What’s your lottery ticket? How to (never) change things overnight

I say I never played the lottery but…the reality is very different. What a hypocrite.
The truth is, I am wired to play the lottery. Every day.

I have this friend that buys two lottery tickets every week.
“The chances may be slim, but if you don’t play your chances are zero”.
At least he’s honest about his intentions.
Unlike me.

I say that playing the lottery makes you complacent.
I say that if I won a load of money overnight I would feel like I didn’t earn it.
I say that I’d rather invest my drive somewhere else.
Fair points. With 16.5 million millionaires in the world, your chances of working your way towards 7 digits are around 1:461. Sure, some may be inherited. Still. Winning the lottery? 1:14. Million.

Yes, 1 in 14 million.

change things overnight

If only I walked the talk.

I never played the lottery. The only time I bought a scratch card, I must have been 16. I immediately won enough to pay for two more tickets. So I did. Game over. That was the closest I ever got to playing the lottery.

Blah blah. That’s what I like to tell myself. Lies.

We all play the lottery somehow. Your game may not be money.
Maybe you were nodding at my comments above. Good for you.
But we all look for a big break somewhere in life. An overnight success. Zero to hero.

Maybe you want to do work that makes you jump out of bed with a smile every morning.
Maybe you want to sleep like a baby and feel like you have so much energy every day.
Maybe you want to create amazing relationships that follow the 2.1 rule.

Whatever you want to see happen for yourself, what are you actually doing to get closer to it?
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that often, all you do is buying a lottery ticket. A lucky shot, unlikely to happen but just enough to make you feel like you’ve done your part. Enough for you to place responsibility somewhere else. To sit back and wait.

Relationship lottery? Downloading an app that shows you a bunch of faces around you, with no personal context. Then sit on the sofa and find a flaw for every single one.
Friendship lottery? Waiting for school and other life events to bring amazing people to you (ideally inspiring ones, thank you).
Health lottery? Taking a pill to fall asleep and hoping that the symptoms disappear, then ignore the behaviours that caused them.
Business lottery? Buying a domain and business cards, then sit and wait for people to give you money.

And many more. In all these examples, we do just enough to feel ok with ourselves.
Then sit back and hope to cash in on our terrible odds.

All work, no progress

Think about when you were a kid.
Did you wake up every day saying “I’ve grown so much last night”?

I doubt it. Apart from the occasional overnight sprouting, your daily growth was unnoticeable. Yet, when you look back on your pictures, that’s when you notice you’ve changed. A lot.
Look at 3-year-old Matt: he couldn’t even grow a beard. Ah!

Whatever you want to accomplish next, putting in the work daily is tough.
It seems like you’re not getting anywhere. You see no results, but you have to keep showing up.
Until you look back, and you realise how far you’ve come.

The lottery ticket effect gives you the illusion that things can happen tomorrow. Or maybe the day after. In the end, you spend your days waiting.
But if you started taking daily action within your control, you could be there already.

What’s your lottery ticket?

— Matt


PS: learn to celebrate your wins to notice your daily progress.

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Levels of learning: when reading more means knowing less

If you’re a serial learner, you know how difficult it is to choose.

First, choose what you what to learn.
Another book on launching a business? Or maybe you want to learn UX design.
What about a course on optimal nutrition? Mmmh, maybe I should learn about stoicism, since everyone talks about it so much.

Often, the default is not to choose.
Just say yes to all of them, leave the books on a shelf, open your Facebook timeline, and click on “27 Pairs Of Leggings You Can Wear As Pants, Dammit”.

Dammit indeed.

But let’s say you do choose. Let’s say you want to focus on marketing for two months and really understand what is it that your missing. Decisions, great!

You read one book about how to find your first 100 customers. It blows your mind. You want to know more!
So you pick up another book. You want to be an expert!
By the end of your third book, you’re confused. Though the three books have a lot in common, they’re also pretty discordant.
Should you start from Facebook ads? Should you create a landing page first? Are Messenger bots a fad or the future? What about social media? You’ve got to be on social media.

You know more, but you feel like you know less.

Now you need to know more.
So you get another book, or binge-watch youtube, looking for the perfect answer. It must be somewhere.

The same story goes for nutrition and fitness. Or building an app. Or going on amazing dates.

The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.

The learning cycle

How many books did you read before learning how to walk? Or to ride a bicycle?

I’m going to have a wild guess: zero.

Learning how to walk is usually pretty messy.
Here’s the step by step:

Rock on your back for months.
Then learn to sit up.
Crawl on the floor while random adults make the ‘ooohh’ sounds of a house haunted by ghosts.
Finally, stand up and fall on the floor like a sack of potatoes. Usually with a loud thud.
After a while, you will find yourself walking.

Keep at it, and then you’ll be able to run.

Except, I left one step out: observe people that already walk, then copy them.
You could summarise the whole process in three steps: observe, practice, master.

learning levels

When it comes to learning a specialised skill, the same three steps apply.
This time though, you’ll have to look for guidance outside your comfort zone. The more specific your learning subject, the harder you’ll have to look for information and find people that have done it before you through books, blog posts, video, podcasts, mentors, coaches…

Observe, practice, master. Repeat.

Levels of learning vs Chasing certainty

Of the three steps, practice is where most people get stuck. Practice is messy. That’s where babies fall flat on their faces, and adults get discouraged, hurt, embarrassed.
So most people stay stuck in the first step. They keep observing. They read another book. Google another blog post. Send another question. All to avoid taking action.

Reading another book might make you feel like you are decreasing uncertainty and mitigating risk. But actually, it’s adding more information that needs to be actioned, increasing complexity. Eventually, you have so much to action it’s overwhelming.

So you’re stuck swimming in theory.

The more you travel, the less you know. - Tao The Ching Click To Tweet

Levels of learning

To make sure you progress in your learning, take action. Learn something new, then take action without adding more information.

This takes commitment. Commitment to one school of thought, to one tactic, to one way.
You have to trust, and take action to figure out how it fits in your own situation. It can be messy, but only that way you’ll turn knowledge into experience.

Once you get comfortable, it’s time to move on. Use your new level of mastery to move up and try something new. A new school of thought, a new tactic, a new way.

