“You seem Zen. Do you meditate?”. We were in a bar having a catch up drink before Christmas. We hadn’t spoken for a year, but we’ve been friends for a long time. I didn’t think much of the comment at the time. But since I’ve had the chance to think about it some more. It has been a while since I’ve last meditated (even though I should do it more…). But the “zen” part has been a deliberate practice. Well, I wouldn’t call it Zen. I’d call it focus and it’s something that I spent most of 2017 trying to cultivate. There’s a Hemingway quote that’s stuck with throughout this year.
I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it. – Ernest Hemingway
It’s been stuck with me for the sentiment: Don’t burn the wick all the way out, keep some in reserve. Because doing the work is a continual process and you need to sit down each day to do it. So don’t push all-the-way every single day, pick up the (metaphorical) pen tomorrow. It’s this type of mindset that I’ve been practicing for most of the year. Trying not to use bursts of energy, instead taking a step forward on the one important task. I’ve been operating this way ever since a morning where I changed my way of thinking, working and do-ing.
On free weekends I write. This usually means I’ll try to get somewhere free from distractions; usually a cafe. One morning as I wandered to the cafe I had a single question on my mind: “If I did just one thing today, only one, to make the biggest impact on my work life what would it be?”. I was pondering the question for quite some time. Even after I sat down, rather than taking out my laptop to work I continued to ponder the question. But it was worth the time for what came next.
What followed was one of the most effective work sessions I have yet had. Instead of being nose-to-the-keyboard scatter-brained, I had only one thing to do. One key area to focus on. But, that’s not how I’ve always been…
At the start of 2017, the old me would have tried to force my way through the problem. After all, that’s what often feels easy. Like going to the gym and ensuring you sweat. It feels like work, but it doesn’t actually mean you did the best (or most important) work. The newer me spends longer sharpening the saw than cutting. And that’s what has informed my new strategy for 2017.
Coming into 2017 I’ve been thinking a lot, as I did on that morning except this time on a much larger scale. The old me would have created a long, ambitious list of things to learn and to achieve. But this year, something’s different.
My strategy not only contains things to-do, it contains many things things not to-do. It’s a goal-setting idea I stole from Warren Buffet. Who I’m sure must have stolen it, too (great artists steal, after all). Buffet’s strategy looks a little like this:
List the things you could, or would want to do. Take this list and prioritise it. Pick the top 2/3 areas of focus. Now, not only will you focus on these areas, but you will ensure not to spend any time on the other areas. Over time, I’ve realised there’s real importance to this method of focusing.
Because it’s important not only to define what to-do as much as it is what not-to-do. There’s always something else we can be doing. And I’m guilty of this as much as the next person. But, operating like this has a cost.
I’ve found that when I allow myself to flirt with too many ideas I get exhausted and make little progress. Instead, now I opt for a more strategic approach, focusing less on the tactics and the minor details. Opting to look at the big picture and take things small, patient step-by-single-step.
It takes patience and discipline, but the results are far, far better.
Sometimes it can feel weird. Because spending a day walking around a park doesn’t feel like the right thing to-do. Or spending the day journalling or making notes. But often, this down-time to think is exactly what we need, the headspace to think and ponder. And what I’ve been pondering over 2018 is: where is my focus going to be?
Caption: This was taken on a walk up to the top of Mount Floyen in Bergen, Norway (19th December).
For me, 2018 will be about writing and deepening my mastery. Getting better at the craft of writing in general. And digging deeper into the communities of writers in my industry. Part of me wants to do other exciting things. Make some video’s. Coach or Mentor more. Build some (more) products. Create an online course. Or get on the public speaking track. But, I know if I were to try and take on any of these they would need full focus. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on one area: Writing (and by association: researching). And that’s it.
This year my not-to-do-list is out weighing my to-do list by a large margin. The best thing about this though, is that it comes with a real sense of clarity and calm.
That’s my one thing for 2018. What’s yours?