What makes an overly urgent and busy life so dangerous?

I was recently flipping through Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism, and came across this quote that I had highlighted:

“If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you probably believe that creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum.”

It is dangerous to be overly urgent and busy. Because it will distract us from slowing down.

What makes an overly urgent and busy life so dangerous?

Maximum clarity doesn’t always mean perfect clarity

One definition of Focus is “Maximum Clarity”. But, in life, having maximum clarity doesn’t always mean having absolute, perfect clarity. Focus can be a graduating scale.

Sometimes, having maximum clarity right now, may still seem a bit vague… maybe you are only 80% confident and clear. But that’s the best you’ve got right now so you make the best decision you can at the time with the values, motivation, and information available to you right now.

Thus you must make a decision with the most amount of clarity you have right now. Knowing that, as you move forward, things will come more into view and you can make adjustments.

Maximum clarity doesn’t always mean perfect clarity

Why Routines are Sexy (Growth Without Thinking)

I try to make as few decisions each day as possible.

Here are some of the things I’ve “automated” about my day, and why it matters.

Years ago, I started with automating the trivial parts of my life:

  • What to wear
  • What to eat for breakfast
  • When to get up
  • When to begin work
  • What time to break for lunch
  • When to go to bed

I rarely make those same choices every day as if they were “new”. I’ve mostly become boring about the trivial stuff, so that I don’t have to think much about it every day.

Next, I removed as many of the non-trivial decisions from my day as possible as well.

I did this by creating routines for growth in my life. Things such as:

  • Reading habit
  • Writing habit
  • Workout routine
  • Sleep routine
  • Automated finances
  • Date night

By creating routines for growth in each area of my life I don’t have to think about growth decisions every day. Instead, I simply have to show up and stick to my routine.

By “automating” parts of my day, it means two things…

  1. It keeps me focused and growing in the areas of my life that I love.
  2. It gives me a LOT of energy to think about other stuff

See? Routines are sexy.

By automating parts of my daily life, I don’t think and decide about the same things over and over and over every day.

This lets me save my “decision energy” for the things that really NEED it. Such as being present for relationships, creating new things, and solving interesting problems.

Why Routines are Sexy (Growth Without Thinking)

How to be held back by schleps and egos

In this excellent article from Paul Graham, he talks about the fact that a lot of work kinda sucks — that’s the nature of it a lot of time. And so you have to just dive on in and do it.

But, unfortunately, a lot of people and teams will shy away from the work that sucks — because, well, they don’t want to do it. Who does? But it’s often the unpleasant work that leads to big breakthroughs and successes.

And so, a Paul says, that’s not to say you should go out of your way to seek out unpleasant work, but neither should you shrink from it when it’s on the path to something great.

This reminds me also of something from Scott Belskey:

There is an inverse correlation between how much you value your time and how much “luck” you encounter (i.e. noticing opportunities around you and capitalizing on them).

New successes require lowering your expected ROI on your time.</blockquote

This is how inflated egos extinguish new possibility: the more important you think you are, then the less open you are to non-obvious opportunity and the more limited your chance of success in new vectors and relationships.

How to be held back by schleps and egos

Set a 5-Minute Timer for Those Boring Tasks

A reader recently asked me about procrastination, and I pointed them to this article about The 5-Minute Rule.

There are many activities in life that are worth doing but that aren’t always easy to get started. A few things that come to mind for me include:

  • Cleaning up the house at the end of the day
  • Starting a workout
  • Writing
  • Reading a book

When it’s time to do one of these activities, and I don’t feel like it, then I will commit to 5 minutes.

I’ll spend 5 minutes putting away the dishes; 5 minutes warming up; or 5 minutes writing whatever crappy prose comes to mind.

Then, after those first 5 minutes, if I’m still not into it I give myself permission to move on to something else. But most of the time, it only takes a few minutes for the momentum to kick in.

Set a 5-Minute Timer for Those Boring Tasks

How I spent my recent Sabbatical (with pictures!)

This was something like the 30th sabbatical week that my company has taken since 2017.

After years of these regular, week-long sabbatical breaks, I’ve discovered a few things that help me make the most of my time out of the office.

