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How To Get Things Done: The 3-step process

Bestselling authors, million-dollar entrepreneurs, professional athletes — these people know how to get shit done. They know how to go from regular guy to workhorse. They know how flip the switch and engage. We must learn how to do the same. This post shows you how.

Every morning, Stephen King locks himself in his office, shuts the blinds, and writes 2,000 words. It doesn’t matter if it’s his birthday, Christmas, or a random Thursday. The words get written.

A few times per year, innovative companies like Google and Facebook develop game-changing software by doing hackathons, multi-day code-fests where small teams work intensively on The Next Big Idea. They bring sleeping bags, drink Red Bull, and don’t leave until they create something awesome.

At the Nike Campus a couple years ago, I watched NFL athletes walk into the gym, put on headphones, shut out everyone, and work out. The jokes and laughs started only after the training session finished. Afterward, I asked Super Bowl champion Greg Jennings what he thinks about during a game.

His answer: “I think about the game.”

Bestselling authors, million-dollar entrepreneurs, professional athletes — these people know how to get shit done. They know how to go from regular guy to workhorse. They know how flip the switch and engage. And it’s one reason they’re so successful.

Guys like you and I? We can learn how to flip the switch, too. In fact, to accomplish anything of value, we must be able to flip it at will.

This post will explain how.

 4 Important Things To Know About Switch-Flipping 

When I first started writing fitness articles, I remember some Friday and Saturday nights where I’d turn off my cell phone, grab a beer, and work for hours.

No email. No Facebook. No distractions. Just me, my laptop, and a bunch of ideas that had to get out of my head so I could turn them into something of value to share.

Those nights were some of the most productive times of my life.

Books were created. Articles were outlined and completed. Marketing strategies were formed. The career arc I’m currently riding started there.

And although I rarely pull all-nighters now — I prefer to work four distraction-free hours per day — I know the power of flipping the switch.

But I first had to learn four things:

1. Being “successful” takes work.

Want to make more money? Become famous? Live a bigger, fulfilling life? It’s gonna take work. Lots of work. And not just hours doing your job or creating something from scratch, but hours of working on yourself. (You can start by following these 7 rules.)

You can’t just take the day as it’s given to you. You must exercise your influence over every hour. This may call for some long nights. (But it doesn’t have to). This may call for spending your weekend sitting at your kitchen table creating something awesome. (What were you gonna do with your weekend, anyway?)

That’s more work than most guys are willing to put in. It’s also why most guys will never reach their idea of success.

2. The best work is done in short blocks of intense focus.

How much actual work do you think gets done in a regular 9-5 day? Two hours? Three, if we’re being generous?

We all know the remaining hours go to killing time on Facebook, email, watching YouTube videos, and meetings.

Get out of the idea that you need to “kill time”. Time is a non-renewable resource that can be taken from us without warning.

Guys who know how to flip the switch get more done in 2 hours than most people get done in 2 days.

3. Multi-tasking is not effective

Talking on your phone while driving. Refreshing your email while working out. Working on a paper with your Google Chat window open.

Bad, bad, bad.

Multi-taskers stress themselves out because they can’t focus. They do a bunch of little projects instead of the one or two that really matter.

At the end of the day they haven’t gotten jack-shit accomplished. And deep down, they feel bad about that.

4. Willpower is a muscle

Your brain can only handle so much at once.

Willpower (self-control) starts strong then fades as you make more decisions throughout the day. You need to conserve it and use it to your advantage before it wastes away.

How To Flip The Switch – 3 Steps 

Enough with the “ideas”. Let’s get into doing. Here are the three steps to flip the switch and engage that I’ve found most helpful, though I’m sure there are others.

Figure out when you do your best work.

These are the times where you feel in the zone, times where you feel “on”.

I work four distraction-free hours every morning. Author Tim Ferriss writes between 1 and 5 AM. I have friends who work “office jobs” and get all their high-quality work done before lunch.

There is no right answer. Only the time that works for you and your situation.

And this isn’t just about “work”, either. We all have optimal times for working out in the gym (morning, afternoon, or evening), reading and researching, hanging out with friends, trying to pick up dates, or whatever.

Start looking at how you spend most of your days and see where your time goes. Become aware. See if you’re happy with the way you’re spending your life.

Action step: Grab a notebook and keep a time journal for two days. Every hour or two write down what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how long it’s taking you.

Clear the path.

Temptation is a bitch, but it can only lead to wasted time when we indulge it. And you can’t indulge it if it doesn’t exist.

You must remove temptation.

You can’t eat ice cream when there isn’t any in your house. You can’t check Facebook when you don’t have Internet access. You can’t waste time with small-talk when you have headphones in.