Except, this time you will be able to count on your new level of mastery.

Observe, practice, master.

Just don’t get stuck.

— Matt

PS: know how to recognise procrastination from busyness

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When life is a mess, help your future self

Where were you three years ago?

Whenever I ask this question, the answer usually includes a long ermmm sound, followed by the person looking up and trying to recollect what things were like 3 years before.
Usually, things looked very different.

Even if you were in the same job, lived in the same place, and hung out with the same people, some things looked very different.
Maybe it was your mood. Maybe your friends’ interests (or your friends altogether). Maybe it’s how you felt in your body. Maybe you had the best holiday of your life. Or maybe you had a lot less credit card debt.

Whatever it was, a small difference multiplied by 36 months makes a big difference.

Three years ago, things looked very different for me.
2014 Matt didn’t have a blog (in fact, he was terrified of writing online).
He lived in a different part of town, next door to a world-class snoring flatmate.
2014 Matt didn’t sport a glorious beard (in fact, he decided to clean shave 300 times in a year – no weekends – and succeeded).
He was in a great relationship (but felt he just got lucky and didn’t know how to meet women).
He wasn’t even in great shape (unless you’re a lizard).
2014 Matt needed to give himself a good kick in the bottom.
(Thanks for eventually doing it dude!)

thinking long term

Take a minute, and write down 5 things that were different for you in 2014.
From your haircut to your income, everything’s game.

Now you see: tons can happen in 3 years.
How much positive change could you create by being intentional for the next 3 years?

(Hint: tons).

And yet, we want it all right now.
Research actually shows that, the worse our situation seems and the more stressed we feel, the more we are biologically wired to think short-term.

So. Can you cultivate long-term thinking?

How to improve long-term thinking

Here are five exercises for you to start thinking long term, and make it a daily practice.

Accept the present, but take responsibility.

Whatever your present situation, accept it as your starting point.
Wishing things were different won’t make them any different.
Here are the choices you have: either go through your present situation and improve things over time; or ignore the present and stay where you are (i.e. let things get worse).

You want to be honest with yourself, but also take responsibility and recognise that your past choices got you where you are today.
The aim of this isn’t blame and regret, but rather empowerment.
Only by accepting that your choices got you here can you start believing that new choices will get you somewhere else.

By accepting that your choices got you here, you understand that new choices will get you there. Click To Tweet

Stop being so selfish.

Once you accept that your past self has given you the present opportunities and challenges, you can start to see how the same will happen three years from now. Or ten.

So, instead of wishing and wanting everything to be different right now, think longer term (and act short term). Make your next move thinking about your 2020 self. Imagine them, visualise them.
Having a longer-term direction, and being to support something outside of your present self, will give you direction and sense of purpose, making the present better too.

Work on the cause, not the symptoms.

We live in a culture that teaches us to focus on the symptom, rarely on the cause.
Do you have a headache? Take a painkiller and ignore the reason why that happened.

When it comes to creating better opportunities for your future self, you need to cultivate an obsession with finding the cause behind the symptom. Otherwise, you will be dealing with the same problems, just under a different guise.

For example. If you’re feeling lonely, binge-watching another TV show may make you feel better for the next two days. But will you be more or less lonely then? How about a year later?
Looking at the cause may not be pleasant. Maybe you don’t know a lot of people. Or maybe you tend to not put a lot of effort in relationships. But once you understand the cause, you can change things for good. You can start meeting more people and commit to following up more regularly.
2020 self will thank you.

Seek experiences, not entertainment.

What TV show were you watching in October 2013? What restaurants did you go to? Who knows.

If you did anything that pushed you to grow, however, you’ll remember.
Did you travel anywhere new? Gave your first public speech? Went to an event on your own and uncomfortably spoke to a person that became a great friend?

Sometimes, the line between entertainment and experience is thin. But the difference is huge.
Experiences stay with you after they’re complete. The boost in confidence, social life, self-awareness, or any skills gained perpetuate way beyond the boundaries of the experience.
Entertainment, on the other hand, it’s just a temporary distraction from everyday life. Sometimes, it has a therapeutic effect. But more often than not, it’s just an effort to conceal a deep-seated problem without dealing with the actual problem.
Entertainment is the equivalent of painting a toilet. It may look a bit nicer, but it’s still a toilet.

Guess which one will help your future self? Weeks on end of Netflix!

(Only kidding).

Measure the true cost of short-term choices.

Time to confess. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but I love chocolate cakes. Especially when they’ve got multiple layers. And dark chocolate covering the top. Ehm. Can we add jam in the middle? Yes, please.

However, I rarely have chocolate cake.

One reason is that I like to keep it a special occasion: get the best slice of cake possible, and make it an experience.
But the main reason is that, although cake+chocolate may give instant pleasure, it comes at many invisible costs. The same sugar spike that triggers a massive release of dopamine in my brain (the pleasure neurotransmitter), also causes all sorts of havoc in the body, that translate into a groggy afternoon, the inevitable trough after the euphoric spike, and terrible health and performance issues down the line. It makes me less able to enjoy life and what I’m passionate about.
In other words, I am paying my short-term entertainment using my long-term credit card.

The same goes for video games, binging on tv, shopping, drinking a bit too much,…you know the rest. Make it a special occasion and it can be therapeutic, but when it becomes a way to shortcut instant gratification, it comes at a hidden (future) cost.

When you understand the true cost of short-term choices, that’s when you appreciate the hidden benefits of thinking longer-term. Really looking after yourself but also…beyond it, all the way to your future self.

Now you know. Looking back, has your past self be kind to you? Or have they left you a mess?
Think. Then choose how you want to feel when you look back in 2020. (Grateful).

Do it!

— Matt

PS: learn how negative thoughts start and how to break the short-term cycle.

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Not knowing enough: how to take action on limited information

Is information ever too much?

Imagine this: you have to change a lightbulb, and you have no idea how.