One of the best ways to get the most out of a sabbatical week is to know the difference between true rest and counterfeit rest.

True rest will leave you recharged with more energy. Thus, you want to find restful activities that give you energy rather than draining it. I love to say that if you work with your head, rest with your hands (such as cooking, woodworking, landscaping, etc.).

And so, here’s the thing: true rest usually takes a little bit of effort.

Things like reading a paperback novel, cooking a meal, going out for a walk, having a conversation with someone, listening to an audiobook with your significant other. Heck, even just sitting down, alone, and not having a phone or screen can take some effort.

And so, during my sabbatical breaks, I focus hard on getting a healthy dose of that restful and creative work.

My aim is usually to have one big project that I can get done during the week in addition to daily anchors such as exercise, getting out on a excursion, having a meal with someone, etc.

I also keep my same sleep schedule. It would be easy to toss discipline into the wind for that week and treat it like full-on vacation mode. But honestly, that leaves me feeling more exhausted and behind at the end.

Anyway, for me, this past Sabbatical that was just last week seemed to be themed around taking pictures and cooking food. I smoked about 40 lbs of beef brisket and I got out several times to make photos with my Leica Q.

One other thing, on April 12 I began posting daily videos to Instagram. You can’t schedule these videos ahead of time, I was on Instagram posting them every day, which definitely led to me spending much more time on social media than I normally would.

My Screen Time Report for last week shows an average of more than 90 minutes / day on Instagram. Ouch. Even though a lot of that was time spent in the app to create my daily videos, it’s still a lot of time on social.


Anyway, if you’re curious what an average Sabbatical week looks like for me, it’s not too far off from how I spent last week’s break. Here’s a rundown:



Monday

Smoked a 12-pound brisket, just for fun. I woke up early on Monday morning to get the brisket on the smoker. Then spent most of the day tending to the food and prepping the sides. And, because we live in Kansas City, of course I separated the point and chopped it to make burnt ends. It was fantastic.




Tuesday

My youngest son was home from school on Tuesday, so he and I got to work together to build new storage shelves in the guest room closet downstairs.




Wednesday

It was a beautiful day for a drive in the CJ-7. I took my sister out to lunch. Made some photos with the Leica Q. And, later in the evening, I lit up the backyard fire pit for dude’s night with a good friend.




Thursday

Finished building the closet shelves.




Friday

Made dinner: Korean rice wraps with bulgogi beef and bulgogi tofu. Not gonna lie, the tofu was on point.




Saturday

Smoked more brisket! Not one, but two (!) briskets for a fundraiser at our church that was happening Sunday. I made them the day before because they needed to be dropped off on Sunday morning and I did not want to be up and down all night tending to the brisket and hoping it would be ready in time on Sunday morning.

I personally did’t get to try the brisket (I delivered it wrapped and uncut), but I heard it turned out great. And, of course, I also made burnt ends and I did taste test those and they turned out just as incredible as the same-day ends I made on Monday.




Sunday

Anna and I have made it a focus in life to go on a date every week. Sometimes we go out, and sometimes our date nights are at home because we want to stay home or maybe we just can’t find a sitter. Sometimes we sit on the back deck or walk around the neighborhood.

It has been an unusually busy month at home for us, and this past Sunday we were actually we able to get out of the house and go on a date. We went to sushi dinner, got ice cream, and enjoyed some beautiful weather walking around downtown area snapping some photos with my Leica Q.

. . . .

As you can see, my week above was a somewhat “normal” week. The only really different thing is that I didn’t go into my office to do any work.

But I still kept to my same basic daily schedule: I go to bed and wake up at the same time as I do on weeks when I am working. I kept my exercise routine and did my normal rowing and lifting workouts. Ultimately, for an average sabbatical week, the biggest change for me is that the 6-8 hours / day that I normally would be working, I instead will spend that time on personal projects — cooking, woodworking, making photos, and extra family time.

These regular sabbaticals give me the space and the time to pull back from work. I also love how the sabbatical creates a clear and consistent stopping point for our focused work cycles, that help us to avoid biting off more than we can chew and to get more work done in less time.

How I spent my recent Sabbatical (with pictures!)

The Law of Tradeoffs

There are 8 Laws of Focus and one of them is the Law of Tradeoffs.

