Ideas for how to live a good life.

Get my newsletter

What great operators have in common

I’ve worked with some great operators over the last 20 years. And there seems to be a common thread amongst them.

It comes down to how they’re able to think across three different time frames. Importantly, how they’re able to perfectly balance the time they spend in each of these time frames.

Inversely, bad operators tend to spend their time almost exclusively in just one of these time frames. Either that, or they don’t balance the time they spend in each one very well.

The three time frames are:

1. Now

This is what’s right in front of you. It’s your immediate goal and priorities. Usually it’s about 4-8 weeks in front of you.

2. One step ahead

This is the logical phase or set of priorities that come after what’s right in front of you. It’s what you’ll need to start working on, once you’ve nailed what’s immediately in front of you.

3. The end goal

This is what you’re ultimately working towards. It’s what success looks like over the long term.

Great Operators

Great operators tend to perfectly balance the time they spend in each of these three time frames.

They start by thinking about the end goal. They get clear on what they’re trying to achieve over the long term. This means that they can push forward with a clear purpose and direction. Not doing this, is almost the definition of being unstrategic.

But, they don’t get too caught up trying to lock down the end goal in fine detail. They know it will change as they work towards it. They do enough, to have a clear sense for where to head – and then they step back from it.

After that, they spend most of their time in the now. They get on with their immediate goals and priorities. The things that need to be done this week, and next week. They start building momentum.

Here is the tricky part. They have to get stuff done, but in parallel to that, they also need to have an eye on what comes next (one step ahead). They will do preparation work, so that they can seamlessly transition into the next logical goal or phase of work. When this isn’t done, you risk completing what’s in front of you, but then being unprepared for what comes next. This causes you to lose time and momentum.

Last of all, they take a step back from time to time, to think about the end goal. They think about what they’ve learned from completing what’s in front of them – and from planning for the next logical goal or phase of work. The end goal is re-shaped if necessary. What they don’t do, is get too stuck thinking about the end goal. They get back to what’s in front of them.

As you can see, it’s a tricky balance to keep these three time frames in your head.

You probably need to spend 70% of your time working on what’s in front of you (now). In parallel to that, you’re probably spending 20% of your time planning for the next logical goal or phase of work (one step ahead). And then roughly 10% of your time is spent taking a step back and thinking about where you’re heading (the end goal).

This is what good execution looks like. Great operators will naturally think like this. They don’t miss a beat.

What you’ll also notice, is that great leaders and managers do this with their teams. They develop a vision for the team to work towards. They help them focus on what’s in front of them, but also encourage them to plan for what’s around the corner.

Common Operating Mistakes

Problems arise when people spend their time almost exclusively in one of the time frames. Either that, or they don’t balance the time they spend in each one very well.

For example, let’s look at spending your time almost exclusively in one of the time frames. Let’s say, all you think about is the now. Sure, it will look like you’re getting stuff done – but in reality, it’s a random effort. You’ll lack a clear direction, and will often get surprised by things that are one step ahead. Rarely does this result in impactful or transformative work.

Another good example is spending too much time thinking about the end goal. It becomes paralysing, and you never really get into execution mode.

The other mistake, is not balancing the time you spend in each one very well. For example, you might start to work on the now, but then become too distracted by worrying about what comes next. Or you worry too much about what the end goal should perfectly look like. This also becomes paralysing and gets in the way of execution.

A recent example

To help give some context, here’s a recent example of having to think like this.

I joined Bossa Studios earlier this year. One of the things on my radar was recruitment.

We were doing some things well, but we were also doing a bunch of things not so well. Overall, we weren’t in a great place.

First up, we had to spend some time thinking about what the end goal looked like. Where did we need to ultimately get to?

We needed to work towards a strategic, and approved hiring plan. We needed a people and talent team who had the capability and capacity to source and hire great candidates. And we needed a robust hiring process, from beginning to end.

That was enough for me. It was clear what the end goal was.

Then we had to switch to the now. We knew the foundation would be having a strategic, and approved hiring plan. This would drive all of our work. So, we got to work on building this with the senior leadership team.

It took about 6-8 weeks, but we finally got there. We had in front of us a strategic, and approved hiring plan (many of the roles are live here). We also established an approval process for any new hires. This would keep the hiring plan tight.

In parallel to this work, we had to have our eyes on what would come next (one step ahead). We knew that once the hiring plan was in place, we would need to execute against it – and pretty quickly. We didn’t have the team or process to be able to do that well enough.

So, whilst we were building the hiring plan, we overhauled our recruitment process. We also started to build out the people and talent team. We made two very strong hires. A permanent senior people manager, and a fixed term recruiter.

If we were 100% focused on the hiring plan, we’d have been screwed at the end of it. We would have a nice hiring plan in front of us, but no chance of being able to execute it.

Now, I’d love to say we seamlessly transitioned into executing on the hiring plan. Things rarely go that perfect 😉

Whilst we made two very strong hires in the people and talent team, they aren’t due to start until August. So, we’ve been incredibly stretched for the last 4-6 weeks executing on the hiring plan the best we can. It’s messy in places, but we’re keeping our head above water and I’m proud of that. Luckily, we’re not far from those two key hires joining us, and things settling down.

