My next course is about showing up every day, doing your best creative work, building an audience, and earning an income.
Right now the working title of the course is “The Creative Life”.
Because ultimately, this course is about developing the mindset, habits, and resources you need to do your best creative work.
But more on all of that another time…
- My own experience, stories, and wisdom.
- The experiences, stories, and wisdom of others.
At best, I have only a very small glimpse and perspective. So I lean on the wisdom and perspective of others.
Here are a few of the books that have helped me show up every day, do my best creative work, build an audience, and earn an income.
The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman
Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull
Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon
Deep Work, by Cal Newport
The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christensen
Die Empty, by Todd Henry
The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry
The Customer Funded Business, by John Mullins
The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp
Anything You Want, by Derek Sivers
Ask, by Ryan Levesque
Zero to One, by Peter Thiel
People Over Profit, by Dale Partridge
This past weekend I rented a car, drove 4 hours to Tulsa, bought a new (to me) family car that I’d found on Craigslist, and drove it back.
To accompany me on the road trip, I loaded up the audiobook version of Creativity Inc..
I began reading it on Kindle about a year ago, but only made it to chapter 5. I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and this was a great opportunity.
There is so much gold in this book.
One particular tidbit that stuck out to me from the chapter on Honesty and Candor.
People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things — in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing. Where once a movie’s writer/director had perspective, he or she loses it. Where once he or she could see a forest, now there are only trees. The details converge to obscure the whole, and that makes it difficult to move forward substantially in any one direction. The experience can be overwhelming.
If you’ve ever begun working a new project, learning a new skill, or the like, and you get into it and feel completely overwhelmed, lost, and confused — don’t freak out.
As Ed Catmull says, it is the nature of things.
How do you press through that feeling of overwhelm?
For one you keep going. You keep showing up every day, making choices, and doing the work. With patience, you will find clarity.
Secondly, you need community. People who can give candid advice, encouragement, and feedback. People who will level with you and keep you accountable to your goals.
What you’re looking at here is some white board scribbling that represents the first module of my next course.
The white board is so messy and random, you might think this was our very first whiteboard session for Module One.
Actually, this is the fourth whiteboard session we’ve had like this in the past two weeks.
This is our process of taking things apart and putting them back together again.
I’m working on a new course that’s about doing your best creative work, moving from hobbyist to pro, building and caring for an audience, and making a few dollars from your creative work.
Right now the course outline consists of more than 90 individual sessions within 6 modules. Plus worksheets. Plus interviews. Plus easter eggs.
That is a massive amount of content. It’s too much.
Who has the time to work their way through all of that?
That’s why we’re trying to distill the outline down to what is most essential.
And it starts by taking apart each module and asking: What is the single most important takeaway here?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to do their best creative work?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to move from hobby to pro?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to define and build their audience?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to steward their audience and give provide value?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to make an income from their creative work?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to build and sell their products?
For us, we’re still in the preparation phase on all of these modules. We know all the surrounding ideas, mindsets, tactics, and tools. I’ve been writing about this stuff for years.
The aim right now is to get the outline clear so we can get to work on putting the pieces in place.
How do you edit an outline?
You take it apart and put it back together again.
You question your assumptions and hypothesis.
You try writing it out in a way that makes sense to your grandparents.
Then try writing it so it makes sense to your neighbor across the street.
Then you re-write again with your ideal customer in mind.
You make sure you’re answering all the questions and challenges your ideal customer is facing.
* * *
The above photo represents the fourth time we’ve taken apart this outline and put it back together again.
First we started with sticky notes on the whiteboard.
Then we moved the sticky notes onto posters on the wall. (We needed the whiteboard back.)
Then I re-wrote it all onto note cards.
Then we went back to white board drawings, which you see above.
We keep taking apart all the pieces, looking at them, asking why they’re there, and then putting the whole thing back together again.
Each pass we make at the outline things become a bit more clear.
Once we start taking it apart and putting it back together the same way, then it’ll be time to start writing.
If you’re interested in going behind-the-scenes at the creation of this course, and getting early access to the content, we’re looking for pilot course members.
There are some pretty great benefits, which I’ll share later.
Sign up over here to get on the list, and I’ll let you know once we open the doors.
Right now I’m wrapping up the second article in my Focus Course Case Study. (The first article, that’s all about the launch of the course is here).
