The Joy of Creating for an Audience of None

I walked through our front door and found my 5-year-old quietly drawing at our kitchen table. 

I wanted to join him. 

But since he was biting his tongue clearly lost in concentration — and remembering how much I hate it when people bother me when I’m in the “biting-tongue” zone — I opted for silence. 

Every few minutes though, curious as to what he was so obsessed with, I walked past him to sneak a peak. 

“Is that a yellow cow?” I thought to myself only seeing partial snippets. “Or maybe it’s an overweight cheetah?”

When the tongue-biting was finally done, I went over to him and said, “That’s super cool, what is it?”

The next words that came out of his mouth leveled me. 

With the exception of the time he scored a goal on me and then proceeded to moon me, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder to be his dad. 

“I’ve never seen a giraffe without a neck before,” he said, “and I wanted to see one — so I drew one.”

Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with advice to write for our readers. 

To put our audience first.
To imagine just one person.
To give them what they want. 

Maybe it’s because I’m biased— but aren’t my kid’s words a helluva lot more inspirational and even more fun?

Quietly scratching your own itch.
Quietly defining your own lines. 
Quietly making the stuff you want to see in the world. 

We live in a beautiful time where we can make a living creating online. But my kid’s words serve as a powerful reminder of the value of making stuff for an audience of none.

To let it rip. 
To make first and breathe later.
To be completely free.

Looking back, the one thing that all my favorite creations have in common is I treated my curiosity as my only responsibility. 

I couldn’t not write them.
No audience in mind.
Just me. 

My feelings.
My thoughts.
My stories.

I got so obsessed with the self-expression I bit my tongue like I didn’t need it later for dinner — and didn’t stop chomping on it until it was done.

No polish.
Zero packaging.

glass of water
A giraffe without a neck.

The beauty of creating stuff for a living is we get to follow our nose until we don’t have a nose left to follow. 

Steal a line from my kid and chase your nose wherever it goes. 

Allow yourself to get lost and don’t stop creating until you’re found. 

Curiosity is a word that was meant to be followed.

Like my mom said, “It keeps us interested. It makes us interesting. No matter our age, it keeps us young.

Thank you for reading.
Make the art you want to see in the world.
Everyone else’s is already taken. 
 — Michael

22 Lessons on Life, Love, and Choosing What Matters Most

“Most people spend the first half of their lives collecting and the second half choosing what to keep. Now that you’re closing in on the top of the hill, which lessons learned and pieces of advice do you plan to always carry with you?”

A friend asked me this question on my 38th birthday. At the time, I didn’t have a good answer.

Looking back, that played a big role in why I decided to write as realizing I was still lost after 13,879 days of walking didn’t feel good.

Six years have passed since that conversation — high school and half of college. During that time, I’ve published 300+ articles, many of which are rooted in weeding out what matters from what doesn’t.

It’s helped.

I’ve spent the majority of 2022 offline because my eyes began to hurt. But I’ve been listening and taking notes. Here are 22 lessons the world — and the good people I’m lucky to have along with me for the ride — have taught me that I plan to carry with me from this past year.

1. The importance of play increases with age

“You don’t burn out from working too much. You burn out from worrying too much.” My friend Jeanette said that. It hit me hard.

2022 rained stress from all major corners of my life. The days I felt good though, were when I got outside and kicked a ball, chased my kids, or got kicked by my kids while chasing a ball.

That was my daily homework — fight to find pockets of fun.

Like relationships, the importance of play increases with age.

2. Choose the kind of noise you want in your life

When visiting my family, my kids were jetlagged and made a raucous at my parent’s house before the roosters woke up. When I apologized, my mom and dad said something that made a lot of sense — “It’s great noise!”

The world is loud and shows little sign of quieting down.

You get to choose the soundtrack to your life.

Get clear on what you define as the right kind of noise.

3. Listen to the teaching, not the teacher

My friend Conor made a video about this idea. Like him, I tend to think advice needs to come from someone who’s walked the path I want to go down, knows me inside and out, or has spent years studying a topic.

But that holds us back from interesting takes from surprising places. Good ideas come from everywhere. If something speaks to you, thank the person for sharing it and take it with you.

4. You’re allowed to disappear

“Your writing is a reflection of your living. Throw yourself into something else. You’re allowed to disappear.”

A friend said this when we were talking about the reality of making a pro-longed living online. I followed his advice. I threw myself into a ton of new situations. I taught a bunch at universities. I went from not knowing how to write books to helping three people who are doing a lot of good in the world finish theirs. I was finally able to travel home to see people I care about who have health issues. I fulfilled a life-long dream of buying a fixer-upper on the Mediterranean to hopefully watch my kids grow up in.

The best writing, or art of any kind, creates human connections. And that becomes harder and harder to do if you don’t prioritize connecting with actual humans — and that includes time with yourself.

The online world isn’t going anywhere.

If you need to, opt-out.

You’re allowed to disappear.

5. If you want to change the world, care for five people

The best moments of my life happened when I chose to keep my world small. That, and when I didn’t have my phone.

Ask yourself who you’re grateful for. But don’t stop there. Take it one step further by asking yourself the exact people you want to say your name when they’re asked who they’re grateful for.

  • Close your eyes and zero in on the five people who matter most to you.
  • Breathe them in until you can see every line on each of their faces.

This simple flip will give you tremendous clarity on what you need to do to ensure the people you love, love you back. 

6. Strength is saying “I’m scared”

My youngest kid has never been a fan of sleeping. But instead of waking up having to pee or because he wants to play, recently, it’s been because he’s scared.

One groggy morning, I complained to my wife about this. “Don’t we want our kids to tell us when they’re scared?” she replied.

Like Charlie Maksey alluded to in his hit book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse, “help” is the bravest word we can say.

7. The secret to a long life is found in differences

As you get older, the more the days begin to bleed into each other. To live a long life, you need to unlock new worlds. The fastest way to do this is by spending time with people who don’t look, think, or act like you.

Getting to know other people’s stories will always be the best way to better write our own.

8. Being unassuming is a superpower

“I wanted to speak up when clients thought one of the taller or more vocal members of my team was the owner of my company. But I learned early in my career just how powerful being unassuming can be. People speak freely with me. It builds trust. If you prioritize learning one skill, focus on suspending your ego.”

My friend Kevin Ervin Kelley, AIA said that.

He’s a good guy.

The world needs more people who don’t lead with their titles or feel the need to tell people how important they are.

9. True freedom isn’t tied to money

True freedom is much simpler than that. True freedom is having the courage to be yourself — while working to develop the stones to continually bet on yourself.

Money comes and goes. That curly-haired money-hungry vegan in the Bahamas is a good example of that. Plus, it has a funny way of chaining people to the pursuit of more, more, more forgetting that golden handcuffs are still handcuffs.

