The Secrets of Highly Productive People

As I collapse into my chair, exhausted, to eat a Wendy’s chili at almost 11 p.m. (for those of you who read the article, What is a Franchise?, I feel compelled to point out the $2.69 purchase price would have resulted in a $0.1076 service fee royalty to Wendy’s as the franchisor, as well as a $0.09415 contribution to the national marketing budget and a $0.001345 contribution to the local advertising budget) I find myself thinking about productivity.  It is astonishing how much you can accomplish if all you attempt to do is finish one major thing each day.  The victories pile up and you look back and wonder how you came so far in such a short time.

Most of the time, for most people and most career trajectories, that’s all success in life is – a string of victories that far outweigh defeats.  It’s similar to what I meant when I said a person can’t actually bake a pie.  Instead, all you can do is combined butter with flour; then add shortening; then add apples; then add sugar; etc.  The pie is the result, the outcome of the individual action steps.  This is a universal truth in life.  You can’t plant a forest, you can only put seeds in the ground.  Then water them.  Then fertilize them.  Then trim them.  The result is a by-product of the process.  Get the process right and the results just happen, as if by magic.  When you understand this, you don’t get overwhelmed because all you need to do is focus on the action on your desk at that moment.  Everything else is a distraction.

It’s so simple.  And, I would think, obvious.  I don’t understand why people don’t see it.  I witness so many men and women who walk around with anxiety about what they aren’t accomplishing, the direction of their career, their lack of personal fulfillment.  It’s all unnecessary.  You can’t bake a pie.  Never forget that.  Reverse engineer where you want to end up and then start taking specific steps, individual actions, so that they carry you to your destination.  Don’t let people tell you how it “should” be.  Figure out what you want, figure out the trade-offs and whether they are worth it to you, then do it or don’t do it.  That’s it.  Everyone’s trying to hit grand slams, and those are great when they happen, but it is the compounding effect, the cumulative improvements and advantages, that move most mountains.  Every day, get a little wiser.  Every day, get a little richer.  Every day, improve your situation a bit.  Every day, do something you enjoy.  Every day, try to help someone else.  Compounding is not limited to finance.  It’s everywhere.  You do this stuff day after day, waking up and saying, “What could I accomplish so that when I fall asleep tonight, my life is closer to my vision than it is right now?” and the world tends to move to accommodate you.

To do that requires two things: 1.) Knowing what you want, and 2.) Knowing what you don’t want.  You can tackle either or both.

Let me give you an example from my own day.  After finishing some work this morning, we decided to continue our Addition Through Subtraction project, knocking off things on our list by removing anything that, when we see it, we think, “That should be better”.  We replaced the black mulch surrounding the roses we planted years ago, repainted the front door and trim a custom-dyed black, replaced the fixtures with brass, and bought a brass kick plate that we might install sometime later this week (we’re deciding on the aesthetic of it) when we change out the hinges to a matching brass (it’s going to look sweet, especially since we recently upgraded the porch light to a 25 degree, museum-style spotlight rather than a floodlight so it illuminates the area around the door more effectively).  We are ordering a new weather mat for the exterior and began our search for replacement light fixtures for either side of the garage to compliment the look.  I also managed to fit in some reading time, making my way through part of Getting There: A Book of Mentors.  On top of this, Aaron finished several things on his work agenda.

Though these things might seem relatively non-important by themselves, taken together, they result in a marked improvement in our surroundings.  Despite loving most things about our home, we had never bothered to repaint the front door from when we bought the house.  It looked like this (you can click the photographs to enlarge them):

Kennon-Green Door Before

The original front door was this Earth-tone not-quite-rusty-mauve with white accents. We weren’t crazy about it so it had to go as part of our Addition Through Subtraction project. It needed to be removed from our lives.

Kennon-Green Door Day

We went to Sherwin-Williams and had a custom-dyed black made in their Emerald line of exterior paints. We then picked out matching brass hardware so the finished door looked like a Steinway & Sons grand piano.  It is cleaner.  It is simpler.  It feels richer.  We’re absolutely in love with it.

Kennon-Green Door

We matched a 25 degree spot-light LED bulb to it, closer to the blue end of the color spectrum, so the door became the focal point when approaching at night rather than having light flooded everywhere. To finish it off, we need an appropriate welcome mat and high-tech doorbell.

