Categories
Focus and Productivity Tactical

How to write a million words – on a slacker’s schedule.

An inside look at my daily schedule. Plus, powerful tools and strategies to help you become more focused and productive.

Writing
Writing in the Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam airport.

Here’s something most people (including some my friends and family) don’t know: Over the past 5 years, I’ve written over one million words.

ONE MILLION.

That’s everything from books, articles, sales pages, coaching curriculum, marketing plans, and more. (I spent the last 5 years as a marketing strategist for Precision Nutrition.)

In a minute, I’ll deconstruct my schedule and share how I did this—including a simple tool I  use every day to stay focused.

But first, an explanation:

The reason most of my readers haven’t seen most of these million words is simple: 90% of them exist behind the scenes in various products and educational courses.

Or they were ghost-written for other people, which means I wrote the first draft but often gave someone else the byline; something I was happy to do to help PN grow its revenue and influence.

People tend to have the same reaction when they learn how much I’ve written. They say something like, “One million words? You must have been so busy and overwhelmed.”

My answer: Rarely.

First, writing one million words seems like a lot…but when you look at the math, it’s totally reasonable.

365 days per year – 105 days (weekends) – 30 days (vacation) = 230 workdays per year.

230 workdays x 5 years = 1150 days of total work.

1,000,000 words / 1150 workdays = an average of 870 words per workday.

I averaged 870 words per workday.

It’s simply an example of consistency and practice.

Second, I’ve always thought of myself as a “productive slacker”.

Although there are some exceptions, I tend to work for about 5 hours per day, starting around 9AM and stopping around 3:00PM (with an hour or so for lunch). The rest of the time, I hang out, read, go out for drinks, meet people for dinner, listen to music, explore, or simply sit and stare into space.

In other words, I tend to strike a good balance between my work and the rest of my life. The only caveat: the 5 hours I work are focused. Like ridiculously focused.

Focus and productivity are things lots of my readers struggle with. I know because I hear from them daily:

John coaching email
A recent email (shared with his permission, of course).

But here’s something almost no one ever talks about: Being productive isn’t a matter of having the right tools or technology.

Instead, the ability to focus and produce at a high-level are both skills you must build.

I had to learn this fast.

At 22, along with running my personal training studio, I was also writing for major magazines under tight deadlines and negotiating a book deal.

If I didn’t get my shit together, I didn’t make money and I didn’t eat food.

Even then, I’d occasionally drop the ball or get in over my head, and my mom would have to bring me care packages of food and toilet paper.

Nat Green, Men's Fitness
Oh, young Nate. You are so naive. And what’s up with that hair?

But over time, I learned how to work.

I learned how to be incredibly productive on a day-to-day level. And I learned how to decide which projects and opportunities were worth my time, and which ones I should avoid or abandon. (That’s something I’ll write more about soon, if you’re interested.)

The world’s simplest (and most powerful) productivity tool

One habit I’ve followed for the past 8 years or so is planning my day on a simple notecard. It looks like this:

Notecard
Notecard, circa 2014

This habit is so ingrained in me that I often forget it’s weird until someone else points it out. Now, the notecard may not look like much…but it’s incredibly powerful and multi-layered.

That’s why I want to to spend the rest of this article deconstructing what’s on it.

I want to show you 1) how I think through my day and 2) how you can increase your focus and find more balance in your own life.

(And then I want to give you a free mini-book my friend Jason wrote recently.)

One quick note before we dig in: It took me years of work to have a schedule like this. Plus I don’t have any kids or dependents to take care of. So don’t feel discouraged if you’re schedule looks wildly different than mine.

You can still become more focused and productive by implementing just ONE idea from this and practicing it consistently.

Deconstructing my daily notecard

Notecard

“Thursday”

I have a notecard like this for every single day (even the days where I’m not working or creating). I like to know where my time goes and how I’d ideally like to spend it.

On the surface, it can seem too restrictive, but I’ve found planning in this way allows me to affect the quality of my day. (To steal a line from Thoreau.) In other words, I know what’s expected of me every day and what I’d like to do.

I don’t always stick to it 100%, but I’ve gotten closer with practice.

“Morning – Meditate, coffee + grateful

I front load my morning with stuff that’s good for me. These are things I’d likely forget to do (or choose not to do) later in the day.