As David Allen said, you can do anything but you cannot do everything. In order to give your perpetual devotion to any one thing it will require the perpetual neglect of many other things. Focus, therefore, requires tradeoffs.

You can only focus on so many things at a time. And you can only focus for so many hours during the day. Instead of ignoring the limitation on your energy, embrace it and find ways to routinize and automate the non-trivial areas of your life so that even when you are not giving them your full attention and devotion, they are not being fully neglected.

The Law of Tradeoffs

Meta Work vs Doing the Work

There are 4 necessary steps to doing work that matters:

  • Identify
  • Plan
  • Act
  • Celebrate

Only one of those steps is actually doing the work. The other 3 are what we call “meta work”.

Meta work is the work that happens before and after the work itself. If you are cooking dinner, meta work is doing your meal planning and going grocery shopping and then cleaning up after dinner. If you are writing an article, meta work is scheduling your writing time and topic.

There are so many times when we feel like meta work is a waste of our time. Planning, meetings, reviews, etc… why bother!? Let me get to work!

To be sure, we never want the meta work to get in the way. But neither can we skip it. When you look at the meta work in context of the bigger picture, you can instantly see that it is necessary. You cannot skip any of the steps or else you will short-circuit the whole process. But, of course, neither should you spend too much time on the meta steps.

Meta Work vs Doing the Work

This Business Goes to Eleven

Something fun happened earlier this week: Monday was the 11-year anniversary of when I quit my job and began blogging for a living!

On Monday, I walked into the office and proudly exclaimed that this business goes to 11! I’ve been waiting a decade to tell that joke, yet all I got were blank stares from my team. (They were, of course, promptly fired.)

For any of you long-time readers, you may remember how I used to support my work through a $3 / month subscription to get access to the private “Shawn Today” podcast. Wow. Those were the days…

Over the past 11 years, so much has changed! It’s no longer just me, sitting down at my desk to write and publish for my blog. There is a team of us now, and I absolutely love getting to work with them!

We celebrated on Monday with a dozen Crumbl Cookies (if you know, you know) as we spent the day ideating, brainstorming, and organizing a lot of new initiatives around our 4-Focus Method and the next big update to Focus Academy and beyond.

This Business Goes to Eleven

Alternative Ways to Spend 5 Minutes of Awkward Downtime

A few weeks ago, as our latest Focus Academy cohort was wrapping up, one of the members asked in the Slack group about how to spend time during the “down moments” of his work day when there was roughly 5 or 10 minutes with nothing to do.

Perhaps you’ve experienced just such an awkward window of time like this — such as in-between Zoom meetings or something. And so, allow me to suggest a few ways to spend those few minutes…

  • If you Use Day One scroll through your Day One timeline and read a previous journal entry.
  • Browse some old photos and memories.
  • Launch Day One (or any other journal you have) and log how you’ve spent your time so far for the day. Doing this for a few weeks can also be super helpful for getting a perspective of where your time and energy are being spent.
  • Write down 3 new ideas. These could be articles you want to write, business ideas, places you want to visit or photograph, topics you want to research, date ideas for you and your spouse, gift ideas for a friend, etc. These ideas never have to to be acted on — the point isn’t to generate a to-do list, but rather to exercise your mind. Ideation and creativity are muscles, and the more we exercise them the stronger they get.
  • Send a text message to a friend or family member to tell them how awesome they are.
  • Stand up and do some stretching / body movement.

Boredom is Good (not bad)

Speaking of ways to spend that awkward downtime, one of the reasons to consider avoiding email and social media is that it can help you to reduce the amount of “novel stimuli” that you let in to your day-to-day life. (This was a main takeaway from my interview with Cal Newport)

When you have a strong baseline level of noise in all the little moments of your life, it makes it more difficult to focus on the task at hand when you’re doing deep work. Because, in short, you’re training your brain that boredom is bad.

Don’t train your brain to think boredom is bad! My 8-year-old is convinced that being bored is the Worst Thing Ever. But boredom is fine! If we “eject” every time we are bored then then it will, in turn, hinder us from being able to focus for extended periods of time.

Alternative Ways to Spend 5 Minutes of Awkward Downtime