Sebastian Marshall Kai Zau

Ended: Aug. 20, 2018

After years of observations and hundreds of discussions with top performers, Kai and I converged on a universal framework for managing your resources. There are the “Four Currencies” — Capacity: Your generalized ability to get results and make things happen. Network: The sum of your friendships, collaborations, and mutual regard with others. Signal: How you appear to the outside world. Assets: Your tangible resources (we primarily cover the financial ones).
I love programming. If you’ve ever been so absorbed in a sport, or book, or conversation that time simply melted away — that’s the same rush I find in front of a keyboard.
You’re always creating effects. As you walk into a room, the social texture of that room changes. Every business you patronize, you create for them revenue that affects their profitability and numbers. The work you do makes ripples, sometimes larger or smaller, through the entire world around you. Your ability to consciously shape the effects you’re creating around you — we call this “Capacity.”
A greater ability to function when stressed, fatigued, or in distress means higher Capacity.
In a world with less defined careers and less clear paths, the simple ability to get a job done is incredibly prized and valuable.
So, how do you improve your ability to effect results? We’ve divided these “levers” into four categories as a useful starting point —  Biochemistry Cognition Action Environment
Everything you consume affects your biochemistry to some extent; so do most environments, and a great many of your own thoughts and actions.
To hit the highest levels of performance, you need to manage biochemistry. If you’re dehydrated, performance suffers. If you have a bacterial infection, performance suffers.
Most people don’t know how caffeine works in their bodies, yet the majority of American adults drink caffeine daily. To simplify greatly, your body produces adenosine as a natural signal to you that you should start thinking about sleeping. Caffeine molecules are shaped similarly to adenosine, and bind to the adenosine receptors without activating them.  Thus, caffeine blocks out your body’s signal to get sleepy. That’s the primary effect. The other effects come from secondarily after the adenosine block. The body, reacting to this strange change seems to then produce dopamine and adrenalin, which do… well, they do a lot of things. But suffice to say, collectively you’ll be both more alert and feel more energetic.
“Over the long term, consistent caffeine consumption is as good [for productivity] as non-consumption, because of (you guessed it) tolerance. Is there a better strategy? Of course there is. Periodic abstinence lets adenosine levels return to normal. With complete abstinence, it takes 5 days to reach adenosine normality; conservatively, and with imperfect abstinence, a week or 10 days may be required.”
Thus, if you mindlessly slam caffeine every day of your life, you lose the ability to use caffeine as a powerful tool to get cognitive breakthroughs.  The answer is to learn about the stuff, and consider occasionally cycling off of it.
This gives us a very important thing to work on cognitively. If you draw hostile mental associations between a stimulus — which could be anything from a ringing telephone to a planning meeting to doing your taxes to trying to cook — you’re less likely to be able to think calmly and clearly about that area, and less likely to thrive in that area.
Many of the obstacles you’ll face can be easily overcome with a patient, attritional style of wearing down the obstacle and repeatedly taking small gains. In doing it this way, you gain morale, insight, small victories, and build up strategies and operations to sustain yourself.
“It is a very common mistake for people to move directly from identifying a tough problem to a proposed solution in a nanosecond without spending the hours required to properly diagnose and design a solution.”
You want your life to have pragmatic time slots that respect your biochemistry and cognition in what you want to do, and this is doubly true if you want to do something more-or-less forever. If you walk home from work, the difference between having a gym that’s en route on the walk vs. having a gym that you’ve got to walk an extra distance past your home is immense.  Likewise, it’s worth being pragmatic about your biochemistry. Judgment is almost always compromised with fatigue, and people very rarely realize that their judgment is compromised. So if there’s anything you’re trying to do regularly, it’s a risky gamble to do after the 10th hour you’ve been awake and once you’ve already done a lot of cognitively or physically demanding tasks in the time.
Habits are things you want to do more-or-less forever. The other type of key action-taking is large-scale once-off pushes to get gains — you can call them “campaigns” or “projects.”
