Jon Acuff (New York Times Bestselling author) breaks down why perfect is the enemy of done, how to get started turning your dreams into reality, and why he carries a massive 3.5 x 3 foot visual calendar to stay on top of his schedule.
Have you ever found yourself struggling to get things done? Have you ever noticed that your goals don’t just magically achieve themselves? Have you ever let perfect get in the way of getting something done? You know where you’re on the verge of getting something done, but it just has to be perfect before it goes out and therefore you never actually finish it. Well. On today’s show, Jon Acufff the New York Times best selling author of six books breaks down. Why perfect is the enemy of done, how to get started turning your dreams into reality, and why he carries a massive three and a half by three foot visual calendar to help him stay on top of his schedule.
Comment on today’s show. Jon Acuff, the New York Times bestselling author of six books that I know about, including his most recent finish give yourself the gift of done is on the show. This man, for over 20 years, he’s been working with some of the biggest brands in the world to help them tell their stories, including the home depot. Never heard of it beaus I don’t know what that is. Staples, I think I know what that is. Most recently he’s spoken to hundreds of thousands of people across the country for companies such as Microsoft Nissan and comedy central. He’s also written for time, the Harvard Business Review Fast Company Readers Digest Msnbc and now he is on the thrive time show live with you. Jon Acuff. How are you sir?
I’m great. That is such a long intro though. We should have sent you a short one. It always makes me feel like just say and he shoots lasers from his eyes and he’s amazing and thinks he’s really tall, but he’s not.
I have a quick confession. You guys sent me a very short intro and I just hyped it up. I added some sizzle.
I feel like I, I don’t, I’m not saying I disagree with that. I just, if I’m a listener, I’m like, oh, this guy. I mean I’m sure he’s amazing, but we get it. Give us stuff, tell us stuff. Clay.
Well, okay. For the listeners out there who are not as familiar with your background as I am, how did you go from where you started to where you are today?
A big part of it was the magic of the Internet. I mean I think we are living in the age of the side hustle. I think, you know, I don’t even know like in the seventies if you were a nurse and you wanted to connect with other nurses, like I only, what’d you put an ad in the paper and be like, Hey, meet me at the library on Thursday at two. I’m not stabby. Like, it was impossible. And so now because of social media you can connect to people. I started a blog, the blog went well. I started to connect with people via twitter. Eventually got a publishing deal, started to speak to different events and it kind of built from there. But a lot of it was just the freedom that the internet gives normal average people like myself,
you know, you throughout your career have obviously written multiple books that have done well, but there are four knowledge bombs I’d like to kind of break down on their show fluff for Jon Acuff a couple notable quotables and I’m not saying that that it. This is your best stuff. They’re just things that really impacted me. Awesome. You wrote, you said you don’t need to go back in time to be awesome. You just have to start right now. Regretting that you didn’t start earlier is a great distraction from moving on your dream today. And the reality is that today is earlier than tomorrow. Can you. Can you break down what you mean by that?
Yeah. A lot of people will say, I’m so even what I just said, what I just told your audience, hey, the Internet system aging thing, I guarantee you there are people listening going, oh, but I missed my chance. I should have started a podcast five years ago. There’s so many podcasts or I missed the chance of blogging or whatever and they feel like they’ve missed their chance and so then they say, well, I just won’t start it. And where I would say, yeah, there might be more podcasts than there were today than there were five years ago, but who cares? Yours doesn’t exist yet. Like we’re missing. It’s the same. I live in Nashville. I meet people all the time that moved to Nashville to be musicians and dude, we have a lot of musicians here, but I always say we’re missing one musician and it’s you.
So try like you can always go to a library or bookstore and go, there’s already been too many books written. I’m too late. I shouldn’t start. And so that’s what I mean there is that, yeah, it might have been perfect if you started 20 years ago, but. But guess what? That that’s not your story. Your story is I started today and I’m going to build from here and that’s really the only story you have. And so getting caught up in that regret doesn’t do anything except make you feel ashamed and make you not actually start the thing.
Your next notable quotable. I want you to break down. It almost requires me to say amen. And then to hit some cowbell after I read it. So I’m going to read it. I’m gonna. Hit some Calvin. I’m going to say, hey man. Then you can break it down for us. There we go. Perfect. You said you wrote your 90 percent perfect and shared with the world always changes more lives than a hundred percent perfect and stuck in your head. Amen. John, break it down.
