Prolific focus

25 October 2020
25 Oct 2020
West Lafayette, IN
2 mins

This is an excerpt from today’s issue of my weekly newsletter.

In any craft – writing, music, designing software – I think there are two truths:

  1. Quality only comes as a result of quantity; it pays off to be prolific. Practicing a skill more than anyone doesn’t guarantee world-class success, but every world-class artist or speaker or engineer has practiced and performed their craft more than anyone else in the world, in that domain.
  2. Focus pays off. Focus means saying no, as in the cliche advice, but I think focus also implies a deeper understanding of mission – you can’t work on the same problem or the same skill for thousands of hours without really knowing why it matters to you.

To be prolific is to produce many versions and trials of a craft. To be focused is to insist on continually attacking the same problem or improving at the same task. Taken together, I think this leads us to an idea that’s perhaps tautological, but good to remember: prolific focus leads to more shots-on-goal, a high number of trials and attempts and perspectives and approaches to one particular North Star, one goal that means a lot to you.

I’ve been writing and building side projects consistently for nearly 7 years and 3 years, respectively. In that time, one of my biggest lessons have been that both are hits-based businesses. 95% of the payoff comes from the top 5% of the projects. A blog post on the front page of Hacker News brought in 60% of my current subscriber base. Two viral side project doubled my audience on Twitter. I think this lines up perfectly with the idea of prolific focus, taking more shots on goal. The more you practice, the better your next will be. And if you insist on working towards a focus over time, some small number of them will yield outsized payoffs, and push you to keep going.

I first started assembling this idea of prolific focus after listening to radio host Ira Glass talk about taste and craft. If you haven’t watched yet, and you care about writing or making or otherwise building things that you love, I think you’ll like hearing his own take.

Stay focused, keep making. Take the next shot.

Multidimensional tactility

Blackbird. Pixar. iPhone.

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