Follow people who can teach you to be monetarily wealthy if that’s your thing. 

But don’t forget to also develop into the type of person who stays true to yourself if you lose it.

10. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast

My wife took things slow when we moved this past summer. I didn’t. A month later, she was chipping away in our new apartment with a smile on her face, while I was laid up in bed with a thrown-out back.

Being a military brat, I often heard the phrase, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” This summer while reading my friend Benjamin Sledge’s debut (incredible) book, “Where Cowards Go to Die,” I came across it again.

Then I looked at my wife.

And then I looked back at myself.

And then I thought, “Huh.”

11. The sole purpose of finding your power is to share that power with others

My friend Kim said that.

I wish more people thought like that.

I wish more people acted like that.

12. The words we read become the world we see

Environment affects behavior. This is not only true regarding our physical world, but also the online one. If you’re surrounding yourself with messages and attitudes that bring you down twenty-five hours a day, change your diet.

This is not the same as ignoring the problems in the world. 

It means you pick your battles. 

Use what pisses you off as fuel to right what you feel is wrong with the world. Just make a point not to drown yourself in it because the world has buckets of it. 

Activism demands focused action.

13. You can never tell someone how much they mean to you enough

This past year I taught a lot of shy and reserved people storytelling and public speaking skills. Months later, a few students told me that even though they have a lot of teachers, I was their teacher.

That one sentence — which took them a few seconds to say — keeps me going.

Pick up the phone.
Physically write a letter.
Go see people in person.

Silent gratitude is selfish.

If you appreciate someone, tell them.

14. The best decisions are those that create the most future options

I’ve had to navigate situations of late where there wasn’t a positive outcome. Choosing between two negatives sucks. But when it happens, train yourself to map out which one could potentially create the most future options.

Then remind yourself that decisions are defined by what you do after making them.

15. Being welcoming is a seriously attractive quality

Having recently moved, I was back to having to make new friends again. I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve lived in a dozen different places, but asking people I don’t know to hang out still terrifies me.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to make the first move as a few people at our kid’s school went out of their way to make my wife and me feel included.

We all feel like outsiders at some point in our lives. Few qualities are more attractive than going just a little out of your way to make other people feel comfortable.

16. If you want to know how you feel about someone, say goodbye

Want clarity on who you want in your life? Imagine your life without them.

Sounds morbid, but give it a shot.

  • Who are the first people you reached out to when covid came on the scene?
  • Who are the handful of people you drop whatever you’re doing when they call?
  • Who are the people you never want to say goodbye to?

Hold these people tight.

We don’t always get to choose the last time we get to say goodbye, but in the meantime, we do get to choose how often we say hello.

17. Like the best stories, the best friendships are full of challenges

Some of my closest friends are people I have consistent fun with. But for the most part, my closest friends are the ones who’ve stuck with me when others would have bailed and vice versa.

Challenges tie people together. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that when things are going wrong, very few people do everything right. Cut people some slack. It’s in doing hard things and sticking by people during hard times that creates meaning.

If you felt like you weren’t there for a friend when they needed it in the past, apologize and don’t make the same mistake in the future.

Like most of these points, this one is just as much for me as it is for you.

18. Discover people for yourself

This past year I’ve gotten to know a few people who I was initially skeptical of because of something I read online. 

It turns out, some of these same people have been amazing at checking in on me and my family at times when I needed it and have been generous without asking for anything in return. 

I’m glad I suspended judgment long enough to get to know these people for myself. 

There are parts of all of our stories that don’t represent our entire story.

19. There’s a lot of value in imagining a beautiful future

My wife said that. It came up when discussing how most films of the future are dystopian in nature — the world is burning, everything is on fire, and everyone is against each other.

Take the time to imagine a bright future. 

And I’m not talking about envisioning your ideal future self — but your ideal future society.

A future with hope.
A future where people think of others.
A future rooted in community.

It’s hard to build the future we want to see if we don’t know what that looks like.

20. Enjoy the benefits of age(s)

I’ve never been someone who’s looked forward to getting older. But this past year, I felt a shift and I began to embrace middle age. And the primary reason for this is I’m surrounded by age groups that define the entire human experience.

  • My kids teach me the value of patience and how to find a reason to laugh after crying. 
  • My thirty-year-olds friends teach me about how to navigate the new world we live in. 
  • My sixty-year-olds friends teach me about the parts of the old world that are worth keeping. 
  • My eighty-year-old parents and friends teach me about what really matters. 

No matter your age, spend time with people younger and older than you.

They’ll teach you how to better see the world. 

21. Lead through storytelling

Halfway through a project I was working on this past year, the 88-year-old founder of the company I was doing work for, passed away. I never got a chance to meet the man, but the design firm that contracted me told me loads about him. The one that stuck with me the most though was his ability to lead through storytelling. 

Whether you’re a corporate leader, start-up founder, parent, teacher, or any other kind of leader, steal this philosophy. 

When someone screws up, set your baseline to talk about a time you did too. 

When times are tough, set your baseline to talk about other challenges you or other people have been through. 

When times are good, share the stories of those who made that happen.

Stories are the world’s strongest bridge. Collect yours. But don’t only do it for yourself, do it to let others know they aren’t alone.

22. Never leave a bedtime story unfinished

Speaking of stories, my proudest accomplishment this year is even if my kids fell asleep before I was finished reading their bedtime story, no matter how tired or stressed I was, I read every word anyway.

My kids go to bed with a belly full of stories. And I go to bed knowing I’m the type of person who doesn’t cut corners on the things that matter most.

Choose one thing you have total control over and do it exceedingly well.

Actually, screw that. 

Just choose a life of stories. 

Thank you for reading.
My best to you and yours.
 —  Michael

The Future Belongs to Storytellers - Here Are 9 Ways for Your Stories to Beat the Machines

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.” 

I don’t accept the entire gospel of Steve Jobs. But when it comes to the words above, I couldn’t agree more. Storytellers were viewed as community leaders in the past as they sat around the fire entertaining and educating their people about the worries and wonders of the world.

And the same holds true today. 

If you can learn how to tell your story in a way that makes people want to follow your flag — or better yet, carry it with you — there’s little you can’t do.

Stories are the great human connector. There is no stronger bridge. Memorable storytellers come in all shapes and sizes. But when you clear and smoke and noise, the best ones do one thing really well — they’ve mastered the sticky mix of bravery and vulnerability. 

If you can let people see you’re the type of person who faces challenges and is strong enough to realize you can’t do it alone, it’s only a matter of time before your own stories begin to fly.