As I’m working on this next article, something I’ve realized is that I have two modes of work:
- Monk Mode
- Publishing Mode
(Well, there is also the “Super Distracted Mode” and “Ugh, Bookkeeping Mode”…)
Long-time readers of this site have seen my Monk and Publishing modes first hand. I really went into “monk mode” early last year in the months leading up to the Focus Course launch. My days began to get very full with “deep work”. I was working longer-than-normal days and also usually working a few hours on the weekends as well.
All those hours were spent in research, reading, and writing for the course. Pretty much the only thing I was publishing was my once-a-week articles — a huge difference in publishing output compared to the first several years of this site when I was posting links and articles every single day.
What I’ve discovered is that when I’m in Monk Mode, I kinda go dark to the outside world. I spend all of my working hours with my keyboard, some books, my team, and a whiteboard. I don’t publish much to the site, my podcast episodes get sparse, I don’t update Twitter or Instagram all that much.
But when I’m in “Publishing Mode” then it’s the opposite. Most of my working hours are spent publishing things to my site, tweeting, etc. But I’m not focusing on any particular project or product.
A goal of mine right now is to get better at operating in both of these modes simultaneously.
I’m a huge advocate of showing up every day. But that coin has two sides: you’ve got to show up and do the work, but you’ve also got to share that work. You have to show up every day and do something, but you also have to show up every day and share something.
Lately I’m great at the former, not so great at the latter.
To peel the curtain back, I am in search of a work environment and rhythm that supports (a) deep work and creating huge pillar products while also (b) frequent publishing of articles, podcasts, ideas, links, inspiration, etc.
I’d like to get better at sharing artifacts from my daily work and opening the door to my creative process while also keeping my ability to stay in “Monk Mode” on a regular basis, focusing on building big projects.
And!… I want to do it all while working reasonable hours and maintaining margin in my day-to-day life. Piece of cake, right?
Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share.
I’m now beginning work on my next big course, that will be all about content creation and building an audience. And as part of the creative process for this course, I’m also committing to share more of my work as I go. It’s with the understanding that the process of doing our best creative work every day is a messy one — it’s a fight to stay creative.
Tomorrow is my birthday. And every year around this time I open up Day One and jot down an unordered list of reflections and thoughts on life.
It’s a chance for me to give advice to my future self. What are the things I’m learning and observing in this season of life that I may need to be reminded of in a year from now?
Here are a few from previous years:
- Serving others always has a reward.
- Generosity is never regretted.
- It’s worth it to sweat the details and do work you’re proud of.
- Don’t be afraid to take a risk – the biggest “risks” I’ve ever made, such as proposing to my wife, starting a business, moving to another state, they have all proven to be some of the most important life changes and have been so positive.
- Life is almost entirely a series of small, almost inconsequential choices and moments. All the little things that you do (and don’t do) are actually what paint the picture of your life. If you want a different life, make a small change to one thing and stick with it. Then change something else. Then something else.
And here are a few from this year:
Never underestimate the power of having a plan and keeping accountable to your progress. Because it’s far too easy to confuse activity with progress. I’m really good at “being active” but it takes much more intentionality to make sure that what I’m doing each day is putting one foot in front of the other.
Reading (learning) is becoming a competitive advantage in today’s knowledge worker / creative entrepreneurial landscape.
Be more cautious not to squander a few minutes here and there throughout my day. Stay on top of batch processing my Instapaper / Safari Tabs / Email / etc. Take more frequent breaks away from the desk in order to make space for longer hours of focused work.
Once you’ve committed to do your best creative work, you may find that it can get lonely.
Sometimes it’s lonely by default…
You’re in “monk mode”. You’re disappearing to your cave for hours at a time to get some serious work done.
Or it’s lonely because the project is top of mind — it’s all you’re thinking about. Except it’s still the early stages of the project, and so you’re not yet clear enough on things to have any sort of coherent conversation about it. Your words just come out as fragmented ramblings while your conversation partner stares back blankly, trying desperately to follow along.
Showing up every day is hard enough work by itself. And because of how natural it can be to do the work in isolation, community becomes all the more valuable.
Last summer, a few weeks after I launched The Focus Course, my wife and I hosted a backyard BBQ party to celebrate.