I meditate for 20 minutes every morning, sometimes using Headspace, sometimes using Sam Harris’s guided meditation, and other times just sitting there in silence. And I wrote about my coffee and grateful exercise (and how it improved my relationship) here.

protein shake + tea”

I’m usually very excited to start working, so I try to eat a fast breakfast so I don’t have to cook. (I prefer cooking at night.)

Before I started traveling and living out of a bag, I had this protein shake every morning:

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein
  • 2 handfuls of spinach (you can’t taste it)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 1 cup unsweetened hemp or almond milk

Now I usually eat a couple of hard-boiled eggs (cooked the night before) or fast until lunch.

Focus – Outline 1st draft of men’s sales p(age).

I try to only work on one thing per day, and I try to make it The Most Important Thing.

How do you decide what that most important thing is? Well, that’s a whole skill in and of itself, but I will say you can usually get close by asking yourself a version of the following:

What ONE thing can I do today that will make the biggest impact for me and my business?

On this particular notecard, my Most Important Thing was outlining the men’s coaching sales page for Precision Nutrition. (No sales page, no clients.)

Of course, the Most Important Thing will change depending on what project you’re working on. (For instance, my Most Important Thing today was writing this for you.)

WB 1 – 90m

“WB” stands for “work block.” “90m” stand for 90 minutes.

I do one completely focused block of work for 90 minutes with absolutely no distraction. That means no email, no phone, no social media, no interruptions, no nothing. The only thing I do is set a timer, sit my ass in a chair, and work (and maybe stand to stretch a couple of times).

The first 15 minutes are usually hell (sometimes the first 30). But by minute 35, I’ve usually hit my stride. After my 90 minutes are up, I grab a peppermint tea and do some light stretching. And then I’m right back to it.

WB2 – 90m

My second work block is usually a little easier since I’ve already built momentum.

Lunch

I tend to eat lunch out so I can completely disconnect from my computer and whatever I’m working on. Takes me about an hour.

WB3 – 90m

This is often my final work block for the day (unless I’m really cranking or under a very tight deadline). The third work block is kind of a crapshoot; sometimes it’s good and easy, and sometimes it’s absolute slog and I hate my life.

30m email

This is when I allow myself to go on the internet for the first time.

I start with my email and try to get back to as many people as I can. Then I check social media (which I hardly update since it’s rarely a priority.) And then I’ll send any articles I want to read directly to my Kindle so I can read them later when I’m off my computer.

After my 30 minutes are up, I write down my next day’s notecard and completely shut down my computer. That means I’m done with work for the day. (99% of the time, I don’t open my laptop again after this.)

EFL @4

EFL stands for Elemental Fitness Lab which is where I trained while I was living in Portland. I find it helpful to have a “hard stop” for when I finish my work, and heading to EFL to meet up with Chris and Blaine always gave me a reason to get out of work-mode.

EFL

Pok-Pok @7

After I exercise, I head home to shower and either stay in and cook dinner with Richelle, or go out to meet friends. Pok Pok is one of my favorite restaurants in Portland.

(Notice how I try to “bookend” important personal things at the beginning and end of my day.)

How to find more focus – a few suggestions on where to start.

So that’s my notecard and how I generally structure my day. But like I said earlier, becoming focused and productive are skills that take practice and consistency to build.

To help you get started, I have a few suggestions depending on your situation.

What to do if…

…you have “too many ideas” and don’t know where to start. Get into the habit of asking: “What ONE thing can I do today that will make the biggest impact for me and my business?” Do that thing (and only that thing) and see how you feel.

…you have trouble finding balance. Front-load one or two important personal things into your day (exercise, meditation, spending time to eat breakfast with your family) before you officially start working. Also, give yourself a “hard stop” for when you’ll transition out of work mode. I recommend setting an appointment with someone to have drinks, work out, or another activity. Once that activity is over do not go back to work again.

…you struggle with procrastination and self-control. Remove distractions and the need to have self control by turning off your internet connection, leaving your phone in a different room, and/or setting up a website blocking tool like Freedom (which is what I personally use). Also, set a timer and race the clock. (I use Pocket Cup Noodle Timer.)

…you want to learn more about becoming focused and productive. My friend Jason wrote a an 18-page mini-book with 5 proven strategies to help you get focused, do work you’re proud of, and make more time for the things that really matter. You can download it for free here.

The ability to focus is a rare and valuable skill.

As Cal Newport often writes, it’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. It’s effectively a superpower. 

And I believe it’s a superpower you must build if you want to find more balance in your life and do work that’s both meaningful and rewarding.

