How to Make the Next Step Easier On Yourself

Pre-S: Plan Your Year is now available. Check it out here.

Pre-S #2: This article is the next in a series I’ve been writing about goal setting. You can find the past articles here, here, here, and here.

Here we are. It’s 2018.

Suppose this year you’d like to eat more apples and less potato chips.

Regardless of what your goal is, there is an awesome little trick that can help you with these small micro-habits that you do every day.

When it comes to the apples and potato chips, it’s as simple as buying some apples and setting them on your kitchen counter. And then — you guessed it — don’t buy any potato chips. Boom.

By making apples easily available, you have lowered the energy required to eat an apple. It’s right there. Sitting on your counter, ready to go. And those pesky potato chips are nowhere to be found. They’re at least a trip to the store away.

This trick goes for anything…

  • Lower the activation energy required for writing by having your writing topic ready to go ahead of time.
  • Lower the activation energy for going to the gym by setting out your workout clothes ahead of time.
  • Lower the activation energy for reading book by keeping one on your coffee table (or use the Kindle app on your phone).

And the converse (for things you want to do less of)…

  • Raise the activation energy for checking social media by deleting the apps off your phone.
  • Raise the activation energy for watching TV by keeping the remotes in a bedroom on the opposite side of your house.
  • Raise the activation energy for checking your phone while you drive by turning on Do Not Disturb While Driving

If your books are hiding next to the lamp on your bedroom nightstand, no wonder it’s easier to just pull out your phone and check Facebook when you have a few minutes of down time.

This stuff applies to more than just healthy micro habits, by the way.

If you want to get advanced, think of ways to lower the activation energy for doing the next step on your current project.

In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen says that you cannot do a project, you can only do the next step. There is a lot of wisdom and maturity required to take a bigger project or outcome and boil it down to one step at a time.

And by picking that one action ahead of time, you’ve already lowered the activation energy required to doing it. When you put a desired behavior onto a path of less resistance, it will take less energy to accomplish it.

Take it one step further by getting into the habit of doing something now that will make your next step easier to begin. And then repeat in perpetuity.

Shawn Achor writes in his book, The Happiness Advantage, that “the more we can lower or eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.”

As always, thanks for reading. Next week we’ll talk about how to define meaningful progress (and recognize that progress) so you stay motivated as you work toward your goals.

How to Make the Next Step Easier On Yourself

I’ve heard from several folks recently who had been planning to sign up for the Focus Course at the New Year but didn’t realize that we are currently not offering access to the Course.

(That’s because this past fall I changed course registration from being open enrollment to only being available twice per year. More on the reasons for that another time.)

So, if you want to jump in and get access to the Focus Course, I wanted to open up registration for a brief, 24-hour window.

Here are a few testimonies we’ve received from alumni:

  • “Without any hyperbole, I can honestly say that taking the Focus Course has been life changing.” — Ross K.
  • “The Focus Course is one of the best investments I have made so far.” Andrey S.
  • “I couldn’t be happier with the results it produced in my life.” — John V.
  • “The course has completely changed my life.” — Phong C.
  • “My husband, Ben, and I absolutely loved it!” — Havilah C.
  • “The Focus Course has been an awesome experience.” — Kate W.
  • “I have the tools to continue working toward achieving the focus I want in every part of my life.” — Ben B.
  • “It helped me define what was important and why — and how to execute on those things.” — Andrew C.
  • “The course is so practical and stimulating. It has bled into almost every area of my life.” — Sara P.

If those testimonies sound like the same sort of kick-start you want as 2018 begins, then you can get access to the Focus Course today.

PSA: Focus Course Registration Open for 24-Hours

Quality Over Quantity

It’s the New Year and it’s exciting. Something my wife and I were talking about over the weekend was the desire to focus on just a few things that truly matter.

I’m 36, and over the years my tendency has usually been to bite off way more than I can chew. I want to do all the things!

Lists certainly help me to focus. So I write it all down. Everything that seems important or exciting or necessary goes onto the page.