Yeah. I think that perfectionism is one of the worst things that cripples the work we’re really supposed to do. And so I meet a lot of people that will say, I’ve got a book I’ve always wanted to write. I just want to get the outline perfect. Or I’ve got this business idea that I’ve always wanted to do and I just want to get the business plan perfect. And they never started it because they think that someday it’ll be perfect enough to start. And I would rather say get it to 80 percent, get it to 90 percent, get it to a level where you’ve done your best and then launch it because you won’t. There’s some things you won’t get to the level you want until it’s shared with an audience until you get to, you know, respond to go, oh, I thought they’d care about this thing, but there’s this other thing they care about more.
I recently did comedy for the first time. I did two 60 minute sets at xannies comedy club in Nashville. This is great. I love, like I’ve always, I’ve told people for 10 years I was going to do it. Finally I saw a comedian that I thought was terrible and I thought I can do that. And so I texted my assistant and we booked the largest comedy club in Nashville and we did one show and the tickets sold out in 48 hours. And so we added a second and it was a blast and it was terrifying. And I have just so much more respect for comedians getting to take a tiny, tiny peek into what they do. But, but I knew that, that I knew I needed to do dry runs, so I did two dry runs, one in Indianapolis, one in Austin because the jokes in my office to me were funny in a different way than they were in front of a crowd and I needed to cry like I couldn’t. You could never go. I’m not going to do jokes until I’ve got them perfect. That’s the opposite of how comedy works and more things are like that. Then we want to admit. So that’s what I meant by that. Notable.
Do you study a lot of comedians?
I studied 100 comedians for everyone. Business Speaker. I study. Are you serious? Yeah, without a doubt.
Okay. I mentioned this because you know, my dad passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease about two years ago and up until that time and as he got sick, we became more and more honed in on Steve Martin. My Dad loves St Martin and his masterclass. Jerry Seinfeld, the timing. And if you haven’t got a chance thrivers to go out there and really study comedians, what John said is correct. I mean, you go out there and you have a pretty good idea of what you think is gonna work. Uh, and then you have to go, Ooh, that didn’t work. Okay. Go back to our jumpers are a part of your comedy routine where you thought that was good while I was in a flow and a part where you thought keep me off the stage?
Well, there were, especially in the dry runs where I, there was a section about Florida that I thought it was hilarious. It was way too long and I, you know, it was funny to me and not funny to anybody else. And in the middle of it I realized I’m kind of bored and if I’m kind of bored, they’re definitely very bored. Um, but there are also times where like one joke I didn’t understand it was a joke until I did it the first night at the show and realize, oh, that’s a joke. Let me, let me put some space and lean into that. The second night. And the joke was just, I was telling a story and it was a throwaway line or so I thought where I said, and this then this voice in my head, which I never listened to, said, hey, the world doesn’t revolve around you.
And then if I pause long enough, the audience reverse engineers, the job goes, wait a second, it’s a voice. He never listens to that. We’re saying the world doesn’t revolve around you. So he thinks the world does revolve around him. And like, if I would allow them to reconstruct the joke after I set it up in this kind of, you know, different way did it got a huge laugh. I didn’t think they’d get a single laugh. Um, there is, you know, there was another joke, I was telling a story about essential oils and I said, you know, I speak at corporate events and HPAC installers love me. So to oil people. And I’d said, I’d said, not rigors, that we have the same body type or burly. Um, I’m talking about essential oil people. And that got a huge laugh and I didn’t expect that.
So that you’re always finding moments and it soon with serving an audience, like I’m gonna do a course for public speakers because it’s what I love doing. It’s what I’ve done for years and years and years and it’s what I geek out about. And so I know that I. The more I can understand who the audience is, the better I can serve them, the better I can say, okay. It’s not about the fear of speaking, it’s about how do you get your first Gig? How do you get a third gig? How do you add humor when you’re not naturally funny? Because people say to me, should I be funny if I’m a public speaker and say no to be honest, like be as funny as you are at a dinner table, at a dinner party as you went on stage. Because what happens is people read a book that goes, always open with a joke and they go up there. They tell a joke that doesn’t feel authentic to them. It’s like wearing your dad’s coat at the eighth grade dance and the audience goes, oh, this is just some hacky joke they wrote. It’s not related to their personality and it does the reverse. It actually connecting with the audience, and so I like to connect with the audience because it makes it I’m doing better and it better serves them.