To build this skill will take time, hard work, and the ability to consistently push through discomfort.

But it will pay you back a million times and more. 

– Nate

PS – If you’re interested, here are roughly 75,000 (about 8% of my output over 5 years) of some of my favorite words that you can find for free online.

Categories
Essay Focus and Productivity

You Don’t Need More Self-Discipline. You Need Nuclear Mode.

Want to get in better shape, become insanely productive, and break your internet addiction? Then stop relying on self-discipline and use Nuclear Mode instead.

Main Photo

The other day I had dinner with a group of people at a nice Southern restaurant in Austin, Texas. The bourbon list was long and I’d been told the biscuits were legendary — so I was looking forward to a nice meal and conversation.

There were seven us around the table. I knew most of them, but since a few were friends of friends I’d never met before, I decided to sit next to someone new.

The guy to my left, Clay, seemed to be in his early thirties; he told me that he worked at a tech start-up, and that his wife and young son were currently visiting family out of town. He seemed like a nice enough guy.

“So, what do you do?” he eventually asked me.

I opened my mouth to talk, but before I could say anything, his phone buzzed. He picked it up, texted someone, and then put it face-up on the table between us.

“Sorry. So what do you do?” he asked again.

I explained that I was a writer, mostly fitness and self-development stuff. He nodded. Then his phone went off again.

“Hold up,” he said. “I gotta quickly reply to this email.”

He picked up his phone, so I picked up my whiskey, took a sip, and looked around the table. Of the six other people around me, four of them had their heads down and were lost in their phones. I instinctively checked my pocket, but found nothing there. I’d left my phone locked in the rental car outside.

So with nothing to distract me, and no conversation happening, I sat back and enjoyed my drink until a plate of warm biscuits hit the table. I picked one up, watched the little wisps of steam rise off the flaky crust, and slathered honey butter on it. I took a bite and concluded that they were, in fact, legendary.

i_xvfntqjwi-eaters-collective

To my left, Clay took out his phone and held it over the plate of biscuits.

He took a series of photos from different angles. He instructed the person across from me to eat a biscuit so he could take a photo of her. After a good five minutes — and after posting the photo to Instagram with the obligatory hashtags — Clay finally grabbed a biscuit, buttered it, took a bite, and sighed.

“These biscuits are cold.”


The rest of the evening pretty much continued in the same way: small chunks of conversation interrupted by texting, Googling, and checking who commented on Instagram.

At the end of dinner, after the plates had been taken away and the after-dinner drinks poured, Clay surprised me by calling himself out.

“Sorry about all that,” he said. “I’m trying to get better at not looking at my phone all the time.”

He looked embarrassed and resigned, sitting there twirling his glass of wine.

“My wife gets on me about it,” he continued. “I guess I just need more self discipline.”

I smiled and told him that I used to think the exact same thing.

Self-Discipline Is Overrated

I’ve noticed a certain storyline recently, especially among people who are Type-A achievers like me, people who are always trying to optimize their life and find news ways to learn, grow, and improve themselves.

It’s a story that starts like this:

“I have to build more self-discipline…”

If only we had more self discipline, we say, then we’d actually follow through with everything we want to do; we’d finally find time for everything that’s important to us.

If only we had more self-discipline, well, then we’d wake up earlier without hitting the snooze button. We’d get to the gym more often. We’d stop getting distracted by our phones and start being more present with our family. We’d start eating healthier food and maybe even find time to start that side business we’ve been thinking about.

I know Clay was thinking the same thing.

If only he had more self-discipline, he reasoned, then he would have easily resisted the urge to check his phone. He would have had the presence-of-mind to actually enjoy a warm biscuit and a cold bourbon drink without getting sucked into the vortex of his 4.7-inch screen.

Phone

But here’s the thing: I think this story about needing more self-discipline is false. Or at least, I don’t believe it’s the whole story.

I don’t think we really need more self-discipline. Instead, I think it’s better to eliminate the need to HAVE self-discipline in the first place.

Two Problems With Thinking We Just Need More Self-Discipline

Before writing this article, I looked up the definition of “self discipline”.

self discipline: the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.

From what I can tell, most of us view self-discipline as a thing we need to constantly exercise every moment of every day. We think we need to police ourselves to resist temptation at every turn.

Resist the temptation to check our phones. Resist the temptation to eat the cookie. Resist the temptation to hit the snooze alarm. Resist the temptation to have a second beer after dinner. Resist the temptation to skip the gym and work out tomorrow instead.

