This is the fifth in a series of posts about how to leverage The 7 Systems of Influence to become a better author. If you want to start from the beginning or find links to all the posts in this series, go here.
In 1990, Jack Canfield was a motivational speaker traveling the circuit. One day, he and fellow speaker Mark Victor Hansen came up with the idea to compile the most uplifting and inspiring stories from their presentations and put them in a book. They set a goal of 101 stories and asked other speakers to contribute any they knew of. It took three years to create the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, but that was the easy part. This was in the days before self-publishing on Amazon, so they needed to find an agent who would take the book and pitch it to publishers.
It took 144 pitches and 14 months before someone finally took a chance on it. Since then, the 250 titles in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, with titles translated into over 40 languages. The series holds the record in The Guinness Book of World Records for the most books on The New York Times Best Seller list at one time. “If we had given up after 100 publishers, I likely would not be where I am now,” Canfield said.
Action is not merely about starting, but following through. “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity,” Amelia Earhart said, but I disagree. For some of us, the most natural thing is acting. It’s the tenacity to keep going that is difficult.
What we can all agree on is that if you want to make something happen, you must act. Action may not always lead to predictable outcomes, but inaction will.
Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.
– Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister
If you’ve been answering the questions and doing the assignments in this workbook, then you’ve already taken action. Now, you’ll gain access to a tool with the potential to change your life, not only as an author, thought leader, or entrepreneur, but in every other role you occupy. Combining aspects of traditional vision boards and the “big rocks” prioritization method popularized by Stephen R. Covey, we call this your “Big Rocks Board.”
A vision board is a tool that helps you clarify what you want to do and focus on. Many of us have seen vision boards made from large pieces of posterboard with images, cut from magazines, glued on, with various lines connecting them. The idea is to represent who you want to be or what you want to do.
Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly-Successful People, would often illustrate the importance of clear priorities with an object lesson that involved a large bucket or jar, some sand, some pebbles, and other, larger rocks. He would place all these on a table in plain sight of the audience, then ask for a volunteer. Covey instructed the volunteer to put all the sand, pebbles, and rocks into the container. The volunteer would pour the sand in, then the pebbles, and then they could only fit one or two big rocks, leaving many of the big rocks on the table. To any observer, it seemed obvious you couldn’t fit everything in the container.
Then, Covey would explain that the big rocks are one’s largest priorities. The pebbles represent lesser objectives, and the sand represents all the least important tasks and actions. Covey would often have the volunteer label the big rocks, and they would commonly choose things like family, friends, service, learning, or large, important projects. Covey would ask the volunteer to try again, and this time the volunteer knew what needed to go in first. They put the big rocks in the container first, then the pebbles, then the sand. Although on the first attempt, it appeared impossible to fit them all in, they fit easily the second time around—when they were put in the container in the right order.
Gino Wickman, author of Traction and creator of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), also uses this analogy but talks about “big rocks” as the most important things you need to get done within the next ninety days.
YOUR BIG ROCKS BOARD
You can create your Big Rocks Board on a piece of paper, in an app, or in an electronic document—whatever works for you.
STEP #1: CHOOSE A BIG ROCK
Each section starts with a “big rock.” This big rock will be one of your Core Roles, like entrepreneur or author. A one-sentence vision statement that includes one or more values will help you remember what your dream is for this big rock. For example, if growth, success, and service are essential values related to your role as an entrepreneur, then your vision statement might be something like “To serve my family, team, and customers while doing work that helps me maximize my potential.”
STEP #2: SET GOALS
Next, create goals that, if you complete them, will turn your vision statement into reality. Goals must be easily measurable and include a deadline. For example, to serve your family, you might decide you need to generate a stable income of at least $250,000 per year and that you want to achieve its monthly equivalent one year from now.
STEP #3: PLAN ACTIONS
What action(s) will help you achieve your goal? Perhaps to generate the income you want and serve your family, you need to publish your book since this will help you build authority and generate revenue. Publishing a book is not merely one action, so you may need many sub-actions under that one. These will become your to-do list whenever you focus on this big rock.
As you begin to create your Big Rocks Board it might look like this:
BIG ROCK: ENTREPRENEUR
Vision Statement: To serve my family, team, and customers while doing work that helps me maximize my potential.
