What I Learned in 2015
As a continuation of my 2014 post, I decided that I’d close out 2015 with another collection of lessons learned. What follows is an amalgam of the “big” lessons that I internalized over the last twelve months. These are things that will guide my thinking permanently into the future. The obvious slant here is toward business, but everything will apply to personal development as well. Hopefully you can learn a thing or two from my stumbling about this year! Enjoy.
Focus is everything
I kicked off 2015 in a pretty scattered state of mind. I had some ideas for projects I wanted to work on and things I wanted to learn, but ultimately lacked focus. As a result, the beginning of the year was unsatisfying. I was working non-stop and making little progress. Around May, I had an internal crisis and decided that unless I focus my efforts on one thing and one thing only I’d constantly find myself in a place where little got done but I was always exhausted.
As soon as I started to focus, I found huge, previously overwhelming projects being completed. I was doing more work than ever, but lacked the feeling of exhaustion that thwarted me in the past. By simply pouring my efforts into one project as opposed to several, I was able to make significant progress in record time.
The lesson learned here was to avoid scattering your efforts. Ignore the fear of missing out and make the effort to decide what it is you really want. You will never have the resources to do everything, so pick the thing at the top of your list and pour everything into that. Expect others to question or dismiss your desire to focus. The people who have already learned this lesson will nod and smile. Those who haven’t will be argumentative. Don’t be swayed.
Prior to 2015, I was a terrible note taker. I’d write things down, but lacked any meaningful system for tracking thoughts down later. I’d use software, notebooks, and scrap paper, leading to things being lost and forgotten. Recently, I decided to start carrying around a notebook. The rule for that notebook was that there were no rules. Anything goes. Quite literally, any thought, idea, or thing that stood out—a quote by someone or an excerpt from a book—is recorded.
The advantages of this are unique. By not being selective about what’s written down, you leave room for memory triggers to be stored alongside the real information you wanted to record. For example, one page may have a doodle I sketched during a phone call, while the next page has a quote that I want to frame a post around. The result is that I associate the idea with the doodle. When I think of the doodle, I remember the idea.
Beyond being used as a memory aid, keeping a notebook also identifies progress points. When you “got something” or had a revelation. With so many distractions, it’s easy to forget things. If you fail to write them down, you risk losing them forever. A notebook can be reviewed later, reminding you of a great idea or an important milestone in your life. Simple, stupid, and absolutely priceless.
Don’t let others dictate your decisions
This is a difficult idea to articulate. The basic punchline is that you must always be thinking for yourself. Never blindly follow the thinking of one person or one group without thinking about it on your own. Take in all of the possible arguments or ideas and spend some time with them.
Don’t worry about making an immediate decision. Avoid making decisions in the moment (unless you’re absolutely certain about how you feel). It’s so easy to be pressured into accepting a way of thinking in the moment when others put us on the spot. Always say “let me think about it” and do exactly that.
Don’t respond until you’ve spent time truly thinking about your honest opinion. More importantly, if your opinion differs from the group, don’t sway it to be popular or en vogue. Commit to your honest opinions and stand behind them. Being honest with yourself is far more empowering than just “joining the others.” Don’t be a lemming, think. Always seek ruthless independence over groupthink.
If you want others to show an interest in what you’re doing: show up consistently. Don’t worry about your work being perfect. Just keep showing up, no matter what. Do the work. The work will pay off if you continue to do it on a regular basis. It will not be immediate, but people do take notice and will starting showing up whenever you do.
When others see you doing something consistently, they trust you. Even if what you’re doing isn’t perfect, they trust that you will be there always improving what you do. If a project or some other effort shows signs of life, it lets other people know that you are dedicated and that they can trust what you’re doing.
If you fail to show up or follow an inconsistent pattern, it says that you may not be as dedicated as you claim. A good rule of thumb is to pay close attention to who keeps showing up because you keep showing up. Call them “fans” or “followers.” The more consistent you are, the more these type of people will engage with what you do. By being consistent, you encourage them to show up because they know you’re around and that you care.
Don’t flake and don’t fizzle. Before you start something, always ask “will I be consistent with this?” If the answer is no, don’t start.
Define your priorities
Something that took a long time to understand this year was identifying priorities vs. urgent matters. A priority is simply something that you care deeply about succeeding at or giving your time to. An urgent matter is something that does need your attention, but doesn’t need it right now. Unfortunately, the world has become an urgency factory. Emails, text messages, notifications; it’s all too much.
You have to decide to shut these things off in pursuit of your priorities. Let other people solve problems. Don’t just “respond” to issues thrown at you by others. If it’s really a crisis, they will figure it out without you. In most cases, people will exaggerate the importance of an issue just to get your attention. Responding to these sorts of tactics is not just detrimental to making progress on your priorities, but it also trains others to expect your response.
Don’t be afraid to say “no.” If someone gets upset about your lack of availability, that is their problem. You are responsible for you and should always ask whether or not a response is absolutely required. Learn to identify when something is essential to your future and when it’s just someone being loud for the sake of being loud.
I’m still learning this one, but it feels like a good closer. I don’t have to tell you: the world is crazy. We’re always on, always working, always moving. Don’t be afraid to take a break. Don’t be afraid to stop and hit the reset button on your brain. Unplug from the internet—or whatever you do—and get some fresh air. No work will ever be more important than your well being. Ever.
Take time to do the things that you want to do, when you want to do them. Don’t follow the standard path of taking off scheduled time. If you wake up and your mind is a mess, consider pausing for a day. Do not wait until the “appropriate” time as you run the risk of blowing a gasket. If you’re working in a job, take a sick day. Any employer that doesn’t believe in your well being isn’t worth working for. Quit and find something better.
If anyone disagrees with you taking time to recuperate, remove them from your circle. Anyone who does not believe in your well being doesn’t deserve your attention.
I’m really looking forward to this year and writing a post like this for 2016. There’s always more to learn and I’m excited to see what the New Year teaches me. If you’ve written a post like this, I’d love to read it and see if I can learn anything from you. Send me an email with your post/lists: firstname.lastname@example.org.