Ten simple rules for online success

This article was inspired by an offhand rant in an IM session with David – thank you for listening mate.

Over the weekend I was looking at my own life (you know, the usual introspective Sundays) when I was – to put it mildly – interrupted by another whining session from someone who has been seeking success all their life and hasn’t achieved it. It made me angry at the time (hence the rant) but after a while I figured that for most people, going from failure to success was a process that they just couldn’t get started on.

I’ve tried to catalog that process here. It all starts with a plea to …

10. Stop Whining.

The world is a tough place, we get it. We ALL GET IT. You’re not doing yourself any favors by focusing on the bad stuff. In fact, you’re just polluting the world and bringing down the energy of the people unfortunate enough to be in hearing distance at the time (or as the case may be, to read what you write). The faster you get over your self-importance and start working on making things better (you know, real shit, like working on that linkbait that you can’t crack, or those blog posts that you don’t have the time for, or outsourcing that theme you just don’t know how to code), the faster you’ll get to where you want to be.

The fastest way to stop focusing on what’s wrong and start working on improving your current condition is to…

9. Channel Your Energies

Suppose that you’re shafted in a project you’re working on – the person who’s hired you collects the work and makes off without paying you. Understandably, you’re angry. But how would you deal with this anger? Venting is good (and necessary), but there is a difference between using that anger to achieve something positive and letting that anger eat you up inside.

Could you set in place practices that ensure that you get paid for 100% of your projects? Is there some way you can get back at the person who’s wronged you (religion allows for revenge, in case you’re objecting) without spending too much time / energy (publicly cataloging this incident on your blog / website / forum you frequent)?

At every junction of your life you’re presented by choices – and (as I venture dangerously into feel-good mumbo-jumbo) you’ve got a responsibility to yourself to make the right choices – the ones that help you move your life forward and take you towards your goals.

If something evokes a strong emotional reaction, find an outlet, get the initial and strongest reaction out of your system and then channel your remaining emotions into something constructive. To do this, you have to…

8. Focus

It’s easy to tell yourself that you must focus on a particular task, in practice its virtually impossible to do so if you have problems with paying attention. There’s no big secret to razor-sharp focus – barring genetic pre-dispositions and childhood habits, the best you can do to help yourself focus is to:

  • catalog distractions and ruthlessly eliminate them.
  • setup a stable daily routine for your work – forming stable work habits are the best way to get (and stay) focused on your work.

The biggest obstacle to focused effort is your resistance to doing tasks / work that you’re not interested in (and in contrast, the easiest way to build focus is to work on something you enjoy). This leads us to the next two steps…

7. Find Yourself and Your Target

When it comes to success (and making money), it’s important to know what you want. To figure that out, you need to know what your strengths are (fields of work as well as type of work) and what impassions you. While your interests will evolve with time, getting your bearings right at the start makes it easier to make course corrections in the future.

Once you know what you want, you have to figure out what to do.

Let’s say you’re struggling to provide a comfortable living for yourself, and your aim is to earn at least $5k / month. Knowing what you want at this point is not enough – you need to choose projects (and therefore develop habits) that bring you to that total. In other words, if you cannot achieve a goal in your current circumstances then you need to change them, step out of your comfort zone and in short cause radical change in your life in order to get to where you want to be.

The most common excuse (see #10 on how to deal with such excuses) I’ve heard (and given a few times myself) is that stepping out of the comfort zone is difficult, and there are risks involved with it. A different version of this is the worst excuse known to man (because it is self-deceptive and only manages to keep you stuck in the same place for a longer period of time):

“I’m working on it, and I’ve got it all figured out – it’ll take me this long (insert fashionably long period, more than 6 months) to achieve this target (something that this person could achieve in less than 3 months if they changed the rules and made a genuine effort to step out and take a risk).”

Yes, take risks … but calculated risks, backed by knowing exactly what you want and knowing how to get there (points 6 to 3 will help).

6. Sacrifice / Self-Discipline

So now you know what to do. The problem is, you probably don’t have the time to get it done (sound familiar?). When we talked about ‘Focus’ (#8), the key ideas were to eliminate distractions and build habits that help you focus more.

Eliminating distractions means sacrificing things that you may enjoy ‘now’ but are not helping you achieve your goals – such as talking to your friend on the phone at 10am in the morning, or browsing Amazon for Dilbert books at 10:30am. Switching your phone off (having an assistant or using a second number that’s only for emergencies works better), avoiding checking your email like the plague (twice a day, max – otherwise you’ll spend your day looking at email piling up) and staying offline (unplug your DSL / cable modem and hide it if you have to) when you’re working are just a few of the sacrifices you’ll need to make, and this requires self-discipline.

It’s not rocket science – by establishing a regular routine (and thus making it easy for you to develop habits), you can eliminate distractions to a large extent. The problem comes when you have a variable routine (like me) – in that case, at least ensure that you work for the same amount of time, at the same hours, each day.

5. Consistent Effort

It may seem moronically obvious to hear this, but you need to work hard consistently on a project in order for it to be successful (insert suitable plant growing analogy here). While you don’t have to wait a century to get something done, you also can’t build Rome in a day (or something to that effect).

The unfortunate thing is, most people are divided into two categories. They’re either bloody impatient, or they’re stuck in the pattern on wanting to do everything by themselves. Neither approach will succeed. You need some patience (consistency is more like it), and more importantly, you need to leverage…

4. Other People’s Resources

By yourself, you can only expand to a certain point (self-cloning is out of the question, at least for now). With the help of others, there is no limit to what you can do (although self-cloning would still be out of the question).

Outsource. Hire. Give yourself more time to do the important stuff by getting others to do the unimportant stuff. This form of leverage usually costs money, but the time you free up can allow you to earn a lot more – allowing you to be better off than when you were doing everything yourself.

If you haven’t done this yet, stop everything a read this article.

3. Always Improve

Most people will read this article, bookmark it and then forget about it. Some will apply one thing from it, and then forget the rest.

Truth be told, improving one time is almost as useless as not improving at all. If you take one step forward and then step, you haven’t really gone anywhere. The real benefits will come when you’ve taken several steps forward, one after the other, in a short period of time. You don’t change your life with a single step – it takes a journey (even a short one) to move past old comfort zones and establish yourself at a higher level of success.

And whatever you do, don’t settle for being good enough.

2. Share

Sharing your knowledge, your expertise, your experiences – sharing what you know – is one of the fastest ways to improve your own understanding of how things work. And (to take the cynical route) even if you think you’re successful enough, the network benefits you receive from helping others ensure that sharing is perhaps the best way to achieve #4 (leveraging other people’s resources).

1. Act Now

Do you still think that there’s any ’secret’ recipe to success? Everything I’ve said here is common sense – find out what you want, do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means giving up on smaller dreams and getting help from the world around you. It’s not magic, there’s no mystery, the keys are right in front of you.

All you have to do is take action and get started. What are you waiting for?

This article was originally written on 23 Oct 2007 for Performancing.com.

Leave a Reply