Monthly update: Topping the charts and navigating a crash

Jun 25, 2022 5:06 am


Coming up this month:

  • Dealing with "the everything crash"
  • How my book launch went
  • Learning to talk louder in 4 minutes
  • And more!

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πŸ™Œ This month in BEING NUMBER ONE BABY publishing

My book came out the other week, and spent most of its launch day sitting at #1 on the list of all books sold on the whole of Amazon. Obligatory screenshot:


(I like to think of Richard Osman checking his rankings and frantically calling his publisher to find out who this upstart is that's knocked him down a place. Although he's probably somewhat consoled by selling as many books literally every day as I did on my best day ever.)

Anyway. Two interesting points from this:

One: The success of the launch is vindication (I think that's the right word although it sounds like a bad thing) of building an audience.

Authors who've seemingly done all the right things – worked with a proper publisher, appeared on major podcasts, pulled strings to get high-profile newspaper coverage – often end up with three lonely Amazon reviews and minimal sales.

My book didn't have a publisher, and I didn't do any of those other things. My launch strategy boiled down to "send a message to people who must at least vaguely like me because they gave me their email address". And it worked.

It's not a magic pill: it's the payoff for spending thousands of hours attempting to add value without asking for much in return. But as that part is fun to me anyway, it feels a bit like magic.

Two: I was pretty relaxed about launch day, because having a successful launch wasn't the goal: the goal was to enjoy the process of writing the book. So by my own internal measure, by the time I'd hit "publish" I'd already succeeded.

It's handy if you can cultivate this attitude towards anything, because it puts success completely within your control: uncontrollable factors like other people's reactions to your work become irrelevant.

Anyway! I'll shut up about the book now.

πŸ“‰ This month in the sky falling in

This month, many people I know are freaking out about one or both of the following:

  1. Whatever they've invested in has suddenly declined by a scary proportion...
  2. ...except property, so many people who want to buy a home are wrestling with whether they should be paying "over the odds".

This sounds glib, but if you're worrying about either of these you've already made a strategic error.

Let's cover each:

1: All your investments are down. This is only bothering you because you've made one of the following mistakes:

  • You've invested an uncomfortable proportion of your net worth in something speculative that could go to zero and never come back.

  • You've invested money you might need to access in the next five years.

  • You're moving from the "accumulation" stage to the "live off your investments" stage, but haven't already de-risked by shifting your balance towards safer assets.

  • You've got caught up in other people's panic and media hysteria, forgetting that you've avoided the previous three mistakes so it doesn't affect you.

As long as you've avoided these mistakes, the solution to being anxious about the price of everything falling is just don't look.

2: Any property you want to buy as a home is selling over its asking price, and you don't know if you should be chasing the market up. Some principles for this:

  • Do you want to live there for at least 10 years? If so, the price you pay today really doesn't matter: it will eventually be worth far more, purely due to inflation increasing the value of the asset but not your debt.

  • If you don't want to live there for at least 10 years, you probably shouldn't be buying anyway. (I know, life is far more complicated than that, but financially at least the transaction costs make it a bad idea.)

  • Your home isn't primarily an investment anyway: it's where you spend a lot of your time, and its location affects many other parts of your life. If you can afford the price and it's worth it to you, pay it. If you buy and it turns out you could have bought 10% cheaper in a year's time, who cares? You can't see the future, and it could have easily gone the other way. Anyway: whatever it's worth "on paper", its utility to you is exactly the same.

In both these situations, it's easy for me to say all this because I'm not emotionally involved. A neat trick to gain the same perspective is to imagine it's not your situation but a friend's, and you're advising them about what to do.

πŸ… This month in focus (again)

In my last newsletter I griped about my inability to focus. Over the last month, I've sorted it out.

I know: seems too quick. But it only required three simple changes:

1: Notice the problem. Unhelpful behaviours normally emerge slowly and stealthily (like inflation – sorry, I'm still in book mode), so by the time they become debilitating they just seem "normal" and it doesn't cross your mind to do anything about it. So the solution started by noticing it, getting angry about it, and resolving to do something about it. (This is the same technique I used to stop sleeping through my alarm.)

2: Break common patterns. My go-to distraction in cases of "not sure what to do next" or "hit a point where it's too hard" was to open Twitter on my phone. Not in a "doomscrolling" way: it was pleasant and I'd find all manner of interesting things. But still, hardly a focused activity.

The solution? Move the Twitter icon from the home screen of my phone to another screen that involves two swipes then a tap into a folder. As a result of being required to move my index finger slightly more, I haven't opened Twitter since. Humans are weird. Now, at times when I would have opened Twitter, I read a few pages of a book on my Kindle.

Here's the thing: my focus problem wasn't about Twitter. It was far more general than that. But by replacing an "anti-focus" activity (scrolling) with a focused one (reading), it seemed to re-condition my brain more widely.

3: Build the focus muscle. I started using the pomodoro technique: 25 minutes of work on a single task, 5 minute break, repeat. I found it achievable and motivating, and showed me that I could focus if I was intentional about it. Four pomodoros per day (which is usually achievable even on days that are packed with meetings) equals nearly two hours of quality work. I'm actually writing this section during a pomodoro, so my spelking might fall off a bit as aIrush to finsih it before the time runs out.

I think the overriding point here is that once you decide to make a change (in any area of life), the change itself will probably be easier than you think. The tricky part is noticing the problem in the first place, and making that commitment.

🍿 This month in media

πŸ“— Four Thousand Weeks (named after the typical human lifespan) by Oliver Burkeman had been recommended to me by several people. Once I'd sorted out my focus problems I could finally read it, and wow: loved it. I'd describe it as a book about time management, but with a twist: the trick is to accept you can't manage time, and learn to be OK with that. I'll probably write up my main takeaways for next month's newsletter.

πŸ’ͺ Andrew Huberman is a huge podcaster in the health and personal development space, but I'd previously never listened to him because his podcasts are all so damn long. I persisted with his episode on strength training with Dr Andy Galpin, and it's definitely worth the (large amount of) time: an incredible amount of information, presented in a refreshingly structured way. 

πŸ“£ Because I like to have at least one weird self-improvement thing going on at any one time, this month I've been working on speaking louder. This blurry four -minute video from 2013 cracked the technique for me. After that, it's just a matter of psychology (for the first week it felt like I was speaking "too loud" until I got used to it, so I had to keep asking my wife for reassurance).

That’s it for June! Feel free to write back and let me know what you've been up to.



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