GOAL #1: GENERATE A STABLE INCOME OF AT LEAST $20,000 PER MONTH BY END OF JULY, NEXT YEAR
Action: Publish my book by the end of May, next year
Finish the Published Author Workbook
Finish the Fast Start Checklist
Read the workbook, make notes, and mark parts that stand out to me
Add to-do items to Big Rocks Board
Complete my “sketchy first draft”
Create my outline in Powerpoint
Outline each chapter
Get feedback on LinkedIn
Collect data, stories, quotes for each chapter
Write rough draft
GOAL #2: ATTRACT 1,000 ENGAGED SUBSCRIBERS TO MY EMAIL LIST WITHIN THE NEXT 12 MONTHS.
Action: Sign up for ConvertKit
Set up landing page
Add link in my email signature
Add links on social media
Email everyone in my address book and ask them to sign up
Look through Amy Porterfield podcasts to see which ones I should listen to about email list building
Action: Create lead magnet
Look at other thought leaders to see what they’ve done
Create a rough idea
Share the idea in the Published Author Facebook group to get feedback
This list could get quite large, but that’s ok, not only because that’s part of living an abundant life, but because the point of organizing your life this way is that you never have to worry about doing more than one thing at a time. Once your Big Rocks Board is complete, it will quickly and easily answer the question, “What should I do right now?” If you start with your biggest rock—your most important priority—and then drill down, you’ll always know that what you’re working on, no matter how trivial it may seem, is aligned with what’s most important.
There are many productivity, project management, and organization apps that are based on this same system or can be customized to work this same way, but the software you use doesn’t matter so much as the way you use it.
Now that you have a powerful tool to help you accomplish your dreams, let’s focus on just one of them—your book. What will it look like to make your book a top priority?
PRIORITIZING YOUR BOOK
I remember the first time I ran a mile when I was twelve years old—I thought I was going to die. The next time I ran a mile was when I was fifteen, and it was such a painful ordeal I decided running wasn’t my thing. The third time I ran a mile was during my first year at college when I was eighteen, and it reinforced my opinion from the second time.
I didn’t want anything to do with running—ever! But somehow running kept popping up in my life, as though it wanted to say hello and remind me it was still there. In 2000, I left my apartment in Provo, Utah, when I saw our neighbor Jason Pyrah going out for a run. Jason was training for the Olympics in Sydney that year, where he would place 10th in the 1500 meter run.
“Going for a run?” I asked.
“How far are you going?”
“Ten miles or so.”
“Wowww, that’s a long run!”
Jason shrugged as if to say, “It’s not a big deal.”
We said goodbye to each other, and Jason started his watch and ran off, making it look as effortless as a gazelle bounding across the savannah.
I was impressed. I couldn’t believe someone could simply run ten miles as though it were no big deal. It was inspiring, although not inspiring enough to get me to go out and run or anything—I still thought that was for crazy people.
A few years later, I met Shawn. At this point, I weighed in at around 220 lbs., about 50 lbs. more than I should have, and although I still had an aversion to running, the idea of doing something—anything—to get in shape was beginning to grow on me. Before I met Shawn, I had never heard about ultra marathons—runs that are longer than the official marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
When I asked Shawn what the longest ultra-marathon he had ever run was, he responded, “I’ve done a 100-miler.”
“Whoa!” I said. “How long did that take you?!”
“About twenty-five hours,” he said.
It wasn’t too long after this that my friend, Te Koi Smith, invited me to watch him participate in a short, “sprint”-distance triathlon. As he swam, biked, and ran, I felt a mixture of inspiration and dread, and something inside me said, “You’re going to do this someday.”
A few months later, I competed in my first sprint-distance triathlon. The run portion was a 5K or 3.1 miles. I was thirty-three years old, and it was the furthest I had run in my life. And I loved it.
My next event was an Olympic-distance triathlon, double the distance of a sprint. Then I ran a half marathon, a full marathon, and participated in an Ironman 70.3, which included a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run. I did more marathons as well as triathlons, and when I moved to Hong Kong in 2013, I began trail running and running ultra marathons, my longest being a 70 km (46 miles), thirteen-hour run over three mountain peaks. It felt good to say, “I’m now one of those crazy people.”
Here’s what’s missing from my story—I didn’t just go out and run these races, I had to train. The training wasn’t haphazard, either. It had to be well-planned-out. In some cases, I had 9-month plans detailing exactly how much I would swim, bike, and run, and on which days, and I didn’t let anything get in the way.
