My chess teacher described my gameplay today as ‘a millionaire with a Ferrari in the garage but with no gas’. It was my second lesson, and my tutor reviewed some of my recent 5-minute games on Chess.com. His point was that I had built up lots of raw ‘power’ but did not have a framework to use that power, resulting in inconsistent performance.
This observation was fair; I recently gained and lost 150 rating points in the space of a few days. 150 points are equivalent to what most amateur players would hope to gain in a year with hard study and hours of play each day. This gain and loss is similar to a gambler winning big with a run of luck, then losing it all and staying at the casino all weekend without sleep, trying to win it back but making it worse.
There are two main ways to pick your next move in chess, intuition and calculation. Intuition is when you look at the board, and the move just comes to you. This skill is built over time as you train your brain to recognise positions, moves, and lines that you have experienced before in games, book study, and puzzles and can call on to make your next move. Calculation in chess is a series of steps where you assess all avalible ‘candidate’ moves on the board to decide your best course of action.
Calculation is considered the most critical skill for success in chess and is developed in longer-time games. Intuition is required for shorter time frames where you have less time to assess all the possible moves on the board. I almost exclusively play short time frames currently, so I rely on intuition; however, my recent jump and drop in rating indicated I need to improve my calculation through deliberate practice.
A good coach is helpful for three reasons; the first is they have an objective, expert eye on your current ability. Second, they help you to identify where you want to go and realistic timeframes to get there. Thirdly, they can help you create a personalised plan for what you need to do to get there, monitor how well you stick to it, and update the program based on this feedback.
You can get most of the way there on your own by focusing on three questions:
‘Document, don’t create’ means making content by documenting what you have learned over the last few days rather than creating content from scratch designed for a specific audience.
This idea was popularised by Gary (Vee) Vanachuck, CEO of VanerMedia and one of the most prominent influences on the internet. The motivation behind this advice is to stop worrying about delivering perfect content and record something people will find valuable. There is someone in the world a step or two behind you on the same journey, and you can help them.
Rather than filming everything you do, a better approach is to look at your calendar and then make content about that. Ask:
What did I do over the last seven days?
What were the meetings I had?
What conversations did I have?
What problems did I face, and how did I deal with them?
What did I learn?
Gary Vee suggests just starting. Create and distribute 7-25 items per day.
I created new resolutions to turn my goals into habits in October this year. By focusing on building small, consistent habits, I wanted to be able to make lasting changes and achieve my long-term dreams. Here are a few of the things I am building at the moment:
Work Ethic & Obsession
For the last three months, I have been working with a coach and (almost) each day; I have slept 7+ hours, tracked my weight and eating and hit 200g+ of protein, walked 10k+ steps, drank 4 litres of water, got outside in nature, done 20-30 mins on the turbo, breathwork, and lift weights four times per week.
I am being more deliberate with who I spend time, finding people who make extreme goals feel normal—relentless humans climbing mountains and playing long-term games. I seek to cultivate deeper connections with a small number of people.
I have begun planning in years and decades, reading the books of great thinkers, thinking big thoughts and planning big plans, spending time analysing situations, and working on my future self and identity.
I am working harder, taking ownership and accountability. I only finish when the job is done, delivering more than is required, and going narrow and deeper. I hold myself and the people around me to a higher standard, not letting things go and not apologising or hiding my obsessions or work ethic.
I spend time in silence, reduce distractions and try to live in the moment, paying attention and enjoying the small things. I seek the flow state each day where I produce meaningful creative output, carving out time for deep focused work.
I have joined the endless battle within the 64 squares.
Planning is key to success! It helps us set goals, prioritize tasks, and allocate resources efficiently. With a plan, we can save time and energy on necessary tasks and take advantage of significant opportunities. It is also the key to freedom and creating the life you want rather than one directed to you by others. So remember to take a few minutes to plan out your day, week, or even year. Investing a little time in planning will pay off in the long run.
A plan is a document that outlines the steps needed to achieve a specific goal. It can be a short-term plan, such as a to-do list for the day, or a long-term plan, such as a strategic business plan.
Tips for writing a plan:
Define the goal: Clearly state what the plan is intended to achieve.
Break the goal down into smaller, more manageable steps: This will make it easier to track progress and make any necessary adjustments along the way.
Determine the resources needed: Identify any resources that will be required to complete the plan, such as time, money, or personnel.
Establish a timeline: Set deadlines for each step in the plan.
Review and revise the plan: As you work through the plan, it may be necessary to make adjustments. Regularly review and update the plan to ensure it is still on track to achieve the desired goal.