Growing up as a shy kid with a severe stutter, I’ve witnessed first-hand how transformational learning to tell personal stories can be. At first, I was scared to write them and even more petrified to share them. But they not only helped me find my people, after only a few years of honing the skill, I now teach storytelling at universities and coach higher-ups at places known for storytelling like IDEO and Apple.

If you’re interested in writing stories that create human connections, here are nine of the dozens of tips and tricks I’ve picked up since choosing a life of stories.

When I began writing, I was eager to share my big stories — the ones that defined my life. 

But I quickly realized I only had so many of them to tell and my “micro-stories” — the ones that defined my daily human experience — oftentimes created a stronger connection with readers as they found them more relatable.

Anytime you come across something interesting that connects with you on a personal level or makes you go “hmmm” throughout the day, it’s your job to write it down. 

  • It could be a realization you had while watching your kids play
  • Or a quirky thing your partner does. 
  • Or something a friend or family member did or said that made you feel an emotion that wasn’t there earlier or allows you to see the world from a different angle.

You can even form the daily habit of jotting down one childhood memory or simply write one thing you learned each day so when you sit down to write you have a few starting points to play with. 

Much like a Margherita pizza, this piece of advice is a classic for a reason, it works. 

The quality of your stories is a direct reflection of the quality of your collection. 

When I began writing, a friend recommended above each draft I placed the words — “What do I want people to do after reading this story?”

Though valuable in its own right, lasting connections didn’t begin to form until I mixed the question up and asked myself — “What do I want people to feel when reading this story?”

Human beings are emotional creatures. We love to have our feelings stoked and our heartstrings tugged. 

Before writing your first word, zero in on the emotions you are looking to elicit from readers and take a moment to relive the experience so you too are fully emersed in this emotional state.

While editing his articles, my friend Niklas Göke reads his draft from the perspective of “Am I hitting the emotions I’m looking to hit?” 

It’s not a coincidence that he’s one of the most loved writers around.

My friend Conor Neill said something that made a lot of sense — “Human beings don’t resist change, they resist being changed. Your job as a storyteller is to create the space for change to take place.” 

You will never accomplish this if you lead with your ego. 

People don’t care about how cool you are. In fact, the moments that connect the most are the very times you allow yourself to be uncool.

As the world becomes louder and every Tom, Dick, and Sandra runs online to make their fortune, the honest ones will be the very people who make the biggest long-term impact.

Drop your mask. 

Be yourself.

Do the opposite of what more and more people are doing on Linkedin.

The world’s most valuable currency will always be honesty.

Movie directors can get away with starting slowly and building up to a certain extent as people have committed for 90 minutes. Online, however, people aren’t nearly as tolerable as the moment you begin to bore them is the very moment they’ve clicked on the next shiny title.

The most effective way to combat this is by pulling people immediately into your world. Lead with the action and then backtrack to fill in only the relevant details before moving the storyline along. 

It’s hard to walk away from these sentences. You want to know what the phone call was about and why my wife was crying.

If people love anything, it’s being pulled out of their everyday lives and transported into a new world. 

Give people what they want.

Throw them into the action. 

Once you’ve gained your audience’s attention, it’s time to gain their trust. 

In the beginning of the film Rocky, Sylvester Stallone — a big and burly man — is found running through the streets of Philadelphia when suddenly, he stops to pick up a stray cat. 

It’s hard not to like a big and burly man who takes the time to care for a kitten as much like the mix of bravery and vulnerability, strong and sensitive sticks.

Rather than opting for the route of being super-human, show something in your introduction that allows people to see you as simply human. 

Being scared, nervous, or downright terrified is always a solid option. After all, if most humans share any two qualities they are fear and doubt. 

But again, it doesn’t have to be a big thing. Show people a weakness. Ask for help. Hold the door for someone. Tell someone you love them. Pick up a kitten.

To connect with other humans, you have to show your humanity.

Tension in your story is key. It keeps people on the edge of their seats. Keeping an eye on your tempo and mixing up your sentence lengths to hit a solid rhythm is also valuable.

I tend to do a lot of the “jab, jab, jab, punch” rhythms of a handful of short descriptive sentences and then end with a longer action sentence (or vice-versa) or quick little points before driving home the main point like in the example below from one of my favorite “micro-stories.”

Regrets, when you’re still young, aren’t regrets — they’re reminders.

Reminders we can still make the time.
Reminders the choice is ours.
Reminders it’s not too late to change.

In a world fuelled by deadlines, to-do lists, and never-ending goals to crush, it’s surprisingly easy to forget what the real goal is.

One other quirky thing I’ve been doing since day one (probably due to beginning to write while raising two young kids) is looking to get a few sentences to rhyme.

It may sound childish but there’s a reason Dr. Suess sells and rap lyrics are so easy to remember. All good art has a memorable rhythm to it. Reading, looking at, or listening to something that reads, looks, or sounds the same is kryptonite for your audience.

Play with your sentences.

People want to be moved.

It’s hard to do that if your writing is monotonous.

My friend Larry Cornett, Ph.D. shared a wonderful piece of advice. 

In conversation, if you are speaking for more than 40 seconds and the person on the receiving end of your words doesn’t show some signs of life — eg: a head nod, smile, “I’m following,” or “That’s interesting!” — the odds are high you’ve lost their attention and you’re being long-winded.

In storytelling, the same rule doesn’t exactly apply, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. It serves as a reminder that even though gaining people’s attention is vital, it loses serious value if you don’t learn how to keep it. 

After kicking off your story with a hook that pulls people into your world, scan your stories to make sure your sentences that elicit some kind of emotional, mental, or even physical response from readers are nicely spread out. For a 1,000 words story, every 150–200 words is a good marker to start. This could come in the form of a “mini-cliffhanger” that raises the stakes and adds to the tension. Or it could come in a change in tempo, the form of weaving in some dialog if your story isn’t dialog-heavy already, or an interesting or humorous thought. 

If you can get away with high speed from start to finish, go for it. But remember people love roller coasters and like to have their emotions go up and down as they are taken through your story.

One way I gauge this is by asking my wife to read my stories to herself before she reads them out loud while I watch her body language. 

Her slight smile or widening eyes in certain parts (or lack thereof) tells me everything I need to know about how engaged she is.

The simplest definition of a story is someone is faced with a challenge and they are willing to risk everything — even their life — to overcome it.

The thing is, though, we rarely — if ever — do this alone. 

Frodo had Sam.

Luke had Yoda.

Who helped you in your journey?

This can come in the form of someone passing on a piece of advice, remembering how someone else navigated a similar situation, or someone physically doing something that made your journey easier.

No matter how much we like to think we accomplish our goals on our own, we rarely do. In your stories, give credit where credit is due. It shows your humility. It’s also a solid way to tie in your vulnerability as you’re someone who has the stones to ask or accept help. 

