The One Skill You Need in Order to Thrive in Life, at Work and Everywhere
Do you know the difference between the top players and those who gave up? I can tell you it’s not talent — how many people do you know who are extremely talented and waste every single day they spend on this Earth? It’s not access to opportunities, either — how many masters have made it despite coming from a poor household, or even a poor country?
The true and only factor that guarantees success, no matter what field you are competing in, is consistency. You might have heard about the importance of persistence and determination. In fact, you probably know this quote by US president Calvin Coolidge:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
To me, consistency encompasses persistence and determination, while also being much more at the same time — simply put, consistency is not just about how hard you try to win, but also about how you play, how you view yourself and, perhaps most importantly, how you relate to others. Consistency is not just sheer desire, because desire is easily consumed — it’s a way of looking at life and challenges with never-ending willpower.
If you can apply consistency to your life, I can guarantee that you’ll be ahead of the vast majority of your competitors, because consistency is not only the most important skill, but also the most underrated skill. Today, with Internet access being almost universal, there’s nothing holding you back, except for your ability to be consistent.
In the following paragraphs, I will show you why consistency is so important, how you can apply it and what rewards you can expect to reap.
Commit Less, but Honor Commitments
Here’s a situation you have probably found yourself in: you ask a colleague or a friend to do something for you, or to be part of a project with you. Their first reaction is to enthusiastically agree and tell you that they’ll get to it as soon as possible. But the days pass, and you don’t hear back from them. If you try to ping them about the matter, they’ll tell you how sorry they are, but they’re just so busy lately… they will really get it done soon, promise.
I don’t think I need to tell you how this ends.
What’s more, you can probably also recall a few cases where you have been on the other side of this conversation, making promises that you couldn’t or had no interest in keeping. I know I’ve been guilty of this many times: because I firmly believe that one should give back to the community, I had a bad habit of trying to help people with whatever they needed, committing to projects and deadlines that were unrealistic. This meant that I had to either disappoint the people who were counting on me or spend sleepless nights trying to catch up on the work that I was supposed to do — I did both, I didn’t like either.
As a result, resentment would usually build either on their side (“He doesn’t care about this thing”) or mine (“They don’t care how busy and overworked I am”). Needless to say, this was not good.
Here’s what I did to fix this, a few years ago:
- I made a vow to myself that I would always keep my word, no matter what that entailed. If I committed to something, I needed to get it done.
- I started to say no to everything that was asked of me, unless I was excited about the idea and had ample time to do it on my own terms.
I’m not going to dig deep into the specifics of how to say no and still get people to love you — you can find plenty of articles around on that matter. Usually I am pretty direct — I mention that I’m extremely busy with all my other endeavors and just unable to help. At first I was afraid this might make me sound snobby and detached, but guess what happened?
People kept asking, perhaps a little less than before, and I kept saying no, and they didn’t hate me for it. It turns out that everyone is willing to respect your time, but only when you respect it in the first place. Which makes sense, because it’s your time after all. If you’re giving it away so cheaply, then why should everyone else care?
“But what does this have to do with consistency?” you might ask.
First of all, keeping your word is the ultimate form of consistency. When people never know if they can count on you, you become (in)famous for your unreliability. Perhaps you’re a high performer, but you’re worth nothing if you only end up performing half the time. On the other hand, when you deliver every single time, you build up people’s confidence in you — they will start to think of you as someone who is solid and trustworthy.
This is important in your personal life, but it’s even more important in your work life. Consistency is what will set you apart from your colleagues, those who commit to a thousand different things and only accomplish one. You don’t need to show off or brag about it — everyone will realize it, with time, and you’ll rise to the top. As a manager, I know that consistency is a very rare commodity. When I find someone who displays it, I keep them very close.
Secondly, saying no to everything gives you freedom, which is what you need if you want to be proactive and build even more consistency into your life.
This brings us to our next point: building a routine that promotes consistency.
Fall in Love with the Routine
Our lives are filled with distractions. As I’m writing this blog post, I am actively fighting the urge to check my email, start working on an important coding task and read some articles from my Pocket.
The problem with distractions is that a consistent life requires being proactive, not reactive. You must design your life to achieve consistency. If you let every little red badge — literal or not — in your life pull you away from what’s important, the only consistent aspect of your work is that you will consistently fail to achieve anything of value. You will procrastinate on your life’s projects because it’s much more comfortable to watch Mindhunter episodes. You will break promises because you got tied up into something else.
If you want to avoid this, you need to create a routine and stick to it. Decide what you want to focus on for the next months, then design an ideal day that will enable you to achieve those goals and fulfill your mission.
