How To Accomplish Anything In 1/2 Hour Or Less
(or… “How to get over fear, by Elon Musk.”)
I recently read one of the most powerful blog posts I’ve read in a long time, a post about renowned entrepreneur Elon Musk and the ‘secret sauce’ that allows him to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
In the post I saw a lot of parallels to my work. When I’m not running my adventure travel company, I also mentor and consult with startup entrepreneurs to help them get their entrepreneurial ideas off the ground. Although they turn to me for advice, tips and tools, usually what’s really holding them back isn’t a lack of knowledge or knowhow, it’s something else entirely…
As Tim Urban explains in his post about Musk, what makes him so successful in achieving the seemingly impossible is not some sort of superhuman ability or rare genius, it’s simply the ability to view two important things in a more realistic light: 1) what’s possible and 2) the risk involved. With this ability, he is able to manage fear far better than most of us.
TAKING THE LEAP
Many of the entrepreneurs I work with work at full time jobs that don’t provide them with much fulfillment, meaning or joy. Underlying this lack of fulfilment is an idea, a dream that’s been itching away for years without ever being scratched. Typically the first question they ask me is some variation of “Where do I start?’ or “How do I start?”.
The enormity of starting a new business – or any new worthwhile endeavour – typically overwhelms most people, and they feel that it requires a massive commitment on their part: quitting their job, selling their house, moving to a new country… some sort of big change to signify their commitment to their dream.
The problem with that thinking is that it typically kicks our fear response into overdrive. And then we operate from this:
And when our fear response kicks in our self-talk starts to sound like this:
“If I quit my job and this business fails, I’ll never get another job again.”
“If I sell my [house, car, baseball cards, etc.] to fund my business, I’ll end up broke with no assets and have to start all over, and I’ll probably end up on the street.”
“If I commit to this and it doesn’t work out, my [husband, girlfriend, dog, parrot, etc.] will leave me.”
As the above diagram shows, the portion of the fear spectrum most people typically operate in is well to the left of “things that we should be truly concerned about”.
So the first thing is to recognize that that the fear reaction is a normal response, but that it’s often warped well out of proportion to actual risk.
The second thing to recognize is that the fear response shows up in devious ways: it typically manifests not as a conscious response of “holy crap, if this doesn’t work out then X and Y are going to happen, and my life will be over”, but rather as some variation of:
“This idea is really dumb. No one is going to buy this from me.”
“I don’t have the [knowhow, knowledge, willpower, brains, personality, etc.] to pull this off.”
“There’s another more-established competitor already offering this. I’ll never be able to compete with them.”
“Someone’s going to come along and steal my idea and put me out of business.”
“I’m not an [entrepreneur, singer, artist, athlete, etc.]. What was I thinking?”
When you hear self-talk like this, it’s important to recognize that you are probably not operating from what Elon Musk calls ‘first principles’, or objective information, but rather from a perspective of fear. That self-talk is a direct manifestation of your fear centres – mostly that pesky amygdala – trying to keep you unnecessarily safe.
When you hear this type of self-talk, ask yourself:
“Am I operating from objective, ‘first principles’ information, or is there some sort of distortion going on?”
Typically it’s the latter: your idea is probably not that dumb, you probably do have the knowhow to pull it off, and you are an entrepreneur/singer/artist/athlete/etc.
The third thing to recognize is that even if you do recognize this self-talk for what it is – your innate fear response – it’s still incredibly difficult to overcome.
Fortunately, there’s a way around this.
(more about this brief commercial break…)
HOW TO ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING IN 1/2 HOUR OR LESS
OK, I’ll admit it, that headline is a little clickbait-y. I’m not suggesting that you can accomplish anything in just 1800 seconds. What I want to demonstrate is that you can accomplish just about anything you want in life by applying a very simple strategy to it.
By focusing a small, very manageable amount of time, every day, toward a chosen goal.
When I work with people who are not happy with their current career path and are considering a switch to entrepreneurship, but are concerned about leaving the safety of their existing job, I’ll usually work with them to help them clarify their idea and turn it into a viable business model, then outline next steps to help them validate their idea.