You type “how to change a lightbulb” into Google.
You read one (let me guess, wikihow?), then you do it.
You turn the light off, and as soon as you start unscrewing the bulb, you notice that…the replacement bulb doesn’t look the same. Back to Google. Ah. It’s a whatever-type-you-have-in-your-house bulb. Back to practice.
Eventually, you change your lightbulb, flip the switch and…voilà. Let there be light.

Now, there were two key parts to that story.
First, our imaginary you looked for information. How to.
Then, ‘you’ used that information and learnt that…there was more that‘you’ needed to know.
A case of not knowing what you don’t know.
So back to more information, this time more specific. What type.
Then, our imaginary you went back to applying that information.
Information + execution = light bulb moment. (Some times literally, other times figuratively.)

too-much-information

You can apply this formula to anything.

Simple?
Maybe, but when things get more difficult than changing a light bulb when tend to drift away.
Instead of matching information with action, we look for more information. We try to prevent any future challenges, without really knowing what those challenges could be.
It’s like painting a patchy wall in the dark.
Not only we fail to turn information into experience, this search for more information doesn’t let us fully engage with what’s already in front of us. Like a serial dater with commitment issues, our eyes stare at a page, but our mind is already thinking about what’s next.

There’s so much to be known, no time is left for execution.

A game you’ve lost from the start

Whether it’s music, articles, podcasts, books, audiobooks, films, social media updates and texts from friends, there is more information you’ll ever be able to consume.
Literally.
1.97 million blog posts written every day.
6,000 tweets a second.
95 million Instagram photos a day.
Over 100,000 music albums a year. And counting (that was a few years ago).
Around 1,000,000 books published each year.

The conclusion?
It’s impossible to keep up. If you’re looking to reach 100% knowledge, good luck.

You will alway feel like you’re missing a piece of information, and that’s part of the game.
Take action instead.

The only alternative is to get lost in quantity over quality. To spread yourself thin over lots of theory without even engaging, knowing that you won’t take action anyway. To keep looking for the golden nugget but refuse to reach for it when you see it. Because that’s when the real work starts.

How to find your light bulb moment

A couple of times a year, I do an information purge.
I list the blogs that I follow. The podcasts I listen to. The people I look up to. The kind of books that I read. Even the people I hang out with or follow on social media.

Then I ask myself “is this relevant to my current focus? is it supporting the person I want to be?”

This is fundamental to differentiate between just in case information and just in time information: the former supports my actions and progress, the latter just throws a complicated spanner in the works.

This time, I took it a bit further.
I decided that for the next 3 month I will only read books I already read. This way, I’ll know I’ll be reading a great book, I’ll get fresh insights from a new point of view, and I’ll be able to apply the lessons that escaped me the first time around.
I’m giving myself more room to take action and get real insights.

It doesn’t just apply to books. Articles I saved, movies I enjoyed in the past but didn’t quite remember, courses that made a difference. That’s why they deserve more action.

Whatever your strategy, go ahead and do your information purge today.
Make sure you stop drowning in information, and give yourself enough time and headspace to take intentional action.

That’s how you turn information into transformation.

— Matt

PS: don’t know how to decide? Learn the dangers of saying ‘yes’ too lightly.

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Needy productivity: the cost of working on the wrong things

Productivity can be such a fuzzy word.
Most people associate it with doing more of what they already do, without ever questioning what that is in the first place.
No matter whether it’s an effective method, or even the right direction, just do more of it.
Cram your day with more work that has zero impact.

Instead of teaching how to run, traditional productivity advice just tells you to crawl faster.

I remember when I worked in a big corporate office. Productivity meant being the last to leave the office.
In the startup world, too often productivity means being the last to go to bed.
Other times, productivity is just saying yes and pleasing everyone.
In all these cases, productivity is just a fancy word to hide peacocky behaviour: spreading out drafts and showing off colourful spreadsheets to catch other’s approval.
It’s not productivity, it’s neediness.
It’s being seen as the hardest working.
It’s being accepted as a useful cog in the machine.

This kind of “productivity” focuses on perceived output, rather than…the actual output. Much to your health’s detriment, your perceived output is actually based on your input. So you’ll have to keep (appearing) doing more.

Needy productivity brings all sorts of dysfunctional behaviours.

Doing more vs doing the right thing

We all add a few extra todos to our list that have zero impact but take up all of our time.
Usually, it’s a fear response called procrastination.
Needy productivity goes one step further. It celebrates and rewards the very thing that procrastination is made of: useless work.

Doing more makes you feel good in the moment, like you matter.
Doing the right thing requires patience, like what you create matters.
Doing more is easy: all it takes is saying yes to anything.
Doing the right thing is hard: you must dance with your fears.

Crawling faster vs learning to run

The focus on doing more ignores an important tool in your arsenal: learning.
Taking time off to improve your processes and learn new skills is critical to doing better. It also allows you to be more efficient with your processes, and be enriched by external experiences.

Again, this requires long-term thinking. The trust that, if I invest time in myself, it will come back manyfold in the form of extra time and extra impact. It requires embracing your fears.

After all, would you rather be a slow runner or a faster crawler?

Quantity work vs quality work

Quantity work is the lovechild of the two points above.
When you don’t focus on doing what really matters but just doing more, and you don’t invest in your own skills, you are commoditising your output.

If you do what many others can do, the same way other do it, the only differentiation is the quantity of your output. Since we all have 24 hours a day, we all have the same, natural cap to how much we can produce per day. This means that, unless you have a time machine or a cloning lab, doing more is a losing strategy by definition.

Instead of creating something meaningful and learning unique skills, you max out your 24 hours, just like everyone else. Average strategy, average results.
Not only this translate in less meaningful work, it also has a monetary consequence: the more commoditised your output, the less you will be able to charge for it.

The paradox is that, by focusing on quantity, you’re actually putting a cap (24 hours) on your impact AND how much you can charge. It’s a losing strategy short and long term.

Productive productivity

The other day, I was having a chat with a friend.
Over the fizzy noise of sparkling water and the jazzy sound of music in the background, we ended up talking about…work that matters. (We are that cool).

Maybe it was all the bubbles in the water, but as soon as the word “productivity” was spoken, I had a sudden epiphany: the familiar bond with the word “product”, “to produce” echoed in my head like the sweet words of a nerdy angel.