In developing a long-term plan, you should set up your vision of the good you want to achieve, the bad you want to avoid and the principles you want to operate within. You should include everything you love to do, including leisure, and progressively develop the habits you want to build over time using a calendar app. You can then design the days you would most like to have and the things that are good for you.
You should plan your day obsessively, using your calendar to time block the things you want to achieve that will lead you to meet your long-term vision and create the life you want to live. You need a plan for the next three years, the next year, the next three months, the next month, the coming week, the day, and the hour.
Are you ready to face the challenges of entrepreneurship head-on this year? Let’s make 2023 the year of moving from consumers to producers. Whether social media or physical products, I challenge you to start something new. After 20 years of working for educational institutions, I am ready to start building something with everything I have learned. But what problem do I fix, who do I help, and what do I create to fix it?
In this post, I want to explore Daniel Priestley’s ’10 challenges to wake up your entrepreneur brain’ from the book Entrepreneur Revolution. Get out a pen and paper, buy the ebook, and get ready to join me in tackling some tough obstacles – because the reward of entrepreneurship is worth it.
The ten challenges are:
Make three calls
Put 10% of everything you make into a savings account, and don’t touch it
Stop spending time with people who bring you down
Carry £1000 cash
Take someone new to lunch each week
Tune out from the news
Keep a journal
Plan your holidays first
Get an entrepreneurial team
Challenge one might be the hardest, but it is about taking action. It requires you to get started before you fully know what you are doing by making three phone calls and seeing what happens. You need to pick a bold idea and begin making phone calls, sending emails, and booking meetings with people who could help. Just start the conversation without knowing where it will lead.
Challenge two requires you to start building your wealth and make your brain ok with taking risks by creating a wealth-building account. The idea is that having money will open your brain to a bigger vision. Spending less than you earn to build wealth is not new, but it is simple. Any additional money you can save above the 10% can be invested into your business or in gaining skills. The only rule is not to touch the money.
Make a list of everyone you spend time with and start to curate this list. Challenge three is to make friends and spend time with people who inspire you and less time with those that don’t. Challenge six is similar in its impact on your mental state. Cut out the news as a regular part of your input and only seek specific stories that relate to your goals.
£1000 in cash is a big chunk of paper to keep in your pocket for challenge four. Like most people, I have been almost entirely cashless for the last few years, so this is a big one for me. The aim is to tackle some mental barriers people have regarding money, such as dealing with impulse spending or making you comfortable asking for large amounts of money from people.
Challenge five is to take out two people to lunch each week and pick up the bill. Have no agenda; ask interesting people to share a meal and talk about life. There should be nothing work-related about these lunches, but they will quickly pay for themselves through the opportunities they provide.
Challenge seven is to keep a journal. The journal should be used to keep track of high-value tasks, goals, diagrams of ideas, marketing copy and future visions. You should always keep the journal at hand and use it to record your thoughts and ideas about your business and jot down plans, calculations and resource requirements as you work out these ideas. I use a Rhodia pad for the high-quality paper and the bullet journal method as a structure.
Keep your energy and excitement by planning your holidays at the start of the year and then fit work around them for challenge eight. You should block our 6-8 weeks for holidays and relax. Scheduling your year this way does two things. First, it allows you to work harder knowing that you will have a break at the end, and second, it will keep you doing exciting things and make you a more interesting and vibrant person.
Challenge nine is to meet with business advisors such as an accountant and a lawyer (they will probably provide a free introductory meeting) to discuss your business and wealth-building plans. These experts will give you options for the best way to move forward with any ideas you have. This is to set yourself and your business up correctly so you can take advantage of any tax breaks and government initiatives for new companies and avoid any legal or financial problems.
Finally, challenge ten requires you to identify people around you who can help you implement your ideas. My MBA suggested the first two people you need are a data analyst and a sales closure. The book proposes a team including a graphic designer, a technical expert in your business’s field, a ‘swiss army knife’ person who can do anything that is required and a mentor.
So there are ten challenges to get stuck into this year to awaken your enterprising brain and get you started as an entrepreneur. I suggest you pick up a copy of the book if you are interested in joining me this year in creating something new. Leave me a comment if you are interested in this journey too.
New is shiny, new is exciting, and new is noteworthy, but if it is not the limiting factor, it will make things worse. Most success in life and work comes from doing what you know you should do but aren’t.
To quote The Phenix project, ‘Any improvement that is not at the constraint is an illusion.’ We tend to think that to grow or improve, we need to add something new, but if that new thing is not the constraint, it is unlikely to make a positive difference
The Theory of Constraints is a methodology for identifying the most important limiting factor (i.e., constraint) that stands in the way of achieving a goal and then systematically improving that constraint until it is no longer the limiting factor.