If I’ve learned anything in life as someone who falls on the shy line, it’s that those who shine the spotlight on others still catch some rays themselves.

Whenever you can, paint the people who helped you as the hero in your own “Hero’s Journey.”

“What’s the most important part of a story?” If you ask a hundred people this question a high majority will say the introduction. To an extent, I agree. After all, if you can’t get people through your door, it’s hard to ensure they leave well-fed. 

But as your writing progresses, a solid argument can be made your conclusion is the most valuable territory as most people define an experience by their last interaction with said experience. 

Plus, the last thing you want to do is take people for a ride and make them feel like you’re kicking them out of your Jetta when your time together is coming to an end.

When writing articles, aiming for the head and ending with an interesting thought can work. With stories though, you’re better served shooting for the heart.

Imagine the face of your target reader when they finish your story. What do you want to see? Empowerment in their eyes? Or maybe hope? Or possibly a single tear gently running down their left cheek?

Take advantage of this seriously valuable real estate. 

This is your last chance to open the door for change to take place.

We all have stories to share. The world is waiting to learn about yours. If you feel like you haven’t done anything of value in your life, even better. 

The best stories always entail struggle and if you’ve failed a bunch or have lived most of your life in a state of fear, embarrassment, or shame, you’re sitting on a potential gold mine. 

If a guy who grew up with a severe stutter can now make a living teaching and giving talks about how to write and tell stories, imagine how far your own stories can take you.

Thank you for reading.
Share your stories.
It’s selfish not to.
— Michael

The 5 Sentences You Should Write Each Day

“Go big!” 

“To reach your goals, you need to take massive action!” 

Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with such suggestions. From my experience, it simply isn’t true. 

Sure, you need to be bold in the moments that matter. But when it comes to your day-to-day, you’re better off focusing on taking the right small steps and allowing the power of compounding to go to work. As the author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, so eloquently said — “You get what you repeat.” 

And I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer to go for a nice leisurely stroll each day instead of trying to climb castles as quickly as possible. 

If you too believe all positive progress is made in the present and the best way to win your race is by owning your pace, here are five simple sentences you can write each day that have a magical way of helping the dots you collect, better connect.

1. Write one thing you’re proud of 

“Liam and Luc (my kids) fell asleep before I finished reading their bedtime story but I read every word anyway.” I loved coming across this note when flipping through my daily entries. It serves as a reminder that I’ve chosen to be the type of person who doesn’t cut corners on the things that matter most.

Confidence isn’t everything. But it is a big thing. And it isn’t only found by accomplishing your big goals. It’s also found by consistently doing what you feel is right. 

Track the good you do.

Rather than look for outside validation, validate yourself.

2. Write one thing you learn

This should be the only homework we’re ever assigned in school. Not only will you begin to proactively seek out learning opportunities. But when you review your list, even after a few weeks, the connections your brain will begin to make will astound you. 

Imagine how you’d feel if you did this for five months and had 150 ideas and sources of inspiration in front of you. Now, envision yourself at 83 flicking through a lifetime’s worth of knowledge.

If life’s about anything, it’s being a curious life-eater. 

This simple action can seriously help cement this mindset.

3. Write one memory 

The world belongs to storytellers. This was true in the past when community leaders sat around the fire and entertained and educated their people on the wonders and worries of the world. And it’s true today as the spotlight has a funny way of tailing those who know how to spin a story,

In addition to choosing a life of adventure, create quiet pockets for reflection. What were you like as a kid? What challenges did you face? What advice were you given as you got older? How did certain situations make you feel?

The more memories you collect, the better you’ll get at telling stories that connect.

4. Write one thing you could have done better

We’ve covered tracking what you’re proud of, now it’s time to flip the script and lean into what you could have done better. Maybe you snapped at your kids or were impatient with your partner over something trivial. Or maybe you wrote an email to someone you admire that didn’t get a response or maybe judged someone harshly.

Look at these instances. 

Identify where you could have done better. 

I once stepped in dog shit twice in the same day. The first time it could have been avoided. The second time it definitely should have been avoided.

5. Write one specific way someone helped you 

“Who am I grateful for?” Asking yourself this question each day is a healthy habit. But to maximize its impact, take it one step further by asking yourself why as it forces you to get specific.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be as simple as someone getting you a glass of water. Or someone jumping in to help you out with a project or firm up an article.

Relationships are everything. Every day, whether we take the time to notice or not, people take the time to help us. This simple habit will get you out of your own head while reminding you of the heart of others.

And if there was ever a time in humanity when we needed to remind ourselves there are good people out there, this is it.

The beauty of these questions is that the longer you stick with them, the more they will teach you how to see — which is arguably the most important skill in life that very few people talk about. 

Your eyes will naturally look for learning opportunities from your past and present, where you can improve, the good in others, and the good inside yourself. 

Good things happen when we keep our eyes open and make a commitment to walk.

9 Timeless Principles for Career Fulfillment

“Knowing what you know now, if you were starting your career today, what advice would you give yourself?”

This past winter I began teaching leadership and communication skills to MBA students and I was asked a variation of the question above numerous times.

In addition to prioritizing hobbies that strengthened my brain cells instead of ones that stole them, below are the pieces of advice I touched upon along with a few extras I’ve been thinking about.

For over a decade, Oliver Burkeman — the author of the new hit book “Four Thousand Weeks” — ran a weekly advice column for The Guardian. I was devasted when I learned he was publishing his last post. But my tears quickly dried when I began to read his parting words and came across this whopper of a statement —

“When stumped by a life choice, choose ‘enlargement’ over happiness.”

I couldn’t agree more with this. Nothing worth having comes cheap. Every single aspect of my career I love today initially hurt.

If given the choice, follow Oliver’s lead and choose to take on projects that stretch over how happy you think you’re going to be.

You’ll learn a ton while also learning what you’re made of — which is the very definition of career advancement.

I made a smart decision five years ago when I began writing by making a commitment to reach out once a week to speak with someone who wrote words I admire. This habit sped up my learning curve when developing this new skill. It also made my days more enjoyable as I was making new friends.

But the opportunities didn’t begin to flood in until I mixed the calls up and began to also connect with people who were playing in the same arena but holding a different weapon.

  • If you want to be a writer, get to know photographers.
  • If you want to be a marketer, get to know writers.
  • If you want to be a web designer, get to know small business owners.
  • If you want to be more productive, get to know single moms.

In today’s world, very few things can be done alone.

A diverse network of people with varying skills who share ideas, contacts, and opportunities with each other is the equivalent of career gold.