The whole project took only a few hundred dollars and an afternoon to complete but we’re both so much happier with it.  Next up is installing a Korean-style doorbell system that integrates with our other systems adding a redundant layer of convenience and surveillance so that anytime someone approaches, even at night, there is a video recording.  If they ring the doorbell, even if we are somewhere else, we can answer, communicate, and, if we want, video chat with them directly from our phones or tablets.  We bought one for my parents for Christmas and they are in love with it.  Seeing how great it works, we want one for ourselves.  We also need to get the white trim repainted so it looks refreshed.

It got me thinking, though.  What is it that makes some people productive?  Why do some individuals and families thrive, constantly improving themselves, while others seem to go into a holding pattern, marking time until the 27,375 days in their mortal bank account have been spent and they die, having done little more than take up space?  How can some people go from achievement to achievement, while others let a decade pass, unable to note anything of consequence they’ve done during that time?  I don’t meant the type of people who simply have a busy calendar  – were it not for the upcoming launch of the global asset management business (Update 1, Update 2), I have more free time than almost anyone I know as I’ve arranged my life that way – but people who actually get things done.  Meaningful things that move the needle.  I see people working non-stop but never going anywhere, constantly on a treadmill that keeps them in place.

The Character Traits and Nature of Highly Productive People

The more I go over it in my mind, the more I am convinced of several things:

  1. Highly productive people have a clearly defined objective – a purpose, end-goal, or destination they are attempting to reach.  They are constantly figuring out how to take steps, no mater how small, so that they are closer to their goal by the time they go to bed than they were when they woke up that morning.  They don’t work for the sake of work, every action is designed to get them closer to their objective.
  2. Highly productive people have arranged their lives in a way that distractions are minimized.  They focus on one thing at a time and do it extremely well.  Multi-tasking is a myth.  Yes, you can have several projects going on concurrently but when you’re working on one, it should be the only thing you care about in that moment.
  3. Highly productive people know how to listen to their own voice and stay true to their vision.  They don’t take a poll to determine what they should get done, they just get it done.  It doesn’t matter what their friends think about it.  It doesn’t matter what their family thinks about it.  You don’t need anyone’s permission to be successful.  Not your friends.  Not your family.  Your wins are your own.  Don’t let their fear of falling behind hold you back out of some misguided sense of loyalty.
  4. Highly productive people don’t measure work by hours or effort but, rather, by results.  In my mind, it’s better to get a task done in two hours than in ten.  Thinking this way can take a bit of adaptation if you’re used to selling your time for money as your primary cash generator.
  5. Highly productive people are constantly acquiring new skills.  I look back at my friends and acquaintances through life who have enjoyed outsized success and it’s because they were constantly pushing themselves.  They’d jump in a car and move across the country for a job opportunity.  They’d live overseas for the experience, to broaden their understanding of the world.  They made it work even when they had little money.  It’s not an accident that they are now successful.  They know how to navigate.  They disregard most of the other excuses people have for not doing something that could give them the life they want.
  6. Highly productive people understand the art of preventative maintenance.  Whereas some people buy a home and slowly watch it fall into disrepair, never so much as changing a light fixture, the things under their stewardship are constantly improving the same way Disneyland gets better and better with time.  Windows are resealed.  Doors are painted.  Carpets are replaced.  Closest are custom built.  Cars are maintained.  Wardrobes are changed.  They tend to exercise and be healthier; to not smoke; to avoid getting drunk.  It takes much less energy and cost to maintain than it does to restore so they’re always improving, letting inertia do the heavy lifting.
  7. Highly productive people are extremely resilient.  Temporary setbacks, obstacles, rejection… none of it matters.  I’m always amazed when people are so terrified of asking for something they want for fear of hearing “no”.  They care more about someone else’s appraisal of them than they do their own desires then wonder why they don’t get what they want in life.  If you aren’t hearing no at least occasionally, you’re not being ambitious enough.
  8. Highly productive people don’t need others to force them into action.  They don’t sit around waiting for someone to hand them the life they want because they know that nobody is coming to help them; there is no cavalry that will storm over the hill to save them.  I’ve said it before but it remains true: The universe is perfectly content to let you sit in misery, waste your life, and die without ever living up to your potential.  It doesn’t care how much talent you have.  It doesn’t care how smart you are.  Results are all that matter.  Someone who is less talented than you, dumber than you… that person can blow right by you in terms of life accomplishment if they are more productive.
  9. Highly productive people get the basics out of the way to the point of mastery so the really great work – the art – can be their focus.  If they are authors, they aren’t struggling to type.  If they are musicians, they aren’t struggling to play chords.
  10. Highly productive people tend to congregate in closed social networks including practicing assortative mating.  Social proof plays a role in this because the people with whom you spend your times are likely to end up being your destiny.  When those who surround you are challenging you, constantly creating their own interesting projects, it can spur you to do better things.  The worst thing in life you can do if you want to be productive and successful is put yourself among people who spend their forty hours of leisure hours each week in front of a television.  You’re going to have a hard time getting ahead in life if your first response to getting a break is to pick up a remote.  It isn’t an accident that income and education are inversely related to media consumption.