Imagine if the goal is to develop more online courses, but you are having trouble getting Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to commit to their projects and deliver the required inputs on time. You might need better onboarding, clearer guidance on time commitments, better project management processes, improved project selection, or more straightforward tools and advice for the SME. Externally, the expectation of improving output would be to add more Learning Designers and take on more projects when you first need to address why they are not committing.
Better, More, New
Alex Hormozi explains this theory using the leaky bucket analogy. Think of your project or business as a bucket and the water as your customer. To handle more water, you first have to fix the holes in your bucket, and then you can increase the flow of water and finally add new buckets. Better, more, new.
Alex suggests the following activity: list the 25 things you should be doing to improve your work, then complete these things before thinking of doing something new.
In an old interview at Tesla, Elon Musk shared some insights into his highering practices:
“There’s no need even to have a college degree at all or even high school. I mean if someone graduated from a great university, that maybe an indication that they will be capable of great things, but it is not necessarily the case… we are looking just for evidence of exceptional ability, and if there’s a track record of exceptional achievement then it’s likely that that will continue into the future.”
So, what is exceptional?
Exceptional: 1, Forming an exception; not ordinary; uncommon; rare 2, Better than the average; superior due to exception or rarity.
When searching for ‘Exceptional performance’, I found this interesting appraisal quote from the University of California, Davis’s HR pages:
“Exceptional Performance: Performance consistently or far exceeded expectations.” UC Davis
And ability and achievement?
Ability: possession of the means or skill to do something.
Achievement: A thing done successfully with effort, skill, or courage.
My team grew in February, and three new members became line managers for the first time. As a newly graduated MBA with over ten years of line management experience, I wanted to give them some immediate actions to help them in their first six to 12 months. I have previously written about my approach to leadership and management, but I wanted something simple and practical that would allow each person to begin developing their management style. I went through my MBA and undergraduate texts and collected together some resources, three of which I share below:
‘5 things new managers should focus on first‘ by Anthony K. Tjan, from the May 2017 edition of the Harvard Business Review, suggests the following:
Establish a leadership philosophy
Focus on the day to day of management and leadership
Be clear about your communication and your top priorities
Set common values and common standards
Remember that it’s okay to be scared and vulnerable
I firmly believe in setting common values and standards and being clear about your top five priorities. Establishing a leadership philosophy, however, might be challenging while establishing yourself in a new role. The best takeaway from this list is to focus on day-to-day management and leadership, organising your resources (people and funds) to achieve your objectives. This organising can be done simply by listing your deliverables and their due dates and, working with your team to allocate tasks and monitoring them, adjusting task allocations to ensure you hit deadlines and quality expectations.
The book ‘The Making of a Manager‘ by early Facebook employee Julie Zhou has a great definition of the job of a manager; “Getting better outcomes from a group of people working together.” The book suggests a great manager is someone whose team “…consistently achieve great outcomes.” Zhoe recommends managers arrange their tasks into three buckets:
Purpose (what): ensure your team knows what success looks like and cares about achieving it.
People (who): Ask yourself: are the team set up to succeed, have the right skills, and are motivated to do great work? Build trusting relationships, understand their strengths and weaknesses to make good decisions about allocating work, and coach individuals to do their best.
Process (how): set out how the team works together.
The famous productivity book ‘Getting Things Done‘ by David Allen suggests six horizons of focus to define work:
Horizon 1: Projects
Horizon 2: Areas of Focus
Horizon 3: One-to two-year goals and objectives
Horizon 4: three to five-year vision
Horizon 5: Purpose and principles
This list presents a valuable hierarchy of activities for new managers from day one, compiling a complete inventory of actions and dates and capturing this into a shared calendar and to-do list to identify multi-task projects and assign areas of focus and accountability. Once these things are working correctly and everyone is producing consistently good work, focus can expand to thinking about annual objectives and a three-year vision to guide which work to priorities and set the direction for the team. After the first year or two, once the manager is established, experienced, and has work under control, they may prefer to take a strategic approach, start from horizon five, and work backwards. However, trying this from day one might cause missed commitments and poor outcomes.
Ten actions for new managers
I settled on the following ten actions for the new manager’s first six to 12 months. The steps start from immediate one-to-one activities and gradually move out in scope and from individuals to the team. You can quickly fix many problems by talking to your direct reports 1:1 and face to face each week and tracking the resulting agreed-upon actions in a to-do list and calendar. However, developing trusting relationships at a team level may take a long time with many shared experiences. Each step should be satisfied before moving on to the next.
