On Value of Consistency

Type 1 vs Type 2 Fun

Hi there,

A while ago, I thought I was a slow, awkward, unwieldy runner. I was unhappy with my times and I couldn’t keep up with the other runners I trained with in Kildare, Ireland.

I wondered why I was wasting my time huffing and puffing or running ten and fifteen miles a week.

I kept at it… thanks to encouragement from a coach.

I increased my mileage to thirty miles and beyond.

And I found myself running marathons.

Today, I’m still a slow runner, but when I put on a pair of trainers today those thoughts disappear. I enjoy the consistency of regular training. It’s taught me about the value of Type 1 and Type 2 fun.

Type 1 fun = an enjoyable immediate experience, like a nice drink or meal.

Type 2 fun = an experience that feels good… after it’s over, like a race or a marathon.

(HT to Joanna Penn who talked about the two types of fun on the Creative Penn podcast a few years ago).

Creative work is a bit like that. Sitting down to write 500 words or hone an idea for an hour feels off-putting, but when you really get into it, it’s fun.

And when it becomes a practice, expect results.

Stay focused,

Bryan Collins

How To Figure Out When And Where You’re Most Creative

When I started taking writing a little more seriously a few years ago, I worked late at night while listening to music and drinking tea or even beer. I liked the idea of a writer hunched over their manuscript waiting for inspiration to strike.

Then life intervened.

I walked into work one day after staying up late writing fiction and a lady from my team said, “What happened Bryan?”

“What do you mean?”

She pointed to me eyes.

Then, she turned red.

“Oh never mind.”

I went into the bathroom. Thanks to two black circles around my eyes, I looked as if I’d been punched in the face.

I was too tired to care at the time, but over the years I changed from writing late at night to writing first thing in the morning before the working day begins.

So what time should you write, draw, paint or compose? And when should you reflect on a big project versus taking action?

Those are good questions for any writer, artist, musician, performer or creative professional to ask. Entrepreneurs can also benefit because starting or growing a business is one of the most creative acts anyone can undertake.

Some creatives and entrepreneurs are larks. They prefer working on their big project early in the morning. Others are night-owls. They prefer writing, painting or composing late at night.

A lot of us fall somewhere in the messy middle. The trick is identifying where and when you accomplish your best work, or as New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink says:

“We know, in the broad population, about 15% of us are very strong larks, about 20% of us are very strong owls, and about two-thirds of us are somewhere in the middle, and that can change over time.”

Effective leaders build routines around their preferences. Bill Gates, a voracious reader, starts his mornings by reading or taking online courses, usually in his home office or library.

Elon Musk, on the other hand, starts his day about 7:00 a.m., with email. Mark Zuckerberg reportedly begins with a run or workout.

Identifying Your Peak Creative State

Identify the ideal time and location for left-side- and right-side-brain thinking with a little self-quantification.

A writer, for example, might prefer working on a painful first draft of their book when they feel fresh, rested and can work without interruption.

The same wannabe James Patterson could confine mindless but necessary activities like answering dreary email to the mid-afternoon. And they could polish up a rough first draft in the late evening after dinner.

Personally, I prefer writing alone in a small, quiet room early in the morning before everyone in my house wakes up, but that’s just me. I interviewed another writer who told me she feels most creative when working in a coffee shop, away from the distractions of her home office.

An entrepreneur might value an hour of quiet reflection time in the morning before responding to email or attending their first meeting. Or they could value quiet time after everyone leaves the office for the day or even at home after dinner.

Steve Jobs, for example, often went for long walks with a colleague in the afternoon or evening to mull over a problem at Apple.

Identify these personal nuggets by tracking how you spend each day for a week or two. Consider yourself like a determined science boffin running a litmus test.

Except this time the experiment is you! I like using a spreadsheet or fancy red Moleskine notebook to extract these personal gems. For one week, here’s your mission:

  • Record what you did each hour, on the hour.

  • Note where you worked.

  • Rate how hard or easy the task felt between 1and 5 (1 = easy, 5 = hard).

  • Don’t spend too much time on it; an entry shouldn’t take more than a single line.

  • Track yourself for a week.

  • Review on Friday afternoons over coffee and doughnuts.

  • Assess creative output, location and ratings.

Relying on the self-knowledge you attained, structure the following week so you’re free to work on creative projects when you’ve got the most energy. Use the rest of the day for everything else that matters at work or in your business.

These days, my writing routine is facing a fresh challenge.

My wife gave birth to a baby about eighteen months ago and he also likes to rise early. Now I find myself scratching away on articles like this at odd times during the day.

Years later, I’m still asking, “When is the best time to write?”

What I’m Reading

Kudos, leaderboards, QOMs: how fitness app Strava became a religion

The Weight I Carry

What I’m Writing

Science Reveals Traits Every Founder Must Cultivate

What 3 habits can transform my life completely?

Why Is Finding Focus So Difficult?

Knowing When to Say "No" and "Yes" Matters.

Hi there,

I spent dozens of hours last year interviewing writers, artists, entrepreneurs and CEOs about how they work and what they want to achieve. The people playing at the top of their fields are masters at focusing on a few, or even one key priority.

I envy them.

To be honest, I’ve struggled to focus on my work. I’m always disappointed when I find myself thirty minutes down a Twitter or Reddit blackhole and a deadline is staring me in the face.

These days, I’m pretty hardcore about how I manage digital distractions. I’ve blocked social media and news sites from my computer and phone during the day using apps like Rescue Time and Freedom.

I also write out my priorities for each day the night before. I even bought an old AlphaSmart Neo word-processor on eBay the other day because it helps me write without being connected to the grid.

All of this helps a lot… but not always.

I still feel like the companies and tools we rely on are fighting a war for our attention, and we’re caught in the middle.

When I say no I often worry I’m missing out.

When I say yes, I often over-commit myself.

A while ago, I said yes to a business opportunity and ended up wasting half an afternoon on a sales call that was a waste of time. I’d to work late that night to catch up.

I said no to convert invitation because I’d was behind on work. The next day, a friend told me it was one of the best gigs he was ever at.

Figuring out what to say no and yes to is a delicate balancing act.

I hope the advice in this newsletter helps you walk it.

Stay focused,

Bryan Collins

5 Top CEOs On The Power of Deep Focus

It's easy to take on lots of new projects and say yes to every opportunity; it's hard to say no and focus only on what matters to you.

It could be writing a book, starting a business, learning a skill like coding or working towards a promotion.

The reality is focusing on key goals or priorities will help you accomplish far more in the long run. The leaders of these five companies focused relentlessly on their customers and core values and became massively successful as a result.

1. You'll Become More Creative

Many entrepreneurs work on multiple projects at once. They jump from one project to the other on a whim or if there's an emergency. This unfocused approach to work hinders, rather than helps, creativity. Just ask author and creativity expert Michael Gelb.

"Multi-tasking is really bad for us, particularly when it comes to creativity. If you just get away from it all, you can come up with the breakthrough," he says.

"The highest odds of coming up with a creative breakthrough come from intense focus, punctuated with a few purposeful attempts to get some distance from the problem, to help really stimulate ideas," he adds.

2. You’ll Serve an Ideal Audience

Focusing all of your business's resources on a few key products or a select group of customers could help you stand apart from the competition. That's an approach Vishen Lakhiani, CEO of personal development education company Mindvalley, took.

Several years ago, Lakhiani compared his company to competitors. He realised rivals offer hundreds if not thousands of courses. So Lakhiani and his team culled Mindvalley's courses to approximately 40 and concentrated on promoting those.

"We're not looking to create a library of 10,000 programs. We're looking to create the singular best program in every genre," he says.

"So when you come to us, you know that every minute you spend, you're getting the best training in the best way from the top minds in the industry," he explains.

3. You'll Give Customers What They Want

If you're building an app, product or service, it's easy to cram in every possible feature and create a Frankenstein product.

The unfinished National Health Service “Connecting for Health” software project in the United Kingdom cost more than £12 billion. British member of parliament Richard Bacon called it "one of the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the public sector."

Pocket, on the other hand, enables users to save articles and videos for reading later. Released in 2007, the service claims over 30 million users. According to founder Nate Weiner, Pocket avoids scope creep by focusing on its core mission.

"Are we helping people to actually read and consume the things that they save? How effective are we at that? How do we enable people to consume stories that are worth their time and attention?" he says. "That is really a lot of what we're focused on." 

4. You'll Have More Time Off

Search Instagram for hashtags like hustle, and you'll find millions of entrepreneurs boasting about working eighty- and ninety-hour weeks, but that's an unsustainable way of working long-term.

Entrepreneurs can grow a successful business and still claim time off if they focus on what they love and hand over everything else. That's what Laura Phillips does. She coaches other entrepreneurs how to launch products, services and coaching programs.

"My team are on board to free up my time so I can focus on the things I'm really good at. I have a community mentor who takes on a lot of the small mentorship within my program. And I have a really great assistant called Kate. She takes on a lot of my admin and booking calls and just takes a lot off my plate," says Philips.

