Getting Shit Done

A Marine’s Guide to Getting S*** Done

Frequent readers of my blog know that I’m a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. My ten years as a Marine were some of the most formative years of my life, and every today I still rely on what the Corps taught me about a bias toward progress.

Marines aren’t known for their nuance, but we know how to make things simple so we don’t delude ourselves. So today let me offer up some straightforward methods to getting s*** done, even when we’re not quite feeling it.

Enforce a Meeting Maximum

Let’s all agree that we spend too much time in meetings. Too often, our calendar rules us instead of the other way around, and if people like Jeff Weiner can reign in his calendar, so can we. Why does it matter? Like I tell many of the people I work with:

Work gets created in meetings, but it rarely gets done in them.

I like to be productive, and that requires getting work done. Here’s how I gain control of my day:

  1. Decide on the max number of hours that are appropriate to spend in meetings per day. For engineers, this is a low number; for leaders, it’s higher. Four hours often worked well for me.
  2. When that max is reached, block out the calendar for the rest of the day.

I felt like this gave me permission to push back when someone booked me in excess of my max. After all, this person booked over something else, and while I could still say yes, it no longer felt like it was out of obligation. So sometimes I would exceed my meeting max, and other times I’d move a less critical meeting to another day.

Craft a Weekly Top Three

At the end of every week, I write down my biggest accomplishments for the week. Big rocks that I chunked into smaller, more actionable rocks. Things I learned. Some measure that gets me a bit closer to an important goal. It can be anything. And since I haven’t crafted mine this week, let me do it now with you:

  • Onboarded two new clients.
  • Concluded my experiment with LinkedIn ads. Spent money. Gained zero new clients. I’m either using it all wrong or it’s not a good source of leads for me.
  • Created and posted a new blog post.

Know though that I usually keep this doc private. I never want to feel like I have to cater to whoever might be reading, and some weeks I’ll write down that I got nothing done because of some distraction or big blocker. So use it as a place to both growl and as a place to celebrate. And when I had periodic performance reviews, a Top Three was a great source of all the killer stuff I accomplished for that period.

Additionally, I use my Top Three as a source of focus. I add two more thoughts to my top three before I’m complete:

  • I write down the one, most important thing I need to accomplish next week.
  • I grade myself on a 1 to 10 scale on how well I accomplished last week’s most important thing and write a few words explaining my score.

Choose the Toothpaste

When I was in college and scheduling classes for the next semester, I would intentionally put a two to three hour gap between my morning classes and afternoon classes. It wasn’t enough time to go home so I was stuck on campus.

Do I get some homework done? Or do I go to the gym? I hate homework so invariably I went to the gym. Semester after semester I did this, and I was better off and happier for it. Even today, I use this with my three year old. Do you want watermelon toothpaste or strawberry tonight?

The choice is never do you want to brush your teeth.

So choose the toothpaste. If we don’t want to do one thing, fine. But we must do that thing we want to do even less. Just be sure to pick “toothpaste flavors” while the motivation is there so we’re ready to brush our teeth later.

Time For a Lightning Round

Let me finish up with a few more in rapid succession.

  • Institute the five-minute rule. Don’t want to do something? Say that we must do it for five minutes. When the timer is up, decide if we keep doing it or put it off for another day.
  • Waste time. You read that right. Waste time. Do something entirely unproductive. Doom scroll. We’re humans, not robots so give ourselves some grace. But timebox it. Set a timer before we start, and when time is up, honor the decision and get back to it.
  • Hire a coach. Coaches can help you experiment with accountability methods that fit you. So set up a sample session with me, and we’ll see what we can find. My sample session is always zero cost or obligation. Book me here.

So what are your hacks for getting shit done? Share with us all in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “A Marine’s Guide to Getting S*** Done”

  1. So much wisdom, as always! “Work gets created in meetings, but it rarely gets done in them.” – succinct and so very true.
    Thanks for sharing. Personally, I think I’ll try the 5 minute rule.

  2. Have a accountability partner (brother) that calls you out when you aren’t getting your $hit done and celebrates you when $hit gets accomplished. Be realistic with your expectations. One of my favorite sayings is “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Chipping away at big tasks is crucial so you don’t get overwhelmed at the size of your workload! Schedule your work and work your schedule!

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