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Fear & doing hard things
I look around me & see people just going through the motions. It is action by rote, rather than by creating something new.
In a new startup, employees spend more time worrying about their Twitter profile than hunting down that first customer.
In bigger companies, meetings are organised to discuss things they will never put into action.
In our personal lives, we create problems out of nothing to avoid this self-examination that inevitably creeps in when we have nothing to worry about. We worry about what the traffic or weather will be like, more than why we are even going there in the first place.
But do not think that I look down, detached from this world. I find myself also susceptible to just going through the motions, rather than spending the time — or having the will — to go after one or two high-impact tasks.
We at punchinteface are building our new company out of a need to create world-class culture. We do not except low-impact work & work for the sake of it, yet we are also learning how to best use our time & maximise our impact.
Chasing after 80/20
Pareto’s principal states that 80% of the input tends to yield 20% of the outcome, & 20% of the input tends to yield 80% of the outcome. It is a general rule of thumb that tends to exist in life, whether looking at the yield of vegetables, investment or human capital.
In short, one or two of the tasks you do tends to have a disproportionately large impact, with most being largely ineffective or a complete waste of time.
Tim Ferriss, a hugely successful entrepreneur & self-experimentation extraordinaire, therefore performs a weekly analysis to weed out the ineffective from the effective.
Despite having read about Pareto’s principle numerous times, however, I still find myself struggling to follow it’s lessons.
Firstly, it is inherently difficult to separate the important from the urgent. What’s right in front of you tends to get assigned a disproportionate amount of importance purely because it seems so urgent.
Yes, using techniques such as meditation or writing prioritised to-do lists helps, but there will always be some difficulty in objectively analysing the impact of what you are doing when you are in the inevitably messy, day-to-day of a new business.
Secondly, fear as a driver of action is really underestimated. We usually know exactly what we should do & which tasks will be highly impactful, but we become paralysed by fear.
We find excuses. We organise meetings to discuss it. We try to convince ourselves that actually setting up Twitter or organising our files is essential to the success of the company & nothing should get in the way of it.
We do anything to avoid the foregone conclusion, that one, hard thing that sits waiting for us to tackle.
It hit me yesterday that all of this has been true of myself this week.
I am building the audience for this very blog, but have avoided the hard truth of what I must do.
I have busied myself with SEO changes, organising articles & creating artwork, rather than just building an audience.
Because building an audience is scary. It’s hard. It’s unknown. Building an audience requires hundreds of hours of commenting on other authors, of analysing my own work, of filtering through endless feedback to keep pushing myself to improve.
So last night I forced change upon myself.
I wrote down the following questions:
What are the hard tasks I am avoiding? What would I do if I only had two hours to work each day?
Just this simple, rough approach to 80/20 analysis worked effectively. It also took under 1 minute.
When you ask yourself tough questions, you force tough answers on yourself.
Immediately the answer I had known all along came to mind: that I must only focus on creating value for an audience.
Writing articles relevant to that audience & commenting with insightful thoughts on other articles relevant to my audience. As simple as that. Write articles. Write comments.
Yes, there are important things to consider outside of that, such as monetisation, long-term content strategy, etc., but none of them matter if there is no audience.
Without the audience there is no business, no value, no motivation.
So I urge you to ask yourself difficult questions. To stop hiding behind the guise of busyness. To just go through the motions like everyone else. If you do that, you’ll never create something new, something impactful.
Right now, just write down the 5–10 tasks that are taking up most of your time. Which are creating impact? Which would you complete if you only had 2 hours per day? What will happen if you don’t complete the low-impact tasks?
Add a calendar event at the same time every week to spend 5 minutes doing this. Just 5 minutes. If you don’t add it to your calendar, you will forget. You’ll get caught up, busy like the rest of us, just performing things by rote rather than by deliberate action.
Remember that just going through the motions won’t get you anywhere. Facing your fear & going after that hard thing will.