Every day you make thousands of choices about how you are going to spend the most precious resources you have.
This is something that may seem simple to you, but it isn’t. If we knew and actually paid attention to this, most of our lives would look very different.
The quality of life you want for yourself ultimately comes down to how you allocate these three resources: How you spend your time, where you direct your energy, and what you give your attention to.
Show me how you do those things today, and I’ll tell you exactly what your life will look like in the future.
Time is the most valuable asset you have. It’s a non-renewable resource you can never get back. At my very first internship at a startup, the CFO asked me, “Why do you want to make a lot of money?” As a 20-year-old, I rattled off the list of luxuries I was imagining (Ferraris, McMansions, jets, etc). He said, “You’re wrong. What money buys is time. Time is what’s really valuable.”
Yet people wait to start a business, a project or pursue a dream as if they have all the time in the world. They waste time doing things they hate or suck at doing. They think there’s some mythical date in the future when the conditions will be perfect; the stars will align;, and they’ll have enough money in the bank or time to spend on their art. But the only thing that changes when you wait is that time passes.
A lot of people thought it was insane to work on the Unmistakable Creative despite my student loan debt. But if I hadn’t done that, I’d be sitting in a cubicle somewhere on the verge of getting fired from yet another job.
When Seth Godin went to his business school reunion, people said they were wanting to start a business, but still waiting for the right idea 35 years later.
The alternative to waiting is to do something today you’ll be glad you did a year or 10 years from now. Don’t underestimate the power of starting small. It’s the little things we do repeatedly that lead to big changes in our lives. And remember, whatever you say you don’t have time for is not a priority.
It’s showing up to write 1000 words a day for 10 years that lead me to write 2 books. But day-to-day, you just seem like a lunatic sitting around in your pajamas, typing, and telling people to shut up because you’re working.
But, it doesn’t matter who you are. If you have a career in the arts, people will never stop asking you about getting a real job, or a part-time job, etc, etc.
If you start a business, nobody will take you seriously until the rest of the world does. Even then, you’ll spend your whole life explaining yourself to family members, future in-laws, etc, etc who will say, “What do you do exactly?”
Some of them will call it a waste of your education, but those same people will congratulate you when you have some degree of success. That’s when you slowly start crossing people off the guestlist for the wedding you haven’t planned yet.
People will only see that fact that you appear to be struggling, directionless, and wasting your time on something where the trajectory isn’t linear. All of this is part of the process, that eventually leads to making your ideas happen.
Don’t let people who won’t ever live with the consequences of your choices determine how you spend your time. It’s YOU who goes to the job you hate. It’s YOU who gets the joy of creating art for an audience or millions of audience. It’s YOU who gets to live your one and only life.
Throughout your life, people will break your heart, let you down, and turn out to be not the great friends you thought they were. And you’ll do these things to other people as well. It’s the fatal flaw of our humanity. As Janelle Hanchett says, “Eventually, I’m going to disappoint you because I’m human.”
You can put your energy into things you can’t control. You can use it to air your grievances and plot your revenge against the people who hurt you. Or you can choose forgiveness, which will set you free. You can put your energy into things that move you forward like doing work you’re proud to put your signature on, laughing until you cry, making great friends, and living a life full of intention, meaning, and purpose.
You can put your energy into your health, what you eat, how much you sleep, and how much you exercise. When you invest your energy into these things, over a long enough timeline it will compound. You’ll show up as the best possible version of yourself.
Remember that everything you fight has power over you. Everything you accept doesn’t. As Robert Greene writes in The 50th Law, “It might seem that intense feelings of love, hate, or anger can be used to impel you forward on some project, but that is such an illusion. Such emotions give you a burst of energy that falls quickly and leaves you as low as you were high.”
This doesn’t mean we don’t stand up for what we believe in and fight back when people do wrong by us. It means picking our battles, many of which are not worth wasting the precious resources of our life.
Your energy is a precious resource. You can spend it nursing the injustices of your life, the broken hearts, the bad hands you’ve been dealt, the asshole who cuts you off in traffic, judgmental friends and family members. Or you can put that energy toward making all your dreams come true. The first is a waste of time. The second is time well-spent.
Attention is the currency of achievement. It determines the state of our lives, and is under constant assault from social media, idiots on the internet, inboxes, text messages, pings, pops, buzzes and bullshit.
If there’s one resource you should be relentless and ruthless with, it’s your attention. Think of your attention as a bank balance. Every day, you wake up with attention that you can spend. When you spend it on sources of distraction, it’s a bit like getting lap dances at a strip club. 20 bucks doesn’t seem like much until you’re on the 10th one and you’ve just spent 200 dollars.
Of all the things that will transform the quality of your life, improving the ability to manage your attention is at the top of that list. If there’s something more important you should be doing than reading this, close the tab. I won’t be offended. I’ll take that as a compliment because my words have inspired action on your part.
Our inability to manage our attention causes us to suffer in so many ways. Scrolling through our newsfeeds, looking at highlight reels of other people’s lives, we’re filled with envy, comparison, and anxiety. Swiping right, we put coin after coin into the dating app slot machine, with the occasional win. We lose focus on what’s great about our own lives because everybody else seems so much better. We forget that nobody on the internet is living the lives we think they are.
But when we focus on cultivating depth and presence, we show up differently for the people in our lives. We learn to embrace solitude and make meaningful progress on things that matter to us. We thrive personally, professionally, and spiritually.
If you want to improve your attention span, start by reducing the competition for it. If it’s not relevant to the task at hand, remove it from your environment. Drown out the sound with some noise cancellation headphones. And design an environment that’s free of distractions.
Your time, energy, and attention are the most valuable resources you have. You can use these resources to make more money. But you can’t use your money to make more of these resources. In the movie Meet Joe Black, Anthony Hopkins has a 65th birthday (like the kind I hope to have), and he stands in front of everybody and says, “65 years. Don’t they go by in a blink.”
When I see my parents on weekends, birthdays, and special occasions, I can’t help but wonder if seeing me and my sister, they look at us and think, “They’re all grown up, in the blink of an eye.”
Don’t waste your time. Give your energy to what matters. Pay attention to things and the people you care about.
Gain an Unfair Creative Advantage
I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.)