Being productive goes beyond even these things.  It’s about learning how to be persuasive.  It’s about thinking strategically.  Above all, it’s about getting off the couch and doing something because the highly productive know that “La molesse est douce, et sa suite est cruelle“.  All of the books, all of the theories… it’s all useless unless you do something.  Fruits of success are only manifest when concepts are practically applied.  You can know more about a topic than anyone else – baseball, coffee roasting, a programming language, furniture design – but unless you’re actually selling something related to that thing, it’s nothing but a hobby; a diversion.  It’s like having a pantry full of ingredients.  The pie isn’t going to come together on its own.

What is that thing that separates the motivated from those who sit talking about something?  I cannot tell you how many times over the past decade I’ve had people ask me, “But how did you know to [start an ecommerce business / learn to analyze a balance sheet / get a book deal / develop a website / ad infinitum]?”.  It’s such a strange question to me because the answer: I didn’t.  I figured it out.  That’s how this whole thing works.  That’s what a good education is supposed to teach you (the whole reason Aaron and I pursued a liberal arts degree was so we could learn to think better as we figured making money was the easy part – it’s figuring out how to deliver something for more money than it takes you to produce or source it relative to the capital invested).  You decide what you want then you figure out how to get it.  If it’s beyond your skill set, you find a specialist to hire who can make it happen.

I mean, you’ve quite literally watched us go through it when Aaron and I became obsessed with cooking a few years ago.  We read everything we could, practiced as much as we could, and little by little, the skill developed.  The things I’ve shared on the blog – the cooking tests, the dinners – are a tiny fraction of what we actually did during this period.  There is no substitute for doing.

I’m not sure I have the answer.  I’ve always been this way.  Many – but not all – people who are like me have been, too, though I have witnessed, first hand, people who change and become highly productive despite not previously being anything of the sort, indicating it is a switch that can be turned on in a lot of people if they really want it.  The rewards are so enormous, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t.  You basically go through life as if you were your own Sims character and it pretty much becomes clear what you should be doing as it allows you to stand outside yourself and determine courses of action.

A lot of you know exactly what I’m talking about as the members of this community have notable levels of success in all types of different fields.  Educationally, you’re at the top of the bell curve.  Economically, you’re way above average.  You’ve started some amazing companies and achieved some remarkable things.  What causes the spark?  There’s enough diversity in background that family socioeconomic status doesn’t explain it, though it certainly plays a role.  I’d like to get to the heart of it.  What makes some people get up before dawn and train for long distance running?  What causes some people to lock themselves away until they’ve mastered an instrument?  Where does this … obsession?, though that’s not quite the right word … originate?  It’s something innate.  If every other person disappeared off the face of the Earth, I know I’d still be improving what I could around me; hypothesizing, testing, applying, building.

In any event, both of us are exhausted and I’ve been sitting here too long.  It’s clear we won’t be able to move much tomorrow but it was worth it.  I need to get ready for bed.  We have to be up tomorrow to get some work done before we have a meeting.  (Our family’s long-time accountant – he first began as my grandmother’s accountant back in the 1980s and has taken care of three generations of Kennons over multiple firms, including selling out his practice to one of the biggest accounting firms in the country and making partner – is retiring from the partnership this year so we are meeting the new partner who is taking over for him and going to talk about some of the basics of the investment firm we’re establishing so we can have everything done right prior to opening our doors following regulatory approvals later this summer.  It gives me a lot of peace of mind knowing that no matter what kind of question I have, no matter how esoteric, they are a phone call away with the answer; that no matter how large we grow, they have the expertise to handle anything we could possibly throw at them.)

