The Manifesto Of Hard (3/31) — Learn

This post is part of a series of posts based on my Manifesto Of Hard. If you want to create change in your life, embrace hardship and thrive in it. That’s what I’m studying this month, and this post shares some of those findings with you…

This is probably my favorite aspect of hardship: learning.

I’m insatiably curious and always want to learn something new. But, over the years, that learning has moved from a passion for theoretical information to practical/applicable/experiential learning. In other words, I don’t want to just read something in a book, I want to be wrestle it to the ground.

Hardship has a lot to teach us… about ourselves. I think that’s why I love it. It’s easy when things are easy but when things are hard, that’s when you learn the truth about someone—about how they think, how they act, how they react. I haven’t always liked how I’ve thought, acted, or reacted when things have been challenging so I intentionally create more challenges now, in controlled circumstances, to perfect my thought processes, actions, and reactions.

I think back to times like: when I’ve been robbed and assaulted, when I bought a house in a different country, when I was stranded in a snowstorm on a mountain road. These and other circumstances have revealed the best and worst aspects about myself and I try to reflect on them afterward to become a better person.

The most practical advice I can give you is: do something challenging then reflect on it afterward. Pick something that is possible but challenging and try it. Maybe ramp up your workout or take a huge hike this weekend that pushes what you think you can achieve. See what happens. Do you get bored? Do you give up easily? Do you push through and discover inner reserves?

(See the original Manifesto Of Hard and check out all related posts about the Manifesto Of Hard.)

The Manifesto Of Hard (2/31) — Don’t Prepare

This post is part of a series of posts based on my Manifesto Of Hard. If you want to create change in your life, embrace hardship and thrive in it. That’s what I’m studying this month, and this post shares some of those findings with you…

The Manifesto Of Hard tells us that hardship is okay, and that we need to step into the storm and embrace it rather than flee from it.

And in yesterday’s post, I talked about the importance of preparing yourself against hardship to help mitigate some of the challenging effects that occur when you face hardship.

Yet in today’s post, I’m going to confound things by giving you exactly the opposite advice!

The reason is: we need to be somewhat prepared to face hardship but it is possible to prepare too much. When we’re overprepared, a couple things happen:

  • We may overprepare and thus eliminate hardship altogether, which goes against the “sharpening” benefit of it
  • We may miss current opportunities or delay current success by focusing so much on an imagined future
  • We may get caught up in “analysis paralysis” and never willingly enter hardship and challenge because we’re trying to get ready for it

I see all of these a lot, especially the third one.

The benefit of challenging hardship is to keep ourselves sharp; therefore we need to prepare somewhat for hardship but we also need to allow ourselves to be in the moment and embrace the risks and challenges as they come.

There is no secret formula for how much or how little to prepare. Just put some pieces in place and then step into that storm confidently—start that business, travel to unknown places, meet that person, try that thing, stretch yourself… leap into the unknown even if you only see a few feet in front of you.

(See the original Manifesto Of Hard and check out all related posts about the Manifesto Of Hard.)

The Manifesto Of Hard (1/31) — Prepare

This post is part of a series of posts based on my Manifesto Of Hard. If you want to create change in your life, embrace hardship and thrive in it. That’s what I’m studying this month, and this post shares some of those findings with you…

Hardship seems daunting, and that’s okay; that’s part of the challenge! But you don’t have to go into it unprepared. Preparation is key to embracing hardship and creating a favorable outcome.

How to prepare? No matter what hardship you’re stepping into, here’s the best approach:

  1. Identify your ideal outcome
  2. Find someone who is already doing it successfully and model their approach
  3. Break your outcome into milestones
  4. Figure out what key action(s) you can perform to reach those milestones
  5. Execute on those few key actions as perfectly as you can

That’s it. We can’t prepare for everything but we can figure out what we can control and prepare for that then execute those actions with excellence.

There are other ways to prepare too (identify contingencies; build up your resources for a cushion; work ahead) but the 5-point list I wrote above is the very best way to prepare for anything and it will take care of 80% of the effort required to embrace hardship.

(See the original Manifesto Of Hard and check out all related posts about the Manifesto Of Hard.)

