Relentless focus. This is surely a key to entrepreneurial success. But how to find it? And how to maintain that focus through the ups & downs?
Join 28,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.
I’ve found a simple system with a few rules has brought me success. I’ve used it for two decades of as entrepreneurial, and still do.
Here’s how it works…
1. keep a list of small tasks
This is the number one thing I do daily. I start out early in the morning, over coffee. Anything that “needs to get done” goes on the todo list, but I also separate out the things I’ll do today.
Todo list items are not big ones, like “save the world” or “get new job”. They are small nuggets of work that take 15 to 60 minutes. If they’re larger, they need to be broken down.
A typical day covers five major tasks. You will get sidetracked. You’ll need to answer calls & emails that aren’t captured on the list.
All this sounds simple, but it actually requires a discipline. Both to keep tasks actionable & small. You’ll learn your work pace with practice. But there’s one more thing to remember.
2. trust the list
One thing I find myself doing is pushing just because something is on the list.
I don’t do list based on feelings or moods
This requires a lot of habit building, but it becomes valuable. By doing this over time, you begin to trust the list. You know things on it will get done. So you can safely “add it to the list” and forget about it for the moment.
This lets your mind relax and bcomes a real godsend when you have a mountain of work to do.
Just work list because it’s there. And trust that things that need to get done simply go on the list.
Related: Why airbnb didn’t have to fail
3. done with list, done for day
On days where things get hairy, and you work more, you’ll have to slog through to get everything on the list done. But sticking to it will build a habit that’s valuable.
At the same time some days will be easier. Avoid the temptation to add more work to fill the day.
When you’re done with the list, you’re done for the day
This is a discipline too. Pat yourself on the back, and give yourself a break. You did what you said you would do. Time for a beer.
4. big projects require faith
Anothe lesson I’ve learned is that really large projects, or ones bringing you into new areas, require a lot of faith. For me, with an engineering background, I don’t have an easy time finding that. I want to measure, and dice up everything from the start.
When I was embarking on a project to buy real estate in Brooklyn, I really learned this lesson. There was so much unknown. How do I work with real estate brokers that have a different style of communicating than engineers & corporate professionals? How do I negotiate? What’s the right price? What about mortgages & their brokers? Architect inspections, land surveys, flood zones, crime maps, loans & assets, legal & closing costs. The list of unknown & nebulous areas of expertise was staggering.
Hang around edges to get lay of land
If I would distill this faith idea down for someone embarking on a new career or diving into a pool of unknown depth, I would say start by hanging around the edges. Pick off pieces that you can, and add them to the todo list.
I went to open houses. I asked questions. I researched online, and I always made sure I understood how agents & players were incentivized. That means believing none of the words people speak, but rather, look behind the curtain and make educated guesses about those realities.
5. break down & do
It is inevitable that you will experience writers block. Or any other kind of block that manifests as procrastination. Don’t over think it.
Continue to break down to smallest viable unit that you *can* do.
get started on anything to get inertia
With writing I find blocks where I don’t have a solid idea formulated. Maybe you have a topic? So then my todo list for the day is “write five bullet points”. This by itself will take some time, but you know you can write something. By moving past your block, I sometimes find I wanna keep writing and finish the piece. This is the kind of habit you want to form.