- Mohamad Kalaaji
We all achieve in a certain way or another to do the things we always wanted to do in our lives yet there is a small percentage of people who won't do anything at all due to "the fear of starting something"
I get it: it is hard to start something
There is always that fear in doing anything in life whether it is starting a business, studying for a course, or writing an article. It is fine to face this issue because your mind is creating fake scenarios to protect you from the unknown future.
Your mind creates those scenarios to protect you from doing something that would risk your life or current safe position, it is easier to stay in the comfort zone than diving into something you don't know where it is heading towards because you know the scope of your comfort zone and what outcomes it will provide. But not accomplishing this milestone/goal/task will take a toll on you in the future because things would've been better if you did this in the past, hence you try to comfort yourself by thinking that this goal/milestone would have lead you to a worser position if you did it or took that path.
Let's take an example to clarify things: starting your own business. You might be working a 9-5 job and your paycheck is responsible for supporting your family (whether you are living with your parents or living with a partner and your kids), risking yourself to work in a startup that you don't know what it might proceed towards which scares people to begin. Two years passed by and you find your workmate have launched his startup one year ago and it got acquired for a huge sum of money, you start doubting yourself that you would have achieved something similar then you comfort yourself by saying that what happened with this workmate is pure luck and you would have ended up with a huge pile of debt to pay for the next 10 years of your life. You might be wondering: how did that workmate achieve everything while staying in the same dead end job that you have? What makes him/her special?
There is a quote for Søren Kierkegaard in his book "Fear and Trembling" that explains the dilemma that human beings face which philosophers never found a solution for:
“Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it; believe her not, you will also regret it… Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.”
The question: how do they do it?
There is no secret magic spell nor an ancient method to make these milestones a reality. It requires time, effort, and discipline.
The process might look easy on paper but in reality it is not and that is: putting a proper system to structure your life from every aspect possible.
What makes someone stand out from one another is the amount of milestones and tasks done, we might have the same goals as everyone else on this planet but what makes us different is the progress we have done regarding those milestones even if it is small.
Screw motivation and goals
Winners and losers have the same goals but what makes one person different from another is the amount of discipline to do things in life. Motivation is not effective as you would think, it is a driving force but it won't take you throughout the whole journey but it does give a head start. There will be days where you won't even have the will nor power to move forward yet you have to progress towards the end.
Having a defined system that would serve as a guide on what to do might help clarifying your end destination while utilizing your powers on what to focus on.
What is a system in the first place?
A system is a set of tasks and habits you will undergo to achieve several goals/milestones. Even if your goals have changed, your system will perform the same.
It might sound like you are setting goals but it is a step ahead of setting goals, example: In 2020, I wanted to read 52 books in one year. 52 is a large number but 1 year is composed of 52 weeks hence reading 1 book a week can help you achieve that goal. The system I would rely on is setting a task on my calendar and task management app of choice to read 20 to 40 pages everyday for one hour, by time I would have achieved that milestone while doing everything I used to do in my life.
You can define systems to do much more, from reading 52 books a year to coding small amounts of code for your next startup you can achieve several things in life by structuring your day and assign small tasks to help reach a certain milestone. In other words: you are creating habits that would help you achieve several things in life, systems exist to make it easier for you to achieve them while having a record on what you have done bit by bit so that if you tried doubting yourself that you have not achieved your goal, you would have proof and evidence that you did something worth mentioning about.
What I used to structure my systems and track my progress
I used physical notebooks to track everything from tasks, milestones, and habits which I loved doing when I started out but decided to switch towards digital for several reasons:
- Carrying a notebook everywhere might be a drag
- Not accessible anywhere anytime
- Difficult to change once established
I took a risk worth taking and that is I started using Things 3 as my task management app of choice on both my Macbook and iPhone (keep in mind it is vendor locked to the Apple ecosystem and it is pricy but one time payment, you can achieve similar outcome with other apps like Todoist but the one time payment procedure and the app's easy of use bought me instantly). For tracking my habits, I use Timecap (fun fact I got a lifetime pro license for free from the creator where he posted on the /r/productivity subreddit that he is giving away free licenses for being app of the year on all mobile stores).
I have started using digital tools in version 3 of my system, the first two systems were analog on a single notebook.
It was my first attempt creating a system, it was a mess because I didn't know what to do but it was the building block towards pivoting towards refining my system.
I assigned a lot of tasks to do which I ended up not doing any of them except for 1 task: reading 52 books in 1 year. Since I have build my reading habit from 2017, it was easy for me to achieve this task because I have trained my mind to read on a daily basis but I didn't train my mind to read X amount of pages to achieve Y amount of books in a Z timespan.
Upgrading from V1, I realized that assigning tasks in a habitual format might achieve certain milestones and that 52 books reading milestone was proof that habits are the building blocks towards building a system.