I had just spent the better part of my past year working on it, and the vast majority of that time I spent alone. But it’s not a project I could have done completely alone.
There were so many people who were involved, those who helped with the project itself and those friends who encouraged me along the way.
So we invited anyone and everyone who had been involved at all with the building of the course. We served BBQ, played games, and told them thank you.
Building something can often be isolating and lonely. Especially for the independent creative entrepreneur.
You put in hours and hours and hours of work while sitting alone in your cave. Don’t let that work stay isolated.
Don’t let yourself experience your failures and successes alone.
Share them with others, invite your friends and family into what you’re doing. They need you just as much as you need them.
This coming Thursday, June 23, it will be exactly one-year since The Focus Course launched.
For those of you who have built and launched something, you know first hand just how much work goes in to it. Especially if you’re a perfectionist and need everything to be just right.
So yeah, building and launching the course was a massive amount of work. And what made things even harder is that, at virtually every step of the way, I had no idea what I was doing.
So many things about The Focus Course were new for me; I was hesitant and unsure about so many aspects. I wrestled with every decision about how to validate, market, price, build, and launch the course…
For each step, I was desperate for any help I could find.
Some of the places I found the most help were from friends and peers who had gone before me and shared the details of their experiences — including actual numbers.
I would like to pay that forward by doing an in-depth case study, sharing all that has happened behind-the-scenes with launching and building The Focus Course over the past year.
I’m going to share everything about the course launch
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a series of articles detailing all the stories, strategies, and takeaways I’ve learned during this past year.
- How much revenue the course made during its launch week, and how much it has made in the year since.
- Why I gutted my 17,000-word book and made an online course instead.
- My workflow and tools used for building the course.
- How I ran the pilot test group.
- My entire marketing and launch sequence.
- How I iterated on the course after launch.
- Why I offer a 60-day money-back guarantee.
- My approach to joint-venture launches and partnerships in a way that adds value to past and new members alike.
- How and why I re-invested money back into the course after it launched.
- All the software and services we now use to keep the course running day-to-day.
- What I would do the same and what I would do differently.
Like I said, I’m going to share everything.
I hope my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned can be of help to you.
(I’m also posting this information here for my future self. I have an all-new course in the works for this fall, and I plan to build and launch it very similarly to how I did The Focus Course last year.)
What questions do you have?
So, before we get started, I wanted to open up the floor for any questions from you guys.
Do you have a product you’re working on or that you’re already selling? Are you trying to build an audience? Just curious about something in particular?
If there is anything you would like to know about the launch of The Focus Course, just ask.
I’ll try to answer as many of your questions as I can in the upcoming articles.
As you may know, there are nearly 600 folks — including yours truly — who are going through The Focus Course right now.
We’re a few days in, and our Focus Course assignment for today entailed listing out my life values.
Two of the values I listed may not really count as “values”. But oh well, I listed them anyway. One value was Business Savvy and another was Work / Life Balance.
Then, for each value I listed, I also had to write a description of how I express that value in my life.
Now, the tricky part here is that the descriptions have to be written as if I already live it out exactly as I would want to. Which, to be honest, is a challenge. Because, at least for me, I see my faults all too well.
Nevertheless, I wrote my descriptions for what what the value of Business Savvy looks like and what the value of Work / Life Balance looks like for me.
And as I was writing my description out, it dawned on me that so often we pit work and life against one another. As if work is bad and life is good. And that is a completely wrong mindset.
That said, I wanted to share with you how I defined Work / Life Balance for my own life.
Work / Life Balance
I have a strong drive to do my best creative work and to build a business that matters. I also have a deep love for my family and friends and living a healthy and full life.
These two things are not mutually exclusive. And so I don’t feel guilty about the time I spend working, and neither do I feel anxiety when taking time off of work.
My work responsibilities and goals are very important, but I don’t let them dominate my entire day as they are wont to do. I refuse to look back on my career and feel regret about spending too much time working and not enough time with my friends and family. But I also refuse to shy away from doing my best work every single day.
I understand the time I spend away from the work is just as important as the time I spend doing the work.
And so I refuse to live a life that’s driven by an addiction to the urgent. I know what healthy boundaries are, and I know that there will always be “one more thing” to do when it comes to my work. With that in mind, I don’t let the “seemingly urgent” tasks of my work dictate my schedule.
We meet again for another Fantastic Friday.