Once its out of my head and onto some paper, it’s quite a bit easier to edit and focus and make choices about what I actually have time and energy for.

I think it was David Allen who said you can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. It’s ironic how an attempt to do everything will actually keep you from doing anything.

Instead of focusing on everything, focus on one or two things that matter most. It’s amazing how liberating that can be to your own quality of life as well as your ability to get things done.

Quality Over Quantity


If you want to start something in 2018, then I hope you will go for it!

It doesn’t have to be huge or awesome or perfect or brand new. Give yourself permission to start small, to be honest, to go slow, to make mistakes along the way, and to do it in your own way. That’s where all of the fun is anyway.


Kevin Kelly (3+ years ago), and it is still just as timely and relevant:

Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now. Right now, this minute.

You Are Not Late

Seth Godin:

When we fight constraints and eliminate them, we often gain access to new insights, new productivity and new solutions. It also makes it easier to compete against people who don’t have those constraints.

There’s a useful alternative: embrace the constraints you’ve been given. Use them as assets, as an opportunity to be the one who solved the problem. Once you can thrive in a world filled with constraints, it’s ever easier to do well when those constraints are loosened.

Embracing Constraints

The Simple Structure to Attaining Your Goals

Pre-S #1: The past few Fridays I’ve been writing about goal setting. You can catch up on past articles here, here, and here.

Pre-S #2: Plan Your Year is now available. Check it out here.

Today I want to share with you a simple-yet-powerful structure for attaining your goals.

And what’s special about this little process is that it’s free from any particular productivity system, app, or methodology.

It’s as simple as this:

  1. Define an outcome you’d like to see happen.
  2. Think of one thing you can do to make progress toward that outcome.
  3. Do that one thing.
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3.

That’s it. You’re looking at the fundamental formula for planning and accomplishing.

Here’s why this little process works so well:

You’re taking one big thing, and breaking it down into something small and simple that you can do today in incremental steps.

You’re taking a goal, and your then moving on to focus on the system that will get you there.

Contrast that against something that is more common: coming up with an idea or a goal, and then instantly thinking of all the big hurdles and “unknowns” related to that goal, and then quitting before you even get started.

How to Eat an Elephant

You’ve no doubt heard the adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

It’s important to focus primarily on steps 2 and 3 — identify the one thing you can do to make progress and then go do it.

But instead, many people focus mostly on step #1 — the goal itself. I’m all for having clear goals, but staring deeply into the eyes of those goals will not make them come about. You’ve got to take action.

If you remember from last week we talked about the two camps of goal setting, and why it’s so important to focus on the system that keeps you moving and taking action.

When you’ve identified one single action and one single result, then the focus is no longer on managing your tasks — the focus is now on doing them.

There’s nothing wrong with systems and methodologies. In fact, once you have the wisdom and the skills to identify the most important thing to do next, then you can use any system or methodology you want. Use whatever makes sense for your personality type and your work environment.

Once you have the wherewithal to define what meaningful productivity looks like for you, then your productivity tools become a slave to your priorities, not the other way around.

Next we’re going to talk about how to lower the barrier of entry to your goals so you can finally get started on them. It’s a little something I like to call “activation energy”.

And in the meantime, you may be interested in my brand-new workbook: Plan Your Year. It’s simple and will help you get a clear, birds eye view of your year so you can focus on what is most important.

The Simple Structure to Attaining Your Goals

For the past 6 years, every January, my wife and I take an evening or two and we map out our upcoming year.

We each get a few pieces of paper and use them to list the year’s important events, milestones, plus any goals we have or other things we want to do. Then we go through that list and decide when those things are going to happen and what we’re going to do to help make them a reality.

It’s a very approachable way to get a birds eye view of the upcoming year.

It helps us define what matters most to us for the year and what obstacles we may encounter. And year after year, this time of planning has proven to be a highlight. It has a positive impact on our year, and it’s also a lot of fun since the process facilitates some great conversation.