You have written a lot of things I would I would deem is controversial because they’re counterintuitive. Therefore they’re not obvious in one of those things as you wrote here, notable quotable. Number three, people are mistaken when they think that chasing their dream is a selfish thing to do as if perhaps being average is an act of humility as if perhaps wasting the talents you were given is proof that you’re a considerate individual. Break it down.
Yeah. Well, I kind of go back to something Steven King said about that. They asked him where would he be if he hadn’t found writing and he said I’d, I’d be divorced and an alcoholic, and he said, I think people who aren’t using the talents you’ve been given or miserable to be around. And so I think that the more you connect to how you’re wired and actually live out of that, the better you are to be around, the better you love your family and the better you serve the people you work with. Um, I think that, you know, and there’s a bunch of people have written about this. My friend Brian Koppelman, who is the co creator of the show, billions talks about that, about all, like what happens when you don’t live out of that. And so I just think that, can you be selfish as you chase a dream?
One hundred percent. I mean, the reality is we like to pretend you can have it all. You can’t. If I did 200 gigs a year, I’m, I don’t get to be a good dad. Like that’s just, that’s just math. That’s not anything else. That’s math. Um, and so for me, I have to kind of balance that. I have to know, okay, here’s what I’m going to do, here’s what I care about, but I know that if I say I’ll never write because I want to be like, I don’t think I have time to write or I have too many commitments and so I’ll just secretly carry that around forever and not act on it. Like, oh, that is a miserable, miserable way to go through life and refusing to do the dream you have and then blaming your kids because that’s what you do. You Go, I would totally start a business but I don’t want to become a workaholic and I want to be around my kids as if your only option is not start a business and be miserable or start wanting to become a workaholic overnight and you’re throwing your kids under the bus because you were like, dad would chase his dream.
But because of you guys, I can’t. That doesn’t teach them a good lesson either.
That is powerful. I have five kids and I run into a lot of people that have multiple kids that come to me at our conferences all the time and say you have five kids. I mean what matters more to you and your family or your work. And I think the question itself is a little bit disingenuous because when you do a good job at work, you know, if you can inspire your kids and show them what’s possible, but if you never see your kids, it shows them that work is a bad thing. So you can do both. You just got to figure out the tradeoffs to balance what you’re willing to give up, what you’re willing to not give up. You wrote here, notable, quotable, number four here. You wrote conversations much like Saturday night, Saturday night, Saturday night live skit, second conversations, much like Saturday night. Live skits are often difficult to end. What do you mean by that?
Well, I think that there’s a lot of times where we say things we don’t mean as a way to get out of a conversation. Um, so let’s grab coffee. Like if you don’t pull out your phone, which when you say let’s grab coffee sometime and you don’t get your phone out, what you’ve really said is I want to use this as punctuation for a sentence and a conversation. So I’m going to say this nicety that I don’t really mean because I have, I have a magical computer in my pocket that happens to have my calendar on it. Like right on it. Like if I cared about the coffee we’d, I’d get it out and we’d schedule it or you know, if I cared about connecting. And so I think sometimes we just have a hard time saying it’s been great to see you. Like really excited to hear the update.
Talk to you later where you don’t have to throw in this. Like let’s plan. Like I’d love to catch up with you if you really don’t like. And I think that gets into also when we don’t want to end a conversation without saying the word no. That if somebody asks you for a favor, I think it’s another thing we do where we go, okay, yes, yes, yes. And then we don’t really want to do this thing and we show up furious when we think they can’t tell were furious that we said yes, but they know like you’re this boiling pit of like anger when you show up to do the favor, you didn’t want to say yes to in the first place because you didn’t know how to end the conversation with a no.
So it’d be like, Jon Acuff, it was great having you on the show today. Let’s go camping.
