Hi Celes, [how would you recommend] organizing one interests for maximum productivity? I know a lot of people, myself included who are passionate about lots of things, and while it’s sound advice to just hone in on the few things that really matter, there’s always the idea creep where you keep getting little project ideas and little offshoot projects etc… These can weigh down progress. I’ve been really focusing on just a few things and for the most part it’s working for me but I’d really love to hear your take on it. – Jeff
What do you do when you have too many projects you want to embark on but limited time to do them?
For the first few years when I started PE, that was a situation I constantly found myself in. Every time I worked on something, two to three new ideas would pop out of nowhere. I would be torn between (a) continuing what I was working on and (b) embarking on that new idea. If I continued doing what I was doing, that meant the new idea would have to be put on hold. If I started working on that new idea, that meant whatever I was doing would be put into limbo. Doing both at the same time was a no-go since it would split my attention two ways.
Too Many Ideas, Too Little Time
For example, here is a list of tasks/projects/ideas that were on my consideration list in the middle of 2011 (not including personal to-dos):
- Create new content – Write new articles
- Continue current marketing approaches (Continue to expand the reach of the site)
- Explore new marketing strategies (Check out new social media sites, etc)
- Work on further monetization
- Start a new video channel (which has since been launched as The Celes Show in Feb ’12)
- Create a new personal development ebook / product
- Create ebook versions of successful past challenges
- Collaborate with a similar-size blog to create a product or service
- Create a blogging ebook (for readers interested in blogging)
- Conduct another round of BIB / Blogging Intensive Bootcamp (conducted on Mar ’11)
- Create a follow-up blogging course to BIB
- Conduct a new challenge
- Grow my Facebook page
- Approach literary agents to explore book deal opportunities (for traditional publishing)
Maximizing My Personal Productivity
Not wanting to hire anyone (it’s simply not in line with my business model) nor outsource (I wasn’t ready to outsource at that time. In retrospect it was due to mental limitations, as I’ve shared in the recent article on Are You Sabotaging Yourself?), I was left with (a) learning to be better at prioritizing and (b) maximizing productivity.
I cultivated many productivity strategies and tactics during this time. I developed a good eye for trimming things down to the bare essentials. I said no to anything that would take time away from my goals. I became more efficient at clearing things off my to-do list. I developed my own personal productivity system that helped me stay on top of all my projects and get the best out of my days.
Zooming Down to 2-3 Big Priorities
Sometime during the second half of 2009, I started this practice of identifying two to three of my biggest priorities at any point in time and focusing only on them. I had already sliced out many Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 tasks and was already focusing on my Quadrant 2 on a daily basis (pursuing my passion, for example), so this new strategy was meant to be a one step up, where I would focus on my biggest priorities within Quadrant 2. (For more on the four quadrants of time management, read Put First Things First.)
These priorities usually comprised of two ongoing priorities and one new project. For example, “Marketing” (ongoing), “Content creation” (ongoing), and “Write new ebook” (new). Or “Create/Run new challenge” (new), “Marketing” (ongoing), and “Optimize the site” (ongoing).
These helped immensely in driving focus. Every time I picked out my big priorities for the upcoming period, I would ignore everything and work on those priorities for the next two to three months. Nothing but those priorities. It was like a total immersion.
For any new ideas that came in during this period, I would add them on my “emerging ideas” list, and wait till my next review to evaluate their place in the big scheme of things.
After I was about 90% to 95% done with those priorities, I would then take a step back, evaluate what were my two to three next biggest priorites to work on, and work on them next. And so on, and so forth. I did this for the next couple of years.
An Invisible Misalignment
Having streamlined my personal productivity and started my two to three priorities approach, I became more prolific. Every time I completed my big priorities, I would immediately get on to my next set of priorities. For every similar task I embarked on, I would take lesser time than before, while delivering a higher quality output.
During this period from 2009 through 2011, I launched various high quality ebooks on PE, conducted a series of high profile challenges, wrote many new articles, increased the site’s traffic by over 10 times, expanded PE from being just a blog to a personal development platform, launched PE forums, created and conducted numerous workshops, and worked with many one-to-one coaching clients around the world, among other accomplishments.
