For me, productivity has always been about simplicity.

The more I need to think about what I’m doing, the more likely I am to:

  • Get distracted
  • Start second guessing myself
  • Put more energy into thinking than into doing

I’m most productive when I’m simply working my way through a checklist.

This is true in every area of my life, but I have FAR more trouble with it in freelancing and entrepreneurship than I do in any other area of life.

It’s not hard to imagine why.

When it comes to building a business, there are just SO. MANY. VARIABLES.

The options are endless.

The paths to success are numerous.

And there are no black and white answers.

This is why I always find it helpful to turn to other areas of life in learning how to tackle entrepreneurial challenges.

Most commonly, I turn to fitness.

Getting fit has always felt similar to growing a business.

  • It requires daily effort over an extensive period of time.
  • You can’t see the improvement on a daily basis, and sometimes it’s even hard to notice on a monthly basis.
  • Despite infinite content written on these subjects, the core components of both are simple enough to fit into a single blog post.

In thinking recently about how I could improve my focus and productivity as an entrepreneur, I was reminded of a mantra I’ve developed for seasons when I’m really pushing to improve athletic performance.

That mantra is “Every set. Every rep.”

Here’s what it means.

Every good workout program is broken down into the following:

  • A collection of exercises for each day
  • A collection of “sets” for each exercise
  • A collection of “reps” (repetitions) for each set

I never know how I’m going to feel heading into any given day’s workout.

Some days, I feel energized and ready to go.

Other days, I feel like absolute shit.

Whether I feel great or shitty, I go into the workout with that mantra.

Every set. Every rep.

I predetermine that I’m going to complete every single repetition on my workout plan for the day… no exceptions.

If I get 50% through the workout and feel like I don’t have anything left in the tank… too bad.

Every set. Every rep.

If I feel like I’ve overworked a certain muscle group and don’t need to push it any more… oh well.

Every set. Every rep.

If something comes up and the workout is taking longer than it’s supposed to… tough.

Every set. Every rep.

What I’ve found is that if I go into a workout with any other mentality, I end up missing reps, sets, and even entire exercises.

I tend to let myself get distracted or when I reach a physical breaking point, I’m all too happy to call it a day.

When I haven’t predetermined that I’m going to complete the entire workout… I don’t.

When I DO make that predetermination — surprise, surprise — I finish the workout.

And I’ve seen the exact same thing happen in my business.

When I predetermine that something HAS to get done today… it gets done.

When it’s optional… it doesn’t.

This is never more obvious than when deadlines are involved. Most of us have discovered at some point in our lives that we seem to get a remarkable amount done leading up to deadlines as compared with times when we aren’t racing against the clock.

Practically speaking, there are two components here.

First, you have to be able to break out your goals into milestones and then attach daily checklists to those milestones… just like you’d do with a workout program.

But second, you have to be able to decide that you are going to complete that checklist, even when there are no external motivators to ensure you do so.

Every set. Every rep.

I think it’s important to note here that this isn’t a permanent posture.

If I carried this ethos into every workout year-round I’d repeatedly injure myself (okay, I do that anyway).

It’s seasonal.

I’ve had seasons where I couldn’t prioritize my workouts.

My mantra in those seasons was more like “Just do SOMETHING every day”.

I’ve had seasons where I’ve been recovering from injuries or getting back into more serious exercise.

My mantra in those seasons was more like “I’m gonna push myself but listen closely to my body.”

The “Every set. Every rep” mantra is reserved for seasons where I’m ready to really get shit done.

For seasons where mediocre results aren’t going to cut it.

For seasons where I’m willing to make sacrifices in other areas.

Understanding your season is a big part of prioritization and productivity, because by definition, you can’t prioritize everything, and you’ll rarely get the results you want in any area of life without prioritizing it to some degree.

That’s why you need seasons.

But that’s a topic for another time.

It’s also worth noting that “Every set. Every rep” ONLY denotes that I will COMPLETE each repetition.

It doesn’t demand that I hit a particular amount of weight.

It doesn’t require that I lift more than I did last week.

It doesn’t necessitate that I push my body beyond what it’s capable of.

There is plenty of flexibility still baked into this mantra.

What I’m doing here is simply eliminating my ability to bail before the job is done.

If I can’t hit any more repetitions at the current weight, I can lower the weight and keep going.

If I don’t have time to finish the workout, I can come back and finish it later in the day.

I don’t HAVE to do my best work in order to complete the checklist. I just have DO it. I just have to COMPLETE the checklist. I can always make improving my previous work part of tomorrow’s checklist.

But this point where you’re hitting your limit and pushing through is scientifically what accounts for muscle building… and the same is true in business.

When you reach that uncomfortable point where you feel like you are tapped out — and then you push through — day after day after day… that’s where growth happens.

Every set. Every rep.

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