Most of us have grand plans to succeed
Yet, the moment we start there are a million distractions in our way. Chaos lurches around in our doorway and there seems to be no way out.
At Psychotactics, we had managed to get around most of the chaos but then I was in charge of mentoring my niece. As she moved from Year 6 to Year 7, it seemed like we were hit by an okinami of chaos.
What did we do to find our way out? How did we manage to avoid the madness that we had no control over? Find out in this article.
How To Get Things Done In The Midst Of Unending Chaos
“J’ai beaucoup de devoirs aujourd’hui.”
That’s French for “I have lots of homework today”.
And it’s what my niece Marsha informs me almost daily, when I pick her up from school.
Three years ago, my wife Renuka and I started mentoring my niece, Marsha
While school work is never easy to cope with, there was always time to beef up on spellings, learn about clouds, earth’s subduction zones and the wondrous mysteries of solar system.
Then Marsha moved to year seven (what you’d call seventh grade) and we were suddenly swamped with homework. English, social studies, maths, even that little bit of French came rushing at us from out of nowhere. It seems so maddening when every day you’re thrown deep into yet another onslaught of homework.
This is the kind of chaos that hits us as we go through our business lives
We have every intention to learn more, do more and yet we find ourselves in this spin cycle that we don’t understand. At this point, it’s important to pull back and notice that nothing else had changed in our lives.
The Psychotactics newsletter still went out on time; The Three Month Vacation podcast rolled out on schedule. Every post at the membership site at 5000bc, and the Article Writing Course went out just as planned. But in Marsha’s world such order didn’t exist. The homework seemed to pull us away from what we believed to be important.
Somehow, something had to change.
In this series we look at how to achieve the seemingly impossible
To break free from gravity, we have to have a strategy that enables us to forge forward even under trying conditions. The three things that we’re going to look at are seemingly pedestrian, but it’s something we’ve had to use ourselves—for our business and now for Marsha.
– Non-negotiable items
– Just say no
Part 1: Non-negotiable items
I just finished conducting the Article Writing Course
On that course you have 25 participants all headed towards one goal: to be able to write articles that are far superior to what you’d see on the internet. And to do so in under 2 hours. At the end of the course, I ask every one of the participants to relate their experiences as they went through the course. And that’s when you hear the stories you’ve never heard before.
Stories of how one of them almost lost a child—and still finished her homework
Or the story about how one person had been working until 2 am, then sat down to write an article at about 3 am, so that they could meet the deadline for the day. Every one of these stories starts off in an almost identical manner.
In their world, article writing was all about struggle, about frustration and chaos. And then, 12 weeks later, every single one of the participants who’ve made it to the end point can write an outstanding article, complete in almost every respect.
And do so within that two-hour period. Some of them were taking days, one even took four weeks to write an article and yet at the end of the course those very same people were achieving the seemingly impossible in under two hours.
Not surprisingly, you do the same
In the early part of the 20th century, 1912 to be precise, tooth decay was a massive problem. People simply didn’t brush their teeth. They do so now, twice a day. In the USA, the Boy Scout handbook from the mid-1950’s had a section on personal hygiene.
It stated that ideally a boy should bathe twice a week and shampoo his hair once a week. What we’re doing today, all of us is achieving the seemingly impossible. We’re engaged in time-wasting activities; activities that were considered unimportant for almost of all human history. Our modern lives have made it easier to brush and shower, but you know the reason why we do what we do.
We’ve made it non-negotiable
Marsha’s reading, spelling, and solar system learning became terribly negotiable. The homework rushed in, took control of the evening and soon the important elements were swept away. And it’s not a lot different from what happens in our own lives.
We start off wanting to achieve precise goals, but suddenly a client dumps a truckload of work. And we’re off scampering.
The reason why the graduates of the Article Writing Course can write in under two hours is because they drew their line in the sand. They realised their assignments were non-negotiable. And that meant they got their reward in just 12 weeks.
At Psychotactics, we too have to make a few of our activities non-negotiable.
Renuka and I went for a walk as we almost always do every morning
We lead super-busy lives, and it does get a bit cramped when we’re about to go on vacation. That’s because we need to queue all the newsletters for the time we’re away. This applies to our membership site at 5000bc, Psychotactics, and the podcast. But not just for the time we’re away but also for at least a few weeks until we get back.
The vacation adds a dimension of chaos that’s abnormal
Yet we manage it quite well and do so every three months before we go on vacation. We had to take a similar sort of learning and apply it to Marsha as well. We had to make spellings, reading and learning about subduction zones non-negotiable.
Making something non-negotiable implies just one thing
You carve out a piece of time, and you put up a force field. Every other activity goes around that time. The participants on the Article Writing Course didn’t have two or three extra hours each day (they have to do other things on top of just writing).