But there are two problems with this line of thinking.

First, it’s incredibly draining to police ourselves every minute of the day. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but temptation is everywhere — from the siren-song of free porn to the outraged articles on the internet, to the mini-computers in our pockets buzzing for our attention. Most of us cannot use self-discipline alone to resist these things. There are simply too many opportunities to fail.

Second, thinking that we need MORE self-discipline is a convenient way of not taking action or doing anything to change our situation in the present. It’s like saying “Yeah, I really should save more money and call my Grandma” while having no intentions of actually saving more money or calling Grandma.

The truth is, we already have all the self-discipline we need. We simply need to use it in more effective ways.

Live Better With Less Self-Discipline: One Powerful Strategy

Over the years, I’ve adopted a few powerful strategies in order to dramatically reduce the amount of self-discipline I need to use in my everyday life.

These strategies vary from the routine to the radical and have helped me:

  • exercise more often
  • eat healthier food
  • meditate consistently
  • become insanely productive
  • break my dependency on my phone
  • avoid getting sucked into the internet
  • spend more stress-free, reflective time alone
  • spend undistracted time with friends and family

My favorite strategy, and the focus of this article is Nuclear Mode — a radically uncomfortable yet incredibly valuable technique that will help you reduce the amount of self-discipline you need in order to live a more productive, less distracted life.

(And since Nuclear Mode is like ripping off a band-aid instead of slowly peeling it away, it also has the fun side-effect of making your friends think you’ve gone insane.)

You can use Nuclear Mode in every area of your life: to eat less junk food and drink less alcohol; to force yourself to become insanely productive and focused; and if you’re feeling bold, you can use Nuclear Mode to break your phone and internet addiction — while having more focus and free time for yourself and your family.

Here are three ways I use Nuclear Mode in my life, ranked from Beginner to Advanced.

Beginner: How To Use Nuclear Mode To Eat Less Junk Food

My friend and colleague Dr. John Berardi from Precision Nutrition has a saying: If a food is in your possession or located in your residence, you will eventually eat it.

I use Nuclear Mode to remove all of the unhealthy food from my house that I’d normally be tempted to eat — things like potato chips, gourmet ice cream, and fancy chocolate chip cookies.

Removing this type of food from my house has two main benefits: First, it makes it physically impossible for me to eat anything “bad” when I’m at home (where I spend most of my time). Second, it makes the instances when I do eat those things infinitely more enjoyable.

With Nuclear Mode, if I’m at home and want a doughnut, then I really only have two options:

Option 1: Walk or drive somewhere to go get a doughnut.
Option 2: Suck it up, eat something healthy instead, and plan the next time I’ll eat a doughnut.

With Nuclear Mode, instead of having doughnuts in my kitchen and available to eat whenever a craving comes on, I put a bunch of barriers in my way. If in order to get a doughnut I must stop working, close my computer, grab my keys, walk to my car, drive to a store, stand in line, buy a doughnut, and drive back home, then it’s almost inconceivable I’d go through all that trouble.

In other words, I don’t have to use any self-discipline to not eat a doughnut because I don’t have any doughnuts to eat.

That means I’ll often go with Option 2: I’ll feel the craving, grab an apple or some beef jerky (or wait for lunch) and then get back to work.

And if after I finish work I still want a doughnut, then I’ll look up whoever makes the best goddamn doughnut in whatever city I’m in at the time, call up a friend, and ask if they want to meet me for doughnuts on Saturday.

Doughnut
Me at Gourdough’s in Austin, Texas with a huge-ass doughnut.

And when Saturday comes, that doughnut will be a million times more delicious and satisfying than anything I would have mindlessly shoved in my mouth at home.

5 Steps For Using Nuclear Mode To Reduce The Amount of Junk Food You Eat

Step 1: Go through your fridge and cupboards and throw away (or give away) any tempting, unhealthy foods.

For most people this is junk food like chips, cookies, and ice cream. But for others, it can be beer, Chinese take-out, or even calorically-dense foods that are easy to overeat like peanut butter.

Step 2: Replace those foods with healthier options that will help you look and feel good.

For snacks I like fresh fruit, baby carrots, beef jerky, sardines, yogurt, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and mixed nuts.

Step 3: Don’t bring tempting foods into the house.

Once you’ve gotten rid of the unhealthy stuff, try not to bring it in again.

