Uninterrupted Time.

In a recent course on passive income streams, while teaching the concept of leveraging one’s time, I quoted the author of Rework, Jason Fried, who also happens to be the co-founder of Basecamp.

Fried said, “40-hour weeks are made of 8-hour days. And 8 hours is actually a long time. It takes about 8 hours to fly direct from Chicago to London. Ever been on a transatlantic flight like that? It’s a long flight! You think it’s almost over, but you check the time and there’s still 3 hours left. Every day your workday is like flying from Chicago to London. But why does the flight feel longer than your time in the office? It’s because the flight is uninterrupted, continuous time. It feels long because it is long!”

Let this sobering fact sink in: every work week, you take the equivalent of five eight-hour flights to London. These days don’t seem so long because your time and attention are constantly interrupted.

Members report back to me, after I’ve demonstrated and taught it to them, that locking themselves away in their office with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door for just a few hours each week on a Friday or Saturday, so they can work on the business, generates the equivalent of several days worth of interrupted time to work on the practice in between patients or other meetings.

Last week, I heard from one of our members, who used his quarantine time to get his book done. I’ve heard from other members who have finally plowed through their growing stack of reading materials and campaigns, strategies and samples. I applaud these smart members. Like you and I, they’ve probably realized how much time we really have each day.

The quarantine has reminded us that too many of our days were filled with attention-sucking activities that, when not controlled, conspired to drain us of productivity and fulfillment.

I read in the New York Times today that bird watching has become wildly popular since the quarantine, in terms of online activity, search data and purchases of books and binoculars. A few short months ago, how many people, if asked, would have answered in the affirmative that they have the time for watching birds?

If one silver lining of the pandemic and shutdown is that you understand the power of uninterrupted time, please carry it forward and start blocking it into your schedule henceforth.

The wealthiest and happiest people I know block their time into equal thirds in one of three categories: personal, productivity and planning. 

Like most small business owners, when you examine your time blocks, you’ll find you probably have way too much productivity time and far too little personal and then planning time, in that order. When you get back to work, pay special attention to how many production days you really need versus how many you think you need.*

When you commit to blocking uninterrupted time, you’ll discover big projects get done quickly and without too much effort on your part. When you do the opposite and try to squeeze projects and planning activities in the gaps throughout a productivity (or even worse) a personal day, you’ll find the constant interruption is maddening and exhausting.

If you purchased the 2020 Planner, you receive monthly and quarterly reminders, tips and strategies via email that nudge you in the direction of blocking more personal and planning time. Be sure to go back and re-read those emails. They might seem even more applicable now that we’ve all discovered how much time we really have in each day.

On Grit.

Angela Duckworth is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies grit and self-control. In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Professor Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

“In their work with The United States Military Academy at West Point, Duckworth and her team of psychologists have worked for years to understand who will make it through the rigorous training and who will drop out. For weeks on end, new recruits are asked, on an hourly basis, to do things they can’t yet do. Most cadets are tired, lonely, frustrated and ready to quit.

What’s interesting is that those who rise to the occasion and make it through the intense training are not the ones who have the most talent. Many drop out who have all the ability in the world. When presented with challenges that exceeded their current skills, what they lacked was a never give up attitude.”

Duckworth translated what she learned working with West Point into all areas of life in studying high achievers, from bankers and business leaders to artists, athletes, medicine, law, journalism and academia. What her research has found is illuminating.

She admits, in nearly every example of high-achieving success stories, there is a combination of luck and talent. But, it goes deeper than that. The subjects of her study were driven to improve. “When the average person would be satisfied, the top of any field or profession is not. They are their own harshest critics.”

Angela Duckworth – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

My family doesn’t like this about me. I’ve often said if you could print out my inner thoughts in a bubble that hovered above my head, I’d either be committed or arrested. As harsh and demanding as I can be on my employees, vendors and business partners and (at times) clients, they all tolerate it, not only because I allow others to ride on my coattails, so to speak, and benefit from my success, but also because they know I’m quite literally 100 times harder on myself.

Listen, none of this is flowery, warm or fuzzy, but it’s the truth and it’s high-time, if no one else in your life has allowed you to acknowledge it, that I give you the space to do so here, in a safe place where you understand that you’re not the only one who thinks this way:

  • I have no realistic expectation that I’ll ever catch up to my own ambitions. In my eyes, I’m never good enough and that’s OK. I’m satisfied being unsatisfied.
  • I’m chasing something of unparalleled interest and importance to me and it’s the chasing that’s actually more gratifying than the capture. Everyone around me has had to get OK with that.

