Many of us have hobbies we want to practice, activities we want to do, or areas we want to improve on in our lives. We may want to give each of these areas equal importance. Do we have enough time each day to devote to exploring every single one?
It may make sense to try to work on everything at once. Work on a little here, little there… and spreading yourself thin. But be warned, cramming everything in is a sure way to not see measurable results in any area.
How do I know this? I’ve tried it. I’ve worked on many things at once, and I only created disappointment, more stress, and no results.
My favorite pastime is to observe others. As a keen observer, I’ve noticed something with people working on multiple interests, a job, and other everyday commitments. They do make progress, but the progress is marginal in each area.
With so many options and a limited amount of time each day, which activity do we work on first so we can see progress? What do we work on next?
Selecting the activity with leverage
To determine the activity, I look for an activity with leverage. It’s simple: What can I focus on now that will have a bigger impact later? An activity that has geometric impact (2 x 3 x 4) versus arithmetic impact (2 + 3 + 4)?
The is where the domino concept comes in: Finding the one activity you can work on that will move other interests forward.
Let’s start with a visual: a domino knocking over another domino. Thanks to physics, we know that a domino has the energy to knock over another domino that is 1.5 times larger than it. See it here:
This video is a demonstration shows how one small domino generates enough energy to topple much larger dominoes. If we apply this concept as a personal strategy, the domino chain represents how concentrating energy on one activity can help “knock over” the next.
Many years ago, Ivy Lee taught Charles Schwab a simple but powerful technique that uses this domino effect.
Lee instructed Schwab to pick the most important tasks for his day. Next, Schwab had to rank the tasks. The first task was the most important task, with this task having the most impact. That task received Schwab’s full focus until completion. Only when he completed the first task could he move onto the second task.
By following this strategy every day, the most important task would always be completed. Even if it was the only task completed that day, it would pay dividends the next day. The “main domino” would be knocked over with the momentum moving Schwab’s company forward.
In five years Schwab’s company, Bethlehem Steel, became the largest independent producer of steel in the world.
Conquering the most important task first paid off.
Even without giant dominoes, we can take the concept and move it from the world of science to our everyday life.
The steps are easy. Figure out which task will have the most impact even if it’s the only thing you do today. By completing only this task, that energy will carry over to the next domino and create a cascading effect.
String a bunch of those days together, and, over time, anyone could knock over some huge dominoes.
Recognizing the Right Dominoes
Picking dominoes is not always easy since not all dominoes have equal impact. Good dominoes are tasks that contribute to a bigger goal. These tasks are usually challenging and require a chunk of time and focus to complete.
If you’re focused on the right dominoes, these will have a positive ripple effect in the future.
As an example, the process of working on a financial plan could be broken down into several good dominoes. These dominoes may include outlining your finances, creating a financial plan, and executing that plan. Each part of this process could be its own domino, making the subsequent steps in the process more manageable.
When I made my financial plan, I created spreadsheets, analyzed past spending, and came up with ways to track future spending.Each day I worked on putting this together, I had more information than I did the day before. Over time, I gained a better financial “picture” of my income and spending.
Once you build a financial plan, the rest becomes easy. You check in with the plan a few times a month to determine if positive financial progress is being made… or not. Adjust the plan when necessary. Keep up with the plan over time, and the benefits will show. The momentum carries forward.
Building a financial plan has future benefits. It offers leverage. It moves other interests forward by helping you save and invest. It’s a series of important tasks to consistently focus on that will enhance your future.
Compare creating a financial plan to a task with less impact: processing email. Many people I know start their day processing email. I’m guilty of this too. Email is sometimes given greater importance when compared to harder, but more important projects.
Knocking out email won’t have a long-term impact. Email may feel good when it’s done, but the feeling is fleeting. Emails always pile up again.
One thing I’ve learned over the last few years: There’s no problem with putting email off for a bit. It’s a task that has some daily impact, but negligible long-term impact when compared to other tasks or projects. Not to mention, starting your day with email is spending good brain power on a task that doesn’t deserve it. Use that brain power for the big dominoes.
