The Focus Course

Barrett Brooks Video Interview: Making and measuring creative progress

Barrett Brooks is the COO for ConvertKit, writer, and all around brilliant fellow.

In addition to leading the team at ConvertKit, Barrett writes regularly on the topics of personal development, nurturing leaders, and personal discovery.

Every interaction with Barrett will leave you curious to learn something new and excited about life. He’s one of the most likable people on the planet.

One of the main themes in The Focus Course is that of doing your best creative work. The course helps you with developing a creative habit, showing up every day, and pushing through the resistance.

And this is why I wanted to talk with Barrett.

In our conversation you’ll discover more about how to develop a creative habit, how to make creative progress, and how to measure that progress over time to ensure you’re on the right track.

Highlights, Quotes, and Takeaways

How a flywheel helps in creative endeavors

Whether you’re running a business or you’re a writer or a podcaster, or even just someone with a career and a family life that you really enjoy, the thing that the flywheel highlights is understanding the things that drive progress in each of those areas.

What I love about the flywheel is it helps take this concept of what matters and it applies it to what allows you to make the most progress with the least repetitive effort.

What you might not expect though is for me as a writer, one of the things that really fuels my ability to write is conscious consumption of content. A lot of people will say that you should create more than you consume and I actually think that’s a fallacy. You should intentionally consume and then use that to create. But I actually don’t think it’s possible to create as much as you consume. And so the way I think about that is one of the core elements of my flywheel when it comes to writing is how do I consume the right things that will inspire new ideas for me so that I can then go and write and publish my own content that helps me form my own ideas that are based on other things that I understand from other people.

The flywheel kind of captures these ideas and helps you understand if these are the three to five things that drive progress in my business or in whatever the goal that I’m focused on, then let me only do those things. And if opportunities come to me or if ideas come to me that don’t help fuel those things that make me significantly better at what I do, then maybe I should say no to those things.

On making progress and thinking about outcomes.

So some of the questions I would ask someone are, first of all, what are the things that you have done in the past that have led to your greatest successes or greatest learnings? Sometimes we can think of success as I made more money or I achieved some thing, but I think of success actually primarily as learning. So what are the things that you’ve done in the past that have created the most progress for you in your life? That would be the first thing.

The second thing is one of the things I love about your work is that you encourage people to think about outcomes. What is it that you’re moving towards? And I think in order to define a flywheel for going forward, I think you have to have some end point, some outcome that you’re looking for.

I prefer, what is the outcome that I want from the longevity of my life, not just in this little micro moment. And will the things that led to progress in the past also lead you to the outcome that you are seeking? And a lot of times the answer is no because life is confusing, the world is confusing, and we can get hooked on other people’s ideas of what we should want.

Asking others for input.

Another helpful exercise I have found is asking other people actually what they believe has led to your greatest successes or greatest growth over time.

Sometimes other people can see what you do more clearly than you can. And so that would be another thing I would encourage is kind of going to some of those people that believe in you, know you, care about you, and asking them, “What is it that I do differently than others that has allowed me to build a connection with you or reach these goals that I have had over time?”

On doing the right things to get the flywheel going and sticking it out for the long haul.

So the first thing is what you bring to the table when you are getting started matters. So the level of expertise, the number of skills, your experience really matters. I think one of the things that I was really challenged by, especially when I was younger, was I wanted all of it right now, and so I didn’t want to put in the years apprenticing or learning from other people. I really just wanted to get started. And there’s a lot of value to that, but there’s also a lot of pain associated with it.

So I think one of the things I always tell people is the more expertise, the more skills, the more life experience you bring to the table at the outset, the less time it’s likely to take you to make progress, because you’ve already been through a lot of the pain that it takes to learn some of the lessons about yourself and how you’re going to hold yourself back along the way. But you also have more value to offer others through all of those things.

The other two things that come to mind for me are a book called, How Will You Measure Your Life which is about what you are using as your marker of success. And what I love about some of the thesis behind it is you have to know what it is that you are measuring over time, because that helps you understand progress. If the marker is money, that will never end. If the marker is audience size, that will never end either. But if you know what enough is, then those might still be useful markers because it’s not more as the answer, it’s am I showing progress over time that indicates that I’m doing high quality work?

The last thing I would reference is a book called The Dip by Seth Godin. The core of the book is about how to know when to keep going versus how to know when to quit. And it’s very personal at the end of the day. Much of it is driven by intuition. One of the things that has really helped me is at the outset defining what I’m willing to invest in a project. That could be in terms of time, that could be in terms of money, that could be in terms of sacrifice of energy away from other things that matter to me. And so what I would encourage people is give themselves a timeline. So maybe it is two years, maybe it is four years, and define what, at the end of that time, a milestone would be that they should have hit in order to keep going.

I would actually like to break that down if I were getting started today. So if by one year from now I don’t have 1,000 email subscribers and 25 pieces of content published, I’m not going to keep going. And so what that tells me is I have got a very clear marker of what I need to make and I have got a very clear marker of how many people need to care that I am still making things at that point. And that’s a fairly reasonable milestone to hit that indicates to me, okay I should probably keep going because I’m showing progress. I think progress is way more important than any one achievement along the way, but at the same time if you don’t pick little milestones that represent progress, I think it’s very easy to fool yourself about the fact that you’ve got something valuable that you should keep doing.

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