  • Ang

    Now I’m hungry

    Looks like you guys have been doing a lot of baking and pasta making – any favorites currently?

  • Dan Callinan

    For my birthday, I received two things that I really wanted: 1.) A signed copy of “Poor Charlie’s Almanack” 2.) A post from Joshua Kennon. I love posts like these, they always help me reenergize and refocus!

  • lauren

    “What is that thing that separates the motivated from those who sit talking about something?”

    This is one of my favourite topics. Have you read the book Talent Is Overrated? I recommend it if you haven’t. There’s at least an entire chapter covering this. They reference a lot of research done on elite athletes, musicians and high-achievers in math/science/etc in an effort to figure out what makes them tick. It’s been a while since I read it, but the author’s standpoint was something like this:

    1. There are two kinds of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic.
    2. When first starting out in their field (usually as children, but not always), people almost always required extrinsic motivation (parental encouragement, positive attention from teachers, winning prizes in competition, etc.).
    3. At some point, the students/athletes developed an inner drive to improve and starting wanting to do well and progress on their own.

    But how and why does the intrinsic motivation come about? One of the popular theories was that some people have a higher ability to learn than others. Practicing any skill makes you better at it; the thought was that some people progress a great deal during a practice session, and that feels rewarding. That rewarding feeling begets MORE practice, in order to bring about more feelings of accomplishment. (TLDR; Above average learning ability makes you practice more, which improves your skills, which makes you want to practice again and level-up again, Repeat.)

    Also, I really, really want to eat one of those cupcakes.

    • Melissa K

      If you are interested in motivation theory, you should read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. She has distilled a lifetime of research on learning and self improvement into a very easy, succinct self-help format. Her academic work is truly remarkable, focusing on the power of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset believes my ability/intellect/personality/etc cannot change whereas the growth mindset believes with effort we can change. The growth mindset is an initial requirement for many of the things Joshua listed.

  • Mr.owenr

    I really want to believe that I can be productive. But…

    You see your life is not your own as you were bought and paid for with a price. There is no cavalry coming because when you want something you have to wait on God’s timing. If God wants it in your life then He’ll bring it into your life. If He doesn’t then nothing you do, no amount of effort on your part, great or small, will bring that thing into your life.

    I just keep hearing Gene Bedell from The Millionaire in the Mirror tell me that my belief in this fundamental truth that was revealed unto me is causing me to fail the litmus test. The cognitive dissonance between knowing nothing I do can change things and wanting a better life for myself is overwhelming. But still I want a better life…wanting things for myself, why is that so evil?

    So anyways this post came at an odd time.

    You see I have my opportunities/threats/annoyances/processes put onto a dry erase board in my home. Beside the board I have a notebook where I had intended to record the date of achieved opportunities plus which opportunity was achieved.

    Yet the last time I did anything from the board was three months ago. I did stuff for a week and then just kinda stopped. My Opps/threats/annoyances/processes board never changes.

    So I decided to knock one thing off that board this week. Been meaning to renew my Driver’s License for 7 1/2 months but decided I was going to knock it out today, and low and behold Joshua posts about being productive. Guess I was destined to renew today.

    • Diracwinsagain

      This post reminds me of an old joke, and I hope you’ll forgive me repeating it:


      A particularly devout man is caught at his home as a major flood is about to begin. His neighbor’s come by in their car to warn him and ask him to leave with them. He ponders this for a moment. “If this flood is as dangerous as you claim, I have no doubt God will save me”. They look at him quizzically and leave.

      The flood waters get higher and some time later a man rows by in a canoe. “I bet you’re glad to see me! Hop in and we’ll row to safety.” The devout man replies, “No thanks, God will save me.” If the canoeist looked at him oddly– well sometimes you have to bear odd looks when you’re following God’s plan.

      The flood waters rose yet further, forcing the devout man onto the roof. A rescue helicopter spots him on the roof and flies by, lowering a ladder. “Climb up and I’ll rescue you”. The devout man immediately replies “No thanks, God will save me.” The rescue helicopter leaves, the flood waters rise again drowning the devout man.

      Upon arriving in heaven the devout man asks God, “Why didn’t you save me?”

      God says, “You moron! I tried! I sent a car, a canoe, and a helicopter!”


