Think in Weeks, Not Years

Ramit Sethi

Trying to strike a deal with a big company is like inviting Hulk Hogan to smash a diamond-tipped rock against your head for 57 days straight. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been in a Monday meeting, we’ve finally agreed on some minor action item for the next step (like the company employee sending me a 2-paragraph project timeline), and then she neatly stacks her papers and says, “I’ll get that to you by next Friday.”

It’s Monday today. Next Friday is 10 business days away. WHY!???????!??!

Lots and lots of people in big companies move slowly, and what should actually take 10 minutes takes 2 weeks. Sometimes, there’s a reason for this–usually, Person 1 is waiting on Person 2, etc. But just as often, there’s no incentive to work very quickly. For example, when I worked an 10-week internship one summer, I finished my project in a week and a half. One of my friends did the same thing and, when he had his next internship, he didn’t make the same mistake again. And so many fulltime employees also don’t work as quickly as they should–understandably so.

But you know how everyone in business says “think outside of the box”? Although this is one of the phrases I hate most, one easy way to do that is in your response time: If someone says “Can you get that to me by next Friday?” you’ll be shocked at the response if you say “I’ll get it to you by the end of today.”

Week-long deliverables, or an ass kicking
My little brother is a freshman at Stanford and he’s trying to start a company. Good man!!! Anyway, to do this, he went around to a few people, asking for their thoughts, and Noah took the time to sit down and give his advice. My brother and his business partner explained the ideas they were thinking about, and Noah helped them work through it.

At the end of the meeting, Noah said something simple that stuck with them (and me): “You better come back to me in 1 week and have something done, or I’m going to kick your ass.”

What eloquence. What motivation. But seriously, I love it. 1 week–that is actually a long time. For a 2-man project, that’s enough time to think an idea through, check the competition, and have a prototype (even a simple drawing on paper!!). It’s enough time to check where competitors have succeeded/failed and change strategy. And it’s enough time to deliver something tangible the next week.

Stupid high-level goals are useless
A lot of times we create huge overarching goals (“I want to create the best social network in the world!!!!”) with no clear next steps. If you are trying to do anything even moderately complex and you don’t have a plan for what should happen in the next 7-14 days, then you are a fool. Also, you’re creating an easy barrier to getting it done. It’ll be easy to look back in 3 months and wonder why nothing got done. The answer, as every mom in America has said, is “you asked for it.”

Thinking faster–in weeks, not years–is relevant to so many things. When you ask someone what they want to be, and they say “Well, I really want to be an entrepreneur/agent/sports writer but first I’m going to go be a consultant, then go back to business school, and then do it,” I always wonder why I want to curse out loud but am constrained by social norms. How can someone wait 10-15 years to do what they really want?

My friend Gabe decided to do something differently. He wanted to be an agent, so instead of planning to do what he wanted 10 years down the line, he just started doing it today. He represented a few people (including me), and now has a job as a headhunter in San Francisco.

This whole idea of thinking in short-term time periods occurred to me when the New Year rolled around and we started talking about their resolutions. When people make these resolutions–which we fail to honor so frequently that the whole idea has become America’s inside joke–do they plan for some general goal (“Get in shape!”)? Or do they say, “I’m going to stay in touch with friends and family by making 15 phone calls by January 7th?

Ok. I’m not going to belabor the point. Think faster, not slower. Think specifically, not broadly. And to show that I mean business… (read next post).

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  1. Roger

    Good post. I see this in so many people all the time.

  2. Pedro

    I agree with you. I see this very often, in other people and in myself. I try to live life by doing something better everyday and often fail to do so. However, I do keep trying.

    I’ve been trying to tell my girlfriend that she needs to pay herself first and to make it automatic (direct deposit) if you wants to save money and invest. “For what? I can easily transfer the money online,” she says. If I begin to explain to her why it should be done this way, she says I sound like a broken record because I tell her all the time. But she still doesn’t do it.

    I have also been trying to tell her we need to sit down and write our financial goals but we never do. “Tomorrow…” etc. I can’t be this way. I always say, do it today! EVEN if I know the person REALLY can’t. It works sometimes.

  3. K

    Great post! When someone tells me their goals, I ask them “what have you done about it TODAY?”

    If they haven’t done anything, however minor, it’s a dream, not a goal. Goals are worked on everyday.

  4. Dan

    The person who says “I’ll send you the information by Friday” probably has A LOT of stuff to do which is very high priority or very urgent.

    I understand this completely.

    I often say things such as this: “I’ll handle that on Friday” (altough it’s Monday), but usually I explain why – I show them the TO DO list, etc.

  5. megan

    i definitely understand what you’re saying here. but what about when you have about 6 different plans/goals/dreams? you can’t work on every one of them every week. i would be interested to hear what you have to say about how to choose (if there’s any general advice that could be given).

    also, while i understand that without making regular progress, a project could be postponed until infinity, i also feel like there’s wisdom in accepting that one may not have the time right now to work on something outside of one’s current full-time job, relationship, and other obligations. do you think that deciding to really tackle a project in 6 mos or a year is always a bad choice?

  6. Milind

    Very nice post. Goals are important, but without a plan executing against it, a goal is quickly forgotten. Plans are important, but you need goals to provide motivation and a sense of accomplishment.

    Focus is also important. You’re more likely to achieve 12 goals in a year if you dedicate each month to one. Going for all 12 simultaneously is detrimental to quality and motivation.

  7. Alex Givant

    I’ve read once about US Navy commanders, they have very intensive course of training full of physical and mental activities. You can survive it only if you focus on one day, one hour, one period of time – not whole 3 or 6 months training.

  8. Jay Gatsby

    My old company used to require 90-day plans, with additional breakdowns by month, for various goals and specific tasks designed to implement those goals. It seemed like a very useful system, but there was a rather unfortunate downside to it, namely, that managers would often bludgeon employees in their reviews if certain goals/tasks were not met. While this might appear reasonable, it was completely unreasonable because the managers themselves were the bottlenecks. Documents sat in their e-mail boxes for review (and were never reviewed), letters were signed and sent out late, meetings were postponed (or blown off), etc… Executive management didn’t (or wouldn’t) do anything about such issues, relegating employee disputes with managers to the very managers who were the problem!

    Essentially, while the “goaling” system looked great in principle, it degenerated to a sequel to the movie “Office Space” in practice.

  9. Neil Doshi

    Quick point about “thinking outside of the box.” (I fully realize that my comment is only tangentially related to the subject of the blog entry.) What astounds me is the general lack of perception among most people that this stupid phrase–used to refer to innovative, perhaps non-conventional ways of doing things–is itself the most banal of cliches. What incredible irony!

  10. Helen Tarin

    I want to say thank you for the info. By reading this info. it gives me more insight on what really needs to happen before I can build my empire. Without a plan to be followed regularly, nothing will happen. Belief in idea or goal, visualize, feel, develop plan, and taking action is the only way progress will occur, even if its only baby steps to start. Things will seem much easier if broken down into increments.