We already have our eye on what’s next too. It’s great we have a hiring plan, and soon a team capable of executing it. But, now we need to focus on significantly strengthening our candidate pipeline. We’ve done some prep work for this already, but need to double down on it over the coming months.

As you can see, it’s a constant balancing act of the three time frames. You have to mostly focus on what’s in front of you, but also spend some time planning for what’s around the corner. And from time to time, you have to take a step back and think about the end goal.

When you do that, the results tend to flow.

Get my newest articles in your inbox

Receive an email when I publish a new article (usually 1 or 2 a month). I also share a summary of outstanding content I stumble across (usually about once per month).

Sign up now and you’ll receive a collection of my most popular articles, aswell as a comprehensive guide on how to plan a kick-ass week.


How to be focused and effective at work

<figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="http://danielclough.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Startup-office-898x505-e1555164044945.jpg" alt="" class="wp-image-4509"/></figure>

I recently started a new role at a games studio. This has meant I’ve had to get to grips with some strategies and systems for being focused and effective at work again.

The good news is that I’ve accumulated them over the last twenty years, so they are coming back to me quickly. But, I’ve also noticed some new ways to think about things. I wanted to get them all out of my head, in case others find them useful.

Read more

5 things I love (#3)

I put a lot of effort into curating my social media feeds, to discover great content. By great, I mean things that might spark an idea, and have potential to have a big impact on my life.

Below are five things I’ve read, listened to, or watched recently – that I think are really special.

Read more

5 things I love #2

I put a lot of effort into curating my social media feeds, to discover great content. By great, I mean things that might spark an idea, and have potential to have a big impact on my life.

Below are five things I’ve read, listened to, or watched recently – that I think are really special.

Read more

5 things I love #1

I put a lot of effort into curating my social media feeds, so I can discover great content. By great, I mean things that might spark an idea, and have the potential to have a big impact on my life.

Below are five things I’ve read, listened to, or watched recently that I think are really special:

Read more

I went for lunch, and all I did was eat lunch – it was hard and weird

lunch

I wonder about myself at times. Ella already thinks I’m weird, and shit like this really doesn’t help.

So, I’m walking to this restaurant by myself. And I’m thinking — I wonder if I can go in and just eat lunch. No phone, no kindle, no nothing. Just me and my lunch.

I decide to do it. I walk in and ask for a table for one. The waitress shows me to my table and I sit down.

Read more

Three reasons morning routines don’t work (and how to stick to one you love)

Waking early and making good use of the early hours is the biggest life hack there is — no exception. It’s a competitive advantage that almost feels like you’re cheating. You’re getting stuff done whilst most other people are sleeping like babies!

But, it can be hard to find one you like doing and will stick to (these are linked).

In my experience, there are three things that are at the root of not sticking to a morning routine…

Read more

How to learn something new, faster (with an example)

Goddamn double unders. They are a bitch to learn.

I’ve spent the last couple of months working on them. Most of the time I could only get 2 or 3 reps (repetitions) before the rope hit my leg.

I sometimes got up to 10 – but it was a fluke occurrence. I couldn’t repeat it consistently. And then I’m back to 2 or 3 reps again. It was frustrating.

I watched loads of videos. I recorded myself, looking for holes in my technique. But, I couldn’t seem to make a break through.

Read more

You know a wise man once said nothin’ at all

You know a wise man once said nothin’ at all – Drake

 

Most of what I write about usually comes to me in one of two ways.

Sometimes I randomly start thinking about a topic. I then start to notice a bunch of related things that enforce or help shape my thinking on it. And then I write it up (which also helps further shape my thinking on it).

However sometimes it works the other way. I notice a bunch of related things over time and I start to think about it more. I gradually realise the importance of it and develop a view on it. And then I write it up.

This post is no different.

Read more

How to be less busy, and have more impact

Focus

I’ve been through a major shift in how I plan my days and get things done over the last few years.

I used to think a good day was getting as many things done as possible. I felt productive as I ploughed through my lists. But now I realise, I was actually just busy. I could get lots of things done, but my impact was inconsistent.

A better way of putting it is, I didn’t get the return on investment for the amount of time I put in, or the number of things I completed.

Read more

Focus and productivity is only half the battle

I’m fascinated with the topic of productivity. For me, it boils down to two things — being able to focus (identify and work on the right things), and then, actually getting things done.

It’s why I think and write alot about goals and the best way to set vision and areas of focus — that’s the ‘identify and work on the right things’ bit. I also geek out on habits, routines and planning frameworks — that’s the ‘getting things done’ bit.

This stuff is important. If you’re not deeply connected to who you want to be and where you want your life to go, you’re more likely to flap around and work on the wrong things. And if you don’t have self discipline and a system for planning, your productivity will suffer.

So, that stuff is super important. But, I realised recently that it’s only part of the battle. And without the other part, you’ll be severely limited and frustrated. The other part might even be more important.

The other part is mindset.

Read more

My favourite life changing books

I read a great article recently — If It’s Important, Learn It Repeatedly. It makes a good case for going back and re-reading important books.