The Manifesto of Hard

It’s too difficult… I don’t think I can.

Those are words frequently spoken moments before a breakthrough happens and a transformative event takes place. Those words are uttered just before the person saying them achieves a new level in life, business, or whatever.

Things Are Hard

Things are hard. Every time we turn around, we’re faced with some difficulty or challenge — a seemingly insurmountable conundrum that threatens to push us backwards.

I’m talking here of everything in life. From the moment we enter the world until the moment we leave it, we’re faced with difficulties:

As babies, life should be simple because they really only do a couple of things (eat, sleep, and other less-adorable things) but those are hard for babies because they don’t always get the things they want and can’t easily communicate the problem. So there’s lots of crying.

As toddlers, life continues to be difficult. We’re learning to walk and eat and share and don’t reach over and smack someone else. Each of these things is achieved with a great degree of difficulty. (Have you ever seen a kid learning to walk? Yes, they’re proud of themselves when they finally get it but I’ve seen drunk people with better balance).

As children, we continue to face hardship. Going to school was hard. Making friends was hard, and so was losing those friends. Being bullied was hard. Learning to ride a bike was hard. All of those things are hard.

As teens, life doesn’t get easier. The challenges of life get even more difficult when you mix in puberty, romance, learning to drive, going to high school, preparing for college.

As adults, life continues to be hard. We’ve got bills to pay, kids to feed, managers to appease, aging parents to think about, and our own retirement that constantly marches toward us.

… And these are just the hardships we face when things are going fine. Mix in health problems, emergencies, job changes, social and economic uncertainty, and suddenly the hard things just got harder.

Yes, we do find joy in these times but there are many difficult things we face in life. It’s like a pendulum, with each extreme side of the pendulum as some kind of hardship while the center point of the pendulum is the brief period of respite when we can exhale for a moment of peace before things turn chaotic again.

The Problem With Hard Things

As kids, we had little choice; we had to face those hardships because we wanted to grow up. So we suffered the incredible challenges of learning to walk or going to school or learning to ride a bike or learning to drive.

But as adults, when we finally gain control of our lives (as much as is possible), we try to keep that pendulum from swinging too far to either extreme. We do whatever we can to keep the pendulum close to the center — close to the easiness.

This sounds good, doesn’t it? At the end of a very long day, when the kids have finally gone to bed, there is nothing easier than flaking out in front of the TV for a few minutes with a bag of chips, just to lose yourself in the story of whatever happens to be on. You’ve got an hour or two of this before you have to get up again tomorrow and do it all over again.

I think this is a problem.

I assert that hard is good, and the more challenge we accept in life, the better we are because of it. I also assert that there is a grave danger in trying to keep the pendulum from swinging too far from the center.

Too often we try to keep ourselves in that comfort zone, trying to strike a delicate balance between daily hardships.

I’m not just talking about kicking back in front of the TV. I’m talking about taking fewer chances with anything in life.

I frequently meet people who are dissatisfied in their jobs and want to quit; however, their desire for the default “ease” of a predictable life far outweighs their desire to leave their job, so the end up accepting the small daily hardship of their job instead of the hardship that comes with leaving.

I see it in business, too: People want to take the fast-track; the easy route. They want the reward without the hard work.

The most successful people in any endeavor are the ones who learn to accept, anticipate, and embrace the hardship required.

Why Things Should Be Hard

Things should be hard.

  1. Hard things are a filter that keeps most people out and lets only a few people through.
  2. Hard things are our “tuition” to a priceless education.
  3. Hard things are the price we pay for the rewards.
  4. Hard things define us.

Hard things are a filter that keeps most people out and lets only a few people through.

Hard things are our “tuition” to a priceless education.

Hard things are the price we pay for the rewards.

Hard things define us.

One more reason why things should be hard …

Hard Things Are A Guide

Hard things are a guide for us showing us the road less traveled… the road that may lead to greater success simply because too many other people took the easier path.

For that reason, we should think about running toward hardship… toward the hard challenges… toward difficulty… and embrace the struggle of challenging effort to sharpen us.