However, the longer I stuck with this system, the more I felt there was something not quite optimal about this approach:
- Every time I worked on my two to three priorities, it also meant I couldn’t work on anything else. It felt like everything had to be put on hold until I was done. If I didn’t pick those priorities to work on, that would lead me back to the original issue of having a scattered, ever-expanding ideas/to-do list that wasn’t feasible for creating a productive daily workflow.
- There were times when I questioned the trade-offs of working on those two to three priorities (as opposed to other priorities). For example, one of my projects was to create a new ebook – I would never know if it was better for me to conduct a new course instead during that exact same time. Could I be missing out on something important while I was busy working on this project? That thought would surface.
- At times I felt torn between the two to three priorities I had zoomed down to. For example, with creating a new ebook, I had to plan, write, design, create the sales page, and market, at least in the beginning phase. With running a new challenge, I had to create a theme, design the tasks, design the marketing material, do the marketing, set up the forum, write the launch material, and then write the daily tasks and oversee running the challenge. Every project would involve separate tasks that competed for my time.
These issues became more apparent each time I completed a cycle of using this approach. It wasn’t until July last year that I finally found my answer to this longstanding problem.
The aha moment came during one of my usual review sessions. At that time, I was evaluating my two to three priorities to focus on next, i.e., yet another cycle of the same thing.
As I began weighing the pros and cons of one item against the next (my typical procedure before selecting my final priorities), I felt conflicted. Regardless of what I selected, I could anticipate spending the next few months being torn between those two to three priorities.
This was when it suddenly hit me that I didn’t have to choose two to three priorities (out of the list) at all. Neither did I have to choose between any of the priorities.
That was because regardless of the priority I chose, it would ultimately lead me to the same end point.
Let me explain. Let’s say I pick revenue generation as my top priority for the next two months. In my business model, that would mean creating a new high value, information product. While creating a new product would take a good one to two months at least (of continuous work), I would receive instant gratification right after I launched it, by way of the revenue earned from the product sales. Post launch, it would also serve as an additional revenue stream on an ongoing basis. Clearly, this would accomplish my revenue objective.
However, creating this product would do more than just that. It would also help strengthen my value offering at PE, because I would have a new high value product in my lineup at PE. Many readers would benefit from it, as opposed to if I had never launched it. On top of that, having this product would help me reach new people, since the people who purchase the product may mention it in passing to their friends too, due to the immense benefits they get from it. This has been the case for Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program and Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program.
Or let’s say, I choose content creation as my upcoming priority. The main way I would approach this is to write high quality articles and share them freely on the site, as I’ve been doing in the past few years. This would most definitely increase the content, and subsequently, the value of the site.
At the same time, some readers, upon reading the articles, would proactively share them with their friends and family, simply because they provide useful information for their growth. This would lead to an organic growth in traffic. With the growth in traffic, this would indirectly lead to increase in revenue, since higher readership would mean a higher chance of product sales, and a higher chance of clickthroughs for the site advertisements. Clearly, I wouldn’t just grow my content here: I would also be growing the site in other aspects, thanks to the spillover effects of growing my content.
As you can see, focusing on any one priority would ultimately help me grow in other areas too, even though I wouldn’t be focusing on them. The rate of growth in those other areas might not be the same as if I had focused on them as top priorities, but it would merely be a short-term phenomenon. As I grow rapidly in my one area of choice, it would lead to a faster rate of growth for all the other areas as well (due to the spillover effects from working on my top priority).
At the end, when I reach my final end vision, I would have grown so much in all areas (directly and indirectly) that it wouldn’t matter whether some of the areas developed slower or faster at the beginning. That’s because it has ultimately led me to my desired end point.
Which leads me to my main point. The key here, then, isn’t to select two to three, four to five, or six to seven big things on your list and try to grow all of them simultaneously (which in turn splits your attention and focus). The key here is really to select the one biggest thing that you are most passionate about, and pursue it to the nth degree, all the way until you rocket to success with it. As long as you do that and do it well, you will naturally accomplish all your other priorities on the list too.