Under normal circumstances, right now I’d be packing for WWDC. I’ve been to the conference in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Alas, this year, I won’t be attending. The main reason being that I have two trips already scheduled for this fall, and felt that was enough travel for the year.
(Side note, come join me for seanwes conference and hear me speak.)
Secondly, we’ve just kicked off Focus Camp, and I wanted to be available to devote my full energy to that.
So, I’ll be watching the WWDC keynote from my basement instead of a hotel room at Parc 55. And I’ll be making my coffee at home instead of standing in line at Blue Bottle. Those of you headed out, don’t have too much fun without me!
And here are some of this week’s best links and items of note.
The Baron Fig Vanguard: These new notebooks from my favorite notebook maker are stellar. For me, the vanguard is not a full-on replacement for the Confidant, but I’m putting them to work as a single-purpose notebook. Using a Charcoal, Flagship, Dot Grid Vanguard (whew!) as my dedicated notebook while I work through the courses in Digital Commerce Academy.
Ugmonk 2.0: My friend, Jeff Sheldon, makes the coolest t-shirts and mouse pads you’ve ever seen. And he just launched a massive update to his brand and website. I also highly recommend you subscribe to the Ugmonk Journal. Jeff is a guy who walks the walk, and he’s going to be sharing a lot of the behind-the-scenes info of how he runs his business.
You Need a Business Model: Fantastic article from Jessica Abel. To make a living doing your creative work you need (a) skill at your creative endeavor, (b) systems for making constant progress, and (c) a business model so you can actually make a few bucks. What’s awesome is that all three of these things can be learned.
Quote of the week: “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.” — Mark Cook, as quoted in The Lean Startup.
In a world where we value shipping early and shipping often, we can often loose sight of the purpose of shipping. If you’re trying to build a business, grow an audience, and provide value to others, then what you ship should serve that goal.
And I believe this sits in harmony with the idea of “scratching your own itch”. Because if what you’re shipping is a solution to a problem you face, then chances are very likely it’s a problem other people face as well.
That’s a pretty wonderful place to be in. Where you’re simultaneously solving your audience’s problems and also building products you love and are proud of.
If you’ve ever received an email from me where I asked you about your biggest challenge, now you know why. My aim is to get an understanding of what obstacles you’re facing and what tools I have in my tool belt that I can share with you to help you overcome those obstacles.
This week for Fantastic Friday I want to peel back the curtain a bit and share some personal notes.
I didn’t fully realize it until this week when it really hit me, but for the past several weeks (at least) I’ve been living with quite a bit of stress.
This morning I sat down and journaled out all the big projects going on right now.
Seeing each one listed out next to the others was eye opening.
The first thing I said to myself was: “Shawn, what were you thinking!?”
Now, people tell me that I write a lot about living a focused life. And so, in lieu of those topics, I think it’s important for me to share both sides of the coin: the things I do well and the things that I don’t.
(That’s why I shared about my own laziness.)
And so, today, for Fantastic Friday, I want to share with you a few of the small things I do to help keep my laziness in check.
Moreover, what I love about these things is that they also help during seasons of stress.
When you’re dealing with overwhelm, there are two responses. You either need to reclaim some margin back into your life, or you’ve just got to press on until you get the breakthrough.
If the latter, it’s helpful to have a few “lifestyle practices” to help keep you on track. Below are a few of mine.
Thanks, and enjoy your weekend!
1. Reading Daily
I read quite a bit during the work day, but also in the evenings. My routine is that every evening between 7 and 8pm I do something useful or productive. Such as reading, spending time with friends or family, or doing handy work around the house. That hour isn’t for cramming in yet more office work, but neither is it for zoning out.
(Side note: Right now I’m re-reading The Lean Startup. Highly recommended if you find yourself in the position of trying to build something of value while in the midst of extreme uncertainty.)
2. Writing Daily
When I start my work day, I make myself write before I do anything else.
3. Family Time and Weekly Date Night
As a type-A creative entrepreneur, it can be so easy for me to have work on the brain at all times. And combine that with a to-do list is literally never ending, and there’s always a reason to work long hours.
But I refuse to look back in 5-10 years from now and wish I would have spent more time with my family. Having boundaries around my work time and family time is a pretty no-brainer way of making sure work life doesn’t take over family life.