“They say think big, have a compelling vision. I say think small and do something super cool by the end of the day. Most people see excellence as some grand aspiration. Wrong. Dead wrong. Excellence is the next five minutes or nothing at all. It’s the quality of your next five-minute conversation. It’s the quality of your next email. Forget the long-term. Make the next five minutes rock!”

I love this piece of advice from management legend Tom Peters. It’s one of the 3 quotes I have hanging on my office wall. Focus on writing the best sentence you can in the next five minutes.

  • Focus on exercising as hard as you can for the next five minutes.
  • Focus on giving people your full presence for the next five minutes.

Most people think about what lies ahead of them or get paralyzed by what’s behind them.

The future belongs to the focused — those who develop the discipline to zero in on what’s directly in front of them instead of building castles in the sky.

Who’s more attractive — a talented coder or someone with strong coding skills “and” a commanding stage presence?

Who’s more attractive — a talented writer or someone with strong writing skills “and” a master community builder?

Make a list of the qualities and skills you possess that other people compliment you on.

Then look at how you can merge these qualities together to make a unique pairing.

The days of being one-dimensional are over.

It’s your “AND” that makes you interesting to others.

It’s your “AND” that also makes you indispensable in your career.

I asked one of my closest childhood friends — who’s built and sold multiple 8-figure businesses in the national security space — for his best piece of advice. Without hesitation, he gave a nod to a woman he worked under while studying at West Point —

“When faced with adversity, be punctual, be present, and be positive.

The reason most jobs exist is to solve a problem. Yet, many people break when facing them. Remember the 3Ps and be punctual, present, and positive. Remind yourself that all progress is made in the present and nothing has ever been solved by complaining.

Choosing to be the type of person who’s a calming presence when things go wrong is a seriously attractive quality.

The same goes for deciding to be a forward-thinker when life pushes you back.

Write down the names of the successful people you know. Without even knowing them, I’d be willing to bet all of them are strong communicators.

But this doesn’t mean they’re all super charismatic.

It simply means they’ve done the hard work to learn how to distill complicated ideas and feelings into words the average person can understand.

Start a blog. Lean into Linkedin or Twitter or any other platform with character limits to tighten your message while testing it out to see if it resonates with the masses. Suck it up and pay an interview coach to learn how to sell yourself. Take a public speaking course. In a few weeks you’ll develop a skill that will never go out of style while paying you handsomely for the rest of your career.

“If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”

Warren Buffett said that.

He’s done well for himself.

“Leave 30 percent of your day unscheduled!” Dan Sullivan, one of the world’s leading business coaches said this is his number one piece of career advice.

If you’re anything like me, at first glance, this recommendation may seem dramatic or impossible.

But the benefits of carving out time for yourself each day are too big to ignore.

  • Prioritizing white space forces you to get clear on the work that matters while helping you weed out which tasks don’t.
  • Prioritizing white space will teach you how to pace yourself which is crucial in achieving long-term success without burning out.
  • Prioritizing white space gives you time to get to know yourself and chase your curiosity.

Every Sunday, or better yet, every Friday afternoon so you can truly disconnect over the weekend — grab your calendar and block two hours each day for yourself and fight like hell to make it non-negotiable.

Use the time to ask yourself better questions, reach out to old friends or make new ones, tinker, explore, or do nothing at all.

Some people think being busy all the time is a sign of importance. But it’s not. It’s a sign of a lack of clarity.

You can collect all the dots in the world but they don’t do you very much good if you don’t give yourself the space to allow them to connect.

Always being ‘on’ truly is the enemy of productivity.

Reserve time to sit and think.

I teach MBA students. I’ve also been a mentor at leading accelerators like Startupbootcamp. Without a doubt, the people who receive the most attention when starting out are those who focus on chasing advice instead of stressing out about how to make money.

Maybe most billionaires are assholes like many people today seem to imply.

From my experience, most moderately — or even very successful people — are pretty solid and they take pride in doing what they can to help other people reach their goals.

But these people will never invest in you if you approach them as a way to get rich instead of viewing them as a wealth of potential knowledge.

“Who should I be learning from?” is the single most important question you can ask yourself throughout your career.

Position yourself as a learner and be curious about others.

Al Firth, Peter Diamandis’s mentor said it best —

“If you ask for money, you’ll get advice.

But if you ask for advice, you may get money.”

Most people get tunnel vision and only think about how they can get on the radar of people ahead of them without realizing a big part of fulfillment comes from helping those behind them.

  • Be thoughtful and make the new person feel appreciated on their first day of work.
  • Be patient and sit down and talk with someone who you can tell is having a bad day.
  • Be kind and tell the people around you they are talented and you sure are glad they are on your side.

Most of all, don’t worry about finding a mentor and instead be a mentor to others.

The right people will notice.

The fastest way to carve your path is to help other people carve theirs.

Thank you for reading.
— Michael

To Stand Out, Make Yourself Small

My friend and book-writing partner, Kevin Ervin Kelley, AIA, is full of wisdom. This is particularly true with the message he shared with me this week. 

Much like a ghostwriter, Kevin’s a “ghost-designer.” For over thirty years, his company has assisted household brands from Whole Foods to Harley Davidson — and hundreds of mom-and-pop shops in between — to thrive in the ever-changing world by focusing on creating places and spaces that bring people together and promote prosocial behavior.

At five-foot-eight inches, Kevin isn’t the biggest guy. Most of the CEOs and executive team members he meets with tower over him. The same goes for some of his team members who accompany him to these meetings.

“It’s interesting to observe how people respond when I walk into the room holding my notebook and pen surrounded by my colleagues who have a more commanding presence,” he told me.

“Countless times, people looked right past me and assumed one of the bigger guys on our team was the owner and I was an assistant. At first, this bugged me, and I wanted to make it known how important I am and that I was the founder. But I learned very quickly how much of an advantage being unassuming can be. People immediately felt comfortable around me and spoke freely with me which is key in building trust.”

I love this about Kevin.

The guy’s a rarity.

He’s run a successful business for a very long time by doing one thing really well: understanding the importance of suspending his ego, and what he refers to as — “keeping himself small.”

Early in Kevin’s career, in addition to being a business owner, starting at the age of 29, he was asked to teach design, branding, and marketing at Harvard University alongside one of the world’s leading architects, Gene Kohn (which took me well into our tenth conversation to learn this about him).

His friends often asked him how he was able to make friends with people in high places so early in his career, including the leaders of some of the world’s largest banks and global organizations — 

“There are two things about successful people most people don’t realize. First, they’re surrounded by impressive people all day every day. Trying to impress them by acting like you know all the answers is a sure-fire way for them to walk right past you. Second, the right ones love to teach and share their wisdom. I was able to become part of their circle because I positioned myself as a sponge and soaked up every lesson they imparted at me. No matter the person or client, to this day, it’s my go-to strategy.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this approach equally inspiring and refreshing.