Hard things are a beacon, beckoning us away from the path of least resistance and tempting the right people (not everyone, just a few) to reach for more and to grasp it.

How To Embrace The Hard Work

  1. Prepare
  2. Don’t prepare
  3. Learn
  4. Embrace change
  5. Embrace calculated risk
  6. Break it down into the simplest possible controllable actions
  7. Get inspired
  8. Work tirelessly
  9. Become the person who rises to the challenge
  10. Lean on others
  11. Accept the challenge
  12. Sacrifice
  13. Love finding problems (and solutions)
  14. Make it easier
  15. Make it harder
  16. Get creative
  17. Don’t ever stop
  18. Recognize difficulty
  19. Perseverance
  20. Take risks
  21. Find joy in chaos
  22. Find joy in prevailing
  23. Feel alive
  24. Contingencies
  25. Set big goals
  26. Stretch and break your assumptions
  27. Don’t hold back
  28. Push yourself
  29. Double down
  30. Celebrate and then move on
  31. Chase down hardship

What’s Hard For You?

I love the saying, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” As a business owner who works with other business owners, I see that saying proved true again and again and again.

Lately it’s made me rethink my work and leisure time, to redefine what I find enjoyable, and to intentionally choose hard things that challenge me.

A few examples from my life and business just in the past year:

  • Expanding my real estate portfolio outside of my comfort zone
  • Pushing my physical limits in various challenges (like when I rappelled down the side of a 22-storey building or learned to rock climb)
  • I expanded my one-person copywriting business into an almost full-blown agency
  • I raised my prices again… and again… and again
  • I cleared out my client list dramatically
  • I said yes to several opportunities that will stretch me even though I haven’t figured out how to make them happen yet

Chasing and embracing hardship has a decisive factor in pushing me to the next level.

What’s hard for you? Maybe that’s the key to your next level.

Time Tracking: One Of The Best Strategies For Increased Productivity

Want to give yourself a raise?

I can’t think of a faster, simpler way to get more done and make more money than to do this:

Track your time.

Yeah, that’s it.

It’s one of those no-brainer so-simple-nobody-does-it strategies to get more done in the day. Every single day.

It works because, well, we tell ourselves lies about our productivity. We think we’re being productive but we’re rarely as productive as we think we are. (I’m not suggesting we need to run at 100% capacity, 100% of the time. Actually, I think that’s a recipe for burnout… that said, I think most of us have a lot more capacity than we realize because we convince ourselves that we’re maxed out when we’re really not.)

I love time tracking and I try to do it every week. It’s always valuable.

Let me show you how I do it…

(spoiler alert: I’m old school; I realize there is software or mobile apps for this stuff but I find it too easy to minimize them on my desktop or forget to run them (and some tracking software I’ve used in the past has been an absolute resource hog). I like pen and paper and a couple of highlighters. Keep it simple and it’s always in my face.)

On Sunday I draw out my week in 15 minute increments…

Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking

Whenever I recommend this practice to other people, I always recommend that they do it in 15 minute increments. Believe me, I’ve tried 30… and 60… but they suck. They just aren’t as good at giving you a very clear picture of how you spend your time. It’s far easier to look back at an hour-long segment of time and think “I was productive this hour” when in reality you were productive for just a few minutes. But 15 minutes? It’s a good balance between being laser-focused on a small segment of time while still keeping this system manageable. (Hey, I’m not suggesting that you assess every minute, right?)

You’ll notice that I track from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. You can track any time you want but that’s what I like to track.

I prefer to get up early and, ideally, finish all my work before noon. (I used to be a nightowl but you can check out this blog post about how I mastered my sleep to wake up early and become more productive and this series of posts when I challenged myself to wake up at 5:00 AM to get into the habit of waking up early).

My absolute best time for maximum productivity is 7:00 AM through about 10:30 AM. I get a lot of great work done then. I keep tracking past noon because I enjoy the process and the early afternoon is still good productive time to work on my biz.

I measure my time in terms of simple green for revenue-generating work and red for non-revenue-generating work. Yeah, it’s not a perfect system since prospect calls or marketing of my own business might be colored red but still be important to do. But you have to pick something and right now I’m focused on building a business that generates more revenue so that’s what I’ve chosen. In a different situation I may measure in some other way. (There was a time, for example, when I would have colored green only for when I was typing words but now that I also bill for other things like consulting, I needed to adjust what I measured.)

