All the Things That Remain to Be Done

(Our Overworked Supreme Court | Library of Congress)

(Our Overworked Supreme Court | Library of Congress)

Go to bed at night satisfied with all your decisions, then push them out of your mind and sleep sound.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

If you want to get things done, make it about actions, not inherent abilities. Make it less about the person and more about the deeds. When we do that, we give ourselves a method for improvement. Deeds are actionable and within our control, the way we were born is not.

When I started martial arts, I thought it was all about toughness. I thought a smaller man could beat a bigger man because he had trained himself to be tougher. Later on, I evolved this thought: for a smaller man to beat a bigger man, he must rely on an efficient system. Efficient systems overcome natural disadvantages. Toughness, however, is still mandatory.

Motivation alone does not lead to productivity, without methods, it can lead to arguments, delay, procrastination, and worst of all, nothing. Motivation is meaningless without methods.

In practical terms, the most motivated horse does not win the race — it does not matter how bad the horse wants to win — the most efficient horse will win that day. It's a question of evolutionary survival; want is irrelevant, only the most adapted survive.

Evaluate Actions

As a rule, you take off your shoes before you enter a dojo (whether a dojo for Zen or martial arts). It symbolizes the leaving of ego, vanity, and history at the door. Are you ego-driven or purpose-driven? It makes the difference between thoughts and deeds.

Focusing on ourselves and becoming self-indulgent leave us without application. When we evaluate ourselves or others, we must also assess actions. Everyone has the capacity to be great or terrible; everyone is smart in some way. They are the actors, what matters are the actions.

In a fight, only actions count. It does not matter how you perceive your identity; whether you believe you are good at what you do or if you think you are clever or useful. Your actions are what matters. Were they effective, were they helpful, was your idea clever?

It's the difference between busy and productive, intent and significance. If we make it only about the individual, we replace productivity with subjectivity. We are left with unanswerable questions: can you change someone, should you change someone, can someone ever be good enough, what's wrong with them now? No plans can be made, only value-judgments and accusations.

When we look to actions, the path to a better overall system is clearer. Plans can be made. When evaluating an individual, one must also assess their actions.

There have been countless people with IQs higher than Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison. The accomplishments of Einstein and Edison make their brilliance self-evident. Knowing their IQ is unnecessary; their actions speak for themselves. IQ quantifies a potential, but potential without outcome will not be remembered. We study those who have done, not those who could have done.

Evaluating a person independent of their actions leads to ego, narcissism, doubt, unhappiness, and anxiety. How can they ever feel secure in living up to expectations that are nebulous and constantly increasing? Panic sets. Value and worth become destiny, beyond our ability to alter.

We shrink from the world when we believe our actions do not matter, that we have no control over who we are, or what becomes of us. When we take control, significance naturally follows.

Focus on Efficient Systems

Improve methods - If you need to get things done more than once and in an appropriate amount of time, you need reliable methods. Focus on improvements from top to bottom and bottom to top. Efficient connections between steps create efficient systems. Stop leaks, trim the fat, and strengthen the crucial.

Advisors - Learn from mentors, have multiple. They are resources that cannot be replicated or replaced. Becoming a master is not solely about the number of hours studied, it's also about having the right guide. Try it on your own and you may end up learning the wrong way perfectly.

No value judgments - You need data-driven feedback, not uneducated guesses or emotional justifications. Being fair does not include perceiving ignorance as the equal to knowledge.

High volume - Create a high volume of work. Remove judgments until revisions must be made. In the example of writing: write every day no matter how good or bad, or poor speeling.

Success is a process, not a destination - Do you want a black belt or do you want to improve every day? You can get a black belt without growing every day. But if you were to grow every day, you would be a better black belt and the belt would come sooner. Yet the paradox is, focusing on the goal gets in the way of the goal. If you concentrate on the process, you will be better off in every way. Furthermore, if you only focus on the goal, the black belt, you are more likely to get discouraged and quit. Every day will be a reminder of how far you are from your target. And losing daily to others who continuously grow will be disheartening.

Do not look at milestones and confuse them for goals. Milestones are the effects of the process. Accomplishments naturally occur along the path of growth — the byproduct of magic, not the magic itself.

Purpose - Goals and tasks are subjective and change over time. They are responsive expressions of your purpose. The outcome, not the reason. Do not fixate, remain adaptive.

Improve the process - Let's say there's an old pencil sharpener; it's not effective at sharpening pencils anymore, but still gets the job done. Do you focus on sharpening pencils or do you direct your attention to fixing the pencil sharpener? In the long-run, what would be better?

Improve the process. The better the program, the easier the programmer's job.

Create a better system - Becoming a better artist, writer, athlete, entrepreneur, or person is subjective and indefinable. The actionable plan is to improve your schedule, eliminate distractions, alter your environment, analyze the most productive times, and find the leakages to time and money. This will allow for higher quality and quantity of work. The alternative is to take a long time to produce overpriced and mediocre work.

Things to Consider for Growth

You are a system. You need an environment to support successful development. You need grooming. It is not hereditary. You are the multiplier effect; get guidance and run with it — or don't.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you in an environment conducive to where you want to be in the future?
  • Do you surround yourself with rational people?
  • Do you allocate time and money wisely?
  • Do you read enough?
  • Do you manage your life or is it unmanaged?
  • Do you have the discipline to make yourself happy?

Accelerated Growth

You do not have to be the first one done, but speed and quality matter. Often, delays become a habit, and influential people may not give second chances. Competition is too high to be any other way. Reliability is critical. Without a streamlined process, consistent productivity delivered on time, in good quality, and at low-costs becomes impossible.