We live in a world where people lead with titles, blast their credentials, and even talk about how much money they’re making in an attempt to grow their influence and cement themselves as a leader.

What they fail to realize though, is true leadership isn’t about being the best but rather doing what you can — with what you have — to help other people become better.

This starts and stops with being a learner as it’s the key ingredient to being a better teacher.

After all, it’s hard to argue that “teacher” is the simplest and most accurate definition of a leader.

As someone who isn’t much taller than Kevin, and who grew up shy with a severe stutter, for much of my life, I constantly doubted myself and had very limiting beliefs of what I was capable of achieving. Even worse, I made the crucial mistake of choosing to buy into the narrative that the truly strong crush things, and in order to be respected and seen, I had to put on a mask and hide my true nature.

It’s the Kevin’s of the world, however, that helped me realize the only thing I needed to change about myself were the self-defeating messages I was telling myself.

Ask most CEOs and they’ll mirror Kevin’s words that it’s not the loud ones who are the most dangerous. But rather the quiet and unassuming ones who observe and listen more than they speak that you have to keep an eye on.

Kevin’s not imposing. By not trying to be, he’s able to quickly connect with people from all walks of life and build trust.

Kevin doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. By not acting like he does, people see him as someone who will help them ask better questions of themselves to uncover their own answers.

Kevin doesn’t try to dominate conversations. By not trying to, he’s able to quickly zero in on what other people value.

  • Observant. 
  • Listener. 
  • Curious. 
  • A confidence builder of others.

These are the skills of the future. They allow you to change someone else’s world while expanding your own without adding to the noise and constant distractions.

Steal a line from Kevin. 

Flip your “perceived” holdbacks on their head. 

Roll them over until you can see them from a different angle.

Make “small” your new big.

The faster you realize your primary job is to make other people feel bigger is the very moment when anything is possible actually becomes possible.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but I think quiet confidence  —  the kind that allows others to have the stage while they sit back to learn and listen  —  is a seriously attractive quality.

Kevin recently published a book — IRREPLACEABLE: How to Create Extraordinary Places That Bring People Together — and has already been named by the Next Big Idea Club and the Financial Times as a must-read. Check it out if you’re interested in how to design places that build community to keep the digital giants and tech titans at bay.

Thank you for reading.
My very best to you and yours.

How to Never Grow Old

“I just paid $3,000 to miss my kid’s first birthday!”

The day was October 6th, 2015. The place was a random hotel lobby in Costa Rica. I’d flown there from Spain expecting to attend a hearing in my feeble attempt to get back the $250,000 my business partner’s dad had stolen from me half a decade prior. It was my fourth trip in as many years. I couldn’t believe my attorney was now telling me I’d need to make it a fifth as the hearing had been canceled an hour before I was set to take the stand.

“How’s this so complicated?” I snapped. “The dude changed the deed of my property with an eraser and pencil and sold it out from under me. I’ve got a football team of witnesses ready to go. He’s tried to bribe judges in front of other judges to drop the case!”

“You knew this would be a mess,” my dad who’d traveled from the US to meet me said in a surprisingly soft tone. He then shook my attorney’s hand, thanked him for his time, and turned to me and said, “Let’s go. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

All the time and money I’d lost traveling to get here.
Having to watch my son blow out his first candle on video.
The hard reminder that I’d never see those $250,000.

Frustrated wasn’t the word. Livid didn’t do it justice. The thoughts pounded my head. Again. And again. And again. Just as my blood was beginning to compete with the unrelenting Central American mid-morning heat, my dad grabbed me by the shoulder as we waited for the elevator, looked me dead in the eye, and said something that turned me immediately to ice.

“I wasn’t going to come down here with you,” he began. “But your mother asked me to tell you something in person. I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to say it — your mother is sick.”

I don’t remember how many times the elevator door opened and closed as I stood there completely and utterly stoned. Nor do I remember how I managed to get to our room once I figured out how to use my legs again. I blacked out. I lost at least an hour. But one thing I do remember — and something I hope I never forget — is the conversations my dad and I shared thanks to my mom reminding me that afternoon to find and focus on the good.

My dad and I hadn’t seen each other in a few years. It’d been at least a decade since it was just the two of us alone together. We talked about everything. We talked about nothing. Some of the time we didn’t talk at all. But mainly, given my mom’s condition, the conversation kept making its way back to life and what it means to live a good one.

I hated the circumstances. But my dad said some really smart things that day. This is particularly true when he began talking about the realities of getting older and he said the following words that hit me equally hard in both my head and heart —

“The saddest part about getting older for me is seeing how intellectually dead some of my friends have chosen to become.”

“Intellectually dead!”

I’m yet to come across a more impactful warning.

He then went on to tell me that it’s as if the day Cal Ripken retired from baseball, some of his friends had chosen to retire from life. They barely leave their house. They talk to fewer and fewer people. They never pick up a book. As a result, instead of chasing the day, both their bodies and minds have begun to wither away.

My dad and I don’t always see eye to eye. But at the moment, while he stared off into space and my eyes were locked on him, despite sitting on opposite sides of the bed, I’d never felt closer to him.

It was only one sentence. A throw-away line at the end of a conversation. But sometimes that’s all it takes.

I finally understood why he got so angry when I chose the sofa over the front door.

I finally understood why he got so frustrated when I prioritized my excuses over my possibilities.

I finally understood why he got so impatient when I gave more power to the words of others over following my own internal signal.

Life isn’t about being the smartest, strongest, or most popular person in the room. Nor is it about collecting fancy titles and accumulating enough money to fly to the moon.

Life’s about learning a new something, meeting a new someone, and seeing a new somewhere.

It’s about putting yourself out into the world and fighting for what you love while getting excited about what you don’t yet know.

Choosing to be intellectually alive has become my only marching order. It’s my primarly job. Everything I do revolves around it. Everything else is meaningless without it.

It serves as a reminder to listen as hard as I can.It serves as a reminder to learn as hard as I can.It serves as a reminder to care as hard as I can.

Close to six years have passed since the day my dad and I had that conversation. My life is different today than it was back then. My artistic side began to rise while my business ambitions began to die.

I followed that scent.

I write words for a living now. I help other people to do the same.

I have nothing against business. I’m just happier this way. I love that art’s the great connector and there’s nothing I’d rather do each day than figure out how to build a better bridge.

Pick up a book. Pick up the phone. Pick up a new hobby. Never stop learning about the world and the people around you.

My now cancer-free mom said it best shortly after receiving her diagnosis —

“Curiosity is a word that was meant to be followed. It keeps us interested. It keeps us interesting. Most of all, no matter your age, it’ll keep you young!”

