We live in this weird time when anyone can make anything from almost nothing
But they (and you and me) have to take action to do it. And many people don’t. You’re reading this article because you want to be among those who do.
I never set out to be an “action” person
I wasn’t always an action taker. I didn’t always have washboard action muscles that you could do your laundry on. Actually, when my journey as an entrepreneur started, I spent the majority of my days surfing the Internet in my sweatpants. That’s not just a made-up story you hear about all entrepreneurs. It was absolutely true for me. Very quickly I’d have unanswered emails, calls, and impending deadlines that always felt stressful. For the majority of my life, I’d been a person who finished things last minute.
But when I started my first business, IWearYourShirt, it was evident very quickly that I had a ton that I needed to do. The premise of the business was to wear a different shirt every day of the year, and on each day I would:
- film and edit a YouTube video
- host a one-hour live video show
- take photos
- interact with an audience on Facebook and Twitter
- and, oh, run and grow the actual business (marketing, sales, etc.)
I had never even attempted 99% of the things that I was going to have to do on a daily basis.
A few days before starting that business in December 2008, I remember thinking, How in the world will I possibly get all these things done? What have I gotten myself into?
Ultimately, I rewired my brain by learning how to take rapid action. There was no other option. The best part is that it didn’t just help me with that business—it’s now how I approach every single thing I do.
When people started to consistently ask me, “How do you get all these things done?” I realized that they didn’t even think it was possible to do so much. They didn’t realize their action muscle existed. They didn’t realize they could train it.
But it can be done. I’m proof.
How you can build your action muscle right now and start getting things done
Ultimately, it’s about putting in the work. And 100% committing to it.
Everyone wants a silver bullet to make all their problems go away. Everyone wants to just read the next article, the next listicle, the next blog post, the next thing in their Twitter feed, all the “best of” stories of success. And it’s so easy to just say, “OK, I’ll read an article,” but how many of those articles have you read at this point? Enough to fill at least a book.
The reason you keep clicking on those articles is because you haven’t found the answer yet. Here are the action muscle-building things that work for me and that I believe can work for you:
Use a calendar and do time blocking (one week at a time)
I started doing this in 2009 and have been doing it ever since. Every week, my Google Calendar gets filled with blocks of time for specific tasks. Usually the Friday before, I start mapping out the next week with time blocks. As the week begins, I can adjust accordingly. The key with time blocking is to make sure you’re only doing THAT specific task during that time. Shut down all other browser tabs, apps, anything that can distract you with notifications.
(I used to use the Sunrise Calendar. RIP, Sunrise.)
There are folks out there, even other Jasons, who will make the argument that an unscheduled calendar is the way to go. I don’t believe that one way of doing things is right for everyone. All I know is that blocking off time on my calendar keeps me laser focused and highly motivated.
I don’t see a full calendar as stressful. I see it as organized and pointing me in the direction of maximum output. Not every week is filled to the brim, of course. I just wanted to show you a fuller week (above) to give you an idea of what things look like when times get busy. In fact, here’s my upcoming week (as of writing this article):
(have to use Google Cal now, sad face.)
Keep a written list of your to-do items, broken down by project
Every six months, I spend $2.19 on an 8.5×11 notebook at Target (here’s a similar one on Amazon for $1.09!). It’s almost identical to the notebooks I used to buy during my back-to-school days. A simple lined notebook (college rule, obviously!) takes all the distracting frills away from writing down to-do items. I write out each project heading and then all of the small tasks I can think of associated with that project. There’s something really profound about physically crossing off a task on paper with a Sharpie. Pro-tip: I like to leave the notebook open so I can see my list of projects and tasks all day long, every day.
Use an accountability partner
This is super important when you’re first sculpting that action muscle. Your accountability partner can be a friend, a spouse, or a random person you find on Tinder. I mean Twitter. Yeah, probably Twitter.
Make this easy for the both of you, and simply set up a weekly Skype call or in-person meeting where you can reflect on your time-blocked tasks and your written to-do list. How did you do? Where did you slip up? It’s important to admit where you fell short so you can improve in the future. Having someone else help you stay accountable to your tasks will keep you honest and keep you motivated.
Accountability calls or meetings may vary in length, but try scheduling less time than you need to stay more focused on the call (save the chit-chat for drinks or coffee!).
(My accountability partner is also my life partner, and my kale salad partner)
Last tip: Eat kale salads!
Okay, I originally was just going to leave this as a joke, but it’s kind of true. Your action muscle, like the muscles in your body, is only going to get more chiseled and shapely if you take care of your health. If you’re constantly eating crappy food, your body (and mind!) won’t have the fuel to function properly. You don’t have to eat kale salads, but you should absolutely avoid foods that cause you to crash or run low on energy. Getting a bit of exercise and fresh air can work wonders to boost your motivation.
Be reasonable about your output
Yes, I am particularly well-versed at the art of GTD (getting things done), but even I rarely get ALL my to-dos and tasks done. Why? Because life sometimes take a crap on your face when you least expect it. Because as much as I want to tell you that you can get every task done all of the time, you’re going to experience moments of resistance (some of us just experience less than others from years of action-muscle sculpting). But do I beat myself up about not getting all my tasks and to-dos done? Not at all. Not ever, actually. I cross off what I can, I reschedule what I have to, I take responsibility for why things didn’t get done, and I keep moving forward. Taking action isn’t some game to be won. It’s a process, one that all of us have to keep working at.
Taking consistent action brings unintended consequences
The biggest thing I’ve learned about the benefit of taking action is that it isn’t just about getting a ton of stuff done. The real benefit is opening yourself up to unintended consequences. It’s about putting the kind of stuff out there that other people would think is scary. It means not letting things stay in your head anymore.
Since I’ve embraced a bias toward action, so many things have fallen into my lap that I couldn’t have possibly dreamt of. I made $1,000,000 wearing t-shirts. I made $100,000 selling my last name. And I made over $300,000 selling my future.
Our society is so obsessed with successful people, but many don’t appreciate that success is never overnight: it’s consistent effort and consistent action. You have to put in the work to get to that level of success.
When you make taking action your lifestyle, when you’ve built that muscle, there’s no pressure anymore. There’s no pressure of having to worry so much about this client or this gig because things will keep happening. The expression “the rich get richer” is true because the people who are out there making stuff happen are opening themselves up to so many more opportunities.
Things get done because you do them, not because you dream of doing them
The steps I’ve outlined for you in this article may work wonders for you, but you won’t know until you actually put them into practice. There’s no better time to start than right now. No matter what day of the week it is or what month of the year, start right now and work on your action muscle.
This article has been adapted from the foreword I wrote for a book about becoming a better action taker.
When the authors behind Surge: Your Guide to Put Any Idea into Action reached out and asked me to write the foreword for their book, I had to make sure they were viewing action-taking in a way that resonated with me. After reading an early draft of the book, I couldn’t have been more excited to enthusiastically endorse it. My exact response to them after reading the book was something to the effect of, “I don’t have to write the book on how to take action. You guys have already done it.”
I encourage you to pick up a copy of Surge: Your Guide to Put Any Idea into Action. They dive much deeper into the topic and give you a blueprint to hone your action muscle.
So here’s yet another permission slip to start your journey to becoming an “action” person. Will you take it?