      I think Joshua gets exactly one thing wrong in his post. It isn’t that the cavalry’s not coming, it’s that the cavalry already came. If you’re in a first world country literally millions of people have gone to a great deal of trouble so that you can be productive. It is literally one of the few things that *is* in your control.

      God doesn’t seem to be one for explaining himself. Assuming that he wants you not to be productive because he hasn’t forced you to be seems like a bit of a strech. If he starts handing out explanations, you let us know. Probably this is the part where you’re supposed to take over.

      Look at it this way, if God had to reach through 15 Billion years of time and space to put you next to an internet connection (pretty unlikely) and then send you this article (far fewer than 1% of the folks on earth will read it), I don’t know what else you want. A helicopter?

      • Ang

        Damn this was a great comment – +1 to you

      • Mr.owenr

        I agree with you about the productivity thing. But that is not the revealed knowledge that the ultimate church authority revealed. Who am I to question it? Despite it being evil I”m going to do it anyway. This causes a lot of suffering knowing that I am doing this evil thing. That I am evil because of my desires. So I really want to believe that I can be productive.

      • Mr.owenr

        I like your story, if for no other reason then I am envious of that devout man. You see that man can rest easy at night. He can look himself in the mirror and hold his head up high, knowing that he did the right thing. Ya can’t put a price on that. No amount of depressed drudgery but surviving could come close.

        But more and more I find myself wanting the consequences of doing the wrong thing. It is like I said, I want to believe that I can be productive, and gain the rewards. I know this makes me evil. But I summoned my courage and posted anyway, hoping to hit upon the helicopter. The one magical bullet that shatters my unproductive nature. The switch that can be turned on. The moment of A-HA! I want it for myself. Until I find it I’ll just keep hitting singles and get there…eventually.

        So if college was the car, and the IDA plan was the canoe, then what does the helicopter even look like? I know no one else can answer that, yet I don’t trust myself to know either. I definitely can’t bake a pie. Never forget that. What i can do is knock one more thing off my board this week, if I get any free hours. I see you think Joshua got something wrong in his post. I also think that Joshua omitted something. Highly productive people have all of their absolute failure risks already covered. In his book the Millionaire in the Mirror, Gene Bedell wrote that there are only two actions to take: one that brings you closer to your goals and one that eliminates an absolute failure probability. In my mind I need to get myself to that place of zero failure probabilities before I can push forward towards the goals to any meaningful degree. Sure singles are important, but a double puts you into scoring position.

        I’m not sure I communicated effectively, but there’s work to be done so I’ll post this and thank you again for your reply!

    • Gilvus

      How many of your friends and family have had the fortune of meeting a role model such as Joshua? Joshua has not only written hundreds of personal finance and self-improvement articles for everyone, he has directly responded to your comments, addressed your concerns, and offered you solid, actionable advice (like the Individual Development Account suggestion from yesteryear) tailored specifically to your circumstances.

      I feel very fortunate to have found this site and the community that’s gathered around it. What about you? Maybe this is God’s gift to you. Maybe God’s gift is to empower you to succeed, not to drop success on your lap. Maybe His bringing you here was His signal to you that He wants you to be healthier, happier, and wealthier. Next time you take a look at your friends, family, and coworkers, think about how many of them have a role model like Joshua. Maybe God has already blessed you by bringing you here. What do you do with His gift is up to you.

      @disqus_ZPFaSN2zqe:disqus I stole your idea, but I’m trying to repackage it in a way that Dale Carnegie would approve of, if he was alive.

      • Mr.owenr

        I really wanted that IDA plan to work. I got the paperwork and haven’t heard back from TRICAP. I left a voicemail at SSCAP and am still waiting to hear back from them. But now i’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, waiting on their reply. It is on my notebooks (dating back to when I started keeping them) and on my board, I’ve thought about it almost every day for much longer than a year now, I hope today is the day that the IDA plan happens. It scares me to think that since my income has more than doubled (tripled?) since the time I learned about the program that I may never get to participate in it due to them not calling me back. But the bottom line is I’m doing what’s supposed to be done. This is what baking a pie looks like. You find out what you want in life, and then you find the people who can give it to you. Then you drop really loud hints until they give it to you. Nothing can be had without someone else giving it to you. Because it is impossible to stop playing video games to get it for yourself.

