Thoughts about Productivity, Lifestyle, and Entrepreneurship
Author: Alex Czartoryski
Alex is the director of digital marketing for Manitobah Mukluks, Canada’s fastest growing footwear brand, where he helps the luxury winter boot manufacturer accelerate growth profitably via digital marketing. Alex has over 20 years experience in e-commerce and digital marketing.
Whenever a new technology or innovation emerges, whenever the world changes in some significant and fundamental way, new opportunities are created for “adjacent” ideas and innovations. What was once impossible, suddenly becomes possible.
The Adjacent Possible is “the next possible thing”
Every time the world changes in some fundamental way, every time a new technology is invented, every time our behaviours change, a series of new adjacent technologies and opportunities become possible.
The invention of the Personal Computer made the Internet possible. The internet made e-Commerce possible. e-Commerce made Amazon possible. And so on…
Looking at this in reverse: Amazon cannot exist without e-Commerce; e-Commerce cannot exist without the internet; and the internet cannot exist without computers.
Whenever the world changes or a new technology emerges, brainstorm to uncover the new “adjacent possibles” and explore the resulting opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused major changes to our society, economy, and behaviours:
The acceleration and adoption of online commerce;
Expanded delivery and fulfillment networks;
“Work-from-Anywhere” distributed workforces;
Mass adoption of video-conferencing;
…and many more.
What has been enabled by these changes? What is possible now that was not possible before?
Thinking about these questions will uncover new “adjacent possibles” that were not possible just a short time ago. These new “adjacent possibles” are the sources of new opportunities and possibilities.
From Impossible to Adjacent Possible
Take an impossible idea and ask what “adjacent” technologies are needed to make this idea possible. If these adjacent technologies are also impossible, then ask yourself what “adjacent-to-the-adjacent” technologies are needed, and so on until you arrive at a “possible” technology. You now have a path towards your impossible idea.
Reflect and Diminish is a technique to deescalate situations where emotions run hot, and where decision making ability is compromised.
Use Empathy to de-escalate hot situations
Reflect and Diminish is a technique to deescalate situations where emotions run hot, and where decision making ability is compromised. Letting emotions drive decisions is a mistake, but this does not mean leaders should be devoid of emotions.
In situations where someone is overly emotional, it is important to both empathize with the person but to also reduce the emotion to a more controlled level so that you can focus on solving the problem at hand.
Reflect and Diminish: Reflect the emotions you are seeing but diminish them to a more controlled level.
When a teammate comes in fuming and screaming about the failure of the supply department to deliver materials on time, instead of telling them to calm down, raise your voice a little to reflect the anger, but diminish the emotion so it isn’t as strong as theirs.
It might end up sounding something like, “You’ve got to be kidding! How late are they with the delivery?”
With that statement, and the emotions reflected, you are now on your teammate’s side. “Two days!” your team mate replies, still mad, but with less venom.
Now you can settle down a little bit more. “Two days is way too long. We need to fix that permanently. But we also need to do something to fix the predicament that you’re in. How can I help you make that happen?”
Within this brief exchange, the situation has settled down, and you and your teammate can start to solve the actual problem at hand.
This technique works with just about any emotion. If someone is sad, reflect but diminish that sadness. If someone is envious, mirror a bit of envy before responding. Even when someone thinks a comment or situation is funny and you don’t, telling them to tighten it up and be serious is going to make them think you don’t have a sense of humour. Instead, smile and maybe chuckle, and then explain why you both need to take things a little more seriously. Because your teammate sees you have a sense of humour, and because you connect with them, they are much more likely to listen to you.
This technique works up and down the chain of command. Don’t isolate yourself emotionally from your team members. Instead foster shared emotions – reflect their emotions but diminish them so they de-escalate, and so you can focus on solving the problem at hand.
Train your teams by putting junior people in charge so they become more experienced and knowledgeable.
The best way to transfer knowledge and to build experience in a new team member is to put them in a leadership position. Put them in a position where they must make decisions and where they can make mistakes.
Ideally they are put in charge of a project that is outside of their comfort zone (but not excessively so). It should be challenging, but they should still ultimately succeed. You should continue to be there for support and instruction when necessary.
Putting junior people in charge makes them better. It makes them understand what is going on way above their pay grades. It makes them understand how their jobs impact higher level business goals, and is one of the best ways to develop team members.