I journal for the sake of recognizing and celebrating progress. It’s one of the best ways to build and keep momentum in your life.
* * *
Okay, one more tidbit…
Here are two quotes I use often throughout The Focus Course:
“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” — F.M. Alexander
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” — John C. Maxwell
By far and away, the best way to keep the needle moving forward in life is to have smarter “defaults” for how to spend your time and energy.
If you choose the right actions and attitudes long enough, they begin to choose you back. And you find yourself naturally gravitating toward the behaviors you want to do as a lifestyle rather than the things you feel like doing in the moment.
You can get clarity about your own “lifestyle practices” by going through the Focus Course. There’s a group (including yours truly) that are going through it together this summer. I hope you’ll join us.
And I’ll tell you why in a minute.
If you recall, last Wednesday I wrote about why you should show up every day.
And then on Friday, I shared some thoughts on Hustle.
(As a side note, I received more feedback from last Friday’s article about hustle than on any other article in recent memory.)
Which is why today, and over the coming weeks, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to continue on in this conversation…
There are three projects in the works right now. All of which are designed to help you show up every day.
Focus Camp: A group of hundreds of folks who’ll all be going through The Focus Course together.
A special project I’ve been working on with my friend Brett Kelly (of Evernote Essentials fame) that we’ll be giving away for free to everyone that signs up for Focus Camp.
Something else that I’m not ready to announce just yet.
* * *
Now, as I said, I’m lazy.
And I’m not being hyperbolic.
Every evening after my two boys go to bed all I want to do is eat ice cream and watch Netflix.
Or, in the morning, when I sit down to my desk with coffee in hand, ready to work. So often I’d prefer to browse the Internet until lunchtime.
But if I spent the first half of my work day surfing the web, I’d never get around to writing.
Which is why diligence is so critical to living a focused life and doing our best creative work.
What if I told you that you could “automate” hustle?
Or, in less nerdy terms…
What if showing up every day was a natural part of your routine?
Good news: it can be.
It’s hard at first because inertia is working against you. But it gets easier as you build momentum.
Diligence is a muscle you can strengthen. It’s a skill you can learn. A character trait you can cultivate.
If you choose something long enough, eventually it will choose you back.
On Friday I’ll share with you a few of the small things I do to help keep my laziness in check so that showing up every day is simply a part of my routine.
* * *
By the way, getting clarity and diligence is what The Focus Course is all about.
If you go through the course with a group of people I promise you it’ll be way more fun and it will be much harder to quit.
Please join me and several hundred more folks as we go through the course together starting June 8th.
You can’t throw a rock at the internet without hitting a webpage where someone is talking about hustle.
Ask Gary Vaynerchuk how he defines hustle and he’ll tell you it’s “maximizing the energy you put into what you are passionate about.”
In his book, he says that hustle is the one tangible thing people can do to change the direction of there lives.
“If you want to turn up the hustle, you just have to spend more time doing whatever it is that takes you where you want to go.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot.
And, well… I simultaneously do and don’t agree with Gary’s definition of hustle.
Because the term hustle also carries with it a bit of baggage and the idea that sleep and rest are the enemy. So I gravitate toward the word diligence, even though, really, I see diligence and hustle as close to synonymous.
The truth is, we only have (at best) a capacity of 3-4 hours per day that we can spend on deep and focused work.
And so, in order to maximize the energy we put into what we are passionate about, we need to live a healthy (a.k.a. balanced) life so that the time which we dedicate to our work is as efficient and impactful as possible.
In a nut: checking email 30 times per day is not “hustling”.
For me, to make every minute count, means:
- Living with focus.
- Minimizing distractions.
- Showing up to do the work.
- Taking time to rest well.
- Reading and learning.
- Accepting the ebb and flow of work.
- Spending time with my family.
- Saying no.
To make every minute count you’ve got to make every future minute count also.
And that means living a life today that won’t leave you burnt out and broke in 5 or 10 years.
Greg McKeown on Working Smarter, Not Harder
From his book, Essentialism:
What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction seeing you from executing what is essential.
Before we just try to throw more hours at something, consider first what obstacles may be keeping us back?
For example, if someone is watching 5 hours of TV every night, there’s a pretty huge opportunity for reclaiming that time to spend it on more valuable things.