The Importance of Choosing the Right Dominoes
Hopefully, the email example above emphasizes the importance of choosing what to spend time on. The activity has to be the right activity to create the domino effect we are looking for.
Unlike the dominoes in the video, the tasks we choose do not need to knock over something 150% larger. The world doesn’t work like dominoes. Seeing a 1% improvement day after day will do.
Looking to increase the impact of the domino? Choose an activity that could “knock over” multiple areas. Much like real dominoes, you can use one domino to knock over two:
If you can, look at using that first domino to create a cascading effect into other areas.
Let’s go back to the example of building a financial plan. It could show your past spending, allowing you to predict future expenses. Seeing this spending, you may realize there’s an area where you can save, allowing you to invest.
Of course, none of this happens overnight. However, the impact over time can be huge.
Ask yourself: Out of all the things you want to do, what you I build, do, or create that would make things easier down the road? What can you invest time into for the next year or more that would have returns in many of the areas you want to improve in your life? What would impact your long-term goals?
What would be the domino that can help knock over other dominoes?
Breaking Down Areas of Focus
We all have areas that are important to us. These are things we want to do, learn, create, or invest our time into. To make this strategy more effective, we can break down our areas of focus to determine what to work on first.
Over the years, I’ve had a number of areas that were important:
Being self-sufficient means having income sources created by me. These could be investments, services, products, or other items that create income. I don’t count a paycheck from a job in this category.
If an employer lays me off, the goal would be to survive without that job. I’ve been laid off on three different occasions, so this is a major event worth planning for. There is nothing worse than knowing you can be laid off again. Plus, scrambling to find an income source sucks.
Making connections with people
People are amazing. Meeting people, getting to know them, understanding what they do, and learning what is motivating to them is something I enjoy. If they are doing interesting things and challenging themselves, that’s even better. I’d like to create better connections by offering direction, education, inspiration, or other guidance. However I do it, I want for people to be a focus of mine.
Music is something I’ve been wanting to work on for years, and I’ve always put it off. It’s been fifteen or more years since I have wanted to get back into music. It makes me sad to think that I have put off something for that long, and I’d like to start back up again.
Building another business
A big project I’d like to focus on is creating another business. My first business was a publishing business. After ramping it up, I began understanding which parts of the business I enjoyed doing. I liked collaborating with creative people and providing employment. Offering customers something they found value in and were willing to purchase was wonderful. The whole process allowed me to grow in many areas of my life.
After an unfortunate glitch occurred, I stopped publishing new material. However, getting a taste of having my own business and time freedom for over three years was nothing short of amazing.
Writing for others is another thing I have been putting off. Since May of 2015, I’ve journaled, on average, three pages per day. This daily habit of journaling has given me plenty of private practice. Now that I’m a little more comfortable, I want to start publishing what I write.
What to pick first?
What to pick for the leading domino?
There’s a part of me that thinks I can be an overachiever. That part thinks I can focus on all these areas at once and be successful at it. I’ve tried doing everything at once. It’s a perfect recipe for not getting much done in any category.
Creating a business, writing, exploring a hobby, connecting with people, helping/supporting people… all while having a day job on top of it. How can I get it all done? What can I do first, second, third?
I can’t work on all of these areas at once while retaining my sanity, my girlfriend, and my job.
With all I want to do, the lead domino had to have a long-term impact, maximizing the input of my time and effort. Focusing on this lead domino should make projects after this one easier. This domino could create value for people, creating opportunities later.
After narrowing down my list of choices, I determined my lead domino was writing.
Picking writing from the list of choices wasn’t something I came up with in an hour. It wasn’t an epiphany I had. This decision was the result of a long period weighting in the many pros and cons of this choice.
Writing was something that I wanted to do for some time, and it kept coming to the surface of my mind. It fit everything I wanted to do now and in the future, and would (hopefully) make my future goals easier.