Time Tracking — April 16-20

Monday, April 16


So, on Monday I woke up and jumped into my work. It was a pretty good day! I’d give myself a grade of “A” for Monday’s level of focus and productivity. There were a couple of times when I paused for some fun/mental-break/social diversions but that’s okay because those little breaks were like breathers that could keep me focused the rest of the time. My goal isn’t to get rid of all stuff marked in red; it’s just to be aware of it and make sure it doesn’t take over.

Disclaimer: don’t bother trying to read my handwriting. It’s messy. I basically just jot down a quick note about what I do so I can look back and what I did during various blocks of time.

Tuesday, April 17

Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking
Tuesday was a completely different story than Monday. I’ll give it a grade of “C”. The day was a gong-show right from the very first moment. I was in reactive mode, dealing with challenges and trying to solve problems. There were some technical issues. And on top of that I had a few things I felt that I needed to work on that weren’t revenue-generating but still needed to be done.

Fortunately, I feel like I turned the ship around by 11:00 AM and was able to get in some revenue-generating writing for the last few measured hours of my day.

Wednesday, April 18

Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking
Wednesday was better than Tuesday but not as good as Monday. I’d give it a grade of “B”. I got some work done and although I did have a non-revenue-generating meeting (actually, it was a few short back-to-back calls that were all related) I still got some good work done overall.

Thursday, April 19

Forgot to take a picture after Thursday was done, so you’re seeing a bit of Friday in there too.
Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking
Thursday was decent too. I’d give it the grade of “B-” as it was close to Wednesday but not quite there. I did move a bunch of projects forward although I didn’t get to cross as many off as I would have liked.

Friday, April 20

Aaron Hoos - Time Tracking
Friday was another day I’d grade as “A”; a strong finish to the week. I was focused and productive and got a lot of good work done before a quick lunch, and that meant I could enjoy the afternoon at a local book sale. So, a good day, overall!

Assessment

Tracking tracking is a good practice to do but it’s even better when you pause at the end of the week to learn some lessons.

Here are some lessons I learned this week, along with a few reminders that you might find interesting if this is new to you…

1. There is value in the simplicity of the only-2-colors format. However, some of the red-colored spots are still critical to running my business (such as the meeting on Wednesday morning). So red doesn’t mean bad… I just want to be aware and control it.

2. Planning the night before (especially outlining the content I want to write) helps me stay focused and at a higher level of productivity.

3. It’s all in how I start: If I start strong, I can usually keep going and bounce back from interruptions easily. If I start from a reactive trouble-shooting mode, as was the case on Tuesday, it takes a ton of effort to get on track.

4. It’s hard to predict when things go off the rails. And since I can’t always anticipate when that will happen, I need to become better at deciding what is worth my attention when it does. In retrospect, I could have saved some of that problem-solving stuff for after 3pm (when I stop tracking my time for the day).

5. When my mornings are mostly green (what I’d grade as “A” or “B” days) I can usually finish everything I wanted to do by lunch… and then everything I do after that is extra income (if I choose to work) or free time (if I choose). Therefore, I have more freedom and choice after lunch if I can create stronger starts and maintain more consistent focus in the morning.

6. I try to do this tracking every week, which is a great practice but I’ve observed htat the level of accountability that comes from sharing this on Facebook was remarkably good at keeping me even more focused and productive! Not sure I want to share all these details of my life so publicly every week but I think there is value in sharing this a bit more regularly. Will think more on this!

Summary

If you bill for your time or based on a certain amount or type of productivity (such as word count), time tracking is the most effective way to become more productive (and give yourself a raise). It cuts through the lies that you tell yourself about productivity and reveals what you truly do at any given moment of your day.

There are always ways to become more productive and efficient, and a million books have been written about every method and strategy out there. But I haven’t found anything more effective than simply using time tracking to get a handle on what you do each day…

… and then taking a few moments at the end of the week to assess how you did, to learn some lessons, and to aim for something better next week.