The Superstar Effect (and Superstar Halo): Payoffs of Being the Best
This is where I want to bring in the Superstar Effect, because the phenomenon lends support to the conclusion I just shared.
The Superstar Effect refers to the phenomenon whereby the top performers of the field reap a disproportionately larger share of revenue (compared to other players in the field) and seemingly dominate the fields they are in. (It is commonly linked with economist Sherwin Rosen, who first wrote about it in The American Economic Review in 1981.)
There are many reasons why the Superstar Effect exists. One reason is because people, when given a choice, want to go for the best, rather than for second or third best. For example, someone suffering from heart disease would want to go to the best heart specialist, rather than a regular cardiologist. This then leads to a disproportionately larger demand for the best player(s) in the field, even if the difference in ability is marginal.
Secondly, it’s yet another phenomenon that’s in line with the 80/20 principle, whereby 80% of the outcome can be explained by 20% of the causes. Here, a small percentage of the top players reap 80% of the rewards, kinda like “the winner takes all” effect.
Thirdly, it’s easier to follow the path of the person who is the best, because that person epitomizes everything there is in the industry he/she is in. He/she becomes more than just another player in the field, but now becomes a symbol, an icon, a representation of everything there is to see and learn about that particular industry.
Fourthly, technology has allowed one’s influence and one’s work to spread even more widely, quickly, and cost effectively than before. Alan B. Krueger, another economist, studied the music industry and found that the top 5% of revenue generators (i.e., the superstars) took in 62% of concert revenue in 1982 and 84% in 2003. Needless to say, this disparity is probably bigger today, with iTunes and social media fanning their success. (For example, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber have the largest Twitter accounts today, with 25 million and 23 million followers respectively. That’s just two people in a 500 million user social network with a 10% reach of the network’s users!)
Implications to Goal Achievement
The Superstar Effect has several implications in how you should approach your goals:
- Whatever you do, the winner in your field will take all. (By winner, I mean being the best in what you do.) By not working on becoming the winner in your niche, you’re not going to take much, if at all – others are.
- When you work on two or three or even 10 or more things at once, you make it slower for yourself to become a winner at anything. You have a superficial relationship with everything you work on. Nothing you do seems to “take off”. (Read: 10,000 Hours To Develop Talent)
- Doing many things may make you think and feel like you’re making much progress, but you usually accomplish less in absolute terms, as compared to if you just work on one thing and one thing only. By focusing on doing only 1 thing well, you have a much higher chance of achieving success.
- Upon doing your one thing well, you will naturally do well in other things you want to do, because you now have a platform of success. It may not be a direct transference of success from your first thing to the second (it will still be necessary to put in the hard work in your other ventures), but it will now be relatively easier to excel in them, compared to if you start off trying to do those things simultaneously at the beginning. This subsequent ease of success and transference of results to your other pursuits is what I call the Superstar Halo.
The reason why I brought up the Superstar Effect and the Superstar Halo is because they basically tie in with the point I’m making. By doing one thing, and doing it extremely well, it doesn’t matter what the other things on your list are, because (a) they would likely be accomplished in the process of achieving your first goal; (b) even if they aren’t, you can now leverage on the success of your first goal to accomplish them.
This spillover halo can be witnessed regardless of what you’re doing. Take for example, the scenarios I shared of myself in the previous section. While revenue generation and content generation may look like distinctly different objectives, when I analyzed them, they ended up converging to deliver the same outcome (of creating more value, getting the word out to others, generating more revenue). The individual paths may not be 100% similar (no two paths will ever be), but they all eventually bring me to the same end point (if not closer).
Another example would be many celebrities, who seamlessly expand from acting to singing (Selena Gomez), from singing to acting (Justin Timberlake), from reality TV to modeling to retail to book writing (Kardashian family), from modeling to TV (Tyra Banks), from sitcom to film (Jennifer Aniston), from stand-up comedy to TV (Ellen Degeneres), without much of a problem. That is because they have already built huge followings, or at the very least established a certain level of prominence and credibility, in their initial endeavors which then enable them to ride on their initial success to create bigger waves of success elsewhere.