Should I say? And I’d say that I know know maybe as a terrible person that camp with.
you can put the Marriott. I Dunno. Like maybe I’m a car camper. Maybe you like to hike in nine miles in Oklahoma. I don’t know what your camper. The regimented. So I would have to say the more I would say this, the older I get and I’m 42 now, the older I get, the greater power I see and admitting my and say no to the things I’m not supposed to do.
You know, your newest book is titled Finish. Give yourself the gift of done. What inspired you to write this book?
Well, I wrote a book called start a few years ago and a bunch of people said, hey, it was helpful. I really like it. Thank you for writing it. My next question though is how do I actually finished? Starting is easy. I can start a thousand things today. You know, I guarantee a lot of your listeners have 100 urls. They’ve registered with some day ideas like I’m going to do this idea of someday I have 80 euros registered. Um, and so I was curious about what does it take to actually finish? And statistically 92 percent of all new year’s resolutions fail. Um, university of Scranton did a study. And so I thought if 92 percent of people fail at something and you become the eight percent, that doesn’t, that’s really makes you valuable and rare. And so I didn’t want it to just be my theories. You know, there’s a lot of books, especially in the motivational space that are just one guy had one experience and then wrote a book as if you’ll have the exact same experience.
And then they go back and remember they misremember steps they didn’t actually take and try to teach you the path even though if they’re honest, they didn’t have a 10 year plan and mark it off with these 11 steps. And I said, okay. I went to the University of Memphis, commissioned a research study with a phd there named Mike Peasley, and we studied nearly 900 people for six months who were working on all types of goals from fitness goals to being a better parent to corporate goals, to launch a blog or a podcast or writing a book to figure out, okay, what does it really take to finish something? And that was the goal of the book and that was the inspiration.
Now you this, this book is filled with so many knowledge bombs, but, but you have a lot of really practical tips in here. Chapter one is all about the day after. Perfect. Explain with this chapter is all about.
Yeah, it gets back to perfectionism. Um, I’ll meet people that will go, okay. I was doing really well. I was writing, working on my book. I did an hour each day for 13 days in a row and then on day 14 I missed the day and I never did it again and it’s they had this definition of perfection and they had a streak and once the streak was over they gave up the whole thing and so I’d much rather you have a plan for the day after. Perfect. The day after perfect is a day where you admit, wow, it’s already not perfect, but guess what? I’m going to do it anyway. We, you know, in this study we saw that the largest day that people quit the number one day we saw people quit in a 30 day challenge. You know, if you ask people, they tend to guess, Oh, day 10 or day 12, the largest day we saw dropout was day two and it comes at you that fed.
The problem is most people, if you say break a 30 day challenge and a 10, you know, 10 day chunks are beginning, middle end, they’ll go to the beginning is day one through 10, the middle is day 11 through 20, the end is day 21 through 30 and that sounds right, but unfortunately when it comes to a goal, the beginning is day one, the middle is day two through 29 and the ending is day 30, like the work shows up day two and and your, your high of I’m going to do this gets real flighty when struggles get real and so you have to be ready for that. Every goal is going to go through that. I’d rather you have a plan.
John Chapter Two, your book. You talked about cutting your goal in half. What do you mean by this?
I mean we tend to over dream Americans especially Americans, love to go. I’m going to go for it. I’m going all in, you know, I’ll meet people and I’ll say, what are you doing for working out? And they’ll go, I’m going to start running. I’ll go, great here. Yeah, I’m going to do a marathon and I go, have you ever done a half marathon or like a 10 k or five k even just, okay, get yourself a tiny little metal, run a singleK , and they go, no, I’m going to go for it, and so we tend to think that the go big or go home is the only perspective that works and we actually found people who cut their goals in half and I don’t mean they get rid of their goal, like I don’t get to go into a billion dollar company and say, don’t hit your sales numbers this year, only hit half. What I mean by that is they find the right size and the right timeframe. People that do that are 63 percent more successful, so they’re like, go for it. Mentality is awesome on instagram and a swirly font. Have a picture of a Unicorn, like it feels motivational, but it just doesn’t work.
Do you know chapter three of your book? Choose what to bomb. What are you talking about here? What do you mean? Choose what to bomb.