Thank you for reading.
My best to you and yours.
— Michael

5 Unconventional Tips to Make Doing Hard Things Easier

All was good in the world. 

Until it wasn’t. 

I’d just started a new sales job, and after hundreds of rejections, I’d finally begun to catch some green lights and a few clients were getting close to closing.

Within an hour of arriving at the office though, I got hit by lightning bolts in rapid succession. Not only did I receive word a deal I’d been working on for three weeks was dead in the water, but I was also on the verge of losing the only other one I had going. 

“Michael!” my manager said when he heard me cursing around the office, “Go do something that doesn’t make you feel worse!” 

My manager was a quirky guy. But he seemed to be doing alright for himself so I asked him to explain his confusing advice — 

“The key to getting out of a funk isn’t always found by doing something that lights us up but rather doing one thing that makes us feel slightly less miserable. Go grab some air. I guarantee when you come back you won’t feel worse than you do right now!”

At first, I wanted to fight his advice and tell him to walk east until his Orioles hat began to float. But out of options, I did what I was told. 

I wasn’t exactly beaming with happiness when I came back to the office after taking a ten-minute walk. But I did realize my manager was onto something as the shift from feeling miserable to just slightly annoyed was a massive improvement. I could focus. I even began to laugh a little. A few hours later, my client signed off on the proposal.

Stressful days are part of the package. Bad things happen. Human beings are notoriously annoying. 

But my manager taught me that productivity isn’t about being positive all the time — sometimes it’s simply about figuring out how to be less negative. 

Two decades have passed since that moment. Today, I still carry a list of activities labeled “things that don’t make me feel worse” in my wallet. Things like going to the gym or even cleaning the house aren’t always fun when we’re in a jam. But they have a funny way of snapping us back into the present moment which is the very place where forward progress is made. 

The next time you’re in a rut, don’t try to fight stress, frustration, or anxiety to make it magically disappear. To begin to put one foot in front of the other again, think of an activity that has a propensity to make you feel less bad as you may find that’s the best step you can take on the road back to feeling somewhat good.

If my boss’s unconventional tip resonates with you, below are a handful of others that have the power to make doing hard things somewhat easier.

My friend Niklas Göke just started a new blog — Seth Godin style on his website with daily thoughts. I love everything Nik does including his recent installment entitled, “Refuse to do it until it’s easy.”

In short, there is absolutely nothing wrong with waiting until the hard thing you want to do becomes easier. 

For Nik, it was running an online course. He thought about it for a few years, but the idea overwhelmed him. That is, until one day it didn’t. And by giving himself the space he needed to allow the dots he was collecting to properly connect, he knocked out the course with ease.

We may feel like everything we want to do needs to be done today.

But they don’t.

Like Nik said — 

“Pay for convenience by abstaining. Refuse to start until it’s easy. Wait until downhill is obvious. Then, get on your sled and enjoy the ride.”

I love this idea from my friend Maria Urkedal York, and how she used it to publish her first-ever online article which got featured in Forge and syndicated in Elephant Journal. 

Maria quit her job six months ago after twenty years of teaching to pursue her dream of coaching and writing. At first, ideas filled her head. She was excited. But then more ideas filled her head. Then more. And then more. Over time, all this idea stacking paralyzed her from taking positive action.

One day though, her coach recommended always having an “easy button” available when approaching hard tasks to make the first step easier and a thought occurred to her — “What if my ‘easy button’ for my first article is writing about the importance of having an easy button?”

Don’t make things harder than they need to be. 

Find your easy button.

Like Maria wrote — 

“When stuck, the goal should be movement — not perfection.”

One interesting side-effect I’ve noticed from learning Spanish and struggling with Catalan is languages are impossible to learn if you aren’t present.

You have to listen to each and every word someone says to you if you want to have a somewhat fluid or intelligible conversation.

You also have to think before you speak in order to make sure you are using the right pronouns, verb tenses, and sentence structure. 

Neither of these things will happen if your head is in the clouds.

This may sound odd for gearing up to move heavy things, but the logic behind it is simple: if you throw yourself into something else that makes you present it frees up the headspace for the unconnected ideas in your head to better connect. 

We can all think of a time, a eureka moment came to us while we were in the shower or out for a walk. For me, studying Spanish — when I can’t seem to write in English — does the trick. 

Find your outlet. 

Do something that brings you back to the land of the living. 

Remind yourself once again that all progress is made in the present.

Ever since I got into this whole online creator world, I’ve wanted to do two things: write a book and record a storytelling course.

In addition to loving both books and stories, one of the biggest drivers for wanting to do them was because they scare the life out of me.

I’m a simple thinker. I try to get my point across as fast as possible. The idea of writing 50,000 words when I struggle to write 500 paralyzed me. As a guy with a stutter, the same goes for recording an online course as I hate seeing myself get stuck on a word. 

Over the last few months though, I’ve made serious headway in both areas. The reason: I’m not doing either of them alone.

Helping two clients with their own books and contracting a friend to help me with my own has made this once monstrous task manageable. 

The same goes for creating a course. Instead of talking into a screen alone, Niklas Göke and I have teamed up to share our best story-telling tips.

If you’re stuck somewhere — anywhere — instead of pushing through on your own, think “who” not “how” and explore ways to share the weight.

The best things in life are rarely a solitary pursuit.

And this includes our individual goals.

Thank you for reading.
My best to you and yours.
— Michael

Screw Marketing. Choose Art. It’s the Safer Long-term Play.

“Don’t spend a second of your time marketing your work. Focus solely on learning how to write so well that other people feel inclined to share it.”

When I began writing, I was given this piece of advice.

At the time, I was juggling my own coaching clients, a communication consultancy with a small team, and a two-year-old. My friends’ advice was the exact permission I needed. Spending my days on social media was not how I wanted to use the little free time I had each day.

And it worked.

Over time, more and more people began sharing my work.

After my wife and I had our second child, however, time became even more scarce. Two kids have a way of feeling a lot like ten. I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do. My hands were already full. I’m a big believer that our words are one of the few things each of us owns in this world and they shouldn’t be rushed to make a buck so I kept my head down and every second I wasn’t with my kids, I was writing.

At times, choosing this route stressed me out.

Trends come and go. Different writers come in and out of favor. My combined views over the last six months on this platform are less than what they were in one month a year ago. It’s not a good feeling to write on eggshells. Neither is it a good feeling to feel like you’re losing your touch.

“Should I publish more?” I asked myself time and time again this past year.

“Should I join in on the numbers game?”

“Should I spraypaint my words all over the internet?”