See it as having a trampoline that you can now use to jump to greater heights.
Whatever multiple ideas and goals you have now, it doesn’t matter which one you do first or how you prioritize them, so much as it matters that you pick the one you are most passionate with, go full throttle with it, and stick with it to the very end till you achieve prominence. That’s because whatever you pick, it will ultimately bring you to the same end place (assuming you eventually get working on the other things on your list, of course).
What That Means For You: From Knowledge to Action (4-Step Formula To Great Results)
Great to know all that, but how does this knowledge translate into action?
Basically, when you have too many ideas to be executed, you are no longer looking at a personal productivity issue. You are looking at a prioritization problem. You are trying to do too many things at once, to the point where it’s jeopardizing your success. Even trying to do two to three things at one go can be very distracting. You’re constantly fleeting from one item to the next. Your attention is split. You get a diffused output, compared to if you channel all your energy into one thing and blast it all the way.
I know, because I tried the two to three things approach for a while, as I shared in the opening.
Planes are designed with one head each, not two heads or three heads, because that’s the most streamlined design that cuts through air resistance. It’s possible for laser light to cut through steel because all the energy is focused onto one wavelength, which causes the steel to melt away under the intense pressure. By the law of physics, you deliver the most pressure (impact) by applying the same force over a smaller unit area (doing one thing), not over a larger unit area (doing multiple things).
If you constantly find yourself in a state of flux, constantly jumping from one thing to the next, and seemingly having lesser time than you can afford, my recommendation for you is this:
1. Pick one idea/project/goal/objective/message, and only one.
Since you are only picking one thing here, you want to make sure it’s something you’re truly, truly, passionate about.
- Park all other things at the side. Realize that by way of working on this one thing, you are, by corollary, progressing on the other things in your life too — in more ways than you may know.
- Feel free to embark on little ideas and side tasks that ladder up to the main objective of the goal you picked in #1. Because these things are linked with accomplishing your main objective, there will not be any diffusion of effort or any issue with time constraints. They are all congruent.
2. Accelerate your progress in this one idea/project/goal/objective/message.
- Delegate, outsource, or discard anything that delivers a low value for your time. I can’t stress this enough. Delegating and outsourcing is something I’m working on this year.
- Max out your personal productivity. Below are some of my best articles on productivity. I eat and breathe many of the principles that I wrote in these articles:
- Become the Master of Your Time (Fundamental principles of time management)
- Day 8 of Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program, Evaluate Your To-Do List (Being more effective on a day-to-day basis)
- The 8 Habits of Highly Productive People (Inculcate these habits if you want to be more productive)
- 50 Effective Ways To Boost Your Productivity (An arsenal of productivity tips to be more productive)
- The Best Productivity System There Is (Developing your productivity system to manage all your tasks)
- How To Finish What You Start: 10 Important Tips
- Your One-Stop Guide To Outsourcing: Why You Should Outsource and How To Get Started in the Next 20 Minutes
Build a good foundation for goal #1 before you proceed to the next step.
3. After (and only after) you make headway in goal #1, should you start goal #2.
Put your best foot forward for your new goal; rinse and repeat step #2 for this new goal.
While working on goal #2, be sure not to neglect your original goal #1. That is your core and should always be your number one priority.
When you achieve success with goal #2, you can now expand to other goals. Take on the goals one at a time though; meaning, branch into goal #3 only when goal #2 is in place, and then branch into goal #4 only when goal #3 is in place, and so on. Think of it as like brick layering, where you lay on a new brick only when the previous one is in place.
4. Relish in your new-found focus, clarity, and success.
You will find that you now attract results much faster than when you were struggling to do multiple things in the past.
Hope you found the above helpful. I’ve personally been applying this for the past few weeks and it’s giving me immense results. Much love to all of you. ♥