There’s more opportunities than ever. No one has quite realized or quite remarked on the fact that it’s now possible to talk to anyone on an internet connection, for free, anywhere on Planet Earth using Skype or an equivalent. This is an exceedingly big deal. People haven’t quite realized the implications of it — most social circles (and project initiations) still get clustered in an unnecessarily close geographical area. This will change — oh, it will change. It has to change. The people that stick to linear close-by geography exclusively are going to get heavily disrupted. It’s already happening.
Thus, you better get good at starting, managing, and concluding projects. It is a project-centered world we enter. Much of the very big opportunities available to you will be projects to complete.
The pretty good textbook “Project Management: The Managerial Process,” Fifth Edition, has these four steps in Project Management — Defining: 1 Goals, 2 Specifications, 3 Tasks, 4 Responsibilities Planning: 1 Schedules, 2 Budgets, 3 Resources, 4 Risks, 5 Staffing Executing: 1 Status reports, 2 Changes, 3 Quality, 4 Forecasts Closing: 1 Train customer, 2 Transfer documents, 3 Release resources, 4 Evaluation, 5 Lessons Learned
Dalio, in Principles, talks about his “5-step process for achieving what you want” — Set Goals: Higher-level thinking, synthesis, visualization, prioritization Identify and don’t tolerate problems: Perception, intolerance of badness (regardless of severity), synthesis Diagnose the root causes: Hyper-logical, willing to “touch the nerve,” seeing multiple possibilities Design a plan for eliminating problems: Visualization, practicality, creativity Do what is set out in the plan: Self discipline, good work habits, results orientation, proactivity
Observing what volunteers succeeded and failed, as well as seeing clients succeed and fail, and friends, Marshall came up with a five-step model — Dream and Define Clarify, Assign, and Initiate Produce, Manage, and Police Finish Debrief and Consolidate
We all love action, but complex multi-week or multi-month projects almost always benefits from foresight, looking for solutions, clarifying exactly what you want to get out of it, and so on.
“The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything its got.”
salespeople brood and reflect over failures and think and ruminate when things are going badly, but that most of the biggest gains come from looking at what went well and ensuring that happens systematically.
What is “character”? It seems to be a feedback loop between a person’s long-term cognition, habits, and decision-making — people come to see themselves as “the kind of person who is reliable” by repeatedly being reliable, and suddenly decisions fall into place to always do the reliable thing.
Thinking is expensive and taxing. If there is a universally correct course of action that can be followed in a situation without thinking, it’s a tremendous boon. This is doubly so when it stops us from performing poorly during bad times. Towards the end of the day, we are more fatigued than in the morning, and prone to make bad decisions. Character becomes a shield against that. After two pints of beer, when Franklin is offered another one, he might say: “No, I’m not getting drunk” — because he’s, in his mind, “not the type of person who would get drunk.”
There’s nothing mystical about character. Nick Winter wrote of his conversion as such — “With a long history of realizing that I always feel better after I get up or work out or study or accomplish something, no matter how tired or sore I think I am beforehand, the generalized cue of “I don’t feel like it” has been largely rewired from the “Quit” response to the “Do it so I can feel better” response.” That is character.
It’s almost miraculous-seeming how much benefit can be derived from explicit character training. Occasionally think through what you’d benefit from installing, discuss it with others, and implement a training regime as a project. Pick a character virtue and explicitly focus on improving for a period of time. This results in improving in that area, and previously difficult decisions start becoming automatic. Character is expensive to train, but then frees you from a thousand difficult decisions at weaker moments.
In particular, it’s always worth exploring for ways to have food completely handled with minimum time — the authors cannot possibly get across how much the time savings can be when infinite healthy food is available. It is very much worth searching for and experimenting with.
“What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you've been meaning to.” — Paul Graham, “Cities and Ambition”
Likewise, doctors often are not sure that a particular treatment will be effective for a patient, but patients demand that the doctor act like they’re certain. So you get the “haughty doctor tone,” even as doctors are often very humble and express and discuss their uncertain cases among colleagues.
