“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
You Already Know How To Get Shit Done—You Just Don’t Want To Do It
My first attempt at writing died a horrible, painful death.
Honestly, it’s embarrassing to talk about.
In early 2016, I wanted to become a commercial real estate influencer — a way to develop new business, network, and introduce my writing skills to the universe. I set a target of writing one blog per week and posting on LinkedIn, Instagram, and my website. Easy, right?
Apparently not. ,
I didn’t know what it meant to be a content writer.
My day resembled the schedule of a C- college student. I rolled out of bed at 7:30 am, showered for 15 minutes, inhaled a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, listen to Barstool Sports, walked in the office at 8:30 am, caught up on emails for a few hours, ate lunch; then spent the rest of the afternoon putting out the fires I made in the morning. I headed home around 5:30 pm unless there was a happy hour, then I stumbled home at 8:00 pm.
I wrote somewhere between the mess.
What was my production? 3 blogs in 3 months. All of them tanked.
I gave up writing shortly after.
Discipline Equals Freedom
Fast forward to 2020, and my commercial real estate business came to a screeching halt — it’s hard to sell office space when everyone works from home.
So I did what any sane 27-year-old would do in a pandemic. I read every book on my bookshelf.
Here’s one that changed my life: Cal Newport’s “Deep Work.” An almost philosophical thesis about removing distractions, harnessing focus, and getting more shit done.
In the book, Cal tells the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s time management routine. While at Harvard, Teddy’s list of activities included boxing, wrestling, bodybuilding, dancing, poetry reading, and birding. He worked hard at his extracurriculars and still maintained stellar grades at a demanding school.
How did he pull it off?
Teddy organized his schedule by taking the hours between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm and removing the time spent in class, at lunch, or working out. The time fragments that remained were for intense, focused study, which freed up the hours outside of 8:30 am and 4:30 pm for bird watching.
That was my problem, my schedule lacked discipline, and I didn’t create an environment that encouraged the deep focus required for quality work.
I tweaked my writing schedule, and the results were miraculous. Well, it felt like a miracle to me, anyway.
Here’s what happened to my writing production:
Created Yo Pro Library
Average two articles per week. 800 - 1200 words.
Published in The Post Grad Survival Guide, The Ascent, The Start-Up, and The Data-Driven Investor
A 50% increase in Medium followers this year.
The tactics I used are old school. No one really wants to hear “get up early” and “limit social media” but, believe me, I’m talking about it because it works.
Here are the steps I took to increase my focus and get more done:
Step 1.) Block Off 1-hour In Your Day
Swedish psychologist and the inventor of the 10,000-hour rule, Anders Ericsson, says expert performers average between 3 – 4 hours of focused work each day, or what he calls deliberate practice. No more, no less.
According to Ericsson, productivity tends to spiral after 4 hours.
I’m telling you this so you don’t feel overwhelmed or squeeze 6-hours of work into your already busy schedule. 3 - 4 hours is expert status and something to strive for, but not realistic for most of us.
The more time you dedicate to something the better, but 1-hour is a good launchpad.
Step 2.) Work While The Rest of The World is Asleep
I’m not asking you to get up at 4:30 am like Jocko Willink.
I get it. 30% of all people are night owls.
I’m asking you to block out an hour when you’re free from obligations and distractions. That’s it.
5 am? Great, me too.
10 pm? The writer Tim Ferriss is famous for writing in the middle of the night.
I write at 5 am because I’m an early bird, and my brain seems to function at a higher level in the morning. Also, 99.9% of the people I know are asleep at 5 am, which means I’m not worried about an incoming text from clients or friends texting about the weekend.
The time doesn’t matter. Find an hour when your brain feels best and free from distraction.
Step 3.) Tie Yourself To The Mast
Here’s something I posted on LinkedIn 6-months ago.
Bear with me:
“Odysseus was sailing home from an uneventful war when he remembered: “They’re sirens in these waters!”
Sirens, of course, are the beautiful but deadly island creatures that lure sailors with their angelic voices and fins.
Growing nervous, Odysseus placed wax in his ears and ordered his crew to tie him to the ship’s mast. He then asked them not to untie him, no matter how much he begged.
When the ship passed the siren island, Odysseus heard their song, which I imagine sounded like Ariana Grande’s “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored,” and begged to be set free. His crew ignored him, and Odysseus escaped temptation.
What’s the lesson? If you find yourself distracted at home, tie yourself to the mast like Odysseus.”
Identify what distracts you and come up with tactics that will help you resist temptation.
Here’s what I do: I set an alarm for the end of the blocked hour. Then I put my phone on silent and shove it in a drawer.
Step 4.) Have Everything You Need At Arm’s Length
Before you start your deep work secession, ensure you have all the fuel you need within reaching distance. The goal is to eliminate all distractions including the urge to get up and get a snack when your belly starts to growl.
Prep with the following:
This step is nitpicky, but it’s all about performance and quality, right? Let’s take it seriously.
You Already Know This Shit
Look, hearing this shit is annoying. I get it. I’m sick of reading blogs about how to be successful. I’m even sicker of Cal Newport's disciples yelling at me to delete Instagram.
But the simple fact is, it works.
Start today or start tomorrow. Just start. Harness your focus for a few days, a few weeks, a few years and you will wake up one day and realize. I’m superhuman.