I have composed sprints of weekly tasks and habits, each week I would have visibility of what habits I have accomplished and give myself feedback at the end to know if I should focus on certain aspects or skip the habit all together. Each month is composed of 4 weeks and I have manually designed the sprints on a notebook (it took me an entire day to do so)
What made this system achieve poorly is that it was analog, I had to remind myself to open my notebook everyday at night and I have to physically write and check my progress manually hence it was cluttering with multiple pages to scroll through to get a weekly or monthly progress score not to forget that I can skip daily tasks since I can't check my notebook at any given moment.
The difference between V2 and V3 is that it moved from an analog state to digital state. No significant difference between the two at all other than using Things 3 and Timecap instead of a notebook.
What added on top of the system are hourly reminders, filling spots on my calendar automatically, and easy progress tracking where I can search and filter in mere seconds.
I didn't migrate the weekly sprints method because I thought it was a hassle to do so, and thought that the automation system can create a virtual version of the sprints composition.
In the middle of 2021 and after seeing that the majority of the tasks I have assigned to myself are not bringing any benefits, I faced a vicious burnout that took 2 months to get over half of it.
What I realized that although the tasks I have assigned to myself are small and easy to do but seeing 25+ tasks on your system makes it hard to begin working with. You face an issue that you don't know where to start and what task is more important than the other (it is known as the paradox of choice).
The upgrade from V3 to V4 was huge, the task list have dropped from 25+ tasks to 6 tasks that highlight the most important tasks that I have to focus on. The inspiration came from Greg Mckeown's books Essentialism and Effortless where you focus on doing the things that are essential to move forward while doing it in an effortless state.
V5 is an interesting upgrade because it focuses on tracking progress on a different level and forces to be clear on the intentions in doing certain things. Inspired by James Clear's book Atomic Habits, the upgrade was crucial to understand where I am going towards. James explains that we don't lack motivation but we lack clarity, a lot of changes needed to be done to go with this road.
What happened in V4 is that I would put my habits on my digital tools and track them but without any source of clarity to see where I am heading towards. Example: writing 1000 words a day through a blogpost or article, although the habit is formed yet what is the purpose of writing in the first place? Why am I doing this? What benefits it will bring?
Another problem spotted in V4 is how much time a task should take, where it should happen, and for how many days. I would put a task and assign an hour for it by default but what if there is an optimal way to do my tasks with the least amount of time possible?
V5 takes an approach I took in V2 that was sprints composition but it is refined than before:
- Milestones: The things that I want to achieve in a certain year, it is marked as "2022 Milestones"
- Quarterly Sprints: after setting milestones, I cut the year into 4 quarterly sprints that take 3 months to achieve then cut your milestones to fit in those 3 month based sprints, then you give yourself feedback at the end of the process. example: in Q1 I will read 20 books, write 20 blogposts, and read 10 research papers.
- Monthly Sprints: since each quarterly sprint takes 3 months to achieve, you cut down the 3 month sprint tasks to monthly tasks which makes the process smaller and smaller, then you would give feedback to yourself at the end of the process. example: read 4 books, write 4 blogpost, and read 2 research papers
- Weekly Sprints: you cut down the monthly tasks to by-weekly tasks where you assign tasks to achieve in each week, you give a weekly review and feedback on yourself and if any issues happened then you can fix the issue or pivot to a better solution that can affect future weekly sprints. Example: read 1 book, write 1 blogpost, and read half of the research paper
V5 takes something from V4 and that is: assigning what is essential. Since I have cleared things up by setting my yearly milestones, I can focus on the essential things to do and can give better judgement on whether I can do extra tasks like freelance work or fun activities. The whole idea is to make those essential tasks look effortless while creating habits that can make me do things on autopilot mode (not full autopilot mode but I won't be exerting brain power on things that can be automated)
The end goal
Alright we did the structure and assigned what to do in a year, what is the whole purpose of doing this entire process in the first place?
As I mentioned before that everyone on this planet including myself want to do something worth achieving and worth taking pride in. Whether it is having your own company, being listed on Forbes 30 under 30 for being a successful entrepreneur, becoming a celebrity, and much more. Everyone on this planet wants to contribute in any sort or way but not everyone have enough discipline and guidance towards achieving something.
Imagine yourself stuck in the same dead end job for 10 years, is this how you would inspire others towards? Is this what you want your children to take inspiration from? Live a life that you would work till death? I would not deny that it can be a good life to live but eventually your life will come to end, why not do something that you would take pride in?
The latin phrase "Memento mori" which translates to "remember we must die" exists for a reason, it wasn't used by the Stoics for no reason at all. Remember that you will eventually die at the end at any given moment, why delaying things till the end when today can be your last day on this planet?
We all have problems in our lives (even myself) but that doesn't justifies the reason we should quit the things we want to do like that. Friedrich Nietzsche quoted it from his repeated enthusiasm and ideas that was mentioned as "Amor Fati" which is treating each and every moment — no matter how challenging — as something to be embraced, not avoided.