For instance, I care very much about my work, but I also want to keep writing and doing open source work. At the same time, I’m a manager, so I’m expected to manage. Because of this duality, my day is split: I create in the mornings, I manage in the afternoons:
- 9am-10am: I wake up, take a shower, have breakfast, and start the day at around 10am (I take it slow because I like to reflect on the day ahead during the morning). I don’t check my email, I don’t check Slack, I don’t check WhatsApp. I don’t touch my phone at all.
- 10am-11am: I start working on whatever writing-related task I have for the morning. This might be continuing an existing article, reviewing it before it’s scheduled for publishing, or outlining the next one. I set myself a very achievable goal (e.g. “Write 1 paragraph”), which makes it easier to start. Usually, I get much more done.
- 11am-1pm: I start coding on whatever tasks I am currently working on. On some occasions I’ll put music on, but most of the time I prefer silence. By 1pm, I will usually have submitted 2 or 3 PRs for my team to review, so even if I ended up wasting the rest of my day, I could call it a productive one. This gives me peace of mind.
- 1pm-2pm: At 1pm, I have lunch. This takes me about an hour.
- 2pm-3:30pm: I check my email (not compulsively — I just deal with everything in one big batch) and take care of other mundane tasks that I have to deal with.
- 3:30pm-5pm: this is the time for meetings. I usually don’t need to screenshare or show my face (no one likes it too much anyway), so I take my phone with me and go for a long walk — this way, I can get some sunlight and fresh air.
- 5pm-8pm: depending on how the day is going at Batteries911, this time might be either for reading, open-source work and personal growth (I’m currently enrolled in a very cool Machine Learning course), or for less demanding, but necessary, work. I check my email once more, review my schedule for the next 24 hours and call it a day.
Of course, I’m not always able to follow this down to the minute: things come up sometimes and I have to adjust, but that’s okay.
This schedule has allowed me to keep producing at a fairly decent pace for someone with a full time managerial position in a fast-paced startup. The real benefit of a routine like this is that it puts your day on autopilot: you don’t have to think and fight your natural instinct to run away all the time, because every minute of your day already has a job.
“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
— William Faulkner
Indeed, days come when I don’t feel like writing, or coding, or going for a 6-mile walk. When this happens, I remind myself of the long-term goals I am working towards, and I tell myself that it’s not a matter of what I want: I have my routine, so I stick to it. I know that if I fail to follow it because of laziness, I’ll feel bad, so my instinct is to try and avoid this feeling by sticking to the schedule. This works pretty much all the time — when it doesn’t, it’s not a big deal, I just get back on track the next day.
Imagine how much we could achieve if we were not held back by our natural laziness. If you can develop this habit of consistently doing something, sitting through the discomfort, no matter whether you want to do it or not, you will become invincible.
Identify your goals, find your schedule, then stick to it, no matter what. The results will speak for themselves.
The Results of a Consistent Life
Now that we have identified the biggest obstacles to a consistent life, let’s see what the results of such a life are. I have already mentioned them briefly, but I’ll recap them here as a reminder of what you might accomplish.
You will produce more. When you get into the habit of producing, you won’t stop. The biggest problem with talented people is that, for the most part, they work in bursts: it is better to write one page a day for twenty days rather than writing twenty pages all in one sitting, then watching Netflix for the next nineteen. It is almost impossible to succeed if you don’t create something every day.
You will grow. As you practice the same skills every day, your growth will benefit tremendously. You will pick up more concepts, more quickly and profoundly than before. Consistency rewires your brain to the point where your happiness will depend on how much you’re learning, which is the best kind of dependency you can hope for.
You will gain credibility. As I said in the introduction to this article, most people are terribly inconsistent in whatever they do. This means that being consistent will make you better than most people, no matter whether they are more or less talented than you. People will start to think of you as a trustworthy person, which will bring huge returns in every single area of your life.
You will feel better about yourself. There is something terribly satisfying about showing up every day, no matter what, to do what you have chosen to do. As you fall into a healthy routine and overcome new challenges, you will also feel increasingly better about yourself and your ability to endure the stress, the fear and the lack of willpower. These are things that affect everyone, but you will just watch them come and go, like waves in the ocean, without disturbing your day.
You will be less tired. You might think following a routine is tiring, but once you start doing it, you’ll realize that the opposite is true instead: it is tiring to hold your breath all the time, not knowing what will come next in your day. It is tiring to procrastinate and find excuses. When you are in control, executing your plan and blocking distractions, on the other hand, you can completely lose yourself in the moment and produce your best work with much less effort than before.
Finally, you will have more time. Because your life will be centered around getting important things done, you might find yourself ending the workday early, which will leave more time to spend with your family or significant other, or just to become a better person.