Unlimited Possibilities Limit You

I could do anything tomorrow, but by the time I considered [invalid operation] percent of infinite options, tomorrow would be gone and I’d be deceased. Frankly, an excess of possibilities paralyzes the mind as the first sentence, this speed dating study, and my experience all suggest.

No, we don’t consider every option, but the principle scales down to our lives nevertheless.

While having a large number of possible projects to choose from seems like a good problem to have – it remains a problem. Why? Having too many options cripples our decision-making ability (read the study). Focus is the champion of personal growth, decision-making, and productive living.

Excess possibilities have frozen me so much recently.  By that I mean that I haven’t been able to do anything. My mind has been so full of ambitious ideas that I can’t focus enough to do any of them. I’ve been thinking without taking action – NOT what this site is about.

It All Started When…

Earlier this year my ambition started rising through the troposphere and I embraced it. Not a big surprise – as before that my mind was being used as a storage unit instead of a creation machine. Now that I have a physical flash drive, I can use that as my storage unit and use my brain to create – IF I can narrow my focus and eliminate some options.

As I thought of dozens of ideas (thanks to Thinkertoys) – they zoomed my focus out and I gradually became less productive. This is alright in the short run, as there is a time to think and a time for action, and in that order.

I was working on the blog 80 hours a week for the first 2-3 weeks. As time went on, my passion did not dwindle very much, but my time spent working on Deep Existence did. The reason of course – too many distractions disguised as “other things I could do.”

I have two additional domain names registered that I have not done anything with. One of them would have been a massive project with two friends that was canceled. The other, if I ever start it, is a humor website that specializes in quirky, clean humor with intelligence behind it.

Add to these another 20 or so website and life ideas I want to implement and my mind has a lot to juggle. It’s finally time to eliminate some possibilities and FOCUS. It’s time to kill my ambition temporarily in selected areas in order to enhance it in the remaining areas.

Selection of the tube

Colorblind legend: green orange green green. 

Time is a limited resource for humans. It will be limited until cryogenic technology finally works and allows us to be preserved until the lake of youth is discovered and then we’ll jump in and drown immediately because our muscles’ atrophied and we forgot how to swim.  I repeat – time is a limited resource for humans.

It is possible that we can accomplish most of our greatest dreams in a lifetime, but they aren’t going to happen at the same time.  Focusing on 1-3 projects at a time sounds boring, but it is the best way to get things done!

Destroy Your Desires (Well, Not Exactly)

You know how your computer doesn’t run all of your programs at the same time? That’s smart use of its resources. The GTD System is so popular because it accomplishes this feat with the human brain.

We can do it in a simple way with pen and paper.

Once you have writing instruments, jot down all of the big projects (life & career) you’re considering undertaking or are in the process of doing.

After you have your list:

  1. Decide which one is best to do right now and in the near future.
  2. After you pick that one, analyze your responsibilities to determine if you can fit in another project to dedicate your time to. If you can fit another, pick the second best project that is best to do right now.
  3. Repeat 1 & 2 until your projected workload is about 80% capacity (to account for inaccuracies and prevent burnout).  I’m going for no more than three at a time.
  4. Store the “reserve” list in a safe place you’ll remember (and add to it when you think of something else).
  5. Staple the current project list to your freaking wall. Use tape if you’d like to be less destructive/extreme, but it won’t pump you up as much. This list is your focus reminder.
  6. When you finish or cancel one project – simply consult your “queue” and choose the next best one that fits.

A mentally digestible workload. That’s what I want (you too?). I have enough ideas to last me 10 years and I’ll come up with more passively, so it’s time to get to work in the present. This is the daily checklist concept – which most of us have good experiences with – applied to the larger scale of major life projects.

You’ve probably heard it said before – “don’t try to change everything at once.” This is a great way to take that advice.

My new focused list of big projects:

  1. Finish* digital book for Deep Existence.
  2. Buy domain name and start new website (secret :-D)
  3. Consistently get up before 8 AM every morning.

*Not to be confused with “Finnish,” though they are welcome to read it.


Bonus: When you cover the piece of paper with completed projects and need a new sheet, you can tear the paper down ceremoniously. It’s more satisfying than checking something off. 😛

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Hugo Martins

I believe sometimes the main problem is the fact that you can’t figure out what are the most important activity to do and what is the thing you must do first.

You get so caught up with all the “I have to do this and that” that you don’t even remind to actually do it and then when the day is over you realized that you accomplished nothing.

Of course, you get frustrated and the next day you do the same. My solution is simple: I some days just decide 3-4 things to do and then I do them and I simply enjoy myself for that 🙂

sguise

Exactly Hugo – that’s why I suggest putting the list on your wall! It makes it easier to decide what “big project” you’d like to work on. You can do this in tandem with your daily list by making a project one of your 3-4 things.

It is good to be reminded of important projects that are often buried under more urgent, but less important daily details.

Hugo Martins

Nonetheless, please, don’t forget to shower again…it is important! 😛

sguise

hahaha, I won’t promise anything. 🙂 Maybe I’ll put showering on my big project list.

Martyn Chamberlin

I love your logo man! Looks really good. You must have paid about $100 to get that done professional, right?

xoxoxo

sguise

My logo or my sign up form?

If the former, I did it all myself. 🙂

If the latter, thanks Martyn! 😀

If anyone wants a sign-up form that looks as delicious as mine does, go through Martyn’s tutorial ($29) – http://twohourblogger.com/form/

Martyn Chamberlin

Haha oh stink I can’t even remember the name of what I’m talking about. I was talking about the signup form.

But no, the logo looks good too. 😀

Hugo Martins

At the first glance I thought Martyn was self-promoting, I thought it would be funny. Once again, maybe one day I’ll try that magnificient piece of tutorial to find out what your fame is made of 😛

Robert

Awesome man.

I love how you make your posts personal and experience-based. This is a huge problem for most people. The Pareto Principle is another interesting concept to introduce. 20% of work can achieve 80% of results, or thereabouts. For organisations this may not be possible due to bureaucracy and different levels of management etc, but for one person I really believe this to be true.

It really comes down to one thing. Focus. I definitely faced the same problems that you faced in the first six months of having starting an online business. All these ideas and not much productivity. Then I realised it’s all about simplicity, focus and prioritisation. Realising what is important, breaking it down into bitesize chunks and doing it one step at a time. I’ve still got loads of stuff to do and some great ideas, but they are on the backburner for now. As you said, it’s just not feasible to try and have several projects on the go.

I think that’s why Leo Babauta is so successful, because Zen Habits is all about simplicity. I’m not such a big fan of his any more. He is good, but most of his stuff is pretty much repeated. Prioritise. Keep it simple. Baby steps. Reduce Clutter. I just summed up his entire blog lol.

Was going to mention Thinkertoys to you. Still need to read it. So it’s good for creative thinking as long as you draw the line between the thinking and taking action part? That’s very useful and will remain mindful of that when I do get round to reading it.

sguise

Robert, thank you for the in-depth comment (those are my favorite kind).

I like to bring personal examples into the mix and/or scientific studies. I think it makes dull topics a bit more interesting and credible – two things I’m really aiming for with this blog.

Yes, I’ve been thinking about that 80/20 principle a lot lately. I think at least the concept behind it is accurate. Like for me, these things listed were just not getting done as I did much less important work in their stead. I have the paper on my wall now and it has helped to look at it and be reminded.

And yes yes yes to focus! Focus is KING. Focus is quickly becoming my favorite thing in the world. Leo himself is very good at focusing you can just tell (I think it comes with minimalism – less stuff to occupy your mind/time). Haha, while his stuff may be repeated, I can’t blame him because 1. those are really important, effective concepts and 2. the alternatives might be inferior…

I looked at his archives and saw that he posted daily for years (plus he wrote guest posts). That’s a lot of content!

Riley Harrison

Excellent post Stephen. In terms of focus, do you have any hesitancy that starting a new blog site will detract from the effort required to maintain and grow this one successfully. I recognize (one of my many shortcomings) that sometimes when necessary work on an existing project becomes tedious, escapism enter my thinking. It’s so much more fun to think about an exciting new project rather than do the necessary work to make the current project successful.
Riley

Chris Kahler @ Bloggeritus

Hey Stephen,

Excellent post! Your story is almost exactly like mine it scares me.

I similarly went through every process you’ve expressed in this post… Going from mental absorption to all out action. Having a gazillion ideas jumbling around at all once, each new idea better than the last (which makes it really hard to make a definite pin point focus).

I think starting my blog sealed the deal for me. It’s young, about a month and half younger than yours, but I have some pretty good plans for it in the future.

But I do relate to the same problem you had focusing, even since starting my blog. I’ve been writing my book since the second week of May while also trying to balance writing blog posts, jump starting a twitter account, a facebook account, guest posting, joining blogosphere communities, and so on.

Too many things to do, but only one focus to give lol. It’s like focus being gang banged by the “to do gang”

My solution was similar to yours, but slightly different. I sit down once a week, normally Sunday night, and write down a quick one paragraph journal entry about the previous week’s progress. Then I list everything I want to get done that week in a box drawn on the side. I write out the week’s working schedule in the prominent position of the page, as if I were managing an employee. Last, I give each day a writing topic to try and cover.

I follow my schedule, write a post on my daily topic, and then devote time to other tasks according to priority.

As far as how I daily task, I use small post its. Take a look at the major things I need to get done from the week’s plan made on Sunday, and break them down into single actions to focus on. Then on a blank post it I write one task down and immediately work on it. When I’m done I scratch it off and go back to the “single actions” list, picking another immediate task to complete. I write that down on the post it, and get to work until it’s finished.

Rinse and repeat that, and you can get a lot done!

I am sure both of our task lists look a lot alike lol. I am very interested to see your report when it’s available… do you have a date set for it?

sguise

I have a lot of hesitancy about it, Riley. I’ve recently decided not to do it yet. The reason is that I have a HUGE six month project I want to work on. I think it would be unwise to try to manage two websites and get this project completed. So I’m going to move it into the “someday” list and focus on Deep Existence and said project.

Deep Existence isn’t tedious for me – and I hope it never will be – but I know what you mean about the excitement of a new project. I have the escapism tendency as well. Thank you for your insights Riley.

sguise

Hi Chris,

I love your post-it idea! That’s just like David Allen’s GTD system. He tells you to focus on one single actionable task at a time. It really helps people to focus when it is a separate sheet of paper (or post-it).

I like your weekly review – sounds like a good one. Getting Things Done (the system) kind of burnt me out because of how tedious it can be, so I’m going to have to create my own system like you did that I know will work for my habits and style. I’m thinking of having “layers” of things – a layer for daily to-dos to monthly goals to yearly goals all the way up to general life goals.

Haha, I’m still a sponge, soaking up all kinds of information, but as I said, now is the time for action. The blogging juggling act is pretty incredible. That’s what I like about it – you have soo much to learn and the “work” is very diverse.

The digital book should be completed pretty soon. I need to edit and revise it to ensure it is sharp, but the content is all there. Then I’ll just have to put it all together and think through the launch/distribution details. Estimate is 1-2 weeks.

Robert

Yeah he’s still an awesome guy, and they are great points, maybe its just the fact that I’ve read his book and heard them so often, but yeah it’s definitely worked for him and others. He deserves his success, just saying his points are all pretty similar, but he is an excellent writer and has put the work in. Jeez that is a lot of content!

What are your thoughts on Thinkertoys from the above comment?

Chris Kahler @ Bloggeritus

Yeah that’s kind of the approach I have towards teaching. I’ve noticed that everyone learns differently. We all have different preferences for how we like information to be presented and organized… When teaching my productivity I have decided to take an approach of customization.

I am making the attempt to teach people how to create their own systems that follow the same basic principles… I notice what works for one person may not for the next. However, principles are principles and bend for no one… so, fitting in a system that resonates well with you ACCORDING to principles that work is the way to go in my opinion!

I think it’s good that you are like a sponge (I actually referenced that in an article about stretching limits) and honestly, I’m like a sponge too. That’s why I like your blog so much – you have the same story and you’re on the same path as I am. Seeing how you do things and comparing your systems with mine interests me.

