Seven continents, 70 countries, countless books, studies in psychology, philosophy and physiology at Oxford with a specialization in brain chemistry were all part of a quest to figure out how to live a good life and what a good life even means.
And that search eventually led Arthur Worsley to create The Art of Living. Prior to, however, he had been working 80+ hour weeks at McKinsey for three years. Burnout and several other life events prompted him to leave and finally start to uncover what it means to live a good life. Today, after immersing himself in studying this, he is helping others get more out of life and achieve self mastery through his TRACKTION Masterclass and The Art of Living.
In this episode, Arthur shares tips for accelerated learning, achieving greater productivity, finding clarity, and bringing more energy and passion to your life.
The following is the transcript from the show. But first, a few helpful links:
- More about the TRACTION Masterclass (tip: use code “wiredpr75” to get 75% off the class! Only the first 50 people)
- GTD (Getting Things Done) book summary
- Productivity & Performance: Do More, Better
- How to accelerate learning
What led you to create The Art of Living?
I left McKinsey and I’d been doing a whole load of things. I’d been studying, I learned five languages, I did an ultra marathon through the Sahara desert, I’d been traveling and reading books, and I wanted a way to capture all of that. I stumbled on the Fineman method of learning –– learning by teaching it to someone else. I started putting this stuff down and people started reading it.
I’ve always been fascinated with being good at life. I had a father who was an alcoholic and despite having all of the advantages that he could have possibly had, he sort of threw his life away. If I look back at my decision on why I wanted to study psychology, why I’ve always been so interested in reading and why I went traveling, a lot of them link back to trying to get to the bottom of these questions, which is how can we live a good life? How can we not throw away everything that we’re given? What does a good life even mean? That’s where The Art of Living really came from.
What was the turning point when you realized you had stumbled onto something viable with The Art of Living?
When I started out and people started resonating with the stuff I was writing, that was the first moment where I thought, maybe this is possible. The moment that I realized that this was really going to be something cool was when I was with one of my partner’s friends who’s a retired CEO. I was chatting to him and his wife about the life philosophy that I’d put together, the way I organize my weeks and my days and how I avoid burnout and they said, “Hey, would you give us some coaching?” I’d never really thought about coaching people on that, and that is when I realized that the business was probably going to be viable.
What were the early days like? Once you knew you wanted to build this, how long did it take you?
I started out reading a lot of books and it was a huge learning curve for me. Some people start a business and they come from a strong marketing background and then they find a product that they can sell. Some people have a product or a cause that they believe in, and then they’re trying to work out the marketing aspect of it.
For me, even though the product had been evolving, I knew what it was I wanted to help people with from a very early stage and I focused on one channel. I’m a big search engine optimization guy. I love the idea of just optimizing something and then leaving it out there and having it slowly accrue more people. That was my top-of-funnel and then I had to work out how to turn those readers into subscribers and those subscribers into buyers? That was a long process of trial and error and learning from people who’d been there before me.
It’s quite a different path than McKinsey, was there anything you had to overcome mentally to let go of that chapter and pursue this as a new path?
I think it’s surprisingly similar to McKinsey in two ways. The first is that what I do involves taking really big problems and breaking them down into really small problems that are easy to solve. The reason I’m able to help people find more balance and meaning in their lives is when you break it down into eight different areas and five different time horizons, suddenly it becomes a set of much smaller problems. The second thing is that it’s all about learning super steep learning curves. I would start a project at McKinsey knowing nothing about oil and gas or defense or healthcare or supermarkets in the UK and within three months you’re helping the CEO clarify decisions they’re going to make. One of the things that I did struggle with is I’ve always loved problem solving for the sake of problem solving and that tends to mean that I put more energy into solving the problem than it necessarily needs. I have to keep catching myself not to get sucked into spending more time than I need solving the problems that are in front of me.
One of the things you’re most known for is your TRACKTION productivity system. In that, one of the first steps is to diagnose what’s holding you back. Can you share some tips on how to identify that?
There’s two kinds of people in this world: those who know what they need to be doing and aren’t doing it, and the people who genuinely don’t know what they need to be doing. For a lot of people, getting clear on which of those they are, is important. A lot of people know what’s going to move the needle and what the most important thing in their business is, and they just can’t seem to focus on it. For those, I think one of the most important things you can do is start tracking your time and creating a bit of an inventory of what it is that you’re actually working on. When you track your time, it creates accountability. I don’t mean on a minute by minute basis or with an app where you build pie charts. You can do this very simply on a piece of paper. You say, 7:15am start breakfast, 7:45am start work, whatever it is that you do. You get a lot of clarity around how much of that time is not being spent on the stuff that’s important.
For the people who genuinely don’t know what to do, the most important thing is to just sit down and work out what that most important thing is. You can go through a basic planning method where you work out what it is you’re trying to achieve. The model I use is ‘what, why not, how, what if and what next’. You ask yourself, what’s the what? Then you write down all the reasons that you’re not already there. Then you go, how can I solve all of those things? Then you go through a what if phase, which is where you anticipate anything that could come up that could derail you. Then you look at that entire list and go, what’s the most important thing on this list that I could be working on and you get on with that. If you do that, you’ll naturally squeeze the stuff that doesn’t matter off your plate.
How do you then identify things you may be doing on a daily basis that don’t really matter?