"My business model is actually very simple in the whole scheme of things. It's all coaching based. So as long as I'm coaching, my business is growing. That leaves lots of time for fun and travel."

5. You’ll Stand Out From Competitors

Tails.com provides personalized pet food based on a proprietary algorithm. It currently employs 187 people and provides over 9 million individually tailored meals to customers across the United Kingdom and France. The company has grown quickly since its founding in 2014, thanks to focusing on its core group of customers.

“70% of our customers had never bought dog food online before coming to us,” says James Davidson, cofounder and CEO.

“Introducing a 'new normal' and breaking deep-rooted personal habits is a major shift to try and achieve. To do it, we have relentlessly prioritised our product and - crucially - we have learnt that getting the right physical and digital offer means focusing on our customer's current needs first and future ‘wow' second.”

What I’m Reading

The Art of Focus

The Hardest Part About Learning Hard Things

The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail by Oscar Martinez (somebody should send Trump a copy of this book)

How to raise boys in the 21st century (I’m a father to a fourteen-year-old and an eighteen-month old boy)

What I’m Writing

I took time off from writing over the holidays. Services as normal only resumed this week.

Instead, I set goals for 2020. That said, here’s one I published a while ago that readers like.

The Writer's Guide to Self-Editing

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” Zig Ziglar

How to Conquer Overthinking in 4 Easy Steps

Plus How I'm Wrapping Up 2019

Hi there,

This week, I’m tying up loose ends.

Loose ends for the month, the year and the decade.


Writing projects.

A website I’m building

That sort of thing.

Actually, loose ends from the decade is too much to contemplate. I’ve years of journal entries but I’m unsure I’ve the heart to read back on what I was doing in 2010.

Still, I usually spend the break between Christmas day and New Year’s Eve putting the past year behind me and setting goals for 2020.

Most people set goals for a year… or not at all.

I just set goals for three months. That’s long enough to finish a big project, but not so long that I forget what I’m working on or just give up.

Plus every three months feels like a New Year.

So I get to start again.

And fresh starts are fun.

Stay focused.


I’m a Chronic Over-thinker

It comes from my mother I think.

She doesn’t subscribe this newsletter unfortunately… ;)

I lie awake at night, worrying about cash flow and paying the bills. The next morning, I mull over the problem while sitting in traffic on the way to the office.

I read and re-read the same emails wondering what I missed and what I could have said better.

I play out disaster scenarios in my head about my finances, family, work, marriage and business.

And yet, I’ve found a way to manage overthinking.

If you face these problems take heart from John Milton, who said,

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

The good news is these four daily habits will help you solve that problem.

1. Capture It

Your boss asks you to distribute the monthly sales figures by end of the day. Customer support emails to say a big client wants to cancel their contract later this month. A WordPress plugin is slowing down the company website.

It’s only Monday morning, and you’ve a lot going on. No wonder you forget about distributing the sales figures until the drive home that evening.

Writing down new tasks as they occur on a trusted to-do list (or even a Trello board) that you review regularly is the best way to get them out of your head.

This habit will free you from mental baggage, allowing you to refocus on the activity at hand without forgetting anything important later.

2. Meditate

Several years ago, a boss sent me short, sharp email demanding an important report. I reflected on his tone for the entire day without realizing it. That night, I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep.

What had I done to make him angry? Didn’t he know how much work I’ve to do? Would he fire me?

As a chronic over-thinker, I should have meditated for just ten minutes that evening.

According to a 2012 paper by Jaeger and Junze, directing your attention to your mental state often changes that state.

In short, a daily meditation habit will help you witness unproductive thoughts about your work or boss in your mind as they occur.

Once you become aware of these thoughts, choose whether you want to engage with them, act or put them to one side.

3. Reflect

Let’s say you gave an important presentation that didn’t quite convince a boss or would-be client. You could ruminate about it while watching television at home that night or you could put these unproductive thoughts to one side by writing a short journal entry.

Even if you’re not a writer, cultivating a habit of putting thoughts to paper honestly will help you get unproductive thoughts out of your head. Remember, nobody has to read these entries.

So, when five or six o’clock arrives, ask yourself three questions: what worked, what didn’t work and what will I do differently next time?

4. Act

Unless you’re a scientist operating in a laboratory, you’ll never have access to all of the facts and be able to work in perfect conditions.

Be honest with yourself. After a certain point, seeking more information to review is a form of procrastination. Part of a productive workday demands you place that sales call, write the report, deliver the presentation or contact that unhappy customer.

If you’re not in the habit of consistently taking action, pick the three most important items on your to-do list at the end of the workday.