Honestly, you’re one of the blogs on a list of recommended blogs in my book (I explain a system for modeling success, and yours is one of the examples). If the book is a good success, which I hope it will be, I’ve referenced you a few times.

That’s what writing great content does!

sguise

Oh sorry! I forgot to respond to that.

I have only read 10-30 articles of his, so I haven’t seen that.

Yes, Thinkertoys is a fantastic resource in the planning and strategic development phases of a project. It is also very useful if you have a problem arise (like, how can I monetize my blog?) – because it helps you to think of innovative solutions. It isn’t really a book that directly inspires you to take action, but some of your spawned ideas will do that!

I haven’t read in the book in a long time (reading Buzz Marketing now…), but it really changed my perspective on creativity as a whole. I haven’t used any of the thinkertoys in great depth yet, but I can see how useful they are. The value of the book for me was changing my mindset and serving as a reference.

sguise

I really like what you’re saying about principles, Chris. Is that related to “7 Habits of Highly Effective People?” I listened to the entire audio book of that on a driving trip recently and I remember him talking about principles.

And that is part of the reason I’m torn on GTD – it is really a brilliant system, but I still need to tweak it for me. By the way, are you talking about the topic of your book when you say teaching others how to be productive?

Yeah, that is very interesting to see how much our journeys have in common. I enjoy hearing about your systems, so thanks for sharing them. I love that you love my blog. 🙂

And wow, I’m honored and flattered. That means a lot man. When are you looking to release that book into the wild?

Chris Kahler @ Bloggeritus

That’s kind of funny you mention the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”… there are only two parts I remember from that book: the concept of paradigms and the two circles of influence. I never actually read the entire book, so I couldn’t tell you what the habits really are (It was on my iPhone’s kindle. I hate reading on iPhone lol).

I just know that certain principles need to be accounted for, mainly from experience. As for the GTD system… I am sure you have already benefited from it. I’ve realized that NO system 100% helps anyone a full 100%. It takes too much effort to duplicate a system completely. It’s much easier to derive from a bunch of systems the things we like best, making our own.

A 100% system may help you only 45%, but if you can be helped an additional 55% from all the other systems you absorb like a sponge, then you are on a roll.

The key is to take in what you like, discard what doesn’t sound good, and add your own zest or flare to the mix to make your own creative system for getting things done. As long as things get done, the system doesn’t really matter. The trickiest part is finding the perfect system for you, which is in my opinion the fun part of the game.

My book barely touches on the concept of productivity, however most of my blog posts seem to be geared towards it so far. I don’t want my blog to be all about “how to blog”… I’m big into productivity and focus as well as other kinds of general personal development. It’s not the blog that’s successful, but rather the blogger.

At first my blog posts covered these subjects from my perspective… but now I’m realizing that my perspective automatically limits my readers on what they can gain from the idea of “systematizing” productivity. Rather, I am trying to break down the system of “systematizing” so that I can teach THAT system while explaining the principles of productivity.

If you put the two together, you can try and form your own system that works 100% for you. Of course this takes time, and is in no way an easy style to teach by. But overall, I think people will find greater value in it (hopefully lol). I think teaching is only 50% of actual knowledge, 25% ability to present the knowledge, and 25% ability to motivate the student to acquire what was left out.

My book is solely about blogging. I have spent most of the last 2 months extensively researching what makes certain blogs work and what doesn’t. Obviously, I’m only 50% of the way completed with this research – meaning I have my theories, but testing is a much slower process.

I actually have to grow my blog to the point we both are trying to hit before I can 100% back the information in my book. That is the reason why I am giving it away for free. Honestly though, I feel that the information in the book is worth way more, because everything in it is what works.

You and I are both in the process of using some of these methods, though there are some that I’ve written about that I have yet to apply to my own blogging efforts (which is why I’m still building momentum instead of in full swing).

Having my book ready will help to ignite the momentum I’m really planning on though. I have yet to really get my blog rolling like I want to, but I’ve got some creative short and long term projects ready to get underway.