Writing would be the lead domino that would help me knock over the next dominoes.
Breaking Down the Lead Domino
I thought of how writing could impact each of the areas I want to focus on now and in the future. Here’s how I broke it down:
Making connections with people
If I publish my work and someone finds, reads, and enjoys my ideas, I connect with them by providing value. Perhaps the reader will get in touch with me, or leave a comment on what I’ve written. Each read, comment or message is a connection with someone.
When talking with people in person, I like to make their life a little better if I can. I look to offer information, a lesson they can use, inspiration to do what they have been putting off, or motivation. If I succeed at this, I feel like I made my little impact on the world.
What if I help people on a greater scale by writing what I know and sharing it? The possibility of providing value to more people outside of one-on-one interactions is exciting.
The best part about writing is that I don’t have to be present with someone to make an impact. Publishing an article gives the opportunity for a person to receive value from me even while I am not physically present.
I’d love to pursue a hobby such as music at some time in the future. Once that’s underway, I can share the lessons from my experience.
Sharing what worked for me and what didn’t work can help others get up to speed more quickly. My missteps can show what may be good to avoid, my successes can show what might be good to try. Someone else could try these, perhaps achieving similar results. Or, someone could improve on what I’ve already done and share it, making an even better version of what I’ve done.
Showing my work as I go could attract others with similar interests. Maybe discussions can start around these interests. If there are discussions about what I’m working on, perhaps questions will arise about the process. More questions will allow me to go deeper into areas of that topic, sharing more of what I know… Or discovering more of what I don’t know.
Being self-sufficient and showing others how to do it
There’s nothing worse than getting laid off from a job. Having your primary source of income, which you and your family rely on, stripped from you. Even the possibility of a layoff is scary.
Knowing you can survive a layoff and not have to scramble to find work is empowering.
A layoff could come from a multitude of places. Your company gets acquired. Someone above you makes a costly decision. A key customer that provides a disproportionate amount of your company’s revenue stops paying. Piss someone off the wrong way and they’ll find a reason to can you.
While working a previous job I built a business on the side just in case something happened to my job. It was my “plan B.” Eventually I was laid off and my “plan B” was now upgraded to my “plan A.” My side business became my full-time business which I ran for three years after that.
Those three years working for myself were still filled with challenges. Some of those challenges were bigger than any challenges I worked on for others. The difference was, those challenges were now my own challenges. I welcomed them, and they helped me grow in amazing ways.
Through writing, I could meet others who could be out of work in the near future. I could offer hope to those who are presently laid off.
Maybe I could show how to start working on a “plan B” as insurance against layoffs.
Building a business (or businesses)
Providing more value increases the chances of connecting with others. More connections could allow me to determine what other needs people have. This creates the opportunity to offer other ways to help.
There are many forms of help. It could be a video, an article, a course, one-on-one support, a book, or some other form. This could become a business over time. Or, someone else could have a product or service they have developed that I could help build with them. There’s no way of knowing what this looks like yet.
The main focus: Always work to create a ton of value first to see what creates a conversation around it. Only after that can a business be discovered.
Adding value is the key and always needs to be one of the leading things I do.
There’s a Risk to Writing… Or Any Activity
Investing time and effort into writing is a risk. There’s no guarantee investing this time will have any direct pay off, leaving my future dominoes standing. While this would be a bummer, it’s easy to recover from. All that would need to be done is reassess and rethink what I should be working on, then switch gears.
Of course, all this exposure to writing could change my attitude towards it. I could stop at some point. Life events could throw me for a loop and my trajectory might change.
The only way to figure out if writing is worth it is to invest the time. If it doesn’t pan out the way I hope, it’s not time lost — it’s time invested in making me a better writer.
The benefit of investing the time into knocking this domino over outweighs the cost. If it works out, the cost of time invested will have many associated returns.
Now that I’ve told you what my lead domino is and why I chose it, it’s your turn: what’s yours?