        My point was regardless of what the recipe looks like for me, I’m going to submit myself to Joshua’s recipe. I’m going to start forcing myself to work on one thing each day (max week) from the “notebook.” Such as 4 days ago getting the driver’s licence renewed. Joshua wants to know what is the difference between highly productive people and us people sitting around talking? I’m trying to say that there is no difference, we are all trying to bake the pie, we’re all looking out for our highest goals of health, wealth, and relationships. Its just that the recipe, the things we’re supposed to do to get there, is different.

      • Mr.owenr

        I really wanted to do that IDA, Joshua wanted to share it with me so I assumed he wanted me to, G-d maybe wanted me to …so where is the problem? Do you think maybe it lies with my reptilian or emotional brain? How would one even go about changing that? I cringe when I hear ‘what do you do with His gift is up to you’ because I know I won’t do with it what I want to do with it, instead I’ll go play video games. Anyways thanks for responding I feel closer to an answer then before.

  • joe pierson

    Jack Welsh talk about this recently he said great leader have characteristics that can’t be taught, positive energy, ability to motivate others and passion are hard wired and can’t be taught. I tend to agree. Some people just are born fully loaded with these characteristics.

  • Joe (arebelspy)

    The idea of “grit” has become very popular lately. Look up Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk if you haven’t seen it. It’s a concept we’ll be trying to build in our children, via strategic examples, opportunities for practice (i.e. failing, but persevering), etc. It goes hand-in-hand with the Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck) which has also been popular lately. Your post, and its questions, dovetail nicely with these concepts.

    • I saw “Grit” by Angela Duckworth today at a Barnes and Noble as Aaron and a friend of ours visiting from Chicago waited to go to the movies, buying it on the spot because I remembered your comment. I’m sitting down with it now and it looks like it’s going to be great. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  • Todd

    focus, drive, and ambition. As I get older I have figure this out people that are successful have these traits. What I have learned is that I lack all three. So how can I be successful, invest in company’s and funds that have management with these kind of people running them. I believe Joshua Kennon is such that person. But I don’t like to invest my money with someone , company or fund with out some kind of track record. So if I wanted Joshua to manage some of mine/family’s money I would have to meet his parents and grandmother to get a feel for who he is.

  • Blair

    I agree with your 4th point. I did feel very strange to go from working long days as a laborer to merely finding things that need to be done and doing them. Neither the customers nor the products care how many hours I work, only that the results are excellent. I read in a book that your greatest strengths become your greatest weaknesses. The willingness to work as many hours as necessary was an asset in starting a business but eventually it hindered the business. I think I’m more useful if I can sit and read like it’s my job, which it is now.

    From time to time a new baker asks how I learned to bake. I tell them that I would finish the day’s baking and deliveries, and then go straight to the library and flip through a stack of cookbooks, mentally cataloging forms and techniques, which I sometimes would work themselves into a product within a week. Other times, it would take years to find an application and another year to make the first sale. Later I would go through a similar process with accounting, HTML, advertising, management, etc. It’s all a work in progress. The total freedom to learn and put my knowledge to use and to own the results was exhilarating and totally unlike what I had done in school and college.

  • I feel this post is one that could easily lead to an enjoyable discussion of Trump in the comment section.

  • Gilvus

    What causes the spark? There’s enough diversity in background that
    family socioeconomic status doesn’t explain it, though it certainly
    plays a role. I’d like to get to the heart of it. What makes some
    people get up before dawn and train for long distance running? What
    causes some people to lock themselves away until they’ve mastered an
    instrument? Where does this … obsession?, though that’s not quite the
    right word … originate?

    Providing for one’s family? Making parents happy? Doing noble things for society? All virtuous things that people frequently talk about, the rarely do people mention the role of vices in motivation. I’ll do that now:

    1. Insecurity: in this world there are forces beyond your control or comprehension. You are on an endless quest to accumulate resources, improve yourself, and defend yourself and loved ones from these potential adversaries. You refuse to be at the mercy of people who might throw you under the bus if it suited their interests.
    2. Fury: All those people who belittled you, rejected you, or pushed you around must be proven wrong. The sweetest revenge is elevating yourself above those who made you feel insignificant.
    3. Competitiveness: prestige, influence, and wealth are limited resources. The accumulation of these is not a zero-sum game…but it’s pretty close. Taking market share means you put a competitor out of business. Moving up in a hierarchy means you out-competed someone else for that position of authority. If you must divide the world into haves and have-nots, you will fight tooth and nail to ensure you and your loved ones fall in the former category.
    4. Pride: a crucial component in self-esteem. Comes in many flavors: admiring glances at your own handiwork, compensation for insecurity, congealed hubris (e.g. a diamond-encrusted yacht that can transport your ego), etc.
    5. Shame: Maybe dad left big shoes to fill, or maybe all your friends have business cards with lots of letters after their names. When expectations are high, mediocrity might as well be failure.