Too often productivity is seen as “doing”, not producing.
As doing more, regardless of the output.
But the word is staring in our faces all along.
Produce. Make. Ship.

Real productivity is selfless: the focus shifts away from the maker and onto the creation.
We ask how much did I do?
How many hours did I work?
How long is my todo list?

Focus on the final product instead.

Not how much time you put in, but how much value you push out.
Not how long have you spent on it, but how much closer to completion your product is.
It’s not the quantity of your input, it’s the quality of your output.

Productivity is making, not doing.

– Matt

PS: stop sweating the small stuff by learning the ancient principle of sailing through life.

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Take action now: a simple way to stop over planning

Have you ever done so much planning that, instead of making things simpler and easier to action, you actually got lost?

(I know you have).

Don’t get me wrong. Planning is good.
Especially if you want to achieve something specific, mapping out how to get there is important.
But at some point, too much planning gets in the way. Instead of sticking to your goal, you start sticking to the plan.
Over-planning is a great way to sabotage your efforts and not have to deal with those scary unknown changes that…taking action would actually bring.

I’ve done it too.

When I first started this blog, I created a 4-tab spreadsheet that told me exactly how I was going to grow its traffic over the next year. It was really, really detailed. In fact, you could say it was nearly a piece of art.
It was definitely a Picasso though. The plan was way too complicated. I added tons of variables and different milestones, without actually knowing what I was talking about: I had never done it before!

Say it with me: “Planning is good. Over planning is bad.”

So let me introduce the other end of the spectrum: not planning at all.
This is the usual playbook: 1) set a goal, 2) take (random) action, 3) see no results, 4) give up. Repeat.

Again, this is a great way to sabotage your efforts and not having to deal with scary unknown changes. It’s also pretty frustrating.

Classic examples are: dieting, language-learning, going back to the gym…you’ve seen before.

This approach ignores all obstacles ahead, while also giving you zero tools to be able to see any result. It confuses movement for action. Just like you won’t learn to swim by adding another column to your spreadsheet, you also won’t learn to swim by jumping in a pool blindfolded.

stop over planning

Enter Winning Actions.

How to start taking action

Whether you want to meet more people or how to speak a new language, big objectives are not going to happen overnight.
The challenge is that, even if your goal is super clear, it can feel pretty daunting to decide what to work on each day. Especially if this is the first time you work towards a particular something.

If goals and milestones are a metric for progress, Winning Actions are a metric for movement (in the right direction).

Whether you set monthly, yearly, or longer goals, the only way to measure your progress is by looking back at what you’ve accomplished so far. Are you any closer?
This is important to learn and adjust, but it doesn’t help on a daily basis.

For example. Say that I wanted to “run 100 miles in a month”.
I can check in mid-month to see whether I’m any closer.
I can even do it weekly (or wait until the end of the month).
In the meantime, a big slice of the month has gone: what to do if you’re behind on your progress?

Winning Actions are simple, specific, and repeatable actions you can take towards each of your goals. They are not results, they are actions.

To run 100 miles a month, for example, your Winning Action could be a weekly “run 12 miles every Thursday and Sunday” or “Run 3.5 miles a day”.
Just by sticking to your actions, you will accomplish the final goal…automatically.

External variables (and examples)

Let’s make things more complicated and introduce an external variable: other people.
Certain goals depend on others’ behaviour, like increasing traffic, meeting new friends, finding more clients, getting comfortable with talking to men/women, you name it.
Here Winning Actions become even more valuable, as they allow you to isolate what you can control, and do more of it instead of waiting for someone else’s results.
The key here is to decide on an action which is completely under your control and adjust for external behaviour.

Let’s take a few examples.

Meet 2 new interesting people next month.

This is dependent on…people meeting you.

Once you have determined the best avenues to meet likeminded people you enjoy hanging out with, spot a single action you can take.
For example, it could be “reaching out for an introduction” whether this is a cold or warm intro. Then, set some assumptions, how many people do you need to contact to actually meet someone interesting? Let’s say it’s one person met every 5 reach outs.
2 people in a month = send 3 introductions a week.

Increase traffic to your website 30%.

This is dependent on…people visiting your website.

What has worked in bringing visitors so far? What can you do to maximise it?
At the end of last year, I noticed that I was getting a good portion of blog visitors from Quora. So I decided to increase my answers on Quora to one a day for a whole month.
The Winning Action was simple: write one Quora answer (daily).
Halfway through the month, I had accumulated enough data and experience to be able to improve my answer selection and the position of links back to the blog.
The result? I saw a spike in traffic that continued well beyond my month experiment.

Go on three dates next month.

This is dependent on…people wanting to go on a date with you.

The Tinder route. Let’s assume you’ve already optimised your profile and pictures. How many swipes does it usually take you to get a match? How many matches do you turn into a conversation? How many conversations into dates?
Let’s assume it’s 40 swipes (left or right), half turn into conversations, and a quarter of those turn into dates.
That will require 320 swipes for each date, or 32 a day to get your three dates.
I’m not a fan of Tinder: you can apply the same principles “offline”.

winning actions: take action now

So how to create your own Winning Actions?

Create your own

Here’s the step-by-step guide to setting your own Winning Actions, and make progress towards your goals every day (or every week).
You can also download the template to create your own actions here.

Step #1: Set a measurable goal

If you set a generic goal like “lose weight” or make more money, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Winning Actions won’t work because there is nothing to get you closer to.
Check out my guide to SMART goals here, and make sure you set objectives that are measurable.

Step #2: Brainstorm actions that would get you closer

Ok, now that you have your goal clear, jot down a list of actions that would take you closer to it.
No rules here, just write down as many as you can.

Step #3: Select an action that is 100% under your control

Take the list from the previous step, and cross off everything that requires external input.
For example “meet 2 new people for coffee every week” isn’t totally under your control. “Email 2 people a week to grab coffee together” is.

Step #4: Create assumptions and calculate frequency

How often do you need to take your Winning Action to get the result you want?
Multiply your action by that factor, then spread it over time. Make sure you make your Winning Action daily or weekly, otherwise it won’t work (you’ll procrastinate).