Publishing a book is a bit like running a marathon—it doesn’t just happen, and you don’t just go out and do it. It requires a plan, a schedule, and sustained effort, and that means commitment.
Sound hard? It is, but you know what’s harder? Trying to publish a book without a plan or schedule, all the while wondering if you should be doing something else. Commitment comes first, then figure out the schedule that will work for you, but I can already tell you what won’t work:
- Writing whenever you feel like it
- Writing when you have spare time
- Writing while you’re doing something else
- Writing when you’re tired or hungry
Writing a book is never easy, but I’m all about making it as easy as possible. Here are four tips that will help:
MAKE IT EASY #1: EVERY DAY
If you want to make writing your book easier, work on it every day, Monday through Friday.
MAKE IT EASY #2: SAME TIME EVERY DAY
Start work on your book at the same time each day. Make it a daily practice that’s part of your routine. However, the point of making it a practice is that if your routine gets disrupted, you’ll still find the time to do it.
MAKE IT EASY #3: MORNING IS BETTER
Even if you think of yourself as a night owl, go to bed early, get a good night’s rest, and work on your book in the morning.
MAKE IT EASY #4: SAME OUTPUT EVERY DAY
Tim Ferriss says, “My quota is two crappy pages per day.”
I’m not a fan of measuring output by pages written because two pages can take ten minutes or ten hours. If your book is based on research, interviews, or collecting data, then 90% of the time you spend creating your book may not involve writing at all.
Instead, I focus on the time I spend. When writing a new book, I might commit that each morning I will work for at least one hour on it, and then I block out that time in my calendar so nothing will interfere.
Here’s my exact system, please feel free to steal it:
- Get to bed early. I go to bed between 8–9 pm (I prefer 8, but I have kids and they’re not always ready for bed when I am).
- Wake up early enough so you have an hour alone before anyone will interrupt you (include time for any part of your morning routine that needs to come before working on your book). I wake up at 4 am.
- Hydrate and gobble something if you need it. I prefer nuts and a little dried fruit if I eat anything at all. Usually, I just drink 8+ ounces of water and eat breakfast later.
- Work on your book for an hour. This doesn’t necessarily mean writing—anything to do with your book counts.
- Keep working on it, if you feel like it. I often do.
- If you need to put in more time, schedule it later in the day.
If I don’t follow my system perfectly, I try not to get down on myself. Instead, I get back on track as quickly as possible. When I consistently stick to it, I make a lot of progress, and I’m always impressed by how quickly the results add up. However, the system doesn’t matter so much as the results, so if you can find a different system that works for you, that’s all that matters.
All I need is a deadline—give me that and I’ll beat it every time. – CJ Lyons
What will your writing system be? Write down when you’re going to work on your book and how much you will do each time.
When will you work on your book, and what will your output be each time?
Taking action doesn’t stop here. As you dig into the details of how to promote, write, edit, and publish your book and build your thought leadership system, you’ll learn about other activities, goals, and systems that will help you do more work faster and better.
If you ever feel stuck, start to doubt yourself, or become afraid of the future, remember that action is the cure.
Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. – Norman Vincent Peale
PONDER, ACT, & ASK
Think about what you have learned from System 5: Action, and consider what you can do with it. Answer the questions below:
What are the most meaningful things I learned in this section?
What will I do as a result of what I learned in this section?
What questions do I have about…?
SYSTEM 5: ACTION — ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
- [Blog post] “The Productivity Guide: Time Management Strategies That Work” by James Clear
- Productivity for Authors by Joanna Penn
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Getting Things Done by Dave Allen
- Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
- Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
- The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday
- Smartcuts by Shane Snow
- The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
- The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
- Fearless by Eric Blehm
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
- Screw It, Let’s Do It by Richard Branson
- The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
WEEKLY BOOK COACHING
Got book writing and publishing questions?
I’m a WSJ and USA Today bestselling author and I launched the Published Author Masterclass Community to help entrepreneurs like you become authors and leverage a book to grow your business.
If you’re ready to learn:
- What book you should write
- How to write and publish it in as little as 90 days
- And how to leverage your book to grow your business
What you’ll get:
- Your own copy of the Published Author Workbook
- Weekly live group coaching calls and Q&A
- Membership in our private online community of 300+ entrepreneur/authors