  • Muhammad

    Speaking of not sitting in front of the television…..since i got on my journey to get my CFA charter i dont remember sitting in front of a TV (or laptop) watching the news or anything for that matter…its been its been almost 4 years and my favourite way to spend my free time is by reading blogs (mostly on business and finance) or some good book…..i do watch movies occasionally but even thats becoming a rarity…..Its not that I want to do it but am not doing it to get to my goals, no. I just dont enjoy watching the television anymore. just doesnt stimulate my thought process any more…well, not most of the time. I do love watching documentaries (mostly on business). I just love Bloomberg Game changers documentary on Warren buffett…ive watched it two dozen times…motivates and inspires me everytime…..

  • Those are good questions Joshua and I think the answers are complex and probably not fully understood. As with most character and personality traits we probably are influenced both by our environment and our genetics. I feel as if I have a set point that I resonate around. Could this set point have been influenced by a different set of life circumstances? Maybe. It is interesting to do the thought experiment imagining you lived your life growing up with a different religion, different culture, different socioeconomic status and trying to imagine if you would even be the same person. We like to think we are completely autonomous free beings, but I’m not sure I would be remotely close to myself if I was born in North Korea or Rwanda for instance.

    I know I could change my productivity level by constantly working at making small changes, but I’m not sure how far from my set point I could run. I don’t think I could flip a switch to uber-productive unless there was some drastic initiating event, although this is pure speculation. I simply don’t have the drive of a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. I’m not sure I could learn to be that productive. I’m not sure I would want to be that productive.

    The deeper question is this: Does being more productive lead to greater happiness or contentment? Is being productive just another way to describe striving (which some would construe as suffering). Why is being increasingly productive even necessarily a good thing? Everyone will have different answers to these questions.

    That said, there is probably a level of inefficiency and being non-productive that hurts people and is not in their interest. Some people are simply stuck due to not having the tools, education or habits that allow them to reach a goal of higher productivity. After a few failures one can get stuck in a fixed mindset and become to believe that they have no control over their lives. The one trait I see in the most productive people I know is that they believe they are in control of their destiny. They own up to full responsibility for their successes and failures. I don’t know if this is enough, but it seems critical to me.

    Great thoughtful article.

  • Eric Vaughn

    So you’re saying the franchisees not only pay royalties on sales, but they also pay for the advertising? If so, that’s awesome for WEN shareholders. Is that fairly standard in the quick serve franchise industry?

  • Joshua,

    I think you would enjoy this essay about the causes of increasing prosperity in the United States and other western nations over the past two centuries. It’s focus is that by allowing people to be free, they will naturally become more productive. (In other words of course).

    While this doesn’t explicitly account for why some people are highly productive, it does indicate that you’ll have more incidence of higher productivity among a population when more of that population is free.

  • Yaacov

    Hi. Great article as usual.

    You expressed ambivalence towards the use of the word “obsession “. How about “consistent drive”?

  • dave (nestle)

    A masterpiece, as usual.

    Hi Joshua,

    For lack of a better place, and if you wouldn’t mind a few minutes,
    Now I have read as many of your thoughts on creativity, risk management, business types, etc. Also, one of the comments on this post makes light of the fact of how certain “underdog” motivations can be very powerful drivers to avoid failure(like its not an option because…) So:
    Let’s say you were about to open a new business, lets call it a “cookery” to belt out all of the food you can make in those above pictures. The business would require much capital up front for buildout of a storefront location. Lets give a rough estimate of a total of $500K including inventory and working capital.

    Let us also say that you have that same amount in assets that you could self finance the startup amount.

    Lets also say you have the opportunity to partner half with someone successful but that there are visible risks in this individual which in some off chance way could negatively effect your stake somewhere down the road.