Step #5: Keep track of your actions

Keeping track of your actions has many benefits:
– Have a special ritual for your actions
– Create a visual chain of actions taken, which will be difficult to break: you’ll keep the streak going.
– Share your actions and results with someone else for extra accountability.
– Give you data to look back and learn how to improve your tactics.
(You can grab the free template here.)

Once you have enough data, you can then compare your actions with the results you got: that way, you’ll be combining your metrics for movement (Winning Actions) with your metrics for progress (milestones and goals), so that you can adjust the effectiveness of your actions.
It’s important you don’t tweak your actions too regularly: wait until you have some actual data to base your decision upon and learn.

Winning Actions for teams

You can use Winning Actions to learn a language, cook at home regularly, find new clients, …you name it.

It’s also a great tool for team goals and team communication.

In fact, if you already have yearly goals or quarterly goals for the whole team and sub teams, it’s time to set some shared Winning Actions. When I say shared, I mean they should be individual but visible to the whole team, and working towards a common aim.
Remember rule #3: they need to be 100% under one person’s control. So what is one action each team member should take every week, that would inevitably get you closer to your shared goals?

Go through the step above and start setting some. Make sure you don’t overdo it: start from one action per team member.

Take action with your team

Next, use the template (it also has a team tab for you to use) and create a shared spreadsheet. Create a regular follow up every week to check in on the team’s Winning Actions, and help each other keep the streak alive.

What next

Whether you want to use Winning Actions for yourself or your team, it’s your turn.
Make sure you follow the 5 steps, and create your own. Remember: start small, keep the streak alive, and use data to learn every month or so. Take action now.

👋

– Matt

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Overcoming procrastination: 6 common causes and 10 ways to stop

In Latin, the word for tomorrow is cras.
The combination of the prefix pro- (forward), and the suffix -crastinus (until the following day), make up our word procrastination.

Procrastination is the tendency to avoid taking meaningful action, usually way beyond “the following day”.

We all experience procrastination in some form.
Sometimes it’s particularly evident, like playing video games instead of working on a particular task.
Other times it’s much more sophisticated, like making over-complicated plans on how to tackle a particular task.
Don’t be fooled: inaction and unnecessary action are forms of procrastination, just under a different guise.

“Never confuse movement with action.”
— Ernest Hemingway

In this post, we look at the most common causes and forms of procrastination, and then list the most effective solutions to overcome and stop procrastination. (Click the links to navigate).
causes of procrastination

Causes of procrastination

What causes procrastination?
Hundreds of studies have been done on this phenomenon.
Here are the most common sources.

Past failures

Past attempts can set expectations for future ones.
If you’re working on something that…wasn’t very successful in the past, you likely have a negative association with actually completing what you’re working on. As long as you keep it “work in progress”, you’re in a safe place away from further failures.

For example, this could be…a bad experience giving a talk or sharing a presentation in the past. The longer you can drag preparing the new presentation, the longer you can avoid facing that fear.

Bad past experiences also set low expectations (“it won’t work anyway”), which can be pretty demotivating.

Poor focus and bad habits

Your ability to concentrate and give your attention to one thing at a time for…a sustained period of time it’s something we train through our everyday choices.
However, in today’s world most people train themselves to have very poor mental performance, accepting interruptions and doing multiple things at once.

This is a recipe for disaster. Studies have conclusively shown how multitasking is a lie: the brain keeps switching between tasks, losing power and effectiveness in the meantime.
By accepting distractions in your life, you are actually training yourself to have a world-class short attention span.

Unsupportive peer group

As the saying goes, “hang around four serial procrastinators, and you’ll become the fifth”.
Yes, I just made that up.

But the people around you have a massive impact on the standard you expect of yourself.
They will show you what’s possible and what’s acceptable.
Not only that: the wrong people will actually want you to get as little done as possible, just so they don’t have to question their own performance and feel bad.

Unclear goals

Having unclear goals like “change” or “…not my current situation” or “lose some weight”, are very difficult to be motivated towards, and are also…difficult to start.
Make sure you set clear long and short-term goals, and make them actionable.
You can start from here.

Unactionable goals

Big goals are great, but unless you break them down into milestones, they can be incredibly daunting. This can make you feel so far away from your destination, unable to take action: not only you don’t know where to start from, but the outcome feels so big and distant that we tend to overestimate the chances of failure and…decide not to do anything instead.
Make sure you break your goals down, then celebrate your achievements to keep momentum up.

Low energy levels

Having low energy levels doesn’t help when it comes to taking action.
Feeling sluggish can be due to a variety of factors, the most likely ones being…your nutrition, your fitness levels, and…your sleep.

If you feel sluggish, check your sleep first thing.
Sleep deprivation reduces your mental performance, your body’s ability to recover, and causes an overall reduction of glucose going to the pre-frontal cortex and parietal lobe. In other words, you become more emotional and less capable of rational thinking. Being less effective means that you need more time to get things done, and take even more time away from sleep.
This starts a (very) negative sleepless warp.

Taking a nap and giving yourself permission to sleep is totally cool, and it will help you work on what really matters.

Ultimately, procrastination is a form of fear.
Whether you are afraid of taking action and failing, or taking action and succeeding (and therefore having to deal with change, new unknown problems, but also with the possibility to lose what you have worked hard for), fear is fastening you to your current situation.

This isn’t bad news. It’s good news. Fear tells you what’s important to you.
Important enough for your emotions to be stirred up. It’s a compass for what matters.

Fear is good. It’s avoiding that fear that causes problems.

So how can you identify fear and…face it instead of avoiding it?
Here are the most common flavours of procrastination.

procrastination over time

Different ways to procrastinate

Sometimes, procrastination can be tricky because…it hides behinds a useful-looking activity.

Sometimes it’s planning, other times it’s quitting. It can even be…taking unnecessary action.
Sure, a few times these are actions are actually good and positive signals: it’s up to you to become a productivity samurai and recognise the difference.
But when in doubt, let me tell you…you’re procrastinating.

Here’s a list of the classic forms of putting off taking action, so you will never be fooled again.

