‘Actually, this seems to be the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis – a good hot cup of coffee.’ Alexander King
Creating legacy and meeting basic needs
The more I systematically explore the circumstances under which I make good progress on my legacy projects, the more I am struck by how important basic physical comforts are: whether I had a good nights’ sleep; how hungry I feel; how cold or hot I feel etc.
Physical comfort is worth the trouble
I wish these things didn’t matter to me at all; worrying about my grumbling stomach feels so trivial while working on a legacy project that I hope will outlast me and inspire others. But there it is: the grumbling stomach does distract me, and I usually work much better if I’ve taken the precaution to feed it before it starts to bother me.
Funnily enough, Gretchen Rubin had similar thoughts about the importance of physical comforts to her Happiness Project. Once again, an interesting way in which working on legacy projects seems so similar to working on your happiness – both are about the balance between short-term concerns (the grumbling stomach) and longer-term considerations (one’s overall feeling of happiness; a remarkable legacy project).
How to take care of your physical needs while creating legacy
So, whether I like it or not, it looks like physical comforts are to be taken extremely seriously when wanting to create legacy.
Here’s a short checklist I’ve put together to help me remember to take care of my physical needs before they start distracting me from my legacy work:
1. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. No matter how little you feel you’ve achieved in a given day, staying up late to catch up just isn’t worth it in the long run; it will mess up your sleep cycle. (This is the one I’ve got most trouble with, hence it’s Numero Uno.)
2. Eat at regular intervals. It’s better to eat little and often than to realise too late you’re hungry – you’ll be more tempted to reach for junk food, which gives you a burst of energy and then sends you into a downward spiral.
3. Have healthy foods always ready for nibbles. Related to 2., eating healthy means you won’t get the up-down effect of junk food on your concentration. I tend to always have things like bananas and various seeds close to where I’m working, so I can reach for them when I need a pick-me-up – they release energy into your body slowly, therefore helping keep your focus on your legacy project at a steady pace. Unhealthy things like chocolate and crisps give you a few minutes of energy (which may in fact make you too hyper to work on your legacy stuff) and then make you feel drowsy when the energy goes away.
4. Drink lots of water. Not only does it keep hunger levels down, but water works wonders for your brain and your entire body. Try to drink at least eight large glasses of water a day, and never leave the house without a water bottle.
5. Go to the loo before starting work. Nothing is more distracting than needing to pee right as you’ve gotten into the flow of your legacy project. Don’t let your bladder ruin your concentration.
6. Use layers of clothing. This means you’ll be able to put layers on/take layers off quickly when you’re too cold/hot, without too much distraction. I also carry extra layers with me in my bag whenever I go to a legacy project HQ outside my flat.
Have I forgotten anything? Let me know and I’ll add it to my checklist.
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‘Every calling is great when greatly pursued.’ Oliver Wendell Holmes
Creating legacy and finding your calling
Creating legacy presents a huge dilemma: in what area should you do it? Especially if you are multi-skilled, and have several interests, it often feels like you’re in trouble. How do you choose?
Following the talent
Some people say that you should try to see where your natural abilities lie: are you particularly good with colours? Or do you have a good musical ear? Do you have a way with words? etc. In other words: where is your talent?
I’ve been giving this view a great deal of thought, and I’ve come to find several problems with it.
The first problem is that some of us have talents in more than one area. Indeed, we could even argue that natural ability is not a matter of dichotomy (do you have a good musical ear? yes or no), but rather a matter of degree. So in a sense, we all have some degree of natural ability in most fields.
Okay, the next logical step would then be to ask – in which field do you feel you are most talented? But this is problematic too, because you may feel equally talented in two different fields.
And of course, an obvious question: what is talent? How do we measure it? Is someone talented at something because they find it easy? Or do we judge talent on the quality rather than the quantity of their performance?
Overall, the whole question of talent I feel is a red herring. For example, decades of research on top-level performers in a wide range of fields (aptly summarised in Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin) suggests that talent has a very small role to play, if any, in these performers’ success. A much better predictor of their success is the extent to which they engaged in deliberate practice activities in their fields, i.e. activities that were specially designed to improve their performance in key areas of the tasks they had to perform.