Step 4: If you do bring those foods into the house, get the best stuff you can possibly afford — then get rid of the leftovers.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you should never bring certain foods into your house. Personally, I love cooking big meals for people with plenty of bread, booze, and something sweet for dessert.

But I always give the leftovers to my friends as they’re on their way out the door. And if I have a half-pint of ice cream left that nobody wants, I don’t put it back in my freezer. Instead, I throw it away.

My friend Marisa—who loves to bake cookies—does something similar. Whenever she wants cookies, she buys the best ingredients, makes a few dozen cookies, eats one or two, and then puts the rest into Tupperware and delivers them to friends and coworkers.

Step 5: Plan when you’ll enjoy your favorite unhealthy foods.

Just because you don’t have this stuff in your house doesn’t mean you can’t ever enjoy it. (After all, I started this article with me slathering honey butter on biscuits and washing it down with bourbon.)

Instead, the goal is to use Nuclear Mode to make your home a safe-haven. That way you don’t have to use constant self-discipline to stop yourself from eating things you’ll regret later on.

Intermediate: How To Use Nuclear Mode To Become More Productive

Author Cal Newport has written extensively about “deep work”, which he defines as the ability to focus—without distraction—on a cognitively demanding task.

As he makes clear in his fantastic book Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World, the ability to focus for long periods of time is both a rare and valuable skill, simply because so few people can do it.

The ability to get into deep work is essentially a superpower that allows you stand apart from everyone else, create a better career for yourself, and do work you’re proud of.

The main way I get into deep work is by going Nuclear, and using a web-blocking software like Freedom. Once installed on your computer, you can set Freedom to automatically block news, porn, social media, and every other site you use to distract yourself from doing the things you’re supposed to be doing.

Personally, I have two sessions that run every single day. The first session is from 6AM to 4PM. The second session is from 5:00PM to Midnight.

That means I only have ONE HOUR per day to check email and social media, read articles, watch YouTube, and argue with people on the internet.

Nate Green, writing

Nuclear Mode has been incredibly helpful for my productivity, especially when you consider that over the past five years, I’ve written more than 1 million words.

4 Steps For Using Nuclear Mode To Become More Productive and Focused

Step 1: Download Freedom or another web-blocking software on your computer.

Time Left

Step 2: Select and disable any websites you use to distract yourself.

I have 46 websites blocked, not including the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc).

I leave Netflix and Spotify on, mainly because I listen to music when I work. And I still watch Netflix once or twice per week in the evening (but never during the day).

List of websites
I leave Netflix and Spotify on, but block nearly everything else.

Step 3: Set a schedule and play with it.

Freedom lets you start a session whenever you like, but I prefer to put myself on a schedule. (Like I mentioned above, I set Freedom from 6AM to 4PM and again from 5:00PM to Midnight.)

Having a schedule that turns on as soon as I open my computer ensures that I can’t “check email real quick” or do whatever stupid thing I was going to do instead of working.

If you try this yourself, I suggest playing around with your schedule a bit. Since I work for myself and rarely have anyone waiting on me, I can afford to have a fairly Draconian schedule.

However, you may need to adjust your schedule so you can have Freedom running when you’re the most productive and don’t need to be immediately available.

Step 4: After a week of playing with your schedule, go into Locked Mode.

Freedom won’t do you any good if you can disable it at any moment in order to check your email or watch cat videos. That’s why after you get comfortable with your schedule, I recommend putting it on Locked mode.

Locked mode

Locked mode makes it impossible to disrupt an active session, which basically means you won’t be able to “unlock” the software and get access to your email or Facebook any time you want.

Instead, in locked mode, you’ll have to wait it out and see what life is like when you don’t have immediate, automatic access to the most distracting parts of the internet.

Of course, you can always update your settings and change your schedule as soon as your Freedom session is over.

Advanced: How To Use Nuclear Mode To Put Down Your Damn Phone and Start Being a Human Again

At this point, it’s not controversial to say that lots of us are addicted to our phones. In fact, one recent digital habits survey showed that more than 29% of Americans would GIVE UP SEX FOR THREE MONTHS rather than give up their smartphone for one week.

I will pause to let that sink in.

The drawbacks of always being connected to a device are obvious: We spend less time and attention on things that are really important to us while simultaneously experiencing a constant low-level stress and fear of missing out.