For this upcoming January, I’d love for you to be able to go through your own process if you like. (And you don’t have to be married — this is something that works for anyone and everyone.)

I have put together something simple and new. It’s called Plan Your Year.

Plan Your Year is a small workbook that walks you through the exact same process Anna and I go through each January.

The workbook is just $19 and is something you can do in a single evening. Check it out.

May you get out of bed on January 1 and get to bed on December 31, and in-between do what you want to do.

Brand New: Plan Your Year

Speaking of reading more, Srinivas Rao has some practical advice on how to synthesize what you read and have that information impact your life. If you’re feeling creatively dry — or if your creative output has been lacking of late — getting into a regimen of taking action on what you read is a great way to start improving your output.

Herbert Spencer said that “the great aim of knowledge is not education but action.” The things we learn should impact how we spend our time, what our behavior is, the things we create, and more.

But, gosh, it sure is time consuming to bridge that gap between reading and applying.

There is no such thing as an “easy” or “convenient” way to capture ideas, remember them, and take action on them. Highlighting something in Instapaper feels nice, but it’s only the first — and easiest — step.

If I do say so myself, I have a pretty neat system for how I read books, organize the bits of inspiration, and then digitize and categorize it. (See also how I use Ulysses, which is the app that serves as the backbone to the organization of my book notes.)

All this effort takes time and energy. But, guess what? That’s the point. Immersion, study, synthesization, and application are work. And they are worthwhile work.

Rao’s final point is the key takeaway here, and possibly the biggest stumbling block:

Implement What you Read, but Start Small: One of the major reasons people fail to implement what they read into their lives is they bite off more than they can chew. They read some book and attempt a massive overhaul of their life. Because this isn’t sustainable, they usually find themselves right back where they started. They assume the ideas in the book don’t work and start looking for the next book to read

When I start a book, I am only looking for one good idea (maybe two at the most). Not because I have a low bar of expectation for the book, but because I only have the capacity to grasp and act on one new idea at a time.

For example, earlier this year I read Profit First. And it was jam packed with great ideas that I wanted to do right away for my business finances. But I started with just one: setting aside 1% of gross revenue as “profit” every single month. 1% is practically a rounding error, so it’s mostly just about getting into the habit. And starting next month, we’re increasing that amount to 5% plus implementing some more of the alternate accounting methods.

How to Remember and Take Action on What you Read

If you happened to unwrap a new iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch recently, then over on The Sweet Setup we’ve put together a list of a few apps you may want to check out.

It’s interesting — we’ve been putting these lists together for several years. And it used to be written for the “new-to-iOS” crowd: people who were getting their very first iDevice at Christmas. But now, the list is written a bit more toward folks who are looking for some new apps they may not of heard about. Though I’m sure there are still quite a few people who got their first Apple Watch and/or iPad this year.

For more app picks, check out this article I wrote last week of my favorite apps of 2017. There are some fun games listed there at the end. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highly recommend both Day One and Ulysses — even if you didn’t get a new iOS Device.

Moreover, check out the Popular page on The Sweet Setup, where there’s a list of the most popular app picks on our site as voted on by readers.

Some Apps for New iOS devices

Got What I Wanted

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an old Christmas wish list from when I was about 10 or 11. And there were 60-some-odd items on it. At the top of the list was a CD boom box with dual tape decks. I remember getting that boom box for Christmas, and I remember my wild excitement.

There was another year when I was obsessed with getting the new TMNT arcade game for my Nintendo. Even now, well over 20 years later, I still have clear memories of opening that gift, freaking out, and then playing video games nonstop for about a month or twelve.

But as I’ve gotten older, it’s not about the items any longer.

I can buy pretty much anything I want. (If not for cash, then at least with credit which would be dumb but that’s not my point right now).

I think about this every year. What I have always wanted most has always been what is beyond my ability to buy. It was true when I was a boy, and it’s still true now that I’m a man.

The things I want most are a healthy family, the time to play with my boys, and a thriving marriage. It’s Christmas morning, and I got what I wanted.

Got What I Wanted