How to make difficult things easier

We’re all taking on difficult tasks.
Maybe you’re starting a business like me, writing a book, or trying to organise a wedding.
The specifics of the task don’t matter. You’ve to do something difficult that you would like to be easier. 

The worlds against you

We’re all busier than ever. Addicted to our phones and getting bombarded with marketing content. Just getting time to take on a difficult task is enough of a challenge. 
You need to figure out how to stack the deck in your favour. 
I’ve been building a startup called Streakoid for the last three months and releasing a blog post each day.
During this time I’ve been experimenting with myself like an ill-treated guinea pig. Trying to figure out the best way for me to build Streakoid.
I’ve been trying to optimise my life to give myself the best chance of success.
Here’s what I’ve learnt from the last three months.

Three months of learning

When you’re trying to do something, the doing part is often the most fun. 

People don’t seem to talk about this a lot. But the difficult part isn’t the challenge you’re trying to solve. 

It’s organising your life in such a way that you give yourself a chance to fight against your difficult task..

The difficulty is:

  • finding time,
  • staying focused,
  • not getting discouraged,
  • dealing with the madness
  • maintaining your relationships

I keep showing up every day to build Streakoid. That’s my difficult task. To make your task as eay as possible you need to need to be showing up everyday to chip away at the problem.

Showing up everyday hasn’t been easy, and it won’t be easy for you.

But there are simple things you can do that will make it a lot easier.

Controlling your mood

Throughout these three months, my mood and how I feel about Streakoid is up and down every single day.

People seem to think your mood is out of your control. But I don’t think so.

I think we have a lot more control of how we feel  than we like to think we do.

It’s easy to hide behind the excuse that’s just how it is. Because it means we don’t have to change.

The first thing to recognise is that we have responsibility over our mood.

We can either give ourselves the best chance to take on the challenge or we can shoot ourselves in the foot before the race starts.

If you’re in a bad mood, you’ll struggle to take on a big problem.

How can we control our mood?

  • Good night’s sleep
  • No bad food
  • Starting work early
  • A quiet place to work
  • A clean space to work
  • Small breaks between blocks of work
  • Three litres of water
  • No YouTube
  • No Phone
  • No social media
  • Listening to or watching a relevant talk about building a startup
  • Reading a non-fiction book

These all seem like simple tasks. I’ll not be winning a Nobel prize for writing them out. 

It would be much more fun to write that I start each day with a DMT trip, meditate for three hours, and then only eat Kale.

But this isn’t about hacks. It’s about building a system.

Each of these steps seems simple. But there is a complexity that comes when you try to follow each.

Being well rested.

This isn’t as simple as it seems.

Your ability to take on a difficult task comes down to how well you’ve slept the night before. 

See Why we sleep for proof. 

“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”
― Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

 You know this already. But it’s not an attractive idea. Staying in bed when you could work can make you feel weak.  We want to be one of those mutants that only require four hours. 

We need all the time we can get to work on our difficult tasks.

But sacrificing sleep for more hours is a terrible strategy.

Because I’ve been blogging daily about building Streakoid, I can point back to the low points over the last three months.

  1. Saying fuck it
  2. I messed up

All the low points came from a bad night’s sleep the night before.

Each of these nights, I destroyed my sleeping pattern because I was out too late.

Which made the next day miserable.

On these days my self doubt rose, and I felt the most discouraged.

These were the days where I’d ask questions like:

  1. “What’s the point?”
  2. “Why do this?”
  3. “Why don’t I just get a job?”

The problem here is that our brains forget that we haven’t slept well the night before. 

It’s hard to link the cause and effect. 

A lack of sleep makes you a zombie.

Once you’ve messed up your lack of sleep snowballs.

If you’re not careful, weeks later you can end up trying to catch up on sleep.

Because if you’re not rested, you’re stressed. When you’re stressed, you don’t work well. Work takes you longer, which means staying up later.

Hopelessness kicks in as you’re trying to always catch up on yourself.

To make difficult things easier, get a good night’s sleep.

Bad food

I’ve messed up my food in the last three months.

I’ve been experimenting with my diet for six years now.

Trying everything from intermittent fasting, keto to being a vegan.

 I’m intermittent fasting at the moment. Which means I don’t eat till 1pm and I stop eating at 9pm. I’ve been doing this for a while.

This has stopped me being obese.

But the problem is that the foods I’m eating in this window aren’t healthy.

I was recovering from surgery and couldn’t exercise. I didn’t want to be healthy. I wanted to be fat and feel sorry for myself. 

If I could go back, I would fix that. I’ve lost a lot of time because of lunchtime comas. 

But if I wanted to make difficult things easier, not eating helps. You feel primal. You’re focused.

I’ve had the most success with the ketogenic diet. High fat, low carb. But I keep avoiding that at the moment because I love bread.

But dropping the amount of food or window of eating helps. . 

Either way, when you’re doing difficult things, you need to watch your diet. I’m not a doctor and can’t recommend what diet you should follow.

But it’s well known that If you’re smashing a bunch of sugary snacks, you’ll not be able to concentrate. You’ll want to nap.

The last thing you’ll want to do is something difficult.

Make sure to leverage your diet to give you the maximum concentration.

Working early

If I want to feel in control of my day, I wake up at 5am.

I did this for close to a year this year. While working in London, I was waking up at 4.50am to journal, research for a book and code an early version of Streakoid.

I did this out of necessity because I needed time to do my work before I went to my actual job. 

But I’ve messed up since then by getting rid of my alarm clock. 

After reading how important sleep was, I ditched my alarm clock. 

I’ve always dreamed about not having an alarm clock.

Having my company meant no fixed work time. Now was the opportunity to live the dream. 

But instead of me waking up at a natural time it’s just destroyed my routine. Every day I get up at different times.

The alarm clock isn’t the problem. The problem is we’re staying up to late.

Instead of cursing the alarm clock like I have, you need to need to bed early.

This is difficult when we’re all fighting addictions to YouTube, Netflix, and Social media when we’re lying in bed.

I’ve been fighting a losing battle with a Youtube addiction.

I’m combating this at the moment by trying not to bring my phone to bed but I haven’t had too much success.

You need undistracted time

Waking up early allows you to get quiet unfocused time to work.

You need this time to flow.

When you’re doing difficult things, your brain needs to remain focused. Read Cal Newport’s book he’ll explain that better than I ever could.

“what we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.”
― Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

The morning is the best time to get a focused block of work done.

The evening is full of distractions, no one will invite you out for drinks at 5am in the morning.

This is where I’ve messed up the most in the last month.

Because I’ve been trying to meet a quota of eight hours daily programming I end up working late into the night (because I’ve started late) which means it’s not viable to wake up early.

I could fix this by taking a loss on one day and waking up and suffering. But I’m afraid of that.

In the next post, I’ll continue to analyse how to make difficult things easy.