The crew at Fizzle recently put out an excellent podcast episode regarding “why hustle hurts you”. It’s a balanced and thoughtful discussion about the value of resting well and being okay with not-yet-breakthrough results in our business or side project.
In short: momentum. But that’s just one of the plethora of benefits of having a deep work activity that you show up every day for.
Your’s Truly, Regarding Goals
This little tidbit is adapted from one of the days in Module Two of The Focus Course.
There are two “camps” when it comes to goal setting.
On one side are those who champion for clear goal setting with a very intense, daily system for tracking your progress. This can be extremely helpful for the professional athlete, but it’s not always practical for everyone.
On the other side are those who champion for little to no goal setting at all. The mantra here is that it’s all about the joy in the journey.
There is value and truth in both of these camps. When we have a clear goal, it’s a way to define what the fruit of our life’s values and vision may look like, and this gives us something to be motivated toward and work for. That motivated state helps us make progress toward the things that are important in life.
If you spin the phrases of “qualitative” and “quantitative”, you get this dual-sided approach to goal setting.
By defining your goals you’re giving yourself something quantitative to attain. And then you can build a quality-of-life-centric lifestyle that is based on the foundation of your vision and values.
In short, you’re not only moving forward in the aim of attaining a tangible goal, but you’re also finding joy in the process.
It works like this: Decisiveness brings motivation for action; action brings clarity; clarity helps us make future decisions.
To me, this is what hustle is all about. Working hard to reach for a goal while also taking great joy in the process. Casting off as many distractions as possible and living a focused (and healthy) life.
Because if you do, you’ll be more creative, you’ll make more money, you’ll improve at your craft, and you’ll build an audience. And gosh-darnit, people will like you!
I’m completely serious.
You may never write a NYT Best Seller or have a billion dollar exit. But showing up every day to do your best work will absolutely leave you better off.
Diligence is the single most important component to creativity and building a business.
Just ask these clever guys:
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” — Ray Bradbury, hard-working writer
“The keys to success are patience, persistence, and obsessive attention to detail.” — Jeff Bezos, hard-working entrepreneur
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” — Chuck Close, hard-working painter
Do you see why diligence is more important than money, talent, relationships, audience, tools, or anything else?
It’s through your diligence (your persistence) that you build those assets.
Showing up every day is how you go about making money, developing your skills, building relationships, growing your audience, and mastering your tools.
Showing up every day means you have passion and focus. Why else would you do what you’re doing?
(Of course, there’s more to it than just showing up. You’ve got to be intentional about how you’re spending your time. (Work smarter, not harder.) But that’s a topic for we’ll get to later.)
* * *
Here are a few other advantages to showing up every day:
By showing up every day, you’ve stopped waiting passively for inspiration to mosey on by. Instead you’ve turned the act of doing your your best work into part of your daily routine. Now you’re playing offense.
Doing focused, creative work every day is challenging and, at times, even mundane. Your diligence helps you build a resistance so you don’t quit when it gets difficult.
After a few years of showing up every day to do the work, you’ll have invaluable experience and perspective about how seasons of life go up and down. You’ll have a better story to tell about your work. (This goes hand-in-hand with developing your resistance to the mundane.)
Diligence in one area of your life will bleed over into other areas. It’s a skill you can learn.
Quantity also breeds confidence. The more you do something, the more confident you become. Stick with it and you’ll slowly take ownership. You’ll realize you’re a writer and not just someone who writes; a photographer and not just someone who bought a camera; an entrepreneur, not an imposter.
Showing up every day removes the pressure of having to have a huge breakthrough ASAP. No single day becomes more or less important than any other day — the value is in the aggregate.
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Isn’t it silly to think that as creative and entrepreneurial folks we should live without routine, discipline, or accountability?
Showing up every day is the best thing you can do for your business, your creativity, and your platform.
Give your ideas and your goals a fighting chance.
That said, you should join me and hundreds of others for Focus Camp this summer.
Focus Camp is a dorky name, I know. But it’s going to be a blast.
And this camp is all online — you don’t have to drive to the mountains.
It’s the perfect opportunity to connect with a community of incredible folks. People who are just as committed as you are to doing their best creative work and who are just as hungry to establish diligence and focus.
You can learn more about Focus Camp, and RSVP right here.