Okay, so where does this leave us in terms of finding the most appropriate area for us, in which to create legacy?
Following your calling
The solution I’d like to propose is that you stop thinking about what comes easiest to you, what you’re best at etc. for a moment, and consider what you are really passionate about. What makes your heart sing? What kind of stuff do you like doing in your spare time, once all your obligations are taken care of?
Of course, if it’s something like eating pizza or sleeping, you may have to spend some effort turning that into something you can create legacy in. But if it’s things like painting, writing poetry etc. – bingo! You may have found it.
You may find that there are several things you are passionate about; but chances are one of those things feels more ‘right’ than any of the others.
It may not necessarily be the thing that comes easiest to you, or the thing you feel your biggest talents lie. For example, prize-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo tells in every single interview how difficult writing is for her, and how she postponed writing for ten years precisely because of how difficult it felt. But as she goes on to say, just because something doesn’t come easy to you doesn’t mean it isn’t what you were put on this earth to do, if this is the thing that feels ‘right’ in your bones.
I hope this helps. Do you have other ideas about how to identify the most appropriate area for creating legacy?
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‘Blessings on him who invented sleep, the mantle that covers all human thoughts.’ Miguel de Cervantes
Creating legacy and sleep
It is amazing how much routine aspects of life play into our ability to create legacy. Take sleep, for instance. I know that when I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I’m able to be so much more productive working on my legacy projects than on days when for some reason I didn’t get enough sleep.
Indeed, a large number of studies show that sleep deprivation impairs memory, weakens the immune system, and slows metabolism. Not surprisingly, then, being able to sleep well will do wonders for your legacy efforts.
How to get a good night’s sleep
It turns out that there are lots of things you can do to make sure you get a good night’s sleep. The following is a list of 10 tips I’ve picked up from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project:
1. Near your bedtime, don’t do any work that requires alert thinking.
2. Keep your bedroom slightly chilly.
3. Do a few prebed stretches.
4. Keep the lights low around bedtime (e.g. if you go to the bathroom).
5. Make sure your room is very dark when the lights are out, and that you can’t see any lights from electrical items.
6. If despite taking steps 1-5 you still can’t fall asleep, breathe deeply and slowly. This will get your whole body to slow down and make it easier to fall asleep.
7. If 6. still doesn’t help, it’s probably because your mind is still processing stuff, perhaps worrying about something. Have a pad and paper near your bed, and if this happens to you write down whatever it is that is on your mind. This will help to tell your mind that the matters are being dealt with so it can stop worrying.
8. Make sure you’ve got enough blood flow coming to your extremities – especially your feet. Put wool socks on if you find your feet are too cold.
9. Get ready for bed well before bedtime.
10. If you find yourself waking up during the night, tell yourself you have to get up in two minutes. If you haven’t had your full sleep, this will usually help you fall back to sleep.
How do you make sure you get a good night’s sleep?
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‘True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.’ St. Francis of Assisi
Creating legacy slowly
Creating legacy happens slowly, in fact there is a ten-year rule for creating legacy. But don’t be discouraged. As long as you are working on your legacy projects every day, you are making progress, and eventually you will reach your goal.
What you do every day matters more, in the long run, than what you do once in a while. So just keep working on creating legacy every day. Focus all your energy on that, and eventually you will build up momentum. Don’t force the momentum; it will come all on its own, once you’ve taken enough tiny steps in the right direction.
What to do when you get impatient
We all get impatient once in a while. It feels like you’re slogging away every day, for months, and you can see some progress but not nearly as much as you’d like to see. I know the feeling.
Here’s what to do when that happens:
1. Re-read your original plan. Are you still on track? If so, put that plan somewhere you can see it often, it will remind you that you made a long-term commitment and that you are doing fine. Or you might discover you’re ahead of your plan in which case – yippeeee! – time to celebrate. Most likely, you will find that you were too unrealistic when you made that plan; now you have a better understanding of how long things take. That’s great – so just adjust your original plan to the new situation, and pin that on your wall. Your plan is there to remind you of the big picture; it will make the waiting and daily slog a lot more bearable.