Postponing things

This is the most common and expected form of procrastination.
“I’ll do it later…”, “I have a lot on…”, “One day…”
These are all forms of procrastination we expect.
Instead of taking action now, however small, we postpone it to a later, undefined time.

At least this one is honest and transparent.

Working around things

This is a trickier manifestation of delaying things.
Instead of working on things, we work around things. Usually, this happens in one of two ways: overplanning and prepping other things that “somehow” will make the main thing easier.

Overplanning is a classic. Spend hours or days creating and action plan. Then tweak it. At the end, it’s so perfect it has become a piece of abstract art: a beautiful but only symbolic representation of reality.

Overprepping is another one. Working on lots of small things that will eventually make working on the main task easier.

Doing small tasks first is another shade of this: wasting time on safe, insignificant wins, so you don’t have to take any risks, nor make any actual progress. For example…starting from replying to all emails, when what you really needed to do was writing that big presentation.

Leaving things unfinished

Never finishing things and putting things on pause is often a way to…avoiding problems (like a big deadline looming) and dodge responsibility. For now.
At least you got started.

Starting tons of things at once

Another sophisticated form of procrastination is…starting tons of projects at once.
This is just a way to stay in your comfort zone and ultimately…sabotage your efforts. Instead of pushing through your “comfort ceiling” and grow (by making mistakes), you start another task or another project. Because you start from scratch, you can remain comfortable and go through the same initial phases you have learnt to deal with in your previous endeavours.

Usually, the old project is used to justify the new one.
“Doing this first will make it easier” or “I put the other on pause for now, it just made sense.”.

External blame

Looking for external excuses (“there are no x available” is a classic one.) is a great way to put off taking action. Instead of accepting what’s not in your control and changing your action plan to influence what you can control, blaming circumstances is a great way to delay having to take things into your own hands.

overcoming procrastination

Overcoming procrastination

So what is the antidote to stop procrastination?
First of all, it’s important to set expectations: things won’t change overnight.

I like to say we’re always training.
If you’ve been training to accept procrastination for years, you’ve likely become a world champion.
The good news is that you can change your performance by changing your standards, but it will take time and disciplined training to become a master anti-procrastinator. Here are 10 tools and practices you can use from today to step up your concentration game and get stuff done fast.

I have listed these in order of mastery: start from the top ones, and make your way down. As you become better and more focused, these will help you to keep stepping up your game.
No more letting fear make you run around in circles.

Reduce distractions

The first step is to reduce external distractions.
From intrusive people to pinging apps, make sure your environment does not provide you with excuses to postpone action until…later.

You can detox your phone from distracting apps and notifications by following this step-by-step guide.
Setting expectations by letting other people know you are going to immerse yourself into deep work will also help you prevent interruptions.

Have a dedicated space

The name of the game is to eliminate distractions instead of avoiding them.
Avoiding distractions is…a distraction. And distractions eat away at your willpower.

Don’t work or study where you play or sleep. That will ruin both.
Instead, have a dedicated space for doing your best work and taking action. For example, I love to write from a certain bar. I only go there to write. Nothing else.
Equally, I have a no-laptop-in-my-bedroom policy, which makes sure I get the best sleep and…I don’t procrastinate when it’s time to get some rest.
Avoiding distractions is…a distraction. Click To Tweet

Pomodoro technique

I wrote a guide to using the pomodoro technique to train your focus: you can find it here.
Essentially, using a timer to force yourself to concentrate on one task at a time (after having eliminated all distractions) is a great training ground to improve your concentration. Read the full guide.

Get enough sleep

Making sure you get enough sleep, and enough quality sleep, will make sure your mind is sharp, and perform at your highest level.
Tiredness and sleep deprivation result in slower execution, a 12-14% reduction in the amount of glucose transported to the most rational region of your brain, and a decrease in short-term memory and reaction time comparable to that of having drunk over the legal limit for driving.

Getting enough sleep will make sure you are more effective and faster, supporting the quality as well as the quantity of your output. Sleep also helps replenish your willpower, making sure you can overcome the temptation to “do something else” and choose the right thing to work on.

Create a supportive peer group

We like to lie to ourselves and pretend we’re immune to the environment around us. But, just like where we work has an impact on our performance, so does who we have around.
In fact, the people you surround yourself with set the example you will follow. They set the standard you will expect of yourself. They judge your performance. They even impact your own biochemistry.

Procrastinating friends will actually be invested in your worst performance, just so they don’t have to question their own poor performance. Make sure you have the right people around you to support your positive efforts, rather than entertain your hesitations.

Set simple metrics and milestones

Instead of creating over-complicated plans, set some simple milestones and metrics to measure your progress. This will also help you break down scary goals into smaller, defined steps.

For example, if you want to read 24 books in a year, break that down into…one book every 15 days. 16 pages a day. 6 books a quarter. Much more manageable, and…measurable, so you can adjust on the way.

Set winning actions

As well as having checkpoints and metrics, it’s important to set daily actions.
I call these Winning Actions (read the full guide here): small actions you can take every day to make sure you make progress on your goal without having to think about what to do.
These are forward-looking metrics, keeping up your momentum and propelling you forward before it’s too late.

Accountability partner

Having an accountability partner is the ultimate peer group hack (provided you find the right person to match your drive). Being able to share your goals with someone else, regularly check-in on each other’s progress, but also see that you’re not the only one working hard to achieve your personal objectives, makes such a difference.

First, you’re guilt-tripping each other into taking action, then you’re sharing the results and celebrations.
Click here to read more about finding your accountability partner.

Set stakes

Having something to lose is generally much more motivating than having something to gain.
We value more what we already have than what we might have.

Setting stakes uses this principle to spur you to take action.
To do this effectively, it’s much better to do it with someone else. You could decide that, if you don’t do something by a certain date, you’ll have to go without your phone for a week. Or you’ll have to buy an Amazon voucher for someone else.
Bonus points if it’s someone you would never want to give anything to.

Find a coach

This is the ultimate procrastination hack.
Having the right coach gives you extra commitment to your own goals, as well as having someone who keeps an eye on your short-term actions and long-term goals, every week.
You also access the insight and lessons learnt by someone else and…the other people they work with, accelerating your own growth and progress.

I am lucky to work as a coach with a few high-performance individuals, to push their expectations and keep their actions aligned towards a clear direction. (It’s awesome.)

What now

Ok. That was a long list. Well done on reading till the end without postponing. Or delaying.
Now that you know how procrastination manifests, what causes it, and what to do about it, you have no excuses. Let me be clear: you will still catch yourself procrastinating, and as you do, you’ll find more and more sophisticated ways to delay taking real action.

But now you can recognise real action from movement, and do something about it.

– Matt

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Is time management a waste of time?

We have an odd relationship with the concept of time.

“How do you find the time to do x?”
is one of the most deceiving and disempowering questions ever.

We all have 24 hours a day.
No exception.

Time cannot be found, yet that very expression encloses the widespread expectation that time isn’t here yet. That we are still missing something.
That there is a golden pot at the end of the pendulum.

Future expectations forsake the present, until we’re forced to look back and regret the past.
This is the most stressful form of time-travelling.

Like a horse wearing blinkers, we focus on what’s ahead, when the golden pot is sitting next to us the whole time.

Future expectations forsake the present, until we're forced to look back and regret the past. Click To Tweet

Time is actually simple.

Every day, we move through space in 3 dimensions.
Walk to work, extend your arm forward, nip to your favourite coffee shop, lean to your right while you wait, go for a jog along the river. You know what I’m talking about: moving.

We also move through time.
The difference is – we have no control over speed and direction.
In other words, we can only move forward, and only at a constant speed of…1 minute per minute.

time management is a waste of time

The doodle is actually 2D.
We move through space in 3 dimensions (using some combination of left-right; up-down; front-back).

Time management: a collective delusion?

Time cannot be lost or found, nor stored up.

From President Trump to the Uber driver you spoke to last week, from the person sitting next to you right now to Usain Bolt, (passing by you and me), we all have 24 hours a day.

Here are the biggest time lies.

Managing time

Time management implies you are in charge of time. This sets your up for disappointment.
Time moves, whatever you do (or don’t do), at a constant speed.

What you can actually do, is manage yourself in relation to time. More on this below.

Finding time and losing time

If anyone ever succeeded in finding time, please let me know.
If anyone has ever lost any time, also kindly let me know.
Like a banknote forgotten inside the pocket of an old coat, I’d like to find it (and keep it).

Wait, would that be a waste of time?

Wasting time and using time

These two are spin-offs of time management.
Let me be clear: you cannot stop time. What you do with your present moment, is up to you.

Sure, waiting for the bus or for someone who’s late may feel like “a waste of time”, but only if you forget to experience that time. The feeling of wasting time comes from your expectation of reality following the plans you made up in your head.
What if that wait was a gift? What can you experience instead?

Making time

Email me, I’d like to buy some freshly made time from you.

Spending time

…as opposed to saving up time?

I don’t have time

This is a case of poor priorities, masked as an external problem. 24 hours, remember?

This matters, because the ways you talk and think about time determine your expectations and attitude towards it.

If you are convinced you can manage time, you condemn yourself to daily frustration and guilt. When there’s nothing you could have managed in the first place.
If you tell yourself (and others around you) you still need to find the time, you subscribe to a lifetime of helpless procrastination.

Sure, you can still use some of these expression out of social convention – just don’t believe a word you’re saying. When you’re honest with yourself about your powers and your limitations, that’s when you can take responsibility and move forward.

If time management is a collective delusion, what can we actually do?

Time strategies

I want to propose a different view.
Time isn’t found or lost. It isn’t used or wasted.
Time is experienced.

I don’t mean you should let go of future plans, big objectives, and a general direction. Blasphemy.
I don’t mean you should indulge in the present, letting go of the direction given by the future and the lessons provided by the past.

What I propose is a shift of focus.

Rather than obsessing about the quantity of time, obsess about the quality of time.
How do you experience it?

Rather than focusing on managing time, focus on managing your choices.
What do you choose to do? What do you choose not to do?

The future is shaped by your present action.
The past is given purpose by your present reaction.

The only way to manage time is to manage yourself in relation to time.

What you choose to include and what you choose to left out is equally important.

The only way to manage time is to manage yourself in relation to time. Click To Tweet

Over time, your present choices will add up.

Like the most beautiful natural formations are the result of daily erosions and constant small shift, so your present actions will add up over time and create impressive results.
Consistency and patience is key.

So take the long-term view.

You have 24 hours a day.
So don’t focus on hours. Focus on days. Focus on weeks. Focus on months.
Show up, and manage your choices.

The only time management is actually a time strategy.

What will you choose? What will you leave out?

– Matt

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The Art of Sailing through life: Wu Wei

There are three approaches to life.

Chances are, you’ve used all of them as some point.
But you probably have a dominant way of navigating through life.

But before we jump into it, I want to introduce you to the Phoenicians.

Facing the Mediterranean Sea, Phoenicia was a federation of coastal city-states located along the coast of today’s Syria, Lebanon, and northern Israel. Phoenician city-states began to form over 5,000 years ago and dominated the Mediterranean coasts for over a millennium, establishing trade routes and spreading new commercial tools (like the first widely-adopted alphabet).

I digress.

The Phoenicians moved from a few coastal cities, and settled across Mediterranean Europe and Africa, traded across the whole coast, and even reached the British Isles and West Africa.

Fast forward 1000 years, and another sea-faring civilisation expanded its horizon, settling over most of Northern Europe, Iceland, the British Isles, Normandy (in Northern France), the island of Sicily and the south of the Italian peninsula, and going as far as settling in Greenland and exploring what’s now North-East Canada: the Vikings.

One more?

Fast forward another 500 years or so, and we get to 1522, the year in which Ferdinand Magellan‘s expedition made the first voyage around the world, circumnavigating the whole globe. Boom. It was the so-called Age of Exploration, marking the beginning of modern globalisation (as well as mercantilism and colonialism).

There are more examples, such as the Ming dynasty in China, the Chola empire in India, and the Polynesians. What links these extraordinary leaps in civilisation and human history?

The Art of Sailing.

Three ways of navigating

Whether you’re exploring continents or moving through life, there are three ways to navigate your way: drifting, rowing, and sailing.

Drifting is easy. There are no skills required. Drifting is total passivity.
Lie down. Look up. Eventually, you’ll find yourself somewhere else. Or in the same place.

Because drifting is easy, it is hard.

At some point, you’ll either regret not taking the more difficult choices, or have to compensate with a sprint to sort things out. To finally move to a better landscape. To avoid a waterfall.

Then, you have to row.

Rowing is simple. It requires brute force. Rowing is forcefulness.
Set a destination. Get rowing. Or look at at the waterfall. Start rowing away from it.
Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a different place. Will you keep rowing?

Because rowing is simple, it’s exhausting.

At some point, you’ll want to stop and take a breath. Stop rowing against the current. Stop focusing on avoiding the waterfall. Finally enjoy the scenery.

Or you can sail.

Sailing is effortless. It requires harmony. Sailing is dancing.
Set a destination, and let the winds take you there. Go with the currents, not against them.
Move with the obstacle, not against the obstacle. Observe, then learn.
Eventually, you will get to your destination. You were there all along.

And you’ll know that the journey is the best part.

Effortless action (Wu Wei)

There are a time and a place for each style.
If you’re close to a waterfall, row. Get out of there.
If you need a nudge to get you in the right direction, row. Do it.

If you realise you’ve been rowing in the wrong direction, it’s ok to drift for a short while. Take a break.

But only sailing will take you to new horizons.
Only sailing will make you dance with the winds, not shiver.
Only sailing will let the currents help you, not fight you.

Wu Wei (无为), is a core concept in ancient Chinese philosophy.
Non (Wu) Forcing / Doing (Wei).

Action of non-action.

It sounds like a paradox, but it’s the art of aligning your actions with your environment.

It’s judo, not fist fighting.
It’s acceptance, not forcing.
It’s bigger picture, not short-term.
It’s dancing, not sprinting.
It’s talking, not picking up.
It’s appreciation, not expectation.
It’s enjoyment, not neediness.
It’s trust, not worry.

It’s sailing, not rowing.

— Matt

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Choosing friends: the 2.1 rule

How many times have you broken up with someone?
Or left a job? Or fired a flatmate?

These are awkward conversations. But they open a door to something better in the most important areas of your life.
So how come this doesn’t happen with friendships?

It’s rare to hear about friends “breaking up”.
When friendships don’t really work, they usually wither, are ghosted, or broken by events. They’re rarely stopped.
Usually, they coast along.

Levels of intensity

So, what triggers a break-up?
Whether it’s a relationship, a job, a client, or a flatmate, usually two things happen:

  • The level of pain we associate with continuing that particular relationship finally overtakes the pain we link to the actual break-up. The idea of not having that conversation becomes unbearable, and overtakes any fear of the change ahead.
  • Our expectations rise above the current situation. In other words, we feel like we’re missing out. Like quitting that job, firing that client, or quitting a relationship will actually make space for a better one.

choosing friendships

In short, the level of intensity of that connection is so strong, that we can’t bear coasting along.

Now, let’s go back to friendships.

The weight of friendships

Friends are probably the biggest influencing factor in your life: they form the largest part of your peer group, which we’re biologically wired to follow and conform to.
They show you what’s possible.
They set standards.
They set expectations.
They set boundaries.
They set rules and values.

Besides, friendships truly enrich our time.
They make us connected.
They make us stronger.
They show support and love.
They share a journey.

And yet, with such an important role, break-ups between friends are rare.

Most people feel a sense of obligation towards friendships.
Like they have to say yes. Like they have no saying in the matter. Like choosing friends isn’t an option.
The key here is to realise that cultural teachings and your own chemistry are taking over: back in the good old days, ‘choosing your tribe’ could cost your survival.
Once you understand you have the luxury to upgrade your friends, the next step is to realise that…if someone’s not right for you, you’re probably not right for them either. You’re following separant paths.

Let me be clear.

I’m not suggesting you turn your back on friends.
And I’m not saying your friends should all be the same either.
In fact, I am proud to be regularly in touch with friends that live in different countries, and to be surrounded by friends with different life experiences and ideas. They challenge my views and keep me growing, and make my life rich with their contribution.

Make sure your friendships add to your life rather than subtract, and that when you support a friend…they actually want to be helped. There are better and more meaningful ways to feel significant than martyrdom.

I call it the 2.1 rule.

The 2.1 rule

A couple of weeks ago, I was in London having dinner with a friend. While I was devouring the middle-easter starters, she told me about this friend who felt extremely drained every time she saw a particular person. Things were so extreme, a couple of times she even took medications to cope with the negative load.

“She needs to use the 2.1 rule” I said.

When you are on your own, what’s your base happiness and energy level? How do you feel when you’re in your own company?
That’s your baseline, 1.

Everyone’s baseline will be different, but it’s their 1.
Some people will be higher-energy, while others might have a low base happiness level when alone.

Together, if the sum of your friendship isn’t at least a solid 2, something isn’t working.
In the case of the person above, the sum was 0. She felt depleted every time she met with the other person.
Eventually, the level of pain and expectations will raise so much that she will break free of this negative connection.

The real danger are relationships that hover around or just above 1, because they make you settle: they’re not bad enough to trigger a break-up, so they coast along.

choosing friendships

As a mental exercise, I regularly check to make sure all my friendships are at least a 2.1. That is, the sum is greater than its parts, and we both become better people just from being friends, and the relationship itself is constantly strengthened.
That is a fantastic position to be in!

What to do next

It’s your turn to do a sanity check (and don’t lie to yourself) using the 2.1 rule.
Which relationships are holding you back and draining you? Which ones are just coasting along the way?

What to do next is simple.

Just spend less time on those relationships. Say no to that extra pizza night. Use the extra time on growing the most positive relationships.
If you don’t have any, meet-ups and social media are a great place to start finding interesting people in your city. Once you know one (or a few), it’ll be easy to introduce each other to more positive connections, and grow them into friendships.

Just don’t settle for 1.1. Or 0.9.

– Matt