Once you have been selected as a leader, it is time to lead. What is the best way to do this? Like many things, starting off on the right foot is simple, but not easy. Here are some fundamental rules from former Navy Seal Jocko Willink to keep in mind as you take command.
Be humble. It is an honour to be in a leadership position. Your team is counting on your to make the right decisions.
Don’t act like you know everything. You don’t. The team knows that. Ask smart questions.
Listen. Ask for advice and heed it.
Treat people with respect. Regardless of rank, everyone is a human being and plays an important role in the team. Treat them that way. Take care of your people and they will take care of you.
Take ownership of failures and mistakes.
Pass credit for success up and down the chain.
Work hard. As the leader, you should be working harder than anyone else on the team. No job is beneath you.
Have integrity. Do what you say; say what you do. Don’t lie up or down the chain of command.
Be balanced. Extreme actions and opinions are usually not good.
Be decisive. When it is time to make a decision, make one.
Build relationships. That is your main goal as a leader. A team is a group of people who have relationships and trust one another. Otherwise, it is just a disconnected, incoherent cluster of people.
Get the job done. This is the purpose of a leader — to lead a team in accomplishing a mission. If you don’t accomplish the mission, you fail as a leader. Performance counts.
These are straightforward rules. They make sense on paper, but they can be hard to remember and implement in a leadership environment. Review them often. Look at them in the morning, before meetings, and when you are about to make things happen.
“The ONE THING” is about taking the shortest path to achieving extraordinary results. It is not just about getting stuff done and being more productive: It’s about having meaningful days; being motivated and happy; working on important things that make a difference and that have a real impact.
Finding the Shortest Path to a Big Goal
1. Identify your long term goal
This process is about achieving a long term goal as quickly as possible. But you need to have a goal in mind.
2. Identify your one year goal
Ask yourself: “What is the ONE THING I can do THIS YEAR such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my long term goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the year.
3. Identify your goal for THIS MONTH
“What is the ONE THING I can do THIS MONTH such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one year goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the month.
4. Identify your goal for THIS WEEK
“What is the ONE THING I can do THIS WEEK such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one month goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the week.
5. Identify your goal for this TODAY
“What is the ONE THING I can do TODAY such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one week goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for today.
6. Work on TODAY’s goal for the first 4 hours of your day
Spend the FIRST HALF of your day working on your ONE THING. No interruptions, no distractions, no emails, no phone calls, no meetings. Just laser focused work on your most important task. Your morning is spent on your most important thing. The afternoon is left for emails, phone calls, and meetings. By working on your ONE THING first, you are sure it will get done. Things left for later have a chance of not getting done.
This process is not just about getting stuff done and being more productive: It’s about having meaningful days; being motivated and happy; working on important things that have a real impact and that truly make a difference.
Since I’ve started to use this process I’m more engaged at work, more motivated, less stressed out, and happier. I get to devote uninterrupted time to important meaningful projects that will have a huge impact. If I “run out of time” during my day, it’s the unimportant things that get dropped.
The Productive vs The Unproductive Day
Do you ever feel like you’ve been SUPER busy all day, yet didn’t get anything accomplished? Those are the days where you DID NOT work on your one most important thing.
The difference between a PRODUCTIVE day and an UNPRODUCTIVE day is how much time you spend on your ONE THING. If you work on your ONE THING first, your day is already productive and rewarding by the time lunch rolls around. It doesn’t matter what happens the rest of your day.
The Myth of Multitasking
It is a myth that you get more done by doing many things at the same time. If you want huge success, you need to be very narrowly focused. If you try to do two things at once you won’t do either well. Chasing too many rabbits leads to catching none.
Multitasking is a form of self distraction. When switching between two tasks, there is always a reorientation phase, and that’s wasted time.
The 80 / 20 rule
Not all things matter equally. Not all tasks are created equal. You need to focus on those that matter most and that produce the biggest results: If 20% of you activities result in 80% of your results, then you should be spending more of your time on those activities.
The Importance of Only ONE Thing
There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important. Not a few things… Not two things… ONE THING!
What is my ONE THING?
If today you (or your company) don’t know what your ONE THING is, then your ONE THING is to figure that out.
Family, Friends, and Life Outside of Work
Following this process means spending a large amount of time focused on a single often “work” related goal. That usually means less time for your family, friends, and other priorities. It is very important to ensure you are spending quality time with your family and friends during your evenings, weekends, and vacations.