Behind the scenes I am working really hard and planning GREAT growth for a long term approach. I’m looking to grow as far and long as possible. I can see your blog is one of the fastest growing communities I’ve come across so far, and you deserve to be mentioned somewhere. I am planning on my book getting a lot of exposure, and have a pre launch buzz generating idea ready for it. Your blog is a great case study to exemplify, simply because your content is so damn good!

I find myself modeling after your ability to include personality in your writing (not to be confused with me modeling your personality! I do have my own style and personality, I’m just noting the structure). In my book I don’t leave anything out. It’s long for a reason, and it’s absolutely fluffless. I even feel like I need to go back and add more personality to it, but then again I want it to be more informative than anything.

I’m super excited about both of our futures, and anyone else who is a regular of your blog benefiting from your writings. In the long term, we will both do amazing I already know. I plan on finishing my book tonight actually. It has been written and is being edited right now. I’ll be ready to launch it in a week or two as well.

I’m super excited about it and anxious to read yours as well. It is exciting watching your blog grow and being one of the first regulars of your community (in the long scope of things)!

sguise

When I started this blog, I hoped that the comments and interactions would reflect the mission and material. I am not disappointed. That comment is pretty much a blog post. 🙂

You have a solid conceptual understanding of systems and did a great job putting it into words. I agree with combining the best parts of systems and adding in your own zest. As for fun making systems, I have created some pretty crazy ones in my day. 😛

Yes, I think it’s almost necessary to give your first product away because of the credibility issues of being a new blogger. We might know that we can write and provide the same quality content as the bigger, proven bloggers – but nobody is going to buy into that until we prove it (repeatedly).

Glen Allsopp at viperchill is an example of a guy that continues to give away tons of valuable content for free – and he is extremely successful because of that. His free content is much better than most of the paid content offered out there.

A long-term approach is very key. Though as you said, my blog has grown very quickly, there have been plenty of times where I thought it should be bigger by now. I’ll think, “I’ve been on Problogger 4 times – Deep Existence should be huge right now.” Really it’s just been a long steady climb.

The personality/information balance is very tricky! I think about it a lot. Frankly, I think that personal development can be extremely boring – so I do what I can to make it more interesting. The problem is that when I’m not thinking about it, I’ll write everything out in a matter-of-fact way.

I want people to come here because I write about important stuff, but also because they just enjoy my writing style and personality. Unless you’re writing about how to code something, infusing personality into your work is a great idea. Then again, it is possible to overdo it.

Well, I’m thrilled to have you as a part of the community and appreciate your contribution. 🙂

Archan Mehta

Stephen,

Thank You.

I want you to know how much I enjoy reading your blog posts and guest posts as well. I think you are on the right track and are going to make progress: sky is the limit for you.

In this case, what works for me may not always work for other people. It depends on the individual. Hence the saying: one man’s wine is another man’s poison–although, in this day and age, it would be wise to substitute the word “woman” for “man”–else, all hell breaks loose and the feminists come after you with vicious words and clubs for dessert.

In my case, I keep a note-pad and a pen in my pocket. Then, I prepare a to-do list. Say, ten tasks or twenty tasks per day. Sometimes more, sometimes less depending on XYZ factors.
Now, it is time to organize those tasks in order of priority: on a scale of one to five. I write that down next to the tasks. That helps me to focus on getting things done by ranking.

So, for example, if I have to go for a job interview–that would be top priority. Doing my laundry would be low priority–although that task is important, after all, because I need something to wear for the job interview. This helps me to organize the tasks in order of importance. Then, as I get each task done, I cross it off my check-list. Then, I tear off each page and throw it into the trash. This gives me a feeling of accomplishment, to be sure. I have been doing this now for several years and it has worked for me.

Will it work for other people? I am not sure, but give it a try. No harm in trying. If it does not work for you, you can create your own system. No system is perfect or ideal. Cheers.

Stephen Guise

Hi Archan!

Thanks very much. The sky is pretty limiting in the large scope of things though…I mean, there is all of outer space that I’d be missing out on. 🙂

Hahaha, no comment on the feminism! I don’t want to start a debate on that, though I wonder about using he/she/they sometimes for that reason.

You system sounds great to me, but what about larger projects? Are they included in your list or is it just daily tasks?

I love to check boxes off and tear up papers too – very satisfying. 😀

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