One of the most popular questions I get asked from people is how do I get ‘so’ much done.
There’s my day job, the blog/newsletter, guiding my online and offline students, wrestling matches with my two sons, hot dates with Mrs Sohail and exercising
The truth is, it’s a question I am always embarrassed to answer, because there’s a nagging voice in my brain that says ‘you know you could have done a bit more’
It’s not a good thing, there’s that old adage that no one will be on their death bed and ask, ‘could I have done more work? ’It should be ‘could I have spent more time with my loved ones?’
Fortunately, a lot of my ‘more work’ involves spending time with my loved ones, like you! Okay that makes me sound a bit creepy but I did make a commitment to help as many people as I can to much better careers. I’m trying to do what I can with all I have learned to make things better for good folks like you.
Okay, so let me share a few insights with you on what I do to progress.
The first hour of the day belongs to me
No emails, no phone calls. I focus on digging in to my biggest priority. This is so important. Research by one of my favourite psychologists Roy Baumeister has proven that our willpower is greatest first thing in the morning and diminishes throughout the day, even though it can be replenished with glucose and rest it will never be at the level it is first thing in the morning.
Will power correlates to creativity and memory retention abilities.
So let’s say you need to re-write your CV/Resume or learn some Excel, do it early and you will put in your best effort.
Of course, pragmatism is important, I don’t have this luxury always because my kids get up early and it’s important for me to spend a bit of time with them then, or when I am coming to the end of delivering a major project, all my time gets consumed by that. But the aim is always to give the first hour of the day to myself, i.e. to my ‘you’ business.
I only started drinking coffee a few years ago in my early 30’s. I have a habit where I get up early, put my coffee on before anything, it takes about 20 minutes for the caffeine to kick in but it makes my first hour more potent, supercharging my cognitive powers! I also use coffee later in the day but try and avoid after 2pm if possible as it can take 8 hours to clear from your system, thus impairing sleep.
I look for pockets of time, here and there, I live close to Central London and so I have a maximum of 20 minutes on the train to get to work. That 20 minutes will be ideally spent reading some non-fiction on Kindle, but usually it’s spent going through emails I need to respond to, reading a report I need to comment on or responding to a student of mine.
20 mins on the commute is so powerful, don’t misuse it. Kay Cannon wrote the script for the film ‘Pitch Perfect’ on her commute to work over a period of 3 years, so she made that time add up in a big way.
That 20 mins on my commute is one example, other examples are lunch, working with my laptop whilst walking on the treadmill, when dinner is cooking and so much more.
Stealing time is not pretty, but it is so crucial to progression because it really does add up.
I’m not talking bowel movements or assassinating stakeholders who are holding up my projects. I’m talking about being absolutely truthful on the work you are doing and whether it will actually make an impact to YOUR career progression. Every week, I look at what I need to do and get rid of about half of the things I previously thought I needed to do.
When you are confused about what you should do and not do then you need to ask someone.
Not just anyone, but a mentor figure, someone who has done what you want to have done. I currently have about 9 mentors. Someone who I ask to coach me on dealing with C-level executives, someone who I ask to look over my project plans, someone who I look to make me a better teacher for my students, someone who I ask about my exercising, someone I look to for health/medical advice to make me function even better etc.
The other options involve guesswork and guesswork is the slow approach to anything. I simply do not understand why anyone would want to leave their major decisions, be it career, skills acquisition to guess work.
People who progress minimse guesswork.
One of the few pieces of entertainment I’ve been hooked on over the last few years is ‘The Walking Dead’, now, I never was a zombie fan but my goodness there is some fantastic story telling going on in that show.
Story telling is incredibly powerful, it’s why we are hooked to the shows we watch for years, it’s why we can’t put down a good bit of fiction and it’s why many people love religion, because morals and philosophies are taught through some very compelling stories.
Good stories are compelling. People with interesting and impressive journeys are compelling to us, we want to know more about them and how they became who they are.
Whether it’s a celebrity, musician, athlete, businessman or even a senior Executive in our own company.
Not only do we want to know about them we often want to copy their example.
Whether we know it or not but people with a compelling story will shape our own narrative. When I realised this, I made sure I was looking to the right people. I was fortunate to come across great people and I am glad that I ASKED them questions.
Stories shape beliefs and beliefs shape our actions.
If you believe you should take 10 years to become a mid-level professional, it will take you 10 years, if you believe it will take you 5 years to become mid-level professional you will get there in 5.
So listen to and believe better, more prosperous stories because they will lead to more prosperous actions.
Stop observing the wrong people, with mediocre stories, start looking at the right people with stories worth replicating.
When you look at the right people, you will also notice they have progressed more quickly….
This is about the speed of progression. This is very important. The brilliant Diet and Physiology expert Lyle McDonald developed a diet called the Rapid Fat Loss diet. It helps people lose weight incredibly fast. He has also pointed to research that losing weight fast initially can help long term weight loss.
The idea is about the psychological momentum gained from quick wins. When you can see results happening quicker, you are more encouraged so you are inclined to keep going, keep progressing.
Now, I often discuss acceleration. I have accelerated somewhat in my career and I continue to accelerate as it quickly brings me more money and the more I will earn the closer I will reach my ultimate goal which in the words of one of my favourite writers Nassim Taleb ‘To have independence of authority’ i.e. complete freedom, choice.
My mentors accelerated in their career, some of my colleagues have to and my students are beginning to do the same. As I mentioned above, tell yourself the right stories by seeking out the right storytellers
Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the idea of flow. He has written a wonderful book on the subject called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
The main point of that relevant here is that you should aim to get in to a state of flow with your work. That is you are fully immersed and focused on the task at hand: Be it developing an Excel dashboard, preparing for an interview, writing a quarterly report or pitching an idea for cost cutting or whatever.
Shut off all distractions like e-mail, phone, social media, sit somewhere no one can reach you and distract you. Be completely single-minded and immerse yourself. What you will find is that once you get momentum, you will be on a roll and your mood will elevate, when you are working with an elevated mood you will create/learn in the best possible mental state.
Good things will happen.
It’s a great way to progress your efforts so engineer your time to spend as much of it in the flow state.
When working on certain banking projects, I have to sift through long contractual documents, about legal entities or financial instruments.
They are long. They are boring. But it has to be done.
I have to accept this truth. I take a deep breath, accept my fate and get on with it. Grit is the toughness that will keep you going, if you keep going you are progressing.
Grit is incredibly important, most people will give up, give up on courses, books, learning, improving themselves where a bit of grit would have helped and pushed them through to greater things.
If you simply try and use willpower, you can become fatigued, instead Grit is something that can be improved and I will return to the subject in the future to discuss how I build grit but as a spoiler alert Exercise and discomfort over time will do it.
I wanted to share some of my thought processes around progression, sometimes progressing on a single piece of work, sometimes a higher level thought, but progression is progression and it adds up. Over months and years it adds up and it means the difference between being mid and senior level, it means a difference of £100,000s in earnings over the course of your career.