Following this process tends to cause some chaos. Since you have less time to do “maintenance” work, you will tend to experience a messy desk, a messy email inbox, etc… Either clean it up in the afternoon, or live with it. Those are the costs of narrow focus and great results.
In your non-work life
The “One Thing process” can also be used at a smaller scale in your non-work life: What is the ONE thing you can do for your family that will have the most positive effect? What is the ONE thing you could do for your spouse that would make your relationship better? What is the ONE thing you could do for your parents or friends? What is the ONE thing you could change to improve your health? What is the ONE thing from a personal standpoint that would bring you the most happiness? Etc…
In your company
Your company should use this process to be laser focused on it’s most important, most impactful goal. And at a smaller scale, each department and each employee should have their long term goals with work backs to what their ONE THING for today is. If you have weekly status meetings, they should be used to help identify everyone’s ONE THING. Employee performance reviews should be about their ONE THING. Etc…
When an employee leaves, proactively help them find their next job. The faster they find a new job the less likely they are to get into a desperate situation and to do something that is against your best interest.
Firing someone sucks. Every situation is different, stressful, and unpleasant. For many small businesses, a decision to lay someone off often comes after weeks or months of deliberation, and after looking at all possible alternatives.
Even if you give a good severance package and a letter of reference, it’s sometimes not enough. I believe that a business’ responsibility to the employee isn’t done until they find their next job or career. When an employee leaves, the business should proactively help the ex-employee find their next job.
Here are some specific business reasons why it might be a good idea to go above and beyond to help an ex-employee land on their feet:
Build goodwill for future opportunities: Your past employees will have a more positive attitude towards you and your business if they feel that you genuinely did your best to help them. They are less likely to hold a grudge and more likely to help you in the future when an opportunity presents itself.
Strengthen relationships with current employees: Current employees will look to how you treat your past employees as an indication of how they will be treated when they leave.
Reduced risk of harm to the business: The faster a past employee finds a new job, the less likely they are to get into a desperate financial situation, and the less likely they are to do something for financial gain that is against your best interest, or that violates an NDA or non-compete.
If you are a business owner and are laying someone off, consider going the extra mile to help that employee find their next job — I think it will have long term benefits for your business.
Most recommendations for recovering from Jet-lag involve avoiding sleep at your destination until night time. Here is an alternative: Polyphasic sleep to pro-actively catchup on the sleep you are about to miss.
20 minute naps every 4 hours: As soon as you land go on a dynamic “everyman” sleep schedule (20 minute nap every 4 hours) until night time and then either
Sleep as long as you can (if you can); or
if you cannot sleep, take another 20 minute nap and try sleeping again in another 4 hours.
Repeat on the second day: When you wake up, record the time and plan on another 20 minute nap in 4 hours (and continue the cycle).
Stop the nap schedule once you feel you are onto the local rhythm, but I recommend to stick with it for at least 2 days.
Start on the plane: If you are on a really long flight with multiple connections, you can try starting your nap schedule early by napping at airports during connections or on the plane before you land.
Important: You are not trying to reduce sleep. You are trying to catch up on sleep you have already missed and future sleep you are about to miss. So don’t purposely stay up all night — if it’s night time and you can get an entire night’s sleep in, then go for it. But if it’s day time then be strict with your nap schedule.
Take wind down time into account. It usually takes me 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, so I usually schedule my nap 15 minutes earlier and set my alarm for 35 minutes.
It is ok if you don’t actually sleep. Lying in a comfy spot with your eyes closed for 20 minutes will refresh you enough to help push you through another 4 hours of awake.
Plan your day around your sleep schedule to make sure you can get your naps in
Carry ear plugs and a night mask (and an inflatable pillow?) to maximize your “anywhere / anytime” nap opportunities.
Use the website JetLagRooster.com to prep your sleep schedule even before you leave and get tips on how to adapt once you land (note: They do not have naps built into their schedule)
Children tend to view their intelligence in one of two ways: “I am smart at this” where they believe they have a fixed level of intelligence. And “I tried hard at this” where they believe their level of intelligence is flexible and influenced by hard work.
Entity Learners: “I am smart at this”
“Entity” learners believe in a fixed level of intelligence: I.e.: “I am good at math; I am bad at english”.
