Honestly, I really shouldn’t even call myself a golfer. I’m a man who happens to find himself on a golf course a few times a year. Despite casually playing the game my whole life, even easy courses still kick my ass.
I would have given up golf completely a long time ago if it weren’t for the fact that I get to be with friends and I turn my phone off for a few hours and drink beer in the sun. Those are all great things, so I keep playing.
So I suck at golf, but I still know enough about the game to understand the lingo, choose the right club for the right shot, and dress the part. If you saw me grab my golf bag and walk from my car to the first tee, you’d probably think I knew what I was doing.
But the moment that club head hits the ball for the first time, my secret will be out: I fucking suck at golf.
You might be thinking “So? Most people really suck at golf. This is not something unique to you, get over it”. I get that, but this is all a metaphor, so just relax and give me a few paragraphs.
I AM capable of hitting a golf ball really well…it just doesn’t happen naturally. I have a decent LOOKING swing (I don’t look like someone who has never touched a golf club before), but if I just trust my body’s natural golf swing, I will hit an atrocious shot. For me to actually hit a golf ball well, I have to consciously focus on each step in the process.
- I have to align my stance with the direction I want the ball to go
- I have to align the ball correctly with my stance
- I have to make sure my backswing goes straight back rather than wrap around my body
- I have to make sure my swing isn’t inside out or outside in
- I have to consciously focus on touching my chin to my right shoulder after my swing to keep my head down
Usually, if I do all of those things, I hit a pretty good shot. I’m not giving Tiger a run for his money by any means, but I’m not embarrassed to tee off in front of the club house. Honestly, playing golf is really just me trying really hard not to embarrass myself in public.
This is analogous to so many processes and activities in the rest of my life that I figured it was something I’d like to explore here. I find that even though I have ambitious ideas and goals, when left to my own devices (and with my mind free to do what it wants) I tend to drift towards inactivity, pondering, and procrastination. I get frustrated quickly by this, and soon I’m trapped in a vicious cycle where I am not naturally working on what I want to work on, and that is leading to frustration which is making it even harder to actually get back on task.
However, if I attach a framework to my todo list for the day, the chance of successfully completing my list increases significantly. If instead of just sitting down and saying “I’m going to build X today”, I make a detailed, concise list of tasks and then start systematically working through the list and tracking my progress, I not only feel better, but I also accomplish so much more than I would have if I just freestyled my day.
I think it’s natural to assume that our “muscle memory” (whether in a physical activity such as golf or mental activities such as programming) can lead the way and we can just naturally accomplish what we know we need to do. While it might feel good to fly by the seat of your pants and revel in how great you can naturally do things, you’ll end up falling short. By carefully walking yourself the tasks you want to complete, and being mindful of each step at that very moment, you can take control of your success and deliver the results you dreamed of.
And while it might seem that a lot of brilliant entrepreneurs (or anyone successful for that matter) just kick ass at everything they do, the reality is that most people in life need not only a framework to follow in order to complete their todo list, but also a conscious effort needs to be constantly applied to what they’re doing.
From the outside looking in, these successful determined people make it seem like everything just naturally happens for them and they don’t have to develop processes and frameworks to ensure success and productivity. But we’re all human, and even successful people need to employ systems in order to remain productive.
Just because a guy has a really nice golf shot doesn’t mean he isn’t consciously thinking about each step he’s taking to make that shot.
I would imagine this is a problem that startup founders run into somewhat frequently, as you receive a lot of freedom when you embark on a startup full time. You don’t have anyone scheduling your day, and oftentimes you don’t even have an office to go to (if you work from home), so it’s easy to just kind of gently flow through your day rather than adopt a rigid schedule and institute a self-discipline plan that will keep you on task.
With this type of free form day, it’s easy to write out a list of higher level todo items which will quickly lead to anxiety because you haven’t broken them down into bite sized chunks that can be mindfully approached one by one. If you find yourself making a list and then not doing any of it and just procrastinating instead, this is probably why. You’re overwhelming yourself because you aren’t creating digestible tasks.
Break down all of your tasks into the smallest useful size possible. You might end up with 10x as many items on your todo list, but you’re going to feel a hell of a lot better when reading your list than if it just said “Paint the Mona Lisa” on it.
But if you take the time to slow down and walk yourself through each step of your golf swing, or your todo list, or any other multi-step process, you should be able to remain focused and productive. Eventually, as you keep carefully walking through each step, you’ll slowly start developing some muscle memory, meaning you’ll need to dedicate less and less energy to getting your work done.