Have a 1:1 for 30-60 minutes every 1-2 weeks
Track all agreed-on actions using a shared to-do list
Co-create achievable quarterly and annual objectives with clear successful, strong, and exceptional performance targets
Create a detailed development plan for each role and personalise it based on the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and their long-term career goals
Cultivate psychological safety
Spend time planning as a team
Have a mixture of shared outputs and personal responsibilities
Develop a clear vision for the team supported by key performance indicators
Create weekly, quarterly, and annual cycles
Develop trusting relationships
This list will evolve and change as these new managers develop and as new line managers join my area. I will detail some of these actions and how I teach them when they come back into my work focus, and I may justify the list and its order at some point with the detail I share with new managers on my teams.
If you are a new manager or supporting a new manager with their first direct reports, I recommend reading ‘The making of a Manager’ and then ‘Getting Things Done’ to support this list or to develop your own.
Peter Drucker is arguably the most influential thinker on management. One of his best-known works is the 18,000-word book ‘Managing Oneself‘ published in 2008 from a 1999 Harvard Business Review article. The article now be found in HBRs ’10 must Reads: The Essentials’, the collection of the 10 most important articles published in their 100-year history. The book’s core idea is that you need to cultivate a deep self-awareness to achieve ‘true and lasting excellence.
Drucker presents a series of questions you can answer about yourself to gain the self-awareness needed to ‘build a life of excellence:
What are my strengths?
How do I work?
How do I learn?
What are my values?
Where do I belong?
What can I contribute?
The most difficult of these questions is the first. With over 180 cognitive biases that affect our ability to process reality, such as confirmation bias where we look for evidence that justified our existing beliefs, how do you truly know what your strengths are? Drucker’s recommended method is feedback analysis; each time you make a key decision write down the outcome you expect and then return in a couple of months and compare the actual results with your expectations. By assessing patterns using this method you will be able to assess your strengths from where you can create desired outcomes. You can then spend time improving these strengths as the most effective route to high performance. Creating a series of feedback analyses can take two to three years for meaningful patterns to emerge, so what can we do immediately while collecting these experiments?
Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves-their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.
How do I perform?
My current focus is on the second and third questions of Drucker’s questions. A set of sub-questions are presented to help us get to:
In what ways do I work best?
Do I process information most effectively by reading it, or by hearing others discuss it?
Do I accomplish the most by working with other people, or working alone?
Do I perform best while making decisions, or while advising others on key matters?
Do I perform best when things get stressful, or in highly predictable environments?
By answering these questions you can start to understand what kinds of productivity techniques and tools might suit you best. I know for instance that I can consume and process information through listening. I am often able to recall things I have heard better than those I have read, although this means I often have to avoid listening to things like the radio when I am driving home from work and processing the day’s information and decisions. I have set up techniques to support this including preferring listening to audiobooks over reading them or listening to the week’s economist rather than reading the paper version.
An interesting point though is how much of overall performance is improved by foundational skills and how much is open to preference and styles? Time blocking for example, where blocks of time, usually in 30-60 minute intervals are allocated to specific tasks, is widely seen as the best method to organise a day. Many methods of note-taking from GTD to Zettelkasten, and the ‘Building a Second Brain’ method all base themselves on the premise that the brain is built to process information rather than store it. Which of these ideas are universal for improved performance that forms the starting point for developing exceptional ability?
How do I learn?
I did not enjoy school nor did I develop any good learning habits or achieve anything exceptional academically. I did however get obsessive with other pursuits such as music production, where I did much better. Drucker suggests that people that excel at learning through writing tend to do poorly at school as most classes are not set up to exploid this approach. One of the reasons I set up this blog is I have a google drive full of documents I have used to organise my thoughts and when learning something new, I usually reach for a pen to organise the idea in my own way. Drucker suggests that there are multiple ways to learn including readers, listeners, talkers, and writers and says that most of us know how we learn best but rarely act on this, and so do not reach high performance.
As a teacher, I know there are definitely foundational skills and techniques that everyone can benefit from using more. Encoding, spaced repetition and active recall are all seen as highly effective methods of rote learning. Kolb’s cycle presents four stages of experiencial learning; planning, doing, reflecting, and learning but perhaps the most effective way we do each of these stages can vary from person to person and within different contexts. Bloom’s two sigma problem suggests that 1:1 and very small group tutoring produces results two standard deviations better than other methods and John Hattie’s invisible learning presents a meta-analysis of the meaningful research on teaching methods.
My actions for gaining self-awareness for excellent performance
With my MBA graduation over and the immediate actions complete for my new job, it is time for me to refocus on my performance. I am working on a number of methods to improve my understanding of my strengths but what can I do to improve my ways of working and learning?
First, I need to work on my foundation skills and update my productivity and learning systems. Then, I need to build on these foundations with more advanced personalised methods that fit the way I work and learn best. Finally, I need to use these two sets of skills on a daily basis.