I get nauseous just thinking about that. It’s not a race I want to compete in. I’m not a fan of treating our writing like spaghetti and throwing pieces up on the wall to see what sticks.

My favorite writers and people don’t do that.

My favorite writers and people choose their messages with care.

In the second half of this year, after learning first-hand what it’s like to scrape the bottom of the barrel, this strategy finally paid off.

I was offered a position to teach leadership and communication skills to MBA students despite not having an advanced degree myself.

I got asked to help write a book with a seriously accomplished man who helps brick-and-mortar businesses thrive in the digital age by designing spaces that bring people together and encourage pro-social behavior.

I officially signed a contract to write my own book about how shy people can quietly make the right kind of noise.

The backgrounds and experiences of the people reaching out were all different but the one thing they all had in common was their message —

“We’ve been keeping an eye on you. We’d like to explore ways to work together.”

As if this wasn’t enough of a sign that the slow route is the right route, the last sixty days the offers have come flooding in.

Between being offered solid guarantees to write regularly for mainstream publications, receiving an offer to jump in on a project with the former managing director of my favorite design firm, and already signing a contract to help write a book for a leader in the social impact and innovation space, my calendar for 2022 and beyond is already full.

A touch over six months ago I was an online writer dreaming of working on projects that had real-world impact.

By focusing solely on writing, for the first time in my career, I’ll kick off the year with the exact people in the exact spaces I want to spend the rest of my career operating in.

A lot of people today are talking about personal branding with the hopes of being an influencer. If this route doesn’t interest you, yet you still want your work and words to matter, opt-out and make a commitment to write the exact messages you want to see in the world.

If it helps you sleep at night, pick one other platform in addition to your primary one to share your work. But other than that, close the blinds and be patient.

It’s the job of marketers to find what works and do it until it stops working. It’s the job of artists, however, to make stuff that makes marketing obsolete.

As we head deeper into 2022, choose art.

Focus on creating things marketers can’t kill.

Be yourself.

Who knows, it could be you’ve already created the work that kickstarts your career and all you need to do is soldier on until the world catches on.

Thank you for reading.
— Michael

How to Quietly Focus and Get Your Work Done in a Loud World

I read an article recently where the author claimed people without kids are exposed to just as many distractions as people who have kids.

I disagree.

I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I try not to speak in absolutes.

But I’d bet everything I own, plus $47,117 that I don’t own, parents working from home with kids at their feet have to deal with more distractions than those who are kid-free.

In addition to the two young kids I keep muzzled in the closet from 9 to 5 while my wife is working an hour away from home, I’ve also got what doctors call “off-the-charts ADHD” and self-labeled “shiny object syndrome” where I want to say yes to anything that sounds remotely cool.

I’m not a productivity expert.

I don’t pretend to play one on the internet.

But all things considered, I’m doing okay.

This year while also dealing with serious health issues from loved ones, I’ve written 70+ articles on this platform and Business Insider, kept my consulting practice alive, wrote a book proposal that looks to one day get picked up by a solid publisher, and helped a client write a book proposal to the level he just signed with an agent.

Of equal importance, I took off an entire month from work, snorkeled in the Meditteranean 73 times and lost 309 games of Uno.

Some people like to throw in a caveat after listing off a brag sheet.

There will be no caveats listed here.

I may not be mega-successful but I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

I’ve developed the discipline to quietly focus and get my work done in a loud world and below are a few tips that have worked for me that may work for you too.

This year I’m essentially doing what I’ve done for the last five years while also writing a book, help to write another, and also designing eight 4-hour courses for MBA students that I have to deliver online and in-person.

The book for a client is about how corner stores, restaurants, and retailers of all shapes and sizes can win in the digital age. My values align perfectly with this topic.

We need more people thinking about ways to bring us together and away from our phones and Amazon.

The same goes for my own book. Like me, my oldest son is also shy and has begun to stutter. There are a lot of quiet, contemplative people in the world. I want to arm my kid (when he’s of age to read it) with a book that helps make his words count while letting him know he’s already cool.

If you want to focus, write down your “why” and keep it front and center.

Let it serve as your North Star.

The more you remind yourself why your work matters, the more motivated you’ll be to treat it as a priority.

Would you rather do tasks you despise every day or would you be more effective if you lumped them all together to knock out in one day?

If you’re anything like me, the answer is obvious — keep your positive momentum rolling four days a week and designate one day a week to do the work that drains your soul.

When COVID hit, designating a weekly or even monthly “Hate Day” or “Kleinscheiss Tag” as they’re known in Germany for tasks such as taxes and social media was a lifesaver.

Simply filter the tasks as they come in and if you know it will steal your energy and rob your focus, throw it in your “hate day” pile to free up headspace and keep moving forward.

Many psychologists and therapists recommend designing time to worry on purpose.

Why not do the same for the tasks you hate?

My phone has been on Do Not Disturb for six years. I’m horrible with technology. But I did figure out a way to let the five most important people in my life ring through. No matter the hour, if my wife, parents, and three closest friends call, I answer.

Make a shortlist of people who are more important to you than your work, let them know your schedule, and block the rest.

This is especially vital for the energy vampires in your life as they become much easier to deal with when you’re the one calling the time-slots.

But perhaps the best focus tip very few people talk about is surrounding yourself with fellow life-eaters.

After all, if you’re surrounded by people who are also doing work that matters, your own work is bound to rise.

This took some getting used to, but I now write every article, long email, and even Slack message on a word document and then I cut and paste them all at once when I go back online.

Do you need to be logged on twenty-four hours a day?

Whenever Tim Urban, creator of Wait but Why, needs to get work done, he stands on a step stool, places his phone on a high shelf, and then puts the stool in another room. He does the same with his router if the task he’s working on doesn’t require the internet. His reasoning: The effort it takes to access these distractions is just as unappealing as working. As a result, he works.

The goal of technology should be to enhance our lives, not rule them.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with opting out of how most people work.

Your primary job is to figure out what works for you and silence the rest.

Many people recommend setting boundaries. This is for a good reason. If you’re available all the time, it becomes harder to zero in.

This, of course, is easier said than done.

Especially if you have kids.

During the beginning of quarantine I told my kids I was working from 9 to 12 and then from 3 to 6 and it didn’t work out very well.

But you know what did?

Telling them each morning when I was available to play.

I need two three-hour blocks each day to get the work that matters done.

For this to happen, I’ve found it much easier to let people know first when they can bug me as much as they want.

I’m a big believer that environment affects behavior.

But at the same time, sometimes the environment we find ourselves in can be pretty tough to navigate.

If this is the case with you also and have trouble focusing, cheat by stealing the ideas above and make them your own.

The future belongs to the focused.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the future to be run by only people who don’t have kids.

Thank you for reading.
— Michael