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Speed and Velocity

This is how Shane Parrish of Farnam Street visualizes the difference between Speed and Velocity:

I'm sure we can all remember times when we felt like the graphic on the left: doing, doing, doing, but ending up right back where we started!

And times when things felt like the graphic on the right: humming along like a fine-tuned machine and covering tons of ground.

I like the simplicity there for conceptual purposes, but IRL it's always a bit of both, isn't it? :)

Ideally, despite some switch backs, roundabouts, and wasted work, over time you find yourself making real progress. I wish I could tell you that I've got it all figured out and I know exactly how to keep that line as straight as an arrow, maintaining maximum velocity. But unfortunately, I don't. The line of my reality is every bit as wonky as the one above, but it does have some seasons of strong velocity.

What I can offer up are a few of my own observations of why those periods of time were more effective than others, and the observations and recommendations of people far smarter than me.

They are:

1. Say "No, thanks" to almost everything

This is the thrust of Shane's whole article and he caps it off with a quote from Warren Buffett.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” –WB


This doesn't mean "do almost nothing."

It means "change directions as infrequently as possible."

Know where you want to go, prioritize the known steps it will take to get there, and as you adapt to opportunities that come up along the way, say "No thanks" more often than feels good.

Another way to think of this is that saying no to something is saying no to one thing. Saying yes is saying no to a hundred things, and some of those things will be more important to you in the long run.

The modern burden (that's embarrassing to complain about, but is hard to manage relative to our one and only lived experience) is that choices abound and FOMO is real. It is very, very hard to sit tight. To stay focused. To be boring when fun things look fun. But saying yes to too many things, too often gets in the way of the rewards that eventually come from deep focus.

2. Focus on process, not outcomes or goals

And that is why when it comes to your focus, it should be on the process, not the outcomes or achieving predefined goals.

Y'all, I'm not trying to act like I don't fail at this! In fact, as I look at this list of three and evaluate my own mental fitness and focus right now, this is where I'm currently failing and sending myself round-and-round a couple of "Speed" cycles instead of on the straight-line trajectory of "Velocity."

Outcomes feel good, they're fun to celebrate, and you can tell you're getting somewhere!

So why not put our focus on getting there?

Because outcomes are temporary, they're susceptible to all sorts of factors that may be out of your control, and they exist in the future.

Your process is always with you, it's completely within your circle of influence, and you can act on it right now. Right now.

James Clear would even say that goals are fundamentally at odds with long-term happiness. Lasting fulfillment comes from falling in love with the process itself.


"True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress." –James Clear


Outcomes will flow out of a well-refined process that you're committed to, but it will take time. Expecting them too early is just likely to lead to disappointment and unmet expectations.

3. Reach without losing your balance

The valuable thing about the velocity graphic is that there is some distance traveled. Conceptually, this is what we are trying to accomplish. We're currently here, we want to get there.


To do that, we have to create some forward momentum that doesn't happen if you're sitting nice and still inside of your comfort zone. That doesn't mean you should expose yourself to risks that could result in ruin, it just means you need to reach for something new while maintaining your balance.

Derek Sivers has a great post that I think is instructional here. It's called, "Change Careers Like Tarzan."

"Remember how Tarzan swings through the jungle? He doesn’t let go of the previous vine until the next vine is supporting his weight."

"So my advice is: Change careers like Tarzan. Don’t let go of the old one until the new one is supporting you. And make sure you don’t lose momentum."

Derek is talking about careers moves, but the principle applies more broadly because of how important momentum is psychologically. It's a lot easier to stay committed to your process (point 2) and to say no to new distractions (point 1) if you're feeling a sense of momentum.

In Conclusion

Those are a few of the many principles I've observed in my own life that have helped me look more like the velocity side of the graphic. Like I said, I'm no expert and fail on a nearly daily basis at living these out. But hey, I'm committed to refining the process!


A Few Things I Enjoyed this Week

  1. I haven't read all of it yet, but Ryan Singer of Basecamp released what is very likely to be yet another huge contribution to the product design community. "Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters." I'm sure the content will be incredible, but I also love the design of the site.

  2. I never encountered Dungeons & Dragons during my childhood and am participating in my first ever DnD adventure next week. Now that I'm creating my character and getting familiar with the game, I am soooo bummed that I missed out on this! 15 year-old me NEEDED this in his life! In preparation, I stumbled on this video of Stephen Colbert (huge DnD fan) playing with Matt Mercer, who is apparently the Lebron James of Dungeon Masters. Seeing the pure delight on Colbert's face as he's reintroduced to this game makes the video so much fun!

  3. I'm in my hometown of Paris, Texas this week so I've been listening to a lot of this Country Coffeehouse playlist. I may lose some of you here, but this is good stuff.


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