Just think about how most of us spend our days:

  • Wake up and check text messages, social media, and emails
  • Listen to Spotify while getting ready for the day
  • Listen to podcasts on our commute to work
  • Work behind a computer for most of the day
  • Get distracted dozens of times by Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, email, or reading articles online
  • Listen to more music or another podcast on our commute back home
  • Listen to music or podcasts while at the gym
  • Listen to music or podcasts while cooking food
  • Read articles or check email while eating
  • Read articles or check email while using the bathroom
  • Watch Netflix in the evening
  • Check texts, email, social media one more time before bed

If we assume that being slaves to our phones is a problem worth addressing, how should we go about weaning ourselves from the constant onslaught of information and entertainment?

Instead of constantly policing ourselves and using self-discipline in order to resist temptation, simply use Nuclear Mode to eliminate the temptation altogether.

7 Steps For Using Nuclear Mode To Break Your Internet and Phone Addiction

Step 1: Grab your phone and delete any app you use to distract yourself (that’s not mission-critical for your job).

For most people that includes:

  • Social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat
  • Games like Candy Crush, Fruit Ninja, or Clash of Clans
  • Messaging apps like Facebook messenger
  • Web browsers like Google Chrome

What’s “mission critical” depends on your job. Some teams use Slack, Basecamp, HipChat, and the like to communicate. If you absolutely need something like that in order to perform your job, then keep the app on your phone.

But if you have Slack on your computer and on your phone, ask yourself if it’s really necessary to keep it on both devices. Do you really need to talk to your team when you’re at the grocery store or watching a movie?

How many times in the past month have you received a message outside of work hours that was absolutely critical to your job or performance?

You may be mistaking convenient for critical. And if Slack (or whatever) is simply convenient, you can probably delete it off your phone and just keep it on your computer for when you’re actually working.

Nate Green self-discipline
What my phone looks like on the home screen, and when I swipe over.

Step 2: Recruit your partner, roommate, or a friend you see often to help.

To help save yourself from screens, you’re gonna need a friend, ideally someone you live with or that you see every day (or nearly every day).

Also, the rest of these instructions are for the iPhone since that’s what I have. Though I’m sure it’s just as easy to do the same thing with an Android device.

Step 3: With your friend next to you, go into the “Settings” app for your phone, and tap on “General.”

Scroll down to the “Restrictions” tab and tap it.

Step 4: Turn your restrictions “On”.

The screen will ask you to enter a “Restrictions Passcode”. Give the phone to your friend and have them enter in a passcode without showing you. (Tell them to enter a code they’ll remember.)

Step 5: Go through the list of restricted apps and toggle off anything you normally get distracted by.

Personally, I turned off:

  • Safari
  • iTunes store
  • iBooks store
  • Podcasts
  • News
  • Email
  • Installing apps

The “installing apps” selection is super-important to get rid of. Otherwise, you’ll just re-download Facebook and Instagram as soon as a craving hits. Remember, we want to eliminate the need to have self-discipline in the first place.

Restrict

Step 6: Enjoy both the feelings of dread and liberation that come with not being able to check all the distracting shit on your phone.

Notice how after a few days you start not to miss it. I’ve recommended Nuclear Mode to a few people and most of them report feeling immediately more calm and less overwhelmed. And those good feelings carry over for weeks and months.

Step 7: Once per week or so, have your friend enter the “restrictions” code, and give you access to all the things you’re missing.

I usually only toggle two categories back on: Podcasts (so I can catch up on anything interesting) and Installing Apps (so I can update all my other apps).

My partner Richelle leaves these on for me for the weekend, before I have her re-enter the restriction code and turn everything back off on Sunday night.

Nuclear Mode Is Incredibly Powerful — But It’s Not For Everyone

Some of my friends think I’m crazy when they learn I don’t have email on my phone, or that I only give myself internet access for an hour per day.

“Don’t you have enough self-discipline?” they ask.

The answer, of course, is complicated.

Yes, I have enough self-discipline. But I don’t have enough to constantly police myself every minute of every day across every aspect of my life.

I don’t have enough self-discipline to resist every single temptation and distraction that tries to throw me off course, whether it’s my phone buzzing with another notification, or a pint of whiskey-pecan ice-cream calling my name from the freezer.

I have to pick and choose my battles.

In other words, I have enough self-discipline to handle whatever the day throws at me: big decisions, difficult problems, unexpected situations.

But for everything else — daily routines, my relationship with technology, what I eat, and how I work — I try to find ways to eliminate the need for me to have more self-discipline.

