The one question to end your day

It's simpler than you think.
Jeremy Clarke
August 24, 2023

“When you read biographies of people who've done great work, it's remarkable how much luck is involved. They discover what to work on as a result of a chance meeting, or by reading a book they happen to pick up. So you need to make yourself a big target for luck, and the way to do that is to be curious. Try lots of things, meet lots of people, read lots of books, ask lots of questions.” Paul Graham, How to Do Great Work

It’s no secret that most startups fail. Just log into LinkedIn, and you’re likely to see dozens of entrepreneurs slinging statistics about how their idea beat all odds of success. And while those stories are inspiring, it’s hard to figure out how to act on them. How do you follow in their footsteps? What action can you take today?

There are a number of things that have to go right for a startup to be successful and the truth is most of it comes down to luck. In his essay How to Do Great Work, Paul Graham talks about how curiosity is what makes you a bigger target for this luck. If you keep asking questions, try different things, eventually, your field of luck will get bigger and bigger.

Another thing that makes you a bigger target for luck? Belief. You have to believe so aggressively in your vision that even on your worst day, you can still push forward through the mud and get the job done. It’s that grit that Angela Duckworth talks about in her TEDTalk.

Sometimes this belief, this grit, looks like walking around in the dark for weeks, maybe even months, in pursuit of what will work for your business. Other times it looks like taking action without the slightest clue if it will work. But what it doesn’t look like is leaning back because you’re afraid. What it doesn’t look like is perfection-induced procrastination. You must always be moving. Period.

When I was building WebMerge, I was working around the clock. I was building custom features for customers, writing blog posts, answering support tickets — it was non-stop. I barely spent time researching competitors because I was too busy focusing on what I believed would be the best solution for people paying me. I didn’t make a plan. I didn’t look 6-9 months in the future. I didn’t do a lot of things that other startups do. I just kept my head down, chipping away at the next task.

And one thing I asked myself at the end of each day, when I was just about to close things down was… what is one more thing I can do in less than 20 minutes?

This seems like a trivial thing, but pushing that extra bit at the end of the day can make all the difference. Developing that discipline to push for 20 more minutes could be enough to close a deal or unblock a teammate. And because I never knew what action would unlock that, if there was something to be done… I had to go for it.

Time-blocking it is key. While you’re bound to go over 20 minutes here and here, the limitation allows you to hyper-focus on something specific. It also prevents you from taking on a bulky strategic task that is better suited for a clear head the next day. It also makes it attainable and less prone to procrastinating.

Tasks that fall in this category can be:

  • Answer one more support ticket
  • Respond to a coworker’s message
  • Review the next days tasks and prioritize them
  • Review any unanswered emails and respond
  • Review Notion notifications (where we manage our projects)
  • Give props to a colleague in Slack (equally important to action in those early days is team morale!)
  • Read an article you have bookmarked
  • Write down ideas you have — uninterrupted 20-minute brainstorm

Now, this approach isn’t going to work for everyone. And that is precisely why you should do it. Your competitors who clock out at a certain time or who have a tendency to overthink their next move… they’re not going to be able to get in and get out like this. Plus, a lot of people assume small tasks like this won’t matter — they want to go big or go home, when they should go 20 more minutes and then go home.

So today, when you’re shutting it down and thinking you’ve done all you can for the day… ask yourself this one question, What is one more thing I can do right now?

Thanks for reading!

Jeremy Clarke

Jeremy Clarke is CEO and Head of Product at Plain Sight Ventures. In his free time, you can find Jeremy behind the wheel of a race car on one of his favorite tracks around the world or pushing the limits in some other extreme sport.

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