So, I went back and read Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s one of my favorite books and it was even better the second time round. It gave me a renewed enthusiasm for doing deep work and some fresh ideas for how to go about it.

It got me thinking, what other books could I go back and read again?

Read more

High risk investing & cryptocurrency

Whenever anyone asks me for advice about investing, I always give the same response:

Invest in indexes. Contribute regularly, hold for the long term and rarely check.

Then I point them towards two bits of reading — JL Collins Stock Series and Warren Buffett’s $1 million bet. These do a great job of outlining the above approach, with some proof that it actually works.

I’m now convinced it’s worth having a small percentage at a higher risk. And as usual, Barry Avraam is the person responsible for getting me to take more risk. Fred Wilson’s writing on AVC also helped. Crypto Asset Allocation and Diversification (aka How To Survive A Crash) are two posts that have been particularly helpful.

Read more

How I think about everything in life

As we get older (and hopefully wiser), our thinking about the important things in life changes. We learn new things. We have amazing, good, bad and awful experiences. We try things that work and don’t work. We slowly build informed opinions and beliefs from all of this.

I’ve noticed that in the first 35 years of life, my thinking on certain things has changed a lot. As I’ve got closer to 40, things are starting to settle. I’ve had a few epiphany / mid life type movements. These have either solidified how I think about something, or significantly changed my thinking — probably for the rest of my life.

Read more

How to plan a killer week

Get more done, spend more time on what really matters and be happier. It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t.

Planning the week ahead could be the one, single biggest thing you can do to get more done — and be happier. It’s usually the difference between a bad, or an awesome week.

Read more

7 things to look for in a dream job

I made a tough decision towards the end of last year — I changed my work situation. What made it tough was, it was a good job, at a good company. It ticked most of the boxes.

All jobs have their ups and downs. I tend to find I go through periods of about 8-10 weeks when things feel really good. The work is engaging and challenging, and the results are there. And then I will hit a couple of weeks where I feel low. Everything feels like a bit of a slog. Sometimes it’s an unexpected miss or a problem. Sometimes, it’s just a case of burnout. But, I soon come out of it and get myself back into a good stretch.

Around the middle of last year, I found the good periods were getting shorter and the slogs were getting longer. It forced me to do some thinking and exploring around what is important for me at work.

Read more

Can technology free us from technology?

Freedom

I’ve been using Freedom for the last couple of weeks, with interesting results.

Freedom is an app that helps you control distractions by blocking the internet, apps and websites — or any combination of those. You can start a freedom session whenever you like, or schedule a session for the future. It supports recurring sessions too. You have complete control over how long you want sessions to be, and what distractions you want to block.

Read more

Why you need to become a morning person

I’ve written about morning routines, quite frankly, more than anyone should. That’s because I believe waking up early is about the most life changing thing you can do.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the people I consider successful and happy, get up early and follow some type of morning routine. I challenge you to think about this too. Look at well known people, colleagues and friends. I bet you come to the same conclusion.

Read more

The power of broad focuses

Recently I read ‘In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto’ by Michael Pollan. Here’s how it starts:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give the game away right here at the beginning of a whole book devoted to the subject, and I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a couple hundred more pages or so. I’ll try to resist, but will go ahead and add a few more details to flesh out the recommendations.

I love how Michael Pollan simplified a complex topic (and a whole book) down to 7 words:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

It’s beautiful. Those 7 words have stuck with me since — and as a result, have helped influence my eating.

Read more

Two years without a smartphone

Two years ago, I ditched my iPhone 6 for a Nokia 130.

It was an extreme decision, but it felt the only thing left to do. I was tired of being constantly connected. I couldn’t find a way to break the addiction of compulsively checking things.

It took a couple of weeks for the urges to go away —  but go away they did. And once they did, life got better. I’m not tempted to go back one bit. It’s been life changing.

Recently I reflected on some of the benefits from living without a smartphone….

Read more

Being self critical: My biggest strength and weakness

It took a recent crossfit session to remind me of my biggest strength, but also my biggest weakness — being self critical.

We had to pick two movements that we hated and sucked at. I went with thrusters and kipping pull ups. We practiced them throughout the session and used them in the workout at the end.

6 thrusters, followed by 6 kipping pull ups — repeated for as many reps as possible in 20 mins.

Pretty tough. I found the movements awkward throughout. As I was driving home after the workout, here’s what played through my head…

Read more

When No One is Looking

This is embarrassing, but here it goes. I have a massive man crush on Mat Fraser.

It started when I watched Fittest on Earth 2015. Mat placed second and stood out as an incredible athlete. He made a few mistakes and wasn’t quite the all rounder Ben Smith was.

Recently I watched Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness (Crossfit Games 2016). Mat blew through the competition (including Ben Smith) to finish first. It was awesome to see Mat dominate the competition, including beating last years winner. But, I figured, sometimes it happens like that. You see the same thing with football teams. No matter the odds, sometimes you get an upset. Maybe he should have won in 2015? Or maybe 2016 was a fluke?

Read more

Get in touch

I love hearing from people. Just fill the form out below and I'll get back to you shortly!

P.S If you're on Twitter, hit me up.