2. Set lots of milestones, and celebrate them. Setting milestones will give you something to look forward to in the near future, rather than years away. Be really good to yourself when reaching each milestone, make reaching it a really pleasurable experience. You’ll soon want to reach the next one and the one after that, because your whole body and mind will come to expect something nice each time.
3. Set up regular legacy audits. For example, you could do a legacy audit every month, to see how far you’ve come. My experience is that we often overestimate how much we can do in one day, but we underestimate how much we get done in one month, or one year. It’s one of these weird aspects of creating legacy; you’ll get used to it. Looking over al the progress you’ve made over one month will keep you motivated, because you will realise how fast you are actually moving forward, regardless of how slow it feels day by day.
What do you do when you get impatient with how slowly things are moving forward? I’d love to hear your ideas!
‘You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.’ Henry David Thoreau
Creating legacy by cherishing today
Many people think that creating legacy is all about the future. And then there are others who think they cannot create legacy, because of the mistakes they made in the past. Legacy creators belong to neither of these two camps.
Creating legacy is not about tomorrow, nor about yesterday. It is about what you resolve to do about your life here and now. Learn how to make the most of every here and now, and you will create legacy.
Looking towards the past and the future
Creating legacy does require long-term thinking, which of course entails planning for the future. And occasionally you might want to engage in a legacy audit or something similar, to see what you could have done differently in the past. But don’t be fooled: legacy creators look both towards the future and towards the past is done so they can make the best you can of the present.
Your long-term thinking helps you decide what you need to do every day in order to complete your legacy project. The legacy audit will allow you to prevent carrying your past mistakes into the present. So even when looking towards the past or the present, creating legacy is still about what you are doing at this very moment.
Creating legacy in the present
You cannot create legacy in the past, nor in the future. The present moment is the only one you have any form of control over. Use it wisely. Don’t become distracted by thinking about what might have been, or what could be. Make this moment count. Don’t dwell on not having kept to your resolutions yesterday. Just focus on keeping them today. That is all you have to worry about. The time is now.
‘Organising is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.’ A. A. Milne
Creating legacy and being organised
I know I’ve said it before, but it’s an important point: if you want to create legacy, you should periodically take a good look at your systems and make sure they are in as good a shape as they can be. Being disorganised is likely to be disruptive to your legacy projects one way or another; it’s best to take the time once a week or once a month to make sure you have good systems in place.
A handy system to organise your intray
Below is a handy little system I’ve learned from Mark Forster’s books about how to organise your intray. I know it sounds trivial, but knowing how to handle my intray has made it so much easier to keep track of important papers and keep on top of admin – which in turn means I don’t have to take time out from working on my legacy projects to sort out admin chaos.
So, if you want to take a grip on your intray, here is what you should do:
1. Find something that will act as your intray. If you already have one but it’s full of junk plus important stuff, take everything out and put it in one folder or box labelled backlog – and deal with it the way I explained in How to clear your backlog. So now you’ve got an empty intray.
2. As mail comes in, let it accumulate in your intray.
3. At the end of the day, put everything that is in your intray on your desk and start dealing with it. If you decide to leave anything for a few extra days, store it in another tray (I keep this other tray underneath my intray, so I don’t forget about it).
This system allows you to deal with any incoming paper items quickly and effectively at the end of your day, and make sure nothing gets forgotten about. Try this system out and let me know how it goes!
Do you have any handy systems you use to keep yourself organised? I need more ideas!
‘Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity.’ Henry Hartman
Creating legacy and preparation
Creating legacy takes time. A lot of time. And it’s not just the time it takes to set up a legacy project, work on it, get through the dip, and make it successful. It’s also the time it takes to set up, run, and fail at, all the other legacy projects before you have any chance of success. The time it takes to make mistakes, gather experience, and start from scratch again and again and again, until what you create has the chance to stand the test of time. In other words, the time to prepare for success to happen.