The goal, whether we get there with Nuclear Mode or any other strategy, isn’t to deprive ourselves or become militant Luddites who refuse to use technology. Instead, it’s to get clear on what’s important to us, what we’re trying to accomplish, what pitfalls we’ll need to avoid, and how to make everything easier.

What we’re doing with Nuclear Mode is eliminating the need to have more self-discipline.

You can’t check Twitter on your phone when you don’t have Twitter on you phone. You can’t eat ice cream when you don’t have ice cream in your freezer. You can’t “quickly check email” when you still have 3 hours and 12 minutes before your internet access kicks in.

And as restrictive as all that may sound, once you try it I think you’ll see just how liberating it can be.

Categories
Focus and Productivity

The Dark Side of Ambition (Plus, 11 questions to ask before you start anything.)

Nate and Jason in a gang
The two illest, most dangerous 14 year olds in Montana.

When we were 14, Jason and I started a gang.

We did all the typical gang-related stuff you’d expect from two white, middle-class kids from a small ski-resort town in Montana:

We stole candy bars from the grocery store, made napalm out of gasoline and styrofoam in our driveways, and terrorized small dogs and old ladies with our skateboards.

Sadly, we disbanded after only a week, right after Jason stuck a rolled-up Limp Bizkit poster down his pants and got caught as he attempted to walk out of the store like a goddamn pirate with a peg-leg.

ANYWAY…

Even though our gang didn’t last long, our ambition to start things and be a part of something stuck around.

We were ambitious kids who took action on our ideas. And so we grew into ambitious adults who continued to take action on our ideas.

Even if some of those ideas were absolutely terrible.

A Very Short List of Very Terrible Business Ideas We Tried

Underpants gnomes

1. Vagabrew: A beer blog where we’d travel to different breweries around the country and write about them. Our business plan followed the Underpants Gnomes formula:

Step 1: Drink beer, take road trips, and write about breweries.

Step 2: ???

Step 3: Profit!

2. A children’s book about robots. Each robot was made in a factory, but they were all missing a crucial piece that made them feel empty inside: They were missing….a heart! (We sat for 5 hours writing the entire outline before realizing how incredibly stupid it was. Personally, I blame the bottle of bourbon we drank while we wrote.)

3. Humblecock: A clothing company we started because, well, why the hell not? We put a giant rooster on t-shirts and ran it for two years before we finally admitted we had no clue what we were doing. (Five years after selling it, we realized we forgot to pay taxes on three months’ worth of income. The IRS sent us a bill for $20,000 in penalties. Oops!)

And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head; it doesn’t count all the dozens (maybe hundreds) of little ideas that sounded cool at the time, but that quickly transitioned to stressful wastes of energy that made me hate my life.

Why Most People Will Fail to Reach Their Full Potential

A couple weeks ago I talked about why most people will fail to reach their full potential: They have an idea of what they’d like to do, but they’re too afraid to start. OR they overanalyze every single option and end up staying stuck in the same position.  (My suggestion for them: run a small test.)

Well, there’s a flipside to this: While some people are too afraid to start anything, lots of other people will fail to reach their potential because they’ll try to start everything.

They’ll try to take action on too many ideas.

They’ll be like young Jason and me, writing books about robots and owing the government 20 G’s in back-taxes.

Mike HC
“Wait…we owe how much?”

It took me years of practice (and failure) to figure out the crucial difference between ideas that sound good…and ideas that are actually good. 

Not a good idea:

Taking action on any idea that sounds cool or feels like something you should do—especially out of a sense of urgency, panic, or fear of missing out.

Examples:

  • Quitting your job and cashing out your retirement to open a new business
  • Going back to school and spending tens of thousands of dollars on classes because you don’t know what else to do
  • Launching a product that looks and sounds exactly like everyone else’s product
  • Starting a clothing company with the word “cock” in it

A good idea:

Taking action on an idea that allows you to use or build a valuable skill, helps other people, and aligns with the kind of lifestyle you actually want to live.

Examples:

  • Making the transition from valuable employee (with a 9-5 schedule) to valuable consultant (with more freedom over your schedule)
  • Finding ways to be more effective and productive in your work so you can finish faster and spend more time with your family
  • Starting a blog about something you’re deeply interested in, sharing your thoughts and experiences, and building trust with your readers as you figure out a way to help them solve a specific problem.

This is the difference between blind ambition (ambition without a clear purpose or direction) and focused ambition.

