In a world without limits, there are no victories. There is no job well done. Nothing is ever good enough.
Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”
If there were no limits:
- When would the skyscraper be high enough?
- How would you know the next Mona Lisa was complete?
- When would you be able to run fast enough?
Or, maybe you're like me with pages and pages of unfinished and unpublished writing in pursuit of the perfect article.
Limits force us to be creative. Limits enable us to improve. Limits allow us to finish. If we want our lives to be different, we need to be like artists and redraw the lines to break through.
Begin with these three principles:
- Start Small
- Develop a Process
- Perfection is the Enemy of Done
In 2009, comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan tweeted this:
Home from the @adamcarolla podcast. Whenever I do something like that it motivates me to start doing some sort of regular thing online— Joe Rogan (@joerogan) December 17, 2009
One conversation at a time, Rogan has published 1,479 podcast episodes (as of May 2020) and become one of the most popular podcasters in the world. He just signed a deal worth more than $100 million with Spotify.
Recognize that progress is not linear, either.
Rogan started with stand-up comedy before moving into television and UFC commentary decades before starting his podcast, but those steps prepared him for his later roles. Then he refined his skills and built a following, episode by episode.
It doesn’t matter where we start, just that we start. Do you want to be a published author? A renowned artist? A marathon finisher?
Start small. Write for 30 minutes a day and share your best work with friends. Share one drawing each day to Instagram. Get off the couch and walk a mile around the block.
Set a low limit, do it consistently, and expand outwards.
What’s the first step in your journey?
Develop a Process
As we progress, we need to develop processes. Processes create limits. They create consistency and predictability. These processes could be as specialized as how to write a blog post or as routine as how to manage your email inbox.
For example, Getting to Inbox Zero, provided me with a simple and life-changing email management process. This process has literally saved me several hours a week, increased my responsiveness, and eliminated inbox anxiety.
Any task you expect to do more than once should be turned into a repeatable process.
Processes provide several advantages:
- They provide a clear starting point, decrease procrastination and increase our ability to find flow.
- Through repetition, we can identify our constraints and make continuous targeted improvements.
- They protect us from ourselves. They account for routine errors and limit scope creep as we work within defined boundaries.
Creating a process can be simple:
As you’re performing a task or immediately afterwards, record your steps. How did you do it?
For example, I needed to verify which employees within our organization's training program were eligible for graduation. I found information from several sources, attempted all kinds of excel wizardry, and spent a full workday putting this together only to make a terminal mistake at the end losing EVERYTHING.
Fortunately, I recorded the steps in another document and it quickly became painfully obvious I'd outsmarted myself. I revised the process and, starting from scratch, completed the entire process in 90 minutes.
I won’t be repeating this process for at least six months, but I can just pick up where I left off. For a nice bonus, I can share my document with someone else and now others are benefiting from my experience.
While the documentation can seem tedious, if you can improve a daily task by five minutes, you can free up as many as 30 hours a year.
Where can you afford to be more efficient?
Perfection is the Enemy of Done
Chris Bailey uses the example of cleaning a house. We might be able to get our house 90% clean in an hour or two. To get that final 10% would require several more hours of hard scrubbing. The first 90% takes 10% of time; the remaining 10% takes 90% of time.
Is it worth the extra work? Most times, I'd rather spend those hours with people and tasks that provide value to the world and me.
I remember sitting in my high school cafeteria staring at the quote on the wall: "Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."
It's important to dream big. As an educator, I dreamed of changing the world. During my five years in education, I worked with thousands of students. What if I only changed the trajectory of a handful of lives? Isn't that enough?
I might not write the next New York Times Bestseller, but my articles could still improve the lives of those who read them.
I’ve run more than 50 races of various distances; I’ve won one. Is it enough to finish with the satisfaction that I trained and raced hard with nothing more to give?
Shoot for the moon, but take satisfaction if you land as a guiding light in the sky.
A life without limits is a setup for disappointment. However, while we start small, our limits should not stay small. In the Limits of Technique, Seth Godin wrote:
It’s possible that you no longer need to get better at your craft. That your craft is just fine.
It’s possible that you need to be braver instead.
Don’t be afraid to stretch your limits. You're the artist designing your life.
What does your canvas look like?