A person standing on a mountain at sunset.

4 Things I Stole From People More Productive Than Me

Feel free to steal them too if you’d like.

There’s this feeling that I crave. It’s the feeling of learning something. Something insightful. Something life-altering. I love it. I search it out. In conversations with others, in the books I read, in the podcasts I listen to, I’m constantly searching for more. It’s exciting. It’s rewarding. I can almost feel my brain lighting up in response. I’m not working towards any endpoint in particular. Rather, learning is both a means and an end for me. Like someone who runs because they enjoy running.

But consuming only goes so far. You must be able to apply those lessons in the real world.

There are four ideas in particular that have allowed me to be more intentional with my time. That have allowed me to overcome obstacles, improve my focus, and much more. They are lessons that have enhanced my productivity and, in turn, my life fulfillment. I’ve stolen these ideas and have implemented them into my own life. You may just find you want to do the same.


1) Fool me once

You hit send too early. The email was only half-finished and now it’s out of your hands. You feel like a dunce. So what do you do? The average person would send a follow-up email explaining the situation. Then they’d go about their day. You do the same. A week later, you’re back at your desk drafting an email. Unedited, you again hit send a little too early. This time you forget to include several details needed for an upcoming project. Worse still, it was an email to your boss’s boss. Not good. In short, you once more are caught wearing the dunce cap.

In Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell, the author explains the value of actively learning from mistakes. How, whenever something doesn’t go as planned, you should write down what happened (ie. the failure or shortcoming), what you learned from it, and how you can do things better next time. Especially if you’ve made the same mistake two or more times as it means you haven’t learned from it yet.

Applying Maxwell’s lesson, I have a Google Doc where I do just that. I call it my Learn Log and when I blunder I write out:

  • What I ideally wanted to happen;
  • What actually happened;
  • Why I think it didn’t go as planned;
  • What I will do differently next time.

By doing this, I bring awareness to my errors. I actively take responsibility and chart a better course forward. At your next misstep then, try following this prompt. Learn from your past and make your future even more promising.


2) Hold the fries

It’s Sunday night and you feel like going for it. With your stretchiest of sweatpants on, you pull up to a local fast food spot ready to feast. But as you prepare to order, you become overwhelmed. Your eyes cross. Your brain freezes. “I need a minute,” you say into the box. On the display before you is a dizzying array of menu options. Breakfast and dinner choices. Tacos, burgers, sandwiches, eggs. They even have salmon for some reason. You back out of the line and head to In-N-Out instead.

In In-N-Out Burger by Stacy Perman, the author covers the life of the successful burger chain. Unlike other chains, In-N-Out’s menu is simple. You have one option: a burger. You can add cheese if you’d like. Or an extra patty. Or a side of fries. But at the most basic level, it sells burgers. And that’s it.

Founded by husband and wife, Harry and Esther Snyder, Harry’s maxim was: Do one thing and do it well. He intentionally kept the menu simple and streamlined, not seeing an advantage to adding new items or changing recipes. Today, where other chains flounder, In-N-Out boasts long lines day after day (and they’ve been around for just as long as their competitors). The simple In-N-Out menu allows them to stay efficient – they don’t have to deal with the complexity of extra ingredients. It also allows them to invest in what they do sell – they don’t have to spend money on R&D and can thus better invest in the product.

In my business, I often find myself thinking of In-N-Out. Of how I can simplify what I do, better improve the quality of what I offer, and remove complexity. It’s a lesson you can apply to anything to increase your effectiveness as well.


3) Spot the difference

Language is a funny thing. A concept can feel blurry until you learn of the right word for it. Then suddenly everything clicks. After reading Free To Focus by Michael Hyatt, this very thing happened to me. In his book, he breaks every goal into two distinct camps:

  • Habit goals
  • Achievement goals

Habit goals are those goals that repeat. They are ones you want to become a habit. To become part of your lifestyle. For example, goals like read two books a month or run five miles a week are habit goals. They repeat and don’t have a clear endpoint. You just keep going until it feels like they’re part of who you are.

Achievements goals are those with a set destination. They are goals that are generally one-offs. You do them once and are done. For example, goals like read two books by February 1st or run a marathon by October 15th are achievement goals. They have a deadline. Once the deadline passes, the goal is complete. You either achieved it or you didn’t. This understanding of the two types has helped me set better goals for myself. It has helped me decide which goals I want to be part of my lifestyle and which I simply want to do once.

It has clarified my thinking. And it has allowed me to be more intentional with my goal setting efforts. It can do the same for you.


4) There’s nothing to see here

“Don’t you think you should be on Facebook?” someone recently asked of me. My response: “Nope.” In a world where everyone is everywhere, I am virtually nowhere. And I’m nowhere intentionally. You won’t find me on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or TikTok. Not on Twitter or on LinkedIn. Not in a house and not with a mouse. I do not like green eg– alright, you get it. I’m nowhere by design.

In an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, guest Seth Godin explains the power of constraints. How you should set them for yourself so as to make clearer decisions. Otherwise, you can get lost in the world of endless options. For example, he explains, you can set constraints as to where you will or won’t be online. Decide why you are setting those constraints and then stick to them like the walls of a hockey rink. Because without the walls, there is no game. You’re just skating on a giant pond.

In defining what isn’t, you can focus on what is. Put another way, by clarifying where you won’t be, you can put energy into the places you are.

Personally, not being on social media allows me to utilize my time in better, more fulfilling ways. Professionally, it allows me to work on the areas of my business that I want to grow, not where I feel required to grow. Instead of giving a sliver of my attention to 20 different platforms, I can concentrate on the one or two places I feel hold the most potential. By setting constraints for yourself, you can do the same.


Moving forward as a thief

If these lessons resonate with you, steal them from me as I stole them from others. Let them improve your effectiveness and thus create a more intentional life for yourself. To repeat them once more, they are:

  1. Actively learn from your mistakes.
  2. Simplify the things you do.
  3. Set different goals depending on your desires.
  4. Erect constraints to better define your focus.

Create a Learn Log for yourself. Start using it. Recognize the complexities around you. Remove the superfluous so as to improve the significant. Set habit goals based on the lifestyle you yearn for. Set achievement goals for those things you want to accomplish once. Establish constraints. Decide what isn’t worthy of your time so that you can focus on what is.

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