    1. How would you go about financing the startup of that business?

    2. If self financing is not your first choice, would you “dispose” of your assets so as to make your situation a more dire struggle(as in, failure is not an option)

    Any response would be appreciated! Thanks!

  • Muhammad

    Dear Joshua, I am messaging today because after 3 years, no 3 hard years, 3 years of suffering , fear and sacrifice I have cleared the CFA level 2 exam. For a lot of people this might sound trivial, unnecessary or even wasteful. A lot of the people around me used to tell me to quit. They told me I should take it easy and relax. Just go get a job like everyone else and just be happy. They just didn’t know that for me to be truly happy I just had to do this. For no-one but myself.

    Many people ask me why I’m suffering so much for the CFA Charter? Although I never tell most of them that its part of “The PLAN!” because they just wont understand. They wont understand that to achieve my goals i will need to leverage the charter to quite an extent. Most of them would rather “have fun”.

    People who don’t know what the CFA is don’t understand how getting the charter will help,to an extent, get me in places where I would probably not be allowed otherwise. places where I must be to learn from others like me who have acquired specialised knowledge on subjects that I will need to get my financial house in order. getting my own financial house in order is exactly what its all about.

    I have now realised that we as human being are wired in such a way that things that helped us in the past are now actually hurting us. I mean fear in the stone ages might have helped people stay alive by avoiding danger. But today the chances of losing your life are much lower while the upside is just phenomenal. Its amazing how fear keeps people from achieving what they truly want. Just because they are afraid of what other people might say or EVEN THINK! I wont say i don’t understand that way of thinking but now that I have seen a better way of thinking…..a far more advantageous way of thinking…..I don’t think I’m ever going back!

    Thanks for all the cool insights you share with us through your writing.


    • CONGRATULATIONS!!! I found myself wondering the other day about how your study was going since I hadn’t heard you mention it in awhile. Not that it’s our place to say this but, for what it’s worth, you absolutely made both my and Aaron’s day with this news. We’re both proud of you!

      • Muhammad

        Thank you both Joshua and Aaron! This means so much to me! Thanks a lot for the constant support (through Joshua’s writing). It made all the difference in the world for me. Reading about you two made me realise that its possible to achieve one’s dreams if they are willing to commit and then stay the path.

        Thanks so much! You guys rock!

  • 1454

    I need to say thank you for this. I wont get into the specifics, but I needed a good reading to get my productivity back.

  • Kisse Ellis

    psychology joshua….psychology….

    few of the “secrets” can be effectively put together, if people suffer from strong neurosis and damaged psychological states….. some of which we are beginning to learn are/can be inheritable. Some of the damage may even come from trauma cause to prior generations (epigenetics); not to mention present triggers. (see stereotype threat)

    Imagine if a person’s entire family culture is one formed around the basis of the multi-generational traumas……and present triggers….

    (What do you think life is like in general today for the descendants of those people who saved those kids in your grandmother’s sundown town …)
    (if she was traumatized from their treatment, imagine them …now multiply it by 100).

    Solutions: acknowledgement of the damage and psychological treatment and intervention.


    I was paid 104000 bucks in last twelve months by working on-line from my house a­­n­­d I was able to do it by work­ing part-time for several hours each day. I’m using a business opportunity I was introduced by this web-site i found online and I am excited that i was able to make such great money. It’s very beginner friendly and I am just so thankful that i learned about it. Here is what i did… STATICTAB.COM/h8vxywm

  • I have made 104,000 bucks in last twelve months by doing an on-line job from home and I manage to do it by wo­rking in my own time f­­o­­r several h /day. I’m using work model I found on-line and I am so amazed that i made so much extra income. It’s beginner-friendly a­­n­­d I am just so happy that i discovered it. This is what i did… STATICTAB.COM/h8vxywm

    • Mr.owenr

      OMG Joseph, what if you convince Joshua to drop everything and work online from home several hours a day to make 104,000 bucks in a year? He might even quit writing the blog! Please don’t convince him to do that..


    I have earned $104k previous year by doing an on-line job a­­n­­d I was able to do it by wor­king part time f­­o­­r 3+ hours every day. I used an earning model I came across from this website i found online and I am happy that I was able to earn so much money. It’s so newbie-friendly a­­n­­d I’m just so grateful that I found out about it. Here’s what I do… STATICTAB.COM/8cx4rgs