How long is this preparation time?
What a quick answer? Roughly ten years. How do I know this? Well, it turns out there’s been lots of research on this. This research initially began by following the career of top-level chess players. In doing so, researchers that no one seemed to reach the top ranks of chess players without a decade or so of intensive study, and some required much more time.
What is really interesting though is that subsequent research in a wide range of fields has substantiated the ten-year rule everywhere the researchers have looked. In maths, science, musical composition, swimming, X-ray diagnosis, tennis, literature – no one, not even the most ‘talented’ legacy creators, became great without at least ten years of very hard preparation.
Oh yes, and in some fields of endeavours, the ten-year rule is doubled. For example, research found that most scientists and authors produce their greatest work only after twenty or more years of devoted effort.
Is this too long for you?
Research on top-level legacy creators shows that no matter who they were, it always took them many years to become excellent. Are you up for it?
What do you think about the ten-year rule? Do you think you have the stamina to wait so long for any sign of success?
‘The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.’ Mitch Albom
Creating legacy and finding your passion
In creating legacy, it is important that you find and pursue your true passion. So many of us delude ourselves into following the deferred life plan until it is too late to do anything about what fills our life with meaning, and turning that into a legacy.
Here are 12 tips that will help you pursue your passion while creating legacy:
1. Don’t just daydream. Pursuing your passion is hard work, it’s not just about having fancy daydreams about how nice it would be if you could do such-and-such instead of living the deferred life plan. Once you have found your passion, you need to start taking action. There are never any perfect circumstances for taking the first steps. Just make the best of your current circumstances here and now, don’t wait until it is too late.
2. Find role models. Look for role models to see how they stood up to others for their passion, how they got started, and how they overcame the barriers that stood in their way. By reading their story, you will find pragmatic solutions to your problems, but you’ll also find comfort that others went through the same difficulties as you.
3. Perceive obstacles as tests. You may find that people (especially loved ones) are preventing you from pursuing your passion, maybe because it is too risky. Or you may find other kinds of obstacles blocking your way. If so, try to see these obstacles as testing your resolve. Show them how determined you are through your actions, and eventually they’ll relinquish their resistance.
4. Beware of the cul-de-sac. You don’t need to overcome all the obstacles in your way – some you can simply ignore. In particular, don’t go down a cul-de-sac thinking you have to pass through; learn to spot these from a distance, and avoid at all costs.
5. Stick to your guns. Some people are very good at making us believe their particular view of the world, and live by it. For example, I know someone who keeps telling me that life is unfair and that we are condemned to do stuff we hate most of our lives. The thing is, because this is what they believe, this is how they live. Beware living according to other people’s worldview. Generate your own truths according to the kind of life you want to live.
6. Use positive self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe good things will happen to you, then they will. Use self-fulfilling prophecies to your advantage.
7. Embrace positive thinking. Learn to see opportunities rather than downsides in everything that happens to you.
8. Trust in providence. When you truly want something, the whole universe is conspiring to help you. You just have to know what you really want, and go after it with all your energy.
9. Keep up your enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious; others will soon come to see just how important it is for you to pursue your passion, and they’ll start helping you out.
10. Don’t be afraid to experiment with lots of different things. It’s worth spending as much time as possible to make sure you’ve found your true passion before embarking on a legacy project.
11. Once you have found your true passion, focus. Of course, you should still engage in Renaissance thinking, but your main aim should now be to make as much progress as possible on your legacy projects.
12. Don’t confuse passion with drive. You can have drive for succeeding with the deferred life plan, but passion is about what makes your heart sing. Just because you can rustle up the drive to do something doesn’t mean you’re passionate about it. Understand the difference and learn to see it within yourself.
What about you? Do you have any other tips that will help legacy creators pursue their passion? I need more ideas!
‘People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.’ Edith Schaeffer
Creating legacy and getting things done
Creating legacy is about taking action, and about making the best with what you’ve got at the moment. There is never a perfect time for creating legacy. There are never any perfect circumstances. And you’d better accept the fact that no matter how long you work on it, your legacy project will never be perfect.