They believe they have a fixed level of ability and there is very little they can do to change their results. Since success or failure implies “smart” or “not-smart”, they will tend to avoid risk of failure.
Incremental Learners: “I tried hard at this”
“Incremental” learners believe their level of intelligence is flexible and influenced by hard work. “I got it because I worked very hard at it” or “I should have tried harder”.
The learning is more important than the results. When faced with failure, they increase their efforts or change their tactics. Step by step they can move from novice to master.
Winning and Losing
Winning is still very important. But learning is more important than winning or losing.
“It would be easy to read about the studies on entity vs incremental theories of intelligence and come to the conclusion that a child should never win or lose. I don’t believe this is the case. If that child discovers any ambition to pursue excellence in a given field later in life, he or she may lack the toughness to handle inevitable obstacles. While a fixation on results is certainly unhealthy, short term goals can be useful development tools if they are balanced within a nurturing long-term philosophy. Too much sheltering from results can be stunting.”
Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
Assume your child is playing high-school level soccer. Which is better? Winning against a kindergarden team or losing a close match against a university team? I would argue that playing against the stronger team (win or lose) will have much better long term benefits than winning against the kindergarden team. If you never lose then you are not challenging yourself enough.
If your child experiences a crushing defeat, don’t patronize them by saying that “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose”. Your child is feeling strong emotions that clearly matter to him. Your words will not resonate with his reality. Instead acknowledge those feelings and focus on the learning: “I know you put a lot of effort into this and you wanted to win very badly. Not winning hurts a lot sometimes, but it can also help you get better. Let’s learn from this — let’s train harder and get better for the next match. The best way to get better is to face strong opponents, and when you face strong opponents you will lose sometimes. But you will get better. And the better you get, the more you will win.”
“I have seen many people in diverse fields take some version of the (incremental learning) philosophy and transform it into an excuse for never putting themselves on the line or pretending not to care about results. They claim to be egoless, to care only about learning, but really this is an excuse to avoid confronting themselves.”
Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
What Parents or Teachers can do
The language used by parents or teachers play a big role in a child’s view of their intelligence.
Language such as “You are really good at math, but bad at English” will tend to reinforce that intelligence is a fixed and unchangeable. Children will learn that they are good at math and bad at English. They will link their success and failure to a predefined fixed level of ability. There is nothing they can do about it, so they will not try to get better.
Focus on the learning. Re-enforce that they can change their results with effort: “You are really doing good in math: Keep up the good work! You are struggling in english: Let’s study a little harder!”.
It is never too late
“It is clear that parents and teachers have an enormous responsibility in forming theories of intelligence of their students and children — and it is never too late. It is critical to realize that we can always evolve in our approaches to learning. Studies have shown that in just minutes, kids can be conditioned into having a healthy learning theory for a given situation.”
This is an archive and record of how I used to plan my week back in November 2013. My ritual has changed since then, but the information is still relavent.
What is “Balance”
I don’t like the term “Work/Life” balance because it implies that there are only two areas of importance: Work and Life. The reality for most of us is that “Life” is actually composed of several important roles: Parenting, Homeownership, Friendships, Community, “Me” time, etc….
Most of us already spend at least half our waking hours at work. This does not leave much time for the other important areas in your life.
How I Plan My Week
Every weekend I go through the following ritual to plan the coming week. The goals are to ensure that important things get done, but also to ensure that some time is devoted to each of the roles you play.
1. I review my Personal Mission Statement
A personal mission statement gives you guidance and is a reminder of what is important to you. If you don’t already have one, take some time to write one. Every week I review my mission statement and update it if necessary.
My Personal Mission Statement
To find happiness, fulfillment, and value in living I will strive to:
Make a positive difference in the lives of others;
Spend more quality time with friends and family;
Simplify my life; work less; have more “perfect days”; and keep an open mind;
Do great things; strive for excellence; and inspire others.
Apologize sincerely when necessary.
Remember that life is short; be grateful; relax and enjoy the moment; Memento Mori.
2. I review my Roles
Achieving “balance in life” isn’t about getting a 50/50 balance between “work” and “life”. You play many more than just 2 roles in life: Individual, Father, Husband, Friend, Employee, Homeowner, Artist, World Traveler, Adventurer, etc… You should try to devote some time to each of the roles you play.