Marketers and practitioners shouldn’t be blamed for offering false levels of certainty — people in aggregate demand it, and people who don’t give in to that demand don’t go as far.
There are some basic prerequisites to being successful at expanding your network, but they all boil down to this: it’s a lot easier to meet people if you’re both likable and useful. But trying to be useful and likable through sheer individual actions is a recipe for disaster. But you can automatically be likable and useful by building elements into your character of being magnanimous, kind, cheerful, forgiving, optimistic, and pragmatic.
Radical personal responsibility looks at it in a different way. It’s a near-delusional worldview in which everything — from the idiot boss, to the hateful professor, and even the depressing weather — is your responsibility.
If you’re always prepared, have smart things to say, and just come across as a standup guy or gal, it becomes easy to get introductions. And this is where working on your character (plus a few other considerations we’ll cover) makes all the difference.  It really can’t be overstated how much life changes when people will introduce you to anyone they know, and go out of their way to do it regularly. Everything becomes easier and more enjoyable.
Cultivate your friendships intentionally and intelligently. When you meet someone you possibly like and admire, ask yourself if you want to be friends with them. If so, go regularly out of your way to get time together in person and have new experiences together. After some mutual regard and trust has been established, look to begin helping each other. This leads to friendship over time.
The number of people who listen, execute, and then follow-up with a gracious thank-you? It’s incredibly rare. And because of this, it’s actually relatively straightforward to meet mentors. Reach out or otherwise meet people who you admire. Ask for a small, relevant piece of advice. Then execute on it immediately, follow up, and say thank-you.
The solution he learned — “A successful publicist advises that you secretly give everyone in your phonebook an A, B, C, D, or F. That's your A-list (call every 3 weeks), B-list, (every 5 weeks), C-list (every few months), D-list (twice a year), and Friends.” Sivers goes on to describe how there’s many people he would have lost contact with had they not been diligent in following up, and recommends generally reaching out unselfishly and saying hello periodically.
Character is more important than anything else. The attitudes, habits, world views, politics, personality — even the way you speak and language you choose — this is hugely affected by the people you have in your life. “Character” is harder to nail down. There’s no numerical scale for it. But you should be constantly looking to become closer only with people of excellent character. You’ll almost certainly have opportunities in your life to advance yourself by mixing in with someone of slightly bad character. Maybe they’re a little sloppy, or a little dishonest, or whatever else.  Avoid it. When you’re around people who are honest, diligent, friendly, hard working, who like to evolve, who are conscientious, and so on — this makes life easier and more enjoyable. And more importantly, it makes you more like that. Doing the opposite, no matter how promising the opportunity, is a recipe for long-term disaster.
When you know what you want — make sure you’re passively broadcasting it on all your online profiles. Most websites give you the opportunity to do a short description of yourself or an “About” section, and most people waste it by listing: “I’ve been an HR professional for X years, blah blah blah.”  Much better to write, “I work as an HR professional, and lately I’ve been training in how to ensure a higher volume of highly qualified applicants come into the company automatically. If you’re in HR, a business owner, or have experience on the topic, message me and let’s compare notes.”
Someone with ordinary tastes would find it hard to blow through more than a few tens of thousands of dollars without thinking ‘wow, I'm spending a lot of money.’ Whereas if you start trading derivatives, you can lose a million dollars (as much as you want, really) in the blink of an eye. In most people's minds, spending money on luxuries sets off alarms that making investments doesn't. Luxuries seem self-indulgent… Investing bypasses those alarms. You're not spending the money; you're just moving it from one asset to another. Which is why people trying to sell you expensive things say ‘it's an investment.’”
Question all your constraints periodically. Less constraints means more options for how you run your life, and how you deploy your money.
“The first, most important, and typically most difficult step [in the process of getting what you want] is setting goals, because it forces you to decide what you really want and therefore what you can possibly get out of life. This is the step where you face the fundamental limit: life is like a giant smorgasbord of more delicious alternatives than you can ever hope to taste. So you have to reject having some things you want in order to get other things you want more.” Ray Dalio, in “Principles”
“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken