Are you Chopping Wood or Laying Bricks?
A Litmus Test for your To Do List...
Chopping wood feels good, but building something great means laying some dang bricks!
Productive people love To Do Lists.
To Do Lists let you put everything for the day in one spot, nice and neat, ready to get crossed off as you roll through your activities.
Project after project.
Effort after effort.
with all the flurry and hustle and expended energy it can sometimes feel like your Big Goals don’t ever actually get any closer to becoming reality. What’s up with that?
How come the real stuff doesn’t ever actually get done?
You’re probably chopping wood when you really want to be laying bricks.
Get to the Point, Chief.
Chopping wood irl is a useful activity.
It makes you stronger. It gives you fuel for the wood stove. It helps you avoid the discomfort of chopping wood in the rain or snow or wind or when it’s cold or when it’s hot or whatever other worse set of conditions might happen in the future.
It also gives you a tangible sense of accomplishment because you now have a big ol’ stack of burnable wood to show for it, but there’s some painful truths you’re avoiding while swinging that axe.
It’s almost never the most useful activity you can do.
It rarely shapes the long term outcome you’re working towards.
It feels much more valuable than it is.
Chopping wood is an easy trap in which to fall. You truly are better for it after chopping that wood. It just isn’t the right kind of better for the problems you’re likely facing and the already limited time in our days and weeks and months and years makes this kind of misallocation fundamentally in opposition to your goals.
You’re not alone btw. Here’s some examples of wood chopping activities I’ve found myself doing in the past few weeks.
Deep dives into technical documentation not directly connected to what problem I’m solving to get more “broadly informed”
Taking “Update Calls” with potential investors to keep them informed of what I’m working on while I’m not actively raising rather than spending more time on shipping a useful product
Reading 5,000 word macro think pieces on my industry to gain “perspective” even my opinions aren’t going to be improved much by reading it
None of these activities are actively harmful, in fact they might help me at some point in the future in some vague way. That’s the trick though.
When you pick the “might help” activities over the “will help” activities you’re chopping wood.
And while you can always use more firewood - most of the time you don’t actually need any more.
So focus on the 2 or 3 most important things that for sure will get you that tiny bit closer to your big goals.
I like to call these important things the Bricks.
They are the next thing you need to do in order to get there.
It’s emphatically not launching your MVP.
It’s the no-shit next Jira task to get you one step closer. Like building out that React component you’re avoiding because it's annoying, but will then make the rest of the front end build easier or the list of the next 1000 customer targets to cold reach out to or reaching out to those next 1000 targets.
It’s the things that are certainly work, but have real substance.
They have some heft (ever pick up a brick?).
They need some non-zero (and often non-fun) effort to go over to the pile, pick it up, move it to where it needs to go, lay down some mortar, put that brick down, and clean it up. Then onto the next brick. (inspo break).
A Brick is not a goal, but the next “first step” towards actual progress.
Laying bricks is hard work but not rocket science. If you’ve already spent the time to figure out where you want to go, then you mostly just need to get after it. Is that time set aside for “research” or “inbox cleaning” or “file organizing” or whatever else you’ve scribbled down really going to lay the foundation to stack the next thing you need to do?
What about the next one?
And after that?
So take a gander at your To Do List for today.
Is it mostly chopping wood or laying bricks?
I hope this added value to your day.
Follow me on Twitter (@frozenfire42) to watch me attempt to lay Bricks.
For everything else - Let’s Chat
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