Once we’ve outlined those next steps, I’ll encourage them to break them down into small bite-sized chunks, then get them to commit to doing some small daily action or actions that will get them a little bit closer to their goal, every single day.
I usually suggest 1/2 hour a day, but for especially time-challenged people, I suggest they at least commit 20 minutes per day to working on their ‘escape plan’. One woman I recently worked with was working 75-hour weeks at her current job, so her time was pretty limited, but she wanted to get the hell out, so she was very motivated – she has committed to doing 20 minutes a day, and has managed to do it consistently.
That’s the strategy in a very simple nutshell: commit a small amount of time (at least 20 minutes) every day towards your dream. If you can spare more, then commit more time, but only commit to what you can realistically pull off.
If you say you’re going to commit 2 hours a day, but then do 3 days in a row where you only do 1/2 hour, you’re going to get de-motivated by not hitting your goal, so you’re better off committing to 1/2 hour a day.
It’s a powerful strategy because:
- You’re not overwhelming yourself with a monumental task, and not letting your natural fear response overtake you.
- While you’re moving towards your goal, you get to appease the safety-seeking, risk-averse side of you and stay in your current reality (while still moving away from it).
- Every day you make a small bit of progress toward your goal, which is extremely motivating and helps build momentum towards your goal.
I’ve applied this strategy to a number of projects over recent years. For most of this year my daily 1/2 hour was applied to building out a comprehensive online course for social entrepreneurs. There’s a massive amount of content in the course (over 300 pages and dozens of videos), and a lot of technical setup involved to make the course function the way I wanted it to.
Had I sat down without a strategy and thought about the enormity of the task ahead of me, and how I could fit that in to a busy life that already entailed running a 50-person adventure travel company, parenting 3 young children, supporting my wife and everything else in life that I have a responsibility to, I probably would have thrown in the towel and said “No way I can pull that off.”
Instead, I just told myself I would commit 1/2 hour – every day – toward building out the course. Every day I would write some content, build out the website, whatever it took to move closer to that goal. And lo and behold, here I am 11 months later with a complete entrepreneurship course that is already being used by hundreds of people.
Want more proof? This blog post was written in three 1/2 hour chunks: once while I was at the pool while my daughter was doing her swimming lesson, once while sitting on the subway traveling to an appointment, and once during my morning routine.
KEEPING ON TRACK
It’s a pretty simple app: you start by creating up to 12 ‘habits’ that you want to track. They can be either good habits (like spending 1/2 hour a day on your project) that you want to encourage, or bad ones (like too much coffee) that you want to avoid.
Then you log in to the app every day (I find it easiest to log in once in the morning and once in the evening), check in on the habits you want to encourage/discourage, and mark off whether you’ve achieved your goals or not that day. So if I actually did 1/2 hour of work on my ‘muse’ (I borrowed this term from Tim Ferriss’ excellent book, The 4-Hour Workweek), then I just click on ‘Yes’ under this habit and I get a nice green checkmark for my efforts.
The app offers a reporting feature where you can track your progress both on a macro (i.e. all of your goals) or individual goal level (‘how did I do with regards to exercising every day?’), but that, to me, is less important than the simple act of having to report on my progress each day. Reporting my progress in the app is an act of accountability that reminds me, every day, what is important to me. And as silly as it sounds, I don’t want to let the app down (and by process of extension, let myself down).
HOW WILL YOU USE YOUR 1/2 HOUR?
I’ll finish off with a question: how will you use your daily 1/2 hour? What dream will you pursue? What idea will you launch into the world? What long-buried goal will you finally bring to life?
Just commit 30 minutes every day and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.
Want some help starting or growing your business? Check out The Social Entrepreneur, a comprehensive online course I spent 11 months developing, to help entrepreneurs like you build, launch and scale businesses that change the world for the better.
I also work with a (very) limited number of committed, passionate entrepreneurs on a consulting basis.