The most powerful way is when you have a vision of what awesome looks like for each area of your life. Something I like to get people to do is write down all the things they’re working on right now and then you give each of those things a score from minus five to plus five. Minus five is any activity that’s taking you strongly away from that vision that you’ve written down. Plus five is anything that’s taking you strongly towards that. It creates a huge amount of clarity to go down that list and give everything a number. What people who are really struggling tend to do is they have a few minus ones and minus twos on that list and those are things you can easily get rid of. What people who are very productive but are struggling to get to the next level find is they have a lot of plus ones and plus twos and those are things that are hard to give up because they’re not doing you any harm and might be slightly pleasant, but they’re not as important as the plus five and plus four stuff that’s getting you towards your vision. Doing that process is super helpful for getting clear.
If you don’t have time to think about what awesome looks like or you haven’t done any visions for the different areas of your life, you can use a few heuristic models. I tend to use three nets. The first is the ABC method. A is something that if you did or didn’t do, it would have a big impact and C is something that would have no impact at all. B is something that would have a little impact. You go down the list and you go, this is an A task and if I stopped doing it, stuff’s really going to start going wrong. This is a C task, if I stopped doing it, nothing will really happen. The second model, I call “hero-based thinking”. Think who’s your business hero and then look at each of the things on your task list and go, would my hero be doing this or not? The last net is the $10 task test. Go down the list and ask, how much would it cost to outsource this to a freelancer and that will give you the final clue, which is, is this something that I personally should be doing? If you’re an entrepreneur and you aspire to be paid $1,000 an hour, and you’ve got a lot of $10-tasks on your list, or even a lot of $100-tasks, then you’re short changing yourself. Those three nets will tell you, is it important, should it be done at all and should I be doing it?
You work with a lot of entrepreneurs who are facing burnout whether because their work has taken over their lives or they feel like they have to compromise their lives in some way to grow the business. Is there a common thread among these entrepreneurs that you’ve seen –– something that’s keeping them in that pattern?
How can they start to break free from that?
The two most common ones are lack of energy and lack of clarity. For lack of energy, I talk about three kinds of days: A days, B days and C days. An A day is a work day where you’re working on the most important projects. B days are planning days where you work out what success looks like or get clear on your inboxes. C days are recovery days where you get to the end of the day with more energy. For the last four weeks, mark in your calendar as an all day event if it was an A day, B day or C day. Suddenly people go, I haven’t had a C day in four weeks, no wonder I’m feeling a bit run down. Or, I’ve only had two C-ish days because I was at a wedding and that doesn’t really count.
A lot of the time, it’s just creating clarity. It’s so easy to forget how long and how hard we’ve been working as an entrepreneur. And then you can put for the next four weeks when are you going to do your A, B and C days. My rhythm is five A days, one C day and one B day every week, and every four weeks, I try and take at least three or four consecutive C days to recuperate my batteries. The second is, a lot of the reason people end up just working on work is because they don’t have a best alternative to working on work. I encourage people to get really clear on what it is they actually want out of the other areas of life. What does success look like for their family, their health, their wealth, the learning and growth that they want to through? When you’re offered a choice, it doesn’t just become a default of I’ll do more work.
On The SuccessLab Podcast we talk about the idea of impactful connections and how they can really transform the trajectory of your career or your business. Are there one or two along your journey that made a big impact?
One of the most important set of relationships that I’ve had are the mentors in the books I’ve read. There are two ways that you can approach a book. You can approach it as you listen to what it is that’s being said to you, or you can treat it as an active dialogue with the author. Those relationships are very powerful. That’s a kind of academic answer so I think the most important relationship that I’ve got at the moment is my partner, Erin. She’s amazing. Lastly, I have a very specific set of values that I look for in the friends that I keep around me and all of those people are constantly inspiring me, making me feel grateful to be alive and showing me new ways of thinking and challenging some of the parts of me that need more development.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs looking to make a change in their lives?
It’s really helpful to get smart at breaking problems down. Peter Drucker says, if you give two highly competent people a role and they both fail at it, the chances are it’s not the people, it’s the role that needs to be broken down into more specific roles. I think the same is true of problems. If you throw a lot of people, time and effort at a problem and you can’t solve it, it’s probably because you haven’t worked out how to break it down yet. One of the most important pieces of advice I got when I started out with my blogging was to split my efforts into readers, subscribers, and buyers. That seems like such an obvious thing to do but the moment you break that problem down, it clarifies everything you need to do. Learning to break problems down into smaller pieces is really helpful. Another general problem-solving tip is to invert things. If someone says what does success look like for your business or what should you be working on? You can invert that question and ask, what’s the thing that I shouldn’t be working on or what don’t I want from my business? That will help you narrow the solution space in a way that makes getting to the positive answer more easy.
- Coffee drinker, yes or no? No.
- One business tool you’re geeking out over right now? ActiveCampaign
- Favorite piece of technology? My iPad Pro and Apple Pencil
- What’s one book you’d pass along to a fellow entrepreneur? Getting Things Done by David Allen
- One person you’d like to make a connection with? I really wish I could have met Stephen Covey.
- What’s your favorite ice breaker when introducing yourself to someone? Smile. I think the positivity, energy and interest that you show in other people is almost always reflected back.
- How many hours of sleep do you get each night, on average? I always give myself an eight-hour sleep opportunity and then I also have a siesta every afternoon that’s usually 20 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on how well I slept the night before or how tired I am.
How can people connect with you and The Art of Living? theartofliving.com You will find the blog organized by the different areas of life. There’s book recommendations, book summaries, articles and courses. If you’re overwhelmed, you can sign up to my mailing list and I spend the first week guiding you around the very best content on the site.