For me, there are two major reserves of energy. Drawing on grind energy drains you until you complete the task. The small hit of dopamine upon completion rarely feels worth it. You use grind energy to complete tedious but necessary tasks that you don't particularly enjoy. Pull energy is how you feel when you look forward to the work and can't stop yourself from starting on it (and maybe even completing it!). Pull energy gives you joy and makes your work feel like play.
All of my best work has been done under the influence of pull energy
The goal of this article is to pick out the situations which created pull, so I can replicate them more consistently.
I've read about different kinds of authors, and there is a parallel between those who meticulously plan their book (grind) vs those who let it flow out of them fully formed (pull).
Work which pulled me, that I could not resist doing:
Wrote a book for a client in ~2 weeks. Why? Had executed on the subject matter multiple times; client had already paid for it and needed it.
Wrote ~50 pages of advice for computer science students in a few evenings. Why? I had posted an ask-me-anything in a facebook group. I had multiple students asking me specific questions who all needed my advice.
Wrote a book for computer science students in ~3 weeks. Why? I'd posted again in the facebook group and many students wanted the book. I'd already written the first pass of the material (above), and I also had another chapter on negotiation applied to job offers that was jumping to get out of me (because I knew students needed it so badly).
Wrote https://dtrejo.com/lazytemplating in an evening. Why? I saw a co-worker hand-editing massive copy-pasted HTML blobs in a tiny wordpress editor window, and making mistakes constantly. He wasn't an engineer so he needed an easy way to do string templating.
Wrote https://dtrejo.com/streak-view in a few sessions. Why? Viewing my sales pipeline in my inbox was destroying my productivity.
Finished reading good business books in only 1-2 days. Why? They were well-written and also taught me skills I knew I needed to improve (usually consulting/marketing/sales).
The new sales page for my 2nd niche. Why? As a result of sales calls I had a deepened understanding of my prospects and needed to better express what my service was about, so that I could feel better about offering it.
Wrote https://engineerworth.com. Why? I knew people were undervaluing their engineering time and needed a more accessible rule of thumb for calculating ROI.
I've also been pulled by any work that I've dreamt about in a pleasant way.
Do you see the pattern? Someone had paid me, asked for my help, or I felt the pain myself
So, how can I create more pull energy?
- Get more people to ask for my help, within my niche.
- Get more people to pre-pay me for work I haven't done yet, but only when all the material is already in my head, and needs a good reason to flow out onto paper.
- Not preferable: experience pain first-hand, and give in to the desire to automate or delegate it.
- Engage in work where one unit of action results in one unit of outcome. It's no wonder video games are so popular: you put in the work and then you actually succeed (idea via Amy Hoy). For example, when you answer someone's question, you've made that person happy, and you've also simultaneously written a new article, newsletter installment, or forum post which will help even more people and attract them to you.
How do we create virtuous cycles of pull energy that never run out?
The best work is work you can't resist doing. The best marketing is marketing you can't resist doing. The best money is money you couldn't resist making.
They say content marketing takes 6 months to kick in. You may not realize it when you first start, but you're probably going to spend at least 12 months trying to make your niche work. It is worth starting right away, but how do we may writing enjoyable? I haven't taken Amy Hoy's 30x500, but I have read Year Of Hustle and both Jonathan Stark and Philip Morgan have told me how much they look forward to speaking to their audience.
How I'd create pull for myself in my next business:
You'll notice this is almost exactly what Amy recommends.
A very low amount of grind activation energy is needed to begin:
- Pull: Monitor the watering holes at which my niche audience gathers.
- Pull: Answer questions that are posed in my audience's watering holes, with email list call to action.
- Pull: Use my answers to write articles (with email list CTA).
- Pull: Use my answers to email my list (with "buy or pre-order my product or service" CTA).
- Pull: When I get replies from email list readers, answer their questions and use the answers for more articles, newsletters, and potentially book material.
- Pull: People pay you for your product/book or ask for your consulting help.
Once you have set up the preceding virtuous cycle, you can repeat it with new products and services, and only include CTAs to what people haven't already bought. This idea is Brennan's. Brennan: thanks for coming over for steak before I'd even begun solo-consulting and recommending that I read The Brain Audit (my #2 favorite book); Getting Everything You Can Out of Everything You've Got (partially read); The Sticking Point Solution (unread still); Influence (unread still); and Inc Yourself (partially read). I really enjoyed the Double Your Freelancing Rate book (née The Blueprint).
The above compares very favorably to my main strategy for making sales, cold outreach emails:
- Grind: Building a target list of names and researching their emails.
- Pull: Writing an email outreach sequence. It's only pull if… you've read the good marketing books; know how to write cold emails; and know what your prospects desire.
- Grind: Cleaning and loading your target list's contact details.
- (Minor) Grind: Loading your email sequence into a tool like Quickmail. If you didn't use a tool, the grind of following up on first emails would kill you.
- Grind: Following up after they've replied and each answer requires a custom reply.
- Grind: Scheduling a sales call (thank you calendly.com!).
- Pull: Getting on sales calls that you've scheduled.
- Grind: Modifying your latest proposal to fit a new client.
- Pull: Your client pays you.
Amy Hoy has said that she and Alex Hillman have spent loads of time figuring out how to get 30x500 students to actually finish the course. I imagine they figured out how to break the process of building a business into stacking bricks which each give well-defined satisfaction and accomplishment (I stole and maybe warped her analogy :).
Remove grind from your life
Ask yourself: what's painful? Then ask yourself if you can delegate it, buy a tool/book/service to help you, or quit altogether (and renegotiate).
If you have high expectations for yourself, you'll frequently need to quit certain work and renegotiate with yourself. Why? The tyrant dictator part of your brain is pushing you to grind out work that is so low ROI or doomed to fail that your gut rebels. Then the rest of your brain notices your gut, catches up, and realizes it has to make a change.
Grind that you should remove from your life:
- Contracts (use a lawyer or get paid 100% up front)
- Accounting (use an accountant and have a friend teach you the basics of book-keeping–thanks Samir!)
- Anything a virtual assistant could do
- Ideally: anything that's not a crucial source of revenue for you and your business. My crucial sources of revenue are writing, copywriting (cold emails, proposals, sales pages), and coding.
- Coding when it's not for yourself and no one has paid you yet. Even if you are coding for yourself, you'd better only be doing it for you, for fun, and not for money. Pre-sell first! More easily said than done.
- Your Sales and Discovery Process: this is why tripwires and Roadmapping sessions work so well. They shift the energy balance from just you, to both you and your client (because they've paid for something small).
Go forth and create a virtuous cycle of energy creation in your business
Your thoughts on this would be much appreciated. What virtuous cycles drive your business? What virtuous cycles drive your personal life‡? My email is david å† dtrejo.com.
PS Special thanks to Jonathan Stark, Samir Said, Philip Morgan, Brennan Dunn, Amy Hoy, Alex Hillman, and Marcus Blankenship for their writing and advice. Peter Lyons, thanks for listening so closely this morning and saying it was insightful :).
‡ I offer to cook for my friends' dinner parties. I go to and get invited to WAY more dinner parties :)