The Flywheel: How Subtraction May Be The Secret To Success

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”―Steve Jobs

Something you don't see recommended often is the idea of improvement through elimination.

When most people want to improve, they try to add things to their life. More is better syndrome is rampant in our culture.

But Improvement usually comes through subtraction.

As humans, we fall into the trap of thinking new and more is inherently better.

Shiny objects allure us like a fish to the hook.

The reality is, less is often better.

And usually, less and better, is better.

If you are trying to improve, find ways to simplify.

Removing is improving.

Adding focus to what deserves intense consideration is, in a way, adding. It's adding by removing.

It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.

  • Bruce Lee

When people talk about focus they often share tips, tricks, and lists for improving focus. The shiny new app or journaling method promises terminator like focus if only you adopt the habit.

But adding to a shaky foundation puts you more at risk. Stacking weight to a weak structure increases your chances of total failure.

Adding does this.

More does not make you stronger, it makes you weaker.

For the rest of this piece, I want you to consider two points: removing and attention to the process.

Let's start by defining focus by starting with the opposite of focus, which is a distraction.

Remove distraction and you have focus.

That’s the foundation.

With distraction, you can't focus. Cut everything out.

This has become the First Principle of my work and life: get distraction gone.

After that, you can focus on kaizen; improving a little bit each day.

Each day you carve out undisrupted time, you'll get better at getting into flow. You'll get better at the various skills, whether they are writing, editing, researching. You'll improve your speed, accuracy, output.

You'll get better. This is the beautiful thing about simplifying and focusing: everything becomes connected and improves at the same time.

You become a Pro, as David Pressfield says.

The more time spent in the Pro State, the more pro you become.

The more you do it, the easier it gets, like a flywheel.

It takes a ton of effort to get a flywheel moving. When you do, it moves on its own for the most part.

You wouldn't add weight to a flywheel to make it go faster. You'd make sure it was as clean and unencumbered as possible.

For personal development, getting the flywheel going requires eliminating all nonessentials.

The flywheel analogy still works here as you maintain your momentum.

Once that flywheel is going—your daily habits and output—you'll have to invest less energy to maintain momentum. A little grease here and there while making sure nothing creeps in that could cause it to slow down or break.

As life tries to pull you back to complexity, you stay vigilant with keeping your flywheel unencumbered and humming.

The law of entropy states that all things regress to disorder.

A flywheel will not keep spinning if it isn't helped along. The point is, the effort to maintain a spinning flywheel is a fraction of what it took to get it spinning in the first place.

Entropy will try to slow it down. It will try to gunk it up. This is a law of reality. This is why your best defense is a focus on your foundation and is essential. Try to improve a little bit each day as a means to keep the momentum going.