So don’t wait for the perfect moment to start your legacy project, and don’t keep your legacy project hidden from the world in a quest for perfection. All you can be sure of is the ‘here’ and the ‘now’. Start with these. And don’t wait interminably before making your legacy project accessible to the world. Set yourself a deadline for when your legacy project will be complete, and stick with it as much as possible. Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good, as Voltaire says and Gretchen Rubin discusses in an excellent blog post on the Happiness Project blog.
The perfection fallacy
Of course, some of the great legacies often seem to embody perfection. So it is tempting to think that we should not release the result of any legacy project into the world until we are one hundred percent happy with it, until we find absolutely nothing more to add to it – thereby thinking we are standing a better chance of our legacy project making an impact.
But if you look at the way the greatest legacies were made, you will see that people rarely came out with a masterpieces as their very first work. Mozart composed dozens of pieces before creating anything memorable. Shakespeare had written many plays before Hamlet and Macbeth. Goethe took 60 years of redrafting to come up with his final version of ‘Faust’ (60 years! can you imagine?).
Each and every legacy creator we admire today had to start somewhere small, somewhere imperfect – and worked through their imperfections day after day after day, honing their craft, before producing some of their greatest work. Don’t be fooled by looking at their greatest accomplishments, and seeing that as their general standard. Look into some of their early work, and also take into account that their really early work never got published – and you will see that they never would have created anything memorable if they had harboured the delusion of creating something perfect from the very start of their career.
Don’t look for the perfect circumstances
It is also tempting to see our lack of time and money as obstacles to starting a legacy project. So we adopt the deferred life plan. We say to ourselves that ‘I will work in a meaningless job that pays lots of money for X number of years, and once I am financially secure I will quit the job and start creating legacy.’
In practice, it just doesn’t work that way. Because you will always have obstacles in your way. For starters, it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll have a well-paying job and yet keep on living on as little as possible; well-paying jobs come with expectations about your lifestyle. So you won’t be able to save as much money as you think to allow yourself the time to create legacy – which means your ‘creating legacy start date’ will get postponed for later and later in life.
Wouldn’t it be better not to get the high-earning meaningless job, but settle for something more flexible yet less well-paying instead, and use your spare time to create legacy?
What about you?
Are you what they call a perfectionist? Or are you waiting for the perfect circumstances in your life to start creating legacy? Share your story or your ideas with us in the comments section.
‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.’ Jim Rohn
Creating legacy and daily action
Creating legacy is most likely to happen if you work towards your legacy projects on a daily basis. Even if you have very little time you can devote to creating legacy during your day, working on your legacy projects every day will lead to far more progress than if you work on them in ‘binges’ once in a while.
By doing a little bit of work on your legacy project every day, you are keeping it alive. Doing nothing for long periods of time is the reason why many legacy projects fail.
Creating legacy five minutes at a time
Do at least five minutes work on your legacy project. It’s easy to find an excuse for not doing an hour’s work on something. But what excuse is valid for not doing five minutes’ work on something?
If you do something every day, some days you will do a lot and some days you will do a little, but either way you will be engaging with the legacy project. Doing something every day is the way to ensure that it progresses.
Putting your legacy project first
If you can, work on your legacy project – even for five minutes – before you even look at anything else on your task list each day. As working on legacy projects is challenging, you are more likely to do the required daily work if you do it first thing in the morning, before people and emergencies crowd out the opportunity.
Identify non-available days in advance
As far as your mind is concerned, failure breeds failure and success breeds success. It is therefore important that if there are days that you know you won’t be able to work on your legacy project (e.g. if you are on holiday in the Bahamas), you identify those days in advance as non-available.
It’s no good getting to the day and then deciding you won’t have any time for your legacy project. Your mind will mark that down as a failure. If you’ve given yourself permission in advance not to work on a particular day, your mind will accept that and not consider it a failure.
What about you?
How do you keep your legacy projects alive? How do you maintain the momentum? Share your ideas in the comments section.