When you begin the following, whatever else happens, ensure you complete these items. You’ll learn more from accomplishing something important, even if you’re late.

Make a Heaven Instead of Hell

Your mind is a powerful tool. Don’t let it work on the wrong things.

When a problem arises at work and you can’t get it out of your head later that night, pick one of the habits above and cultivate it.

Although I’m a chronic over-thinker, I’ve learnt sometimes it’s best just to act.

Far easier to fix a mistake later than live with regrets about squandered opportunities.


What I’m Reading

Why Some People Are Always Running Late

The Highest-Paid YouTube Stars of 2019: The Kids Are Killing It

What I’m Writing

Why am I so completely and totally unproductive when at home sweet home?

How to Come Up With Lots of Ideas… Fast

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” - Neil Gaiman

How To Become More Self-Disciplined

Plus checkout this new model for effective leaders.

Hi there,

I remember the first time I tried to create workout routine. I focused on running.

Day one… this is new, it’s hard, but it’s fun.

Day two… this is just hard, I’m sore and slow.

Day three… I need a day off. It’s Winter, I don’t have time for this.

Day four to seven… Running, what running? Where’s the beer?

Week two… why am I so unfit? Oh yeah…

These days, I train six days a week with the help of the Whoop fitness tracker, but it took a year or two to cement this routine. Now, I can’t imagine a productive day that doesn’t include a workout, which is why inspired this week’s article.

Training consistently taught me some valuable lessons about committing to long-term creative projects like writing a book or even cultivating a meditation habit.

Stay focused,

Bryan Collins

The Power of Self-Discipline

Much like building muscle, self-discipline demands training consistently and with intention.

Your reps could include a word-count, sales calls, pitches, client meetings, laps at the track or sessions at the gym.

Get into a habit of sleeping late, avoiding work, or skipping training, and you’ll loose skills that took months and years to acquire.

It’s easy to feel motivated after eating a nice fillet steak, drinking a beer or watching a commencement speech from Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Gilbert or Jeff Bezos on YouTube. If they did it, so you can you.

Now I wonder what’s on Netflix?

It’s harder to feel motivated early on Monday morning in November when your alarm sounds, and it’s time to hit the gym before a long day in work. A warm bed is much more inviting than a cold bar-bell or a demanding email from a boss or client.

When that happens, remember this quote from Marcus Aurelius (pictured below):

“On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind — I am awakening to the work of a human being. Why then am I annoyed that I am going to do what I’m made for, the very things for which I was put into this world? Or was I made for this, to snuggle under the covers and keep warm? It’s so pleasurable. Were you then made for pleasure? In short, to be coddled or to exert yourself?”

Procrastination Is Part of the Process

It’s natural to procrastinate before a big project. In fact, little moments of procrastination can offer insights into a troublesome creative project or give you time to reflect. Many writers find their best insights when they’re arguably procrastinating by going for a long walk, in the shower or talking with a friend.

Procrastination becomes a real problem if it stops you doing the most important task on your to-do list. It becomes a problem if you put off finishing and shipping your work because you’re insisting on perfection.

The other morning, I’d to prepare slides for a 60-minute webinar. I wasn’t tired, I’d slept well the night before and eaten a bowl of porridge. I was just reluctant to begin. I drank two cups of coffee, cleaned the counters and emptied the bin. I just didn’t want to start.

That said, avoiding work is usually harder in the long run than actually doing it. If I didn’t prepare the slides, I’d have to cancel the webinar. This would disappoint people who registered for the class and probably hit revenue for the month. That’s more painful than an hour or two of work on a random, dreary Wednesday morning.

The same applies to other areas of your life. If you avoid exercising over the long-term, the pay-off will be worse than the effort. When we don’t exercise, we look worse, sleep poorly and feel generally unhealthier.

Consider a difficult task you’ve been putting off. Are you putting in your reps?

What’s the one thing you can do to advance it in some small way. Once you’ve figured that out, work on it for just 120 seconds. In most cases, that’s more than enough momentum to keep going.

Your Reward

Cultivating self-discipline in one area of your life can improve other areas too, much like the investor who folds his or her money back on itself and builds their wealth.

The podcaster and former US marine Jocko Willinck often says discipline equals freedom.

If you’re disciplined with your money, you’re free to choose how you spend your time.

If you’re disciplined with your health, you’re free to choose how you spend your energy.

If you’re disciplined at work, you’re free to choose your next job.

And so on.

When I started long-distance running, turning up at the running track after work felt hard and alien. The cold, dark and wet Irish winter evenings didn’t help. After a few weeks, I found running for five or ten kilometres a good way of running off stress.