Accelerated Does Not Mean Rushed

Do not go at an unsustainable pace. Do not only consider the short-term. Speed faster than a system can handle kills progress. Stability is being able to control and sustain pace.

Are There Leaks

Ask yourself: is this effective? How is this working for me? For the investment, is there enough value? If not, stop and change something.

Account for Your Bias

Do not give yourself an exemption from your own critical eye. Have others call out your bias. Be brave enough to trust those who may disagree with you. (Alternatively, disagreement is not the same as betraying trust.) And be skeptical of those who only agree with you.

I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.
— Thomas Jefferson

The Quality of Argument

Surround yourself with people based on the quality of their argument, not on whether they reinforce your preexisting beliefs. Do not see what you want to see, see what the evidence shows.

Associate with people who are likely to improve you.
— Seneca

Beta Testing

Have an open learning mindset. When presented with new information, change your stance if need be. Look for data, not validation. There is no failure, just testing and learning. You are not in competition with reality, so don't try to beat reality with your own reality. (This is insanity.)

Something going wrong is beta. If you hire a hacker to break into your system; you want them to tell you the problems. That is the point of the test. How do you learn without being pointed out what needs to be learned? Feedback is different from an insult and should not be taken personally.

You Have the Resources, Now What?

Rather than thinking about how much value you can squeeze out of your resources, consider instead if given all the resources and guidance, how much value you can produce. You are the lumberjack; someone can hand you an axe, but once in your hands, only you can swing it. Given the right opportunity, what do you do with it?

The Big Why

Let's say you need to raise money for your company, and you are meeting with investors. If you do not tell them why you are dedicating yourself to this company, why they need your product, why the world needs another company, why would they give you their money?

What you want only applies to you, why you want it applies to everyone else. And if you don't know why (or your motive is shallow), then what's the point?

Learn From Any Category

Model yourself after anything that has been sustainably successful, whether a person, cause, or business. Painters get inspired by music. Musicians gain from movies. Martial artists model themselves after philosophers. Do not limit yourself.

And learn not only from successes but also from failures. Cautionary tales are roadmaps that chart pitfalls.

No Bottlenecks

What's slowing the process? Look in all areas, but most of all, consider yourself a possible bottleneck. And if the bottleneck is you, give up some of the responsibilities. Delegate. The person to come up with the idea does not have to be the person who executes the idea. A communal effort not only requires less energy from any one single person, but it also distributes the workload.

Can You Handle It

Even good problems can be daunting. Eliminate the nonessential. Find balance between meaningful work and peace of mind. If you cannot weather the good problems, what will you do when bad problems occur? Handle less, distribute, lower expectations, or implement systems to handle more.

Social Grooming

When I first started martial arts, I thought it was about who was the best fighter. Later on, I decided it was about competitions and winning. These are analogies, yet the lesson has remained the same: martial art is a process for grooming better human beings. The only worthy process is one that makes you a better person. Getting things done and creating efficient models is a process in grooming leaders.

Things to consider along the way:

Earn it - Earn friendships and connections. Be someone people want to help. You may want specific attributes in a soul mate, but what do you bring to the table? If you are a flaky friend, why would your friend believe you to be otherwise in a work situation or when something significant is on the line? Then why expect them to put themselves on the line to do you a favor?

Be cautious of low barriers to entry; expect high walls - Make meaningful collaborations, they should be picky and so should you. You may believe you are special; prime opportunities will want proof. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a bad company.

The stringent selection process of the Navy SEALs is not what eliminates most candidates, the very idea of the selection process eliminates candidates. The same applies to the best colleges. People self-eliminate to avoid failure. The ones who will try already show a degree of resilience — the ability to deal with possible failure, rejection, and intimidation.

Discipline more important than want - Just because you want to do something does not mean you also have the adherence to do it. Everyone has want, but discipline is a rarity. Fortunately, discipline can be developed.

In the same boat - Is everyone in the boat paddling the same direction? People can change over time, but heading the same direction allows for flexibility. What is the vision?

I have heard, love is not when two people gaze into each other's eyes, but when they look off to the same horizon. The same can be said of getting things done. We can change, yet the horizon remains the same.

Do not treat people like servants - How would your servant be in a position to change you? How can they help you change the world? Why would they care if they are only your servant? "I don't care; I only work here." Put people in positions to create change. This is not a dictatorship; we need to get things done.

No Way Around It, You Need Toughness

One can never eliminate toughness and grit from any human equation. No matter what hacks, motivations, psychological ploys, and philosophies are adopted, one still needs to be mentally tough. That's it. We need staying power and consistency, that requires a tremendous amount of fortitude. Our grit and resilience must surpass our expectations.

Even with the proper teacher, who would spend thousands of hours studying a subject? When told it takes 10,000 hours, we automatically assume we have the ability to stick to something for that long. Yet most quit any practice in less than a year (even things they love). The question isn't, what would happen with that amount of practice; a more important question to ask is, who could commit to that length? Especially when constantly corrected by a guide? Only the most disciplined and gritty.

Instead of giving up, look for ways to develop grit. Cultivate discipline. Encouragement does not mean flattery, by definition, it means "to be pushed." That breaks some people. It is not intended for everyone; it is only for those who know what to do when encouraged.

We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.
— Kurt Vonnegut

Toughness is a quality that needs time and practice to develop, yet it's integral to a life of capacity. Start small, then build your way to tackling larger obstacles. Take modest risks, then grow into the unknown. Make choices and develop confidence. Go to bed at night satisfied with all your decisions, then push them out of your mind and sleep sound. Live. Live knowing there is nothing more to do. Then do it again.

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