All that porn isn’t helping you. Productivity porn, that is. How to get more hours from your day. What to-do app to use. What cute quote to share on Facebook. Waste. Of. Time.
It’s actually quite simple. The most accomplished people are simply experts at what they choose to do, not how they do it. Spend most of your time on the right things and the rest takes care of itself.
Let’s break it into three:
1. Focus on your flairs
What does it mean to have a flair for something? It means time you invest yields higher returns:
Say you’re Tiger Woods, aged 10. Playing golf is a pretty good use of your time, right? Bill Gates probably wasn’t wasting his evenings on the computer.
Yet equally we all have areas where we struggle – our anti-flair, if you will. It took me 18 months and four attempts to pass my driving test. I hated every squirming, soul-sucking minute, but still – if you throw enough time at something you’ll get results eventually.
The problem is, too many of us lead lives like those driving lessons: ceaselessly doing something we hate, solely to get through it. You can’t avoid every chore of course, but know that how you spend your time compounds itself, so you’d best be putting most of it where it matters:
DO NOT FOR A SECOND believe it is enough to ‘work hard’. Hard work is not inherently a good thing. Hard work is a disgusting waste of your life when it’s thrown at the wrong things.
2. Defy permission
“But wait! No-one will pay me to follow my dreams!”
Well of course. The problem here is you’re looking for a convenient, readymade route to prosperity that exists for your particular passion. Most of the time, we call that a “job”.
Take a hard look at almost anyone who is really successful, and consider: did they apply for an existing position by winning an interview? Or did they bypass the system and start something entirely by themselves?
If you’re a wannabe musician, you don’t necessarily need to be discovered by a label anymore. You need to be discovered by the public. Yearn to be a writer? Blog or self-publish. An entrepreneur? Build a damn company in your garage. If you’re good enough at something, there’s a way to make it work by yourself. But don’t expect anyone to tell you what to do or give you permission.
One caveat: you have to be good enough, and you have to persist. The best way to do that, of course, is to focus relentlessly on your flairs (see #1).
Good jobs are disappearing in today’s world, but there’s never been so many great ones.
3. Embrace your sociopathic shield
Getting something done can be like surviving a meteor storm of distractions. We surrender much of our life to the most vapid crap imaginable, simply because someone else asks us to.
To survive, you need a shield. A slightly sociopathic one, in fact:
The default response of your shield to anything that requires time is “no”. Automatic no. The trick is not to think of the new thing being proposed (“ooh – a squirrel”), but to think of the existing priority you’re defending (“oh – my dreams”). And if your brain thinks you can do both, treat that thought with the skepticism of Richard Dawkins being shown some holy toast.
This isn’t easy, so it’s best to avoid relying on your shield in the first place. Flat out ignore as many potential distractions as possible – at least for long enough for you to focus on meaningful work. Seal yourself in a bubble when you can. If your emails go unanswered – well – tough. The payoff is you get done what matters.
It demands a certain courage or naivety to accomplish all this, which is probably why so few do. Being young helps. Being hungry helps. Being a bit of an ass helps. One of the great advantages of the young is they’re blissfully ignorant or dismissive of the stupid rules they’re not supposed to break.
Spend most of your time on the right things. Don’t wait for permission. And get comfortable with declining everything by default. It’s harder than posting a cute quote on Facebook, but it works.