Leave your phone at home when you go to the gym. Turn off the Internet when you’re working on a project. Close the door. Shut yourself off with only the essentials you need to get shit done.

Clear the way and remove any potential roadblocks before you start.

Action step: Answer this question in your notebook: “What are my “fallback” time wasters or temptations?”

Do you check Facebook out of habit every time you have a free second? Do you bring your phone to the gym to listen to music but end up texting instead? Only you know your biggest temptations. Know what they are and remove them when you’re trying to get shit done.

Single-task.

Stephen King doesn’t write three novels at once. NFL guys don’t sort our their sponsorship deals when they’re doing deadlifts.

They pick one thing to do — write 2,000 words, train legs, whatever — and then they do that thing and only that thing.

Take a look at all the things you want or have to do. Pick one. Start it and don’t move on to something else until it’s finished.

Action step: If you write a daily to-do list, it’s most likely too long. Instead, write out all the things you need to get done, put the most important tasks at the top, then set that list aside. That’s your “general” to-do list.

Now grab another piece of paper and write one or two of the Most Important Tasks. This is your daily to-do list. Do that stuff.

Summary and Next Steps

  • determine when you do your best work
  • clear the path
  • do one thing at a time (single-task)

The ability to flip the switch and engage is what separates successful guys from the rest of the pack. Sure, there are other factors (talent, training, background, intelligence, etc.)

But without focused work, nothing gets done.

There’s a reason Stephen King has written 49 best-selling novels. There’s a reason Greg Jennings won the Super Bowl. There’s a reason Scrawny To Brawny exists.

They all started as ideas.

But even the best ideas mean nothing until you flip the switch, engage, and do the work.

Now, get going.

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Other stuff to check out.

Here are a couple of books that really helped me form my ideas for “flipping the switch.” I recommend you check them out, but only after you try the stuff you learned in this post. Knowledge without action is useless.

About the Author: Nate Green is the Program Director for Scrawny To Brawny. You can find him on Facebook or Google+.

15 Responses to How To Get Things Done

  1. Mikesamuels says:

    Great stuff as usual Nate.

    I’ve found getting focused and concentrating 100% on just one thing at a time (writing an article/blog, planning client sessions, doing my accounts, etc.) means I get so much more done, and end up with more free time too.

    Still need to break my Facebook-checking habit though :) 

  2. Paul says:

    You are a  ROCKSTAR!  This is exactly what I needed to read today!  Thanks!

  3. Cameronkrug says:

    C’mon Nate how can you possibly leave out The War of Art in a post on Resistance?

  4. Tim Peirce says:

    Excellent excellent article, Nate. Focus is everything. At least it is for me. For me, I’m physically most focused in the early mid afternoon, but I do my best thinking in the late afternoon. In part because all the physical steam got blown off during the workout. 

  5. Donald says:

    Fantastic Nate. What a pleasure to read as I finished up my 2000 words today. Still in the zone though, so the writing will continue for a while.

  6. Charles says:

    LOVE this post Nate. I’d like to add a productivity tip that’s been of great value to me, which is wearing earplugs when I work — even if I’m in a quiet environment. It really helps to just close off the outside World, which further helps to “Flip The Switch”

  7. Cole says:

    With The War of Art and Do the Work on there you should check out Turning Pro if you haven’t. It is another great book by Pressfield about the pro mindset. Fits in very well as a sequel to his other works.

  8. James says:

    Amen brother…

  9. Tiger Joe says:

    That’s funny Nate.  Yesterday at the office all systems went down for the
    whole day.  No Internet, no phones, no e-mail.  It was one of my most productive
    workdays.
     

  10. Another gem, Nate. I’ll put this into effect immediately. When you work for four hours straight, do you give yourself breaks?

    • Nate Green says:

      Yo Anthony – 

      I usually set it up like this:
      Work Block 1 – 50 minutesBreak – 10 minutes
      Work Block 2 – 50 minutes
      Break – 10 minutes

      Etc.

      -Nate

  11. Properdrummer says:

    Absolutely awesome article!
    I usually apply this when I hit the rink. I’ll go to open hockey by myself at times when there is only a few, if any other skaters, and then skate hard. I’ll run drills and and work on any specific skills that I planned out ahead of time…An hour and twenty minutes of intense hockey practice; no distractions. If I’m not out of breath, I’m not skating hard enough.
     Now I just need to apply the principle to the other parts of daily life. Cheers!

  12. This is cool… I need to get some switch flipping done here at the moment!!!

  13. Steve Maze says:

    Great stuff again! Thank you!