After running three and four times a week for a few months, I slept better. It took a few weeks to create that habit, but it was worth it. I’d wake up with more energy, which in turn led me to get more done at work.

Spring had arrived

What I’m Reading

The Influencer and the Hit Man

After 45 Birthdays, Here Are ‘12 Rules for Life’

How Pixar's Animation Has Evolved Over 24 Years, From ‘Toy Story’ To ‘Toy Story 4’ (Ok, watching)

What I’m Writing

The 70/20/10 Model Is Changing What Great Leadership Looks Like

What is the easiest way to build a personal brand?

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” - Abraham Lincoln

The Two Rules Every Creative Should Live By

Find time for both.

Hi there,

A few years ago, I took a Masterclass course by top screenwriter David Mamet.

He gives an interesting piece of advice inside the course. Mamet lives his creative life by two rules.

“You’ve got to do one thing for your art every day, and you’ve got to do one thing for your business every day.”

Since then, I’ve gone out of my way to find out how to put this into practice. This week’s article is about a British entrepreneur who coaches students to do just that. I’ve also linked to some more great advice about this topic.

Stay focused,

Bryan Collins

PS If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please share it with a friend.

How To Work On Your Art And Your Business

Many new creatives spend dozens, if not hundreds, of hours writing a book, recording an album or shooting a film.

After finishing their passion product, they often move onto the next project rather than promoting or selling what they just created. They rail against asking for the sale or claim it will devalue their hard work.

This mindset means the creative doesn't get paid much or at all for their project. As a result, they've less money or time to invest in a new project. Or they might have to find a job unrelated to their passion. Behold the cliché of the starving artist.

On the other hand, successful creative entrepreneurs aren't afraid to ask for the sale. They understand creatives, just like doctors or executives, deserve to get paid. American playwright David Mamet said, "You've got to do one thing for your art every day, and you've got to do one thing for your business every day."

Assuming the creative knows how to write, paint or draw, how exactly can they get started working on their business? 

Laura Phillips is a British entrepreneur who runs Love to Launch. Her business coaches students and clients about how to create, launch and sell online courses, products and services. She says,

"I teach people how to create an experience, an event that people actually want to show up for that gives them a taste of what you're about as a professional.”

Since founding her business in 2017, Phillips has worked with hundreds of students and has partnered with online influencers like Ryan Levesque, Todd Herman and Stu McLaren.

She relies on a team who help her run the business. A community mentor provides support to clients and students, and an executive assistant handles administrative work and booking calls.

Her approach relies on finding prospective customers or clients on Instagram or Facebook and reaching out to them directly.

"I love Instagram for launches actually because you get to start the conversation," she says. "Send a quick voice note to introduce yourself and to get to know people. You could instantly build that relationship."

Create Content Fans Love

Phillips' approach leans heavily on content creation, that is a webinar, video series or a group coaching call. Here, a creative holds a big advantage over other online entrepreneurs. They already know how to make something people enjoy. It's just a matter of presenting their work as an event fans show up for.

"The actual content that we generally put out in launches are a series of trainings, a series of workshops," she says. "So rather than just relying on email, which is more difficult these days, we want to bring in a small group of people and teach them something on a live class."

Phillips helps her students avoid overwhelm by advising them to focus entirely on one platform they feel comfortable with. These days, that's Instagram. She says,

"When it comes to social media, when it comes to lead generation, when it comes to any kind of marketing, if it feels easy, it's going to feel enjoyable. We've all got time throughout our day to take our phone with us and to answer a few direct messages and send a 20-second voice note to someone."

A typical launch–it could be for a book or course–lasts about two weeks. The creative entrepreneur delivers content to his or her fans based on their creative project.

Usually, they deliver this content over group coaching calls or via a webinar. That approach helps them forge a loyal relationship, and it also helps the creative understand more about what his or her audience wants and will pay for.

"You have a week really for delivering content for teaching...creating that experience, building that relationship," says Phillips. "When you move into the second week, it's all about sharing your amazing offer. People who hate selling can do it, because really it's all about showing huge value in advance of asking for the sale."

Once a creative becomes comfortable with helping their audience, asking for the sale will come naturally. After that, they'll have more money to invest in their next creative project, or they'll be free to turn down work that no longer interests them.

What I’m Reading

Why some people are impossibly talented

Boring Makes Money: My 6-Step Daily Routine for Creating a $1 Million+ Website

Frida Kahlo on How Love Amplifies Beauty: Her Breathtaking Tribute to Diego Rivera

What I’m Writing

What are the best careers for creative individuals?

There’s a Big Difference Between Starting and Running a Business

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