Although they rarely change, every week I review my roles and occasionally I add a new role or remove a role that no longer applies.
Father / Husband
Family Member (son, brother, cousin)
Employee / Entrepreneur
3. For each Role, I review my Long Term Goals
For each of my roles I try to define some long term goals. I review my goals weekly to make sure they are still important to me and that they align with my personal mission statement.
What are some big things that would make a tremendous difference if I could accomplish them? I try to make the goals as specific as possible and not too vague. Each week I want to try and get a little closer to reaching those goals.
Some of my Goals
Individual: Resume Painting; Climb Mt. Kilamanjaro; Visit the Pyramids of Giza.
Father / Husband: Weekly date night; 10 year anniversary trip; Build swing set;
Family: Help my father lose 50lbs; Family cottage trip;
Friend: Help my friends identify and achieve their goals;
Homeowner: Renovate garage; Build a pool;
4. I schedule time in my week for each Role
Every week I make an effort to spend some time on each role. I identify the most impactful thing I can do for each role and schedule time in my calendar to do it. Sometimes this is something that gets me closer to some big ambitious goal, other times it’s something simpler like buying flowers or a date night.
For each of my roles I choose 1 to 3 important priorities/tasks to work on that week.
5. I schedule time for Personal Renewal & Growth
In addition to spending time on each of my roles, I try to devote time each week to become better physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually:
Physical: Eat healthy, exercise, etc…
Mental: Read, learn, etc…
Social: Strengthen existing relationships, form new relationships, networking, etc…
Most of us tend to use REACTIVE language in our day to day lives: “I CAN’T do that because I MUST do this”. Changing to PROACTIVE language can have a profound effect on your life: “I DON’T WANT to do that because I WANT to do this”.
I NEED vs I WANT I MUST vs I PREFER I CAN’T vs I CHOOSE
Most of us tend to use reactive language in our day to day lives: “I CAN’T do this because I MUST do that”. The reality of the situation is that you probably don’t have to do the second thing and probably CAN do the first thing.
Outside of being bound by the laws of physics, there are very few things in life that you HAVE to do or that you CAN’T do. So why do we use those words?
Using reactive language absolves you of responsibility but also makes you powerless: “I am not responsible. I am not able to choose my response. There is nothing I can do about it”.
WHAT YOU SAY
WHAT YOU MEAN
I can’t do that. I just don’t have the time
Something external (limited time) is controlling me
If only my boss were more patient
Someone else’s behaviour is limiting my effectiveness
I have to do it
Circumstances or other people are forcing me to do what I do. I am not free to choose my own actions.
Examples of reactive language.
This subtle change in language can make a huge positive impact in your life.
REACTIVE “I wish I could take 6 months off and travel the world but I can’t because I have to work and I don’t have enough vacation.”
PROACTIVE #1 “Although I would love to take 6 months off and travel, my financial security and my career are currently more important to me. I choose not to go on this trip so that I can focus on my career instead.”
PROACTIVE #2 “The experience of travelling is much more important to me than my job or my financial security. So I will convince my boss to give me a 6 month sabbatical (or just quit?) and I will go on this iconic journey.”
Re-evaluate your Paradigm
Saying that “I DON’T WANT TO go on a wonderful 6 month trip because I WANT TO work” is difficult and counterintuitive. By changing your language you will re-evaluate your reality:
Do I really want to keep working instead of travelling?
How important is seeing the world to me?
How important is my job or career?
Is this job really what I want to do?
What is truly important to me?
There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. But asking these questions is important and empowers you to change.
Be Precise in your Speech
How you talk reinforces what you believe to be true. By being reactive with your language, you reinforce that you are powerless. By being precise and truthful with your language, you accept responsibility for your choices and gain the power to change those choices and to change your situation.
Take Responsibility. Make it your Fault.
Until you can honestly say that “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday” you cannot say “I choose otherwise”.
Never blame others for failures. Always blame yourself. The moment you blame another person or some external circumstance, you become powerless to change the results:
THEIR FAULT “The project failed because we didn’t get enough support from the marketing department. They need to do a better job next time.”
YOUR FAULT “The project failed because I did not mobilize the marketing department effectively. Next time I will change my strategy and make a more effective presentation explaining the importance of their role in the success of this project.”
The more responsibility you take, the more power you have to change.