Edwardian-era productivity tips and my goal-setting formula
Jan 28, 2023 6:06 am
Coming up this month:
- My secret book, and its embarrassing front cover
- Productivity tips from the Edwardian age
- My goal-setting formula for this year
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🥂 I got a book deal
A few weeks ago, I signed a publishing deal with Penguin Random House, AKA the biggest publisher in the world.
They'll be publishing an updated and extended hardcover version of my recent book, The Price Of Money, on 30 March. I'll then be working with them on a brand new book which will be published in 2024.
Getting to this point of becoming a "proper" author took a mere 10 years from writing my first self-published book. And – I'll be the first to admit – it wasn't the type of explosion onto the publishing scene that hinted at any great things to come...
Back in 2012, my wife and I read in a blog post that it was possible to upload a file to Amazon, and they'd print individual copies of your book as they were ordered (I think this was the actual article).
No upfront costs? No need to print a stack of books and hope they sell? It seemed too good to be true. But we gave it a try. With the London 2012 Olympics coming up, we decided what the world needed was a hastily cobbled together collection of sporting facts that we painstakingly copied and pasted from the first page of Google results. We finished the project within a day.
And you know what? It sold. Not many, but some. The feeling of logging into the Amazon dashboard and seeing actual money that people had paid for our book – and having a real copy drop onto our doormat – was just incredible.
You won't believe it when you see it, but I actually designed the front cover myself. I'm convinced its irresistible blend of gravitas and creative flair was the key to the book's success:
Since then, we've published 16 books (I think) between us. We've sold well over 150,000 copies in total. Last year, my latest book hit the #1 spot on the whole of Amazon and stayed there long enough that proper publishers started getting in touch.
So why go with a publisher now, when we're doing so well on our own? On the face of it, it doesn't make any sense: the royalty rates are much lower, it'll take months for the book to finally appear (compared to hours when self-publishing), and I'll have less control over the end result.
But it feels like the next logical step in a journey that started a decade ago with one blog post and a free afternoon.
My books will be sold in actual bookshops, and in translation around the world (improbably, I sold the Greek translation rights last week). They'll be eligible for "proper" bestseller lists. And there are no guarantees, but the clout of a big publisher means that the chances of landing big PR opportunities are far greater.
If there's a better example of the power of just getting started and trying something, I can't think of one.
Pre-orders are the key to cracking the Sunday Times bestseller list, because all advance orders suddenly hit the chart at the same time on the day of publication. So my mission for the next couple of months is to rack up as many as I can.
Obviously, there's no pressure: I'm grateful just to have you reading these emails, and I'm not going to start plugging the book to an annoying degree.
But if you do pre-order, you can claim instant access to a 2-hour video course I've put together that summarises some of the key themes from the book.
The page I linked above has all the details.
⌛️ How to live on 24 hours a day
The feeling of not having enough time is nothing to do with TV, social media or longer working hours... because it was enough of a problem in 1908 that a self-help book was written about it.
In the references section of Four Thousand Weeks – one of the best books I've read in recent years – I came across a short book (the fiction equivalent of a novella) called How To Live On 24 Hours A Day.
Objectively, it isn't a good book. It rambles and goes off on tangents, despite only being 35 pages long. It seemingly assumes no-one has children to look after. (Maybe the target audience – men in Edwardian England – didn't.)
But there are some gems, like this:
The chief beauty about the constant supply of time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoilt, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your career. Which fact is very gratifying and reassuring. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.
It also warns of the dangers of taking productivity too far:
Another danger is the danger of developing a policy of rush, of being gradually more and more obsessed by what one has to do next. In this way one may come to exist as in a prison, and one's life may cease to be one's own. One may take the dog out for a walk at eight o'clock, and meditate the whole time on the fact that one must begin to read at a quarter to nine, and that one must not be late.
This is an uncomfortably dead-on description of my life. Even when I'm deeply enjoying an activity, at least 10% of my brain is hyper-aware of what I "need" to do next and is nagging away at me to make sure I'm not late.
I'd love to do something about this, so do shout if you've conquered this yourself.
🎯 Goal = habit + quality check
My recipe for setting goals this year is habit + quality check.
I always like to set "habit goals" rather than "outcome goals", because you can control the process but not the outcome. Take an outcome goal like "grow my business by 20% this year": even if you do everything right, your industry could be hit hard by some outside factor so achieving the goal becomes impossible.
By contrast, most goals can be turned into habits – which you can control. For example, this year I want to take a certain number of holidays and breaks – so the habit is to review my calendar every month, and book something in for within the next three months if it's not already there.
Habits take you a long way. It's hard to go to the gym three times per week and not get stronger. It's hard to write every day and not become a better writer.
But I like to add a quality check to keep pushing myself. So to avoid just turning up at the gym out of habit and going through the motions, my goal is "go to the gym three times per week AND build X amount of muscle".
For writing, I have a habit of writing every day AND ending up with a book that I believe is capable of being a best-seller. (This is completely different from the goal of having a best-selling book, which is an outcome I can't control.)
So habit + quality check, and the results take care of themselves.
What are your goals for this year? I'd love to know!
🍿 Media picks
🎭 Update on my 10 year plan to read "The Classics": Aristophenes was good fun, and Plutarch needed a damn editor. I've just finished the prescribed two books of the Bible (much more readable than I expected), now onto the Confessions of St Augustine. Long way to go!
🗣 This article is built on a highly tenuous analogy, but offers some good conversational tips – and insight into where some of your interactions may be going wrong.
✈️ Remember the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight seven years ago? This looooong article about the extensive efforts to solve the mystery is fascinating.
That’s it for January! Feel free to write back and let me know what you've been up to.
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