Their results are a direct determination to make their performance non-negotiable, even through sickness, late nights and disruptive clients.
Life doesn’t give us time on a platter.
The people who believe they will have time in the future are living in la-la land. Life doesn’t care squat for your goals. You have to snatch a chunk of time from your very busy day and then put a force field around it.
You’re reading this article not because I have to write it. You listen to the podcast that takes up almost a whole day of production. It’s not like I have eight days a week, and neither will you. You have to make some things non-negotiable. And you have to do it right now.
And one of the best ways to get anything done is to say no.
Saying no to some things and yes to others is what makes you progress.
So how do we say no? And what do we need to reject? This takes us to part two.
Part 2: Just say no
“Seanny is always tired when we come over for playdates”.
That was a random, but a bone-chilling comment from my niece, Keira. She would have been just six-years-old at a time, and every month or so we have playdates for Keira and Marsha. At one such playdate, Keira made the “Seanny is tired” comment.
Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that a six-year-old would notice
After all, Keira and Marsha were always running around and playing. Why would they need me to participate? I simply used that downtime to lie on the sofa and get back my breath. But then come the statement and to this day it ricochets somewhere in my brain. It was at that point I decided to say no.
We all realise there’s nothing new in the concept of “saying no.”
We’ve heard it a million times before. We use it a lot when we’ve had enough. And we say no. However, that’s not the lesson we need to learn. What we really need to understand is that we have to endlessly keep the “no” re-negotiations open.
One year, for instance, we announced an info-products course
It was the start of the year, and among the various courses and products, it seemed plausible to have a series of classes where you learn about information products.
Where you learn what it takes to create an outstanding information product right from the start, though the construction and finish. And yet as April set in, and the Article Writing Course putting a fair bit of pressure on me, we decided to pull the plug on the information products course.
We said no.
Historically we’ve said no to very lucrative offers, some of them our own
You’ve already heard how we said no to affiliates; how we’ve barely done any joint ventures (probably three in sixteen years); how we’ve not gone down the path of speaking at dozens of events, travelling all the time; trying to make our book bestsellers, etc.
Like some chef in a tiny little restaurant on the wrong side of the world, we’ve beavered on our own creations, content to say no to everything else.
A similar theme applies when we look at Psychotactics
You’re likely to have heard of the Protégé Program. We started it as an annual program back in 2006. Then in 2007 and 2008 we had it yet again. Each time we took on just 15 clients, but together they earned us close to half a million dollars.
Would you have walked away from such a lucrative option? Most people wouldn’t have, but we decided the program was too intense for the clients. They weren’t implementing the learning as deeply as they should. And so we said no.
But this series you’re reading about, wasn’t about Psychotactics, was it?
Yes, Renuka and I face a lot of decisions and we say no at a fairly regular clip. However, this series was about Marsha’s sudden burst of homework. Like any of you, she was faced with this weird situation. It’s not like she could pick and choose what she could say no to. And so we had to make those decisions for her.
She gets a lot of maths games as part of her assignment
She loves playing those games endlessly and yes we know, her maths improves. But even at the risk of hearing back from the teacher, we let Marsha play the games for a short while; then she has to stop.
Take for example the recent assignment about the solar system.
She had to find 50 facts about the solar system, then write them down on a sheet of paper. If she took just 2 minutes per fact, it would take almost two hours.
We decided to say no
We’d find the facts; we’d give it to her. She’d write it down. We said no to the mundane manner in which the homework was doled out and the time saved can be used to learn something more valuable.
The reason for chaos in business is simply the inability to say no
When Keira made her “Seanny is always tired” statement, I couldn’t continue to let things stand as they were. I had to refuse to work on weekends. I had to take a nap every afternoon.
The volume and range of the work I was taking on required a ton of energy and if I wasn’t rested enough it wasn’t Keira alone who was disappointed. My clients would find inconsistency in my work. And worst of all, I had to look at this tired face in the mirror.
You’re going to have to do this too
You’re going to have to say no to a lot of those newsletters that are full of fluff. Unsubscribe from newsletters that just keep pummelling you with how rich you’ll be, or how you’ll get 10,000 clients overnight.
That’s crap. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither does business. Your business takes years before it can get the momentum it needs. When you start out, you’re not even clear which direction you’re headed in, until several tax returns have ticked by and you start to forge your mission in life.
When Renuka and I go for our walk, we do so to listen to keep fit
We exercise and listen to podcasts and audio books. But on Fridays we talk about the things that go on our stop-doing list. Things we need to say no to, both in Marsha’s world and our own. We sit down and make a list of the core things we want to achieve.
We made the weekends and afternoons non-negotiable to work and dedicated it to rest. We take three months off because we said no to endless work. It’s all about re-negotiating the things we have to do, but constantly battling what we need to drop.
Which is why when Keira comes over for her playdates, I’m no longer sprawled on the sofa
I’m running the girls ragged. I’m not exhausted like I always was. And to really get things done, find a way to use Friday to your advantage. Make Friday your say no day. Work out the things you’ve done and what you need to drop. If you can, find a friend to go on a walk with, if not every day, at least on Friday.
Just say no.
Chaos understands. He’ll be back on Monday, but you’ve won the battle for the weekend at least.
This takes us to our third part: Drills
Part 3: Drills
When we think of talent, we think of something inborn.
We assume that one person may be talented in one area because of genetics.
This assumption, however, right or wonderful, is pointless when you stop and think about how the brain works.
The brain is a pattern-seeking device
If you think of talent as something inborn, then good luck to you. It means that you can never be talented in anything else but what you were born with. I, on the other hand, have this aversion to inborn talent. And it’s one thing to say something; it’s quite another to prove the point.
We started mentoring Marsha because she was struggling with her studies at school
She’s a bright girl, and I’ve known her since she was three, but it was clear that she needed help. But while I love maths, languages, and science, there were two fronts to work on: confidence and knowledge.
So we set about going through drills. Day in and day out we’d learn about clouds. We learned about cumulus, cirrocumulus, roll clouds, cumulonimbus, cap clouds, mammatus, and one of our favorites—clouds that look like space ships, lenticularis, and clouds that look like waves on the ocean: Kelvin-Helmholtz (yup, that’s a weird name for a cloud).
We rolled out drills for everything
Clouds, then countries and capitals. At the age of nine, Marsha knew 150 countries and 150 capitals, but not randomly. She worked her way from Iceland, all across Europe, then across Russia and the Middle East, down to Africa, up to Asia and so on.
Every country in order from left to right. And she’d spit it out so quickly that if you followed her list with a sheet of paper, you’d find it almost impossible to keep up with her.
So how does this apply to getting things done?
Without drills, your brain doesn’t have the chance to learn a lot. Take the upcoming headline course, for example. In a short period of eight weeks, a client has to go from struggling with headlines to be astoundingly good.
But what does astoundingly good mean? It means that the client can write dozens, even hundreds of headlines if needed. Every headline is genuinely curious and not click bait.
But at the same time, every client (without exception) should become an auditor. They should be able to look at any headline, across any industry and be able to fix the erroneous headlines in a minute or two.
This level of ability calls for drills
With Marsha, we had drills for her “times tables”. Renuka would sit down and write over a hundred tables-based questions in a day. In a week, Marsha was going through over 500 questions, in a month over 2000. Do you think her ability to calculate figures in her head improved?
When you look at the cartooning course, the headlines course, the Article Writing Course—they all have drills
If you’ve done the course, you know how the drills are anything but boring. They’re hard work, but they’re not boring. And yet, when you’re called on to execute the exercises, you do so almost flawlessly. One of the biggest reasons why I see people struggling is because they don’t have the ability to run at high speed.
If you’re going to run a business, no one needs to tell you about the importance of drills
The drills take a lot of effort, but they are only necessary for a short time. Marsha and I started learning a few countries a day in December and by Easter, barely three months later, she knew the countries and capitals in sequence.
At Psychotactics, we’ve done well for a simple reason. We keep to the drills and add skills as we go along, and that’s really how you become smarter. But smarts are just the icing on the cake. What drills really do is help you quickly go through your day.
You learn the skill, you implement it
Talent is a reduction of errors. The fewer errors you make, the more talented you become. Instead of battling with headlines all day long, you get an outstanding headline done in a few minutes.
Struggling with writing an article over a four week period? Drills help you reduce those errors to a point where you can write an engaging, complete article in under two hours.
When we look at what we’re good at doing it’s because we learned a drill
To get things done, you can’t believe in magic. You have to run the same sequence over and over until it’s not something you think about any more.
It’s just something you can do with the minimum amount of energy. In 5000bc there’s a Taking Action forum. If you track the actions of those who report back every day, you’ll notice a vast improvement over time.
What they’re doing is reducing errors
They’re following the pattern of the brain.
It’s down to drills. Engaging drills that help you learn and execute faster than you’ve ever done before.
Marsha knows about clouds, geology, science and yes, countries
She may appear smarter than you and in some ways that may be true.
But how did she do it?
You know the answer.
When I pick up Marsha from school she always has a big grin on her face.
And yes, she’ll tease me by saying: “J’ai beaucoup de devoirs aujourd’hui.”
I know that’s my signal for chaos.
I also know that we can tame that chaos by using the three core elements:
1) We make some things non-negotiable.
2) Say no, no matter how enticing the distractions.
3) Drills. Drills make us amazingly fluent at our skills.