(Or: Why The Fastest Route to Doing Your Best Creative Work is to Show Up Every Day, Ship Early, and Ship Often.)
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As people who care deeply about what we do and what we create, our goal is always quality. We’re aiming to write or design or record the best work we can; always seeking to get better.
Like I said last week, as a creative person, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the end product. You have this idea — this clever, beautiful, amazing thing you see in your mind. You want to make that, and anything less is unacceptable.
But, when you’re there, in the mire of your own work, it usually feels like anything but quality. It usually feels like crap.
As a writer, I never cease to amaze myself at my inability to find the words I am looking for. And then, when I can’t find them, I have no choice but to use the less-exciting words which have come to mind rather than those perfect ones which always seem to escape me.
It is in those moments where I have to remember that quantity leads to quality. Or, put another way, I’ve become comfortable with falling short of my own lofty expectations.
Today, the goal isn’t perfection. It’s far more simple: The goal is to show up and do the best work that I can.
Don’t believe that you must chose between creating a lot of something, or creating one thing that is a masterpiece. The former leads to the latter.
Yes, I want to be a fantastic writer. Yes, I want to write engaging, clever, and quotable works. Yes, I want my articles to be insightful and memorable. But I’ll never reach it if I quit while things seem poor. I cannot allow myself to only write when it feels inspired and en route to greatness.
If we sit around and wait for quality it won’t come.
Quality must be pursued.
In an article in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell cited psychologist Dean Simonton and brings up Simonton’s argument that quantity does, in fact, lead to quality:
The psychologist Dean Simonton argues that this fecundity is often at the heart of what distinguishes the truly gifted. The difference between Bach and his forgotten peers isn’t necessarily that he had a better ration of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions. A genius is a genius, Simonton maintains, because he can put together such a staggering number of insights, ideas, theories, and observations, and unexpected connections that he almost inevitably ends up with something great. “Quality,” Simonton writes, is “a probabilistic function of quantity.”
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport also argues that along with the ability to focus, quality is a byproduct of quantity.
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
He then goes on to say that, “unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you.”
Moreover, the idea that quantity leads to quality is the same case Geoff Colvin makes in his book, Talent is Overrated. Stating that the world’s top performers are, for the most part, people just like you and I but who have (a) put in far more hours practicing their craft and (b) made the most of their practice time by practicing with intentionality and deep focus.
“One day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple, but it isn’t easy. It requires incredible support and fastidious structuring.” — Russell Brand
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Consider the fairytale of Goldilocks and the three bears.
Goldilocks happens upon the home of three bears while they’re out on a walk. She comes in and tastes their porridge, sits in their chairs, and sleeps in their beds.
The first bowl of porridge was too hot; the second, too cold; but the third was just right. And likewise for the chairs she sat in and the beds she napped in.
So it is in our pursuit of quality, excellence, and breakthrough…
At first we feel like intruders; imposters. Everything we put our hand to is not quite right. Too hot, too cold, to big, too small, hard, soft.
But then, after enough perseverance and focus, eventually, we create something that’s just right.
Here we are, the first Fantastic Friday of May. Welcome!
On a personal note, my wife and I are almost done unpacking! It’s been 3.5 weeks since we moved in to our new home. We’re down to just the last few boxes — I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
As any of you who have moved can surely attest to, it’s not easy to keep going. Each day I try to do at least one if not two projects around the house — even if they’re small projects. Such as yesterday: I (finally) put up a hand towel holder in our master bathroom.
In other news, I’ve got something awesome planned for The Focus Course that we’ll be doing in June. I’ll share more information with you in just a few days. But here’s a hint: it may or may not involve a cowboy hat…
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s book, On Writing, but I’m not a fan of horror fiction. So I haven’t read any of King’s fiction books until now… 11/22/63 is about a man who travels back in time. It’s not horror fiction, and the storytelling is fantastic. I’m still early on in the book, so don’t tell me what happens.
Last week I linked to one of the episodes of Unemployable featuring Austin Kleon. Since then I’ve listened to about a dozen more episodes of the show. It’s fantastic. The episodes are short (usually just 20-30 minutes) and full of inspiration.
This is the album I’m listening to right now as I type up this week’s Fantastic Friday.
May is here, the seasons are changing, and it’s as good a time as any for a fresh desktop wallpaper. For this one I just went to Unsplash and searched for “mountains”.