Here’s a question I sometimes ask myself: am I helping? Or am I changing someone’s life?
Make no mistake, I love helping. I love using my experience and solving problems. I love being able to say, “OK. I understand. Another client had a really similar problem and this worked for her.”
And I love it when someone comes to me and says, “Thanks, Ed. That worked. Problem solved.”
But it goes a long way beyond ‘loving it’ when someone says: “Thank you, Ed. Working with you has made a fundamental difference to my business and my life.”
That doesn’t happen often, but when it does it makes me sing and dance. I’m a little too old to skip down the street, but it conveys the emotion. Outside my wife and my children, it’s the best feeling there is.
And when it happens, I realise something important: solving problems is work that’s rooted in the present. Transforming someone’s life or business is very firmly rooted in the future. It doesn’t come from answering the question: ‘what’s the problem?’ It comes from much deeper questions: ‘What sort of person do you want to be?’ ‘What direction do you want to take your business in?’
As I read recently, it’s the difference between running on a treadmill and running to a destination.
We all have things that we want to be – or that we want to achieve – in the future. Achieving those goals is going to make a fundamental difference to how we see ourselves five, ten, twenty years down the line.
These goals may or may not be business related: that doesn’t matter to me, because TAB is about getting what you want from your business and your life. What does matter to me is that you make a start on achieving those goals. Right now.
Yes, I know that your to-do list is thirty items long and getting longer. I know you have immediate problems that you need to solve.
But the simple fact is that your to-do list will always have thirty jobs on it. There’ll always be things you need to do right now.
I also know that it’s ridiculous to spend time on something that’s five years away – something on which there’s no immediate return – when you could be working productively on something that’s important today. But if you don’t make a start on those things now, you’ll never make a start.
We all know how fast time goes – and that it goes faster as you get older. My eldest son is nearly 14. It’s around three weeks since I held his hand and took him to nursery. In another couple of weeks he’ll be graduating from university.
So if you don’t make a start on what you want to achieve in 2021 it will be here. And ‘significantly improve my photography,’ ‘write a novel,’ or ‘get myself seriously fit again’ will still be nothing more than entries on your mental bucket list.
That’s my key point: if you want to be truly productive in the long term, you need to spend some time being unproductive in the short term.
Your future self needs to be selfish.
You need to sign up to that photography course, start writing, or take advantage of the light nights and get on your bike. And yes, doing those things may feel totally unproductive now – but in five years’ time they’ll be among the best decisions you ever made.