It’s the same with top writers, athletes, business leaders and academics. Everyone in orbit around them is aware of this and they’ve made their peace with it. I know my peers, ex-employees and contemporaries dislike me for this, but that has more to say about them than it does about me.

They call me a workaholic or say that I’m too driven. Let them say what they want. I do not care. When Walt was building Disneyland and had already spent half the money with nothing more than mounds of dirt to show for it, he wondered aloud to the lead engineer, with tears in his eyes, if building the park’s railroad and four different “lands” might turn out to be his biggest mistake yet. That harsh self-criticism and determination to see things through led Disney to build an apartment for his family inside the park, so he could eat, sleep and work on-site without leaving.

If you look at the research and examine your own heart, your most successful endeavors happen when you’re ferociously determined and working your hardest; when you know in a very deep way what you want and that you’re not only passionate about what you’re chasing but absolutely determined to capture it. Like adding top-quality racing fuel to a high-performance engine, it helps if you’re doing all of this in service of your higher sense of purpose.

Listen. I know you have grit or you wouldn’t be reading this update. You’d be mentally wandering about, worrying about this pandemic and economic shutdown. You’d be one of the majority in our profession, who are great when things are going well but fall apart when things aren’t.

But you’re not like the majority. You won’t turn away from or reject the grit inside you. You’ll embrace it. Let this be your fuel to navigate the best path forward.

You Have Everything You Need.

Scientific American describes the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly like this: “One day, the caterpillar stops eating, hangs upside down from a twig or leaf and spins itself a silky cocoon or molts into a shiny chrysalis. Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body, eventually emerging as a butterfly or moth.”

Recently, I listened to an incredibly fascinating Radiolab segment on caterpillars. Researcher, Martha Weiss, explained how caterpillars go through a biological meltdown that reduces them to soup.

“Not only does the caterpillar turn into a soupy matrix but it also stores away helpful structures inside its body early in life. Jan Swammerdam, a Dutch microscopist from the 1600s, was the first to demonstrate that there are some of the structures of the future butterfly inside the caterpillar. The wings, antennae, and even the legs are actually already formed even before pupation takes place. Crazy, right?

The segment reports, “the caterpillar will actually start to grow little tiny adult parts that are super thin and transparent, and it just keeps them tightly rolled up and hidden up against the edges of the chrysalis, but they don’t actually ever go through the goo.”

In the 1600’s many people saw the butterfly as a metaphor. It represented a mystical death and resurrection, but Swammerdam was the first to show it was actually a transformation.

Before Swammerdam’s dissections, people saw the progression from caterpillar to butterfly as some sort of quasi-mystical, quasi-religious reminder that people can become a more perfect version of themselves. After his demonstrations, people started asking, “What of my future self is in me right now?”

NPR Interview and Radiolab segment

I’ve been teaching this concept for many years. Until recently, I didn’t know caterpillars were a supporting example of the principle. Usually, I cite companies, business leaders or athletes to make my point, but I’m perfectly happy using a hungry little caterpillar to illustrate the lesson.

Just like the caterpillar carries what it needs for its future self, you already have everything you need inside you to succeed right now.

Some clients are a little baffled, maybe even a little defensive when I tell them if I had never been born, they would still find a way to succeed without me. There would be some other teacher or expert they would find because their success has much more to do about them than it ever has to do about me. Harsh but true words for all coaches and consultants to accept.

You might not have the exact step-by-step knowledge on how to split-test an online ad campaign or which list selects to use in direct mail, but you have the mindset and determination inside you that says you won’t rest on yesterday’s laurels; that you will not be satisfied and complacent with old results.

You’ve decided you will be the best at getting better. So, today that might mean paying attention to what I have to teach you, but in ten years if I get hit by the proverbial bus, you’ll continue to succeed because of what’s already inside you.

This is a secret confession the most successful people on the planet make quietly to themselves, lest they seem egotistical or overly-confident in shouting it to others, but they make it nonetheless, however quietly: that they’ve always known they would succeed.

A huge part of this truth comes when you realize, like the caterpillar, that you’ve already packed away inside you everything you need to be your best future self. It’s simply a matter of discovering this truth and then taking action.

Warren Buffett doesn’t have any extra hours in his day. Neither did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the NASA team that put a man on the moon. What they had was an ironclad determination to succeed and to take the first step without waiting for something or someone else to tell them it was their time.

Like them, you can choose this path for your life.