. You spend less time worrying about bills and juggling payments, freeing up mental energy to spend elsewhere. With money in the bank you’re less stressed, and you sleep better, so you become healthier.

With those three things in place, you’re giving yourself a great base to work from. A solid foundation in your life. And the great thing is that each one makes the others easier: they multiply together healthy, energised, strong, productive, and able to take advantage of opportunities when you see them.

 

Are you a creator or a consumer?

I’m an information addict.

I have a regular pattern I follow every few months. I want to learn a new skill or a new hobby, so I instantly head over to Amazon and buy 3-4 books on that topic. On my bookcase right now, I have books on the basics of HTML, card magic, golf, screenwriting, motor racing, meditation, weightlifting, and about 10 other topics.

I usually subscribe to a bunch of blogs and podcasts too. I read all the most popular posts, and listen to the best expert interviews. If I’m felling really productive I might even make some notes in Evernote, or bookmark some pages in Delicious.

And yet, there’s always one thing missing: actual output.

I’ve coded very few websites. I know maybe 3 card tricks. I’ve never written a screenplay or competed in a real car race. I don’t know the exact number of times I’ve ever meditated, but it’s definitely less than 50.

Finding and consuming information is easy. It’s interesting. And for someone as curious as me, it’s usually pretty exciting too.

But it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It’s pseudo-work. Intellectual masturbation.

It’s much more effective to create. To get stuck in and start making things — websites, golf shots, screenplays, whatever — and then one of two things will happen. You either realise that you’re not that interested in it, or you love it, and go really deep on it. That’s worth doing. Mindlessly consuming surface-level information is not.

Which one are you doing?

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.

*****

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?)

*****

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:

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!