⭐️ The simple framework I’m using to make progress towards my goals

So this will either be the most obvious thing you’ve read in a while or it’ll change your life.

I’m honestly not sure.

It feels like a profound realization and had a huge impact on me. But at the same time it’s so obvious and simple.

You’ve been warned. Let’s dive in.

What I want to talk about today is the the biggest problem I’ve encountered since I started working for myself.

It’s this: No one tells you what to do.

There’s no guidemap you can use, just infinitely many options.

This makes it unbelievably hard to stay focused.

So my approach has been to study what people a few steps ahead of me are doing and did when they were in my situation.

I then noticed that there is an extremely common pattern. Almost everyone is doing some variation of the exact same thing.

There just isn’t a good name for it and no one is teaching it.

Maybe because it’s so obvious. Maybe not. I’m not sure.

Anyway, I’ll do my best to describe the method in general terms.

You start with a goal. Grow a project to $10k MRR, add 5000 subscribers to your email list, loose 20 pounds, whatever.

To make progress towards your goal, you go through three phases:

  • Ideation.
  • Exploration.
  • Exploitation.

The ideation phase is straight-forward:

  • You start by writing down all the ideas of how you could make progress.
  • You rank the ideas in some way and filter out the bad ones.

Next you move on to the exploration phase:

  • You pick one idea and setup an experiment to test it.
  • You look at the result of the experiment. If it was a success, you move on to the exploitation phase. If it wasn’t, you pick the next idea from your list and repeat the process until you find one that works.

Finally, during the exploitation phase you simply do whatever you did in your experiment over and over again until it stops working.

Typically, you want to keep exploring new ideas while simoultaneously exploiting the ones you know to be working. This way you avoid falling into a hole with no tangible progress.

Yes, I do realize that this is, in a sense, simply the real-world version of the scientific process.

But even though I spent the past decade in academia it never occurred to me that I could use it to make systematic progress towards real-world goals.

I often used parts of the process.

I wrote down ideas, ranked them, and occasionally did run experiments.

But I was never really doing it systematically. I switched rather randomly between ideation and experimentation. I never clearly defined when I would consider an experiment a success or failure and when I will stop pursuing an idea.

For example, a few months ago I decided it’s time to focus on marketing for my business newsletter. I wrote down a list of channels I wanted to explore.

Then I started the first experiments. I booked my first podcast ad, submitted my first Reddit ad, and started setting up cross-promotions.

The results were… mixed. None of them was a complete failure, none were obvious huge successes.

So instead of doing the next round of experiments, I lost focus and stopped experimenting.

What I should have done is commit to testing the top 5 channels on my list no matter what. A good criterion for testing them would’ve been, for example if I’m able to add new subscribers at $3/subscriber, taking into account that I’m dollarizing my own time at, say, $50/hour.

If none of the top 5 channels worked, I should declare the project dead and move on to the next.

This is not rocket science. You just gotta do it.

I also failed to move on to the exploitation phase even when some experiments were very obviously successful.

For example, at the start of the year I decided to actively bring more luck into my life. And Twitter is an amazing tool to do just that.

So I came up with different ideas and eventually discovered a format that worked spectacularly well.

My follower count doubled and my DMs were suddenly full of people I had only dreamed of connecting with a few months ago.

But did I start exploiting the format and crank out one thread after another?

Nope. I just stopped.

Dumb, I know.

Now that I layed out the process of what I should be doing this is perfectly obvious.

But at the time it wasn’t.

Like I said, no one hands you a map when you start working for yourself.

Now I feel like I finally found one and I’ll keep using it to make further progress.

Obviously, there are quite a few details missing so far.

How do you come up with good ideas you can test? How do you rank them? How do you set up effective experiments? How do you best divide your time between the exploration of new ideas and the exploitation of winning ones?

I’m still testing different answers to these question and will keep sharing everthing I learn along the way.

Written on July 9, 2022

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