The Dark Side of Ambition

If I’ve learned anything about my readers over the past 9+ years it’s this: You’re ambitious as hell.

In fact, your ambition probably sets you apart from the rest of your friends and family. I mean, who else reads self-development blogs, listens to podcasts, and buys books with names like The 4-Hour Work Week or The Hero Handbook?

Face it: You’re weird. And I’m right there with you.

Our ambition is an asset…until it’s a burden.

At its most trivial, our blind ambition can be a source of constant frustration as we make false-start after false-start and struggle to figure out what to do next. After a while, our lives can seem like a series of “almost made-its.”

But at its worst, blind ambition can destroy our self-confidence and our relationships with the people around us.

Blind ambition is how we end up working on weekends, neglecting our health or family, or overwhelming ourselves with too many ideas. It’s how we end up taking on too many commitments, shortchanging other areas of our lives, or going into debt.

When we’re blind, we struggle to set boundaries, fail to finish what we start, and become ridiculously stressed out in the process. We end up, as author Greg Mckewon says, making a millimeter of progress in a million different directions.

Blind ambition
Blind ambition leads to a millimeter of progress in a million directions.

But focused ambition is a beautiful thing.

It’s life-changing and inspiring. It makes us better…and it makes the people around us better, too. Focused ambition moves us forward. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.58.12 AM
Focused ambition moves us forward.

How To Focus Your Ambition: 11 Questions To Answer Before You Start Anything

A few years ago, Jason and I wised up: We started applying criteria to our decision-making.

We wanted to be confident that every idea we decided to pursue would take us in the right direction—even if it eventually didn’t work out. (Not all good ideas are successful in the long run. Actually, very few are.)

Since then we’ve developed a more detailed personal criteria based on 1) our most valuable skills 2) the lifestyle traits we want to protect and build.

(This is something I’ll talk in more detail about soon.)

But we both started with this: A series of questions we’d ask ourselves before we decided to change jobs, take on any new project, or chase down any new idea.

Questions like…

  1. What exactly do I want to do?
  2. What’s the point (what am I trying to accomplish)?
  3. Why is that important?
  4. Does this match any of my current skills? (Or will it allow me to build a new skill?)
  5. How, specifically, does this help other people (my company, customers, family, etc.)?
  6. How long will I try this before I move on to something else?
  7. What does “done” or “success” look like, anyway?
  8. Is this really how I want to spend my time?
  9. Can I get the same result in a way that’s easier or less time-intensive?
  10. What will I have to give up if I decide to take this on?
  11. What simple test can I run to get started and see if I’m on the right track?

Answering these questions takes time (sometimes hours, days, or even weeks) and requires critical hurt-your-brain-type thinking.

Of course, not everyone is willing to spend the time or energy to think this stuff through…but they’re the same people who are going to fail time after time (unless they get lucky).

Better Criteria = Better Decisions

The simple act of taking the time to answer these questions and work through the implications of each allowed Jason and I the opportunity to gain perspective on what we were really trying to accomplish and why.

By applying a simple criteria, we learned how to evaluate sticking points and opportunities in both our careers and our lives. We learned when to stay and when to move.

Most importantly, we learned how to make better decisions and pursue the right ideas—the kind of ideas that bring us closer to becoming the people we want to be, helping the people we want to help, and living the way we want to live.

Do this next:

It’s super-basic but incredibly effective: The next time you feel like it’s time to change something about your life—or the next time you have an idea for a project or business—ask yourself The 11 Questions. See if they help you identify your next step.

-Nate

Categories
Focus and Productivity

The easiest thing to do.

Escalator

The easiest thing to do is to let your mind wander instead of being in the moment.

To check email or Facebook or Instagram instead of creating something.

To wait for your turn to talk instead of listening to what’s being said.

To sleep in instead of starting your day.

To get caught up in gossip or drama or who said what instead of asking yourself why it matters.

To stay still instead of moving.

To do the same stuff everyone else is doing instead of trying something new.

To find fault instead of value.

To wait for someone to text or call or invite you instead of contacting them yourself.

To think about the past and what should have happened instead of what’s going on now and what could happen.

To say no instead of yes.

The easiest thing to do is the thing you’ve always done.

It’s the thing you’ve habituated, the thing that’s waiting for you, the thing that makes you feel safe and OK.

The hardest thing to do? Recognizing when you’re doing the easy thing.

And then doing the opposite.

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What I’m currently enjoying: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.

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