I’m talking about choosing the things that don’t matter at certain seasons. So a great, you know, a great example of that is a lot of executives I work with, if they’ve got a tough challenge, will hide in their inboxes instead because you can curate an inbox all day and feel like you’re working and you’re really not. So there are seasons where you should choose, okay, I’m not going to be super responsive or you should choose. I like. Here’s another example. When I talked to retail companies, I begged them, sit your team down in November and have the team suggest five things. They won’t worry about it until January because you’re about to hit your super bowl and a lot of retail companies act like December is the same kind of month is may and they just add a bunch of stuff and they burned their people out and they have a toxic culture in January and then God so weird that we have a toxic culture every year in January. It’s not weird. You should take those insignificant things and just move them to January. Choose what you’re going to bomb during Christmas because it’s your superbowl month and you need to crush these other things.
No, for anybody out there is going, okay, I get your book. Sounds enticing. It’s the holiday season, you know, and as you want it, you want a tip? The mailman. You want to tip everybody. You’re always tipping. You’re asking yourself, who should I tip? You want to buy everything? You’re going into borders bar, I guess they’re going to barnes and noble. Not so much borders. If you’re going into a borders, you’re probably going into a vacant, a vacant building right now, but you’re going into barnes and nobles. Why should everybody pick up a copy of your newest book? Finish?
Well, I think it’s incredibly funny and incredibly helpful. I mean, I’m looking at. I’m looking at a shelf in my office right now and it’s a shelf full of books people have, have written, using finished to actually get their book done. So this is a shelf of books that people said and letters to me, hey, I’ve worked on this for years. I was never able to complete it. I read finish and I actually got over the finish line. Here’s a copy of the, your book helps me finish and I get emails that say, you know, I lost x amount of pounds or I get in, one of my favorites is I get invited, invited to a graduation ceremonies and it’s always on fancy paper with like 17 different envelopes. Like college is doing the say I went back to school and I finished my bachelor degree, like I figure it out how to finish that. So I think listeners should buy it because every one of your listeners has something they’ve tried to finish and it’s been challenging. When you say name the word, you know, five words you think of when you think of the word goal. People go hustle, discipline, willpower, persistent sacrifice. They never say joy, laughter, engagement. And I think that the, you know, statistically the more fun you add to your goal, the more likely you’re actually are to succeed. And, and if, if that doesn’t make you happy, I don’t know what does.
Now you’re obviously a will a well read man. Uh, and also, uh, well-written man. You right, you right. Well, um, what, what are a couple books you’d recommend for all of our listeners maybe or a specific book that helped you change your life?
I think the dip by Seth Godin is one of my favorite top, top three favorite books, probably top five. Um, the um, war of art by Steven Pressfield I think is brilliant. Um, another one by Mckinsey is orbiting the giant hairball and it’s about how do you stay creative when you work at a big company and I think that’s, you know, a friend gave me that when I took my first big job at a huge company. And so if you’re a listener and you’re thinking, Oh man, I’d love to do all these things, but I’m stuck in this big company. That’s a really helpful book.
So for people out there that are curious about the life and times of Jon Acuff, what are you doing over the next 12 months? What are the next 12 months look like for you and your goals?
Do I will? I know what I’m working on. Part of it is eight years ago I started using this massive wall calendar that this company made and because before that time was fictional, if I can’t see time, it doesn’t exist. So people would go, what’s your August look like? And I go there probably sweaty, um, I live in the south. And so I started to use that and I started to plot things and plan things and I mounted it on the foam core. I bring it with me to meetings, like a paddle board, like, you look like a maniac but I don’t care. And then like I’m gonna get a 2018 in my office on the backside. I’ve already got 2019. So the best thing is I’ll go to a meeting in May next May. And they’ll go, well, what did we do last? Man? I’ll go boom.
And I’ll flip it around and be like, this is what we did. I have it right here. Versus going, I think we launched some things. I think we talked about some things. So I eventually, after five years of doing it, I went to the company and said, Hey, can we do a remix, like a Colab as the kids would say and like can we do one that takes my ideas and merges it with your grade calendar? And they were like sure. And so like finished calendar Dot com is where I like plan all my stuff and it’s what I use and it’s in dry erase because most people listening right now, their lives are lived in dry erase. Like the second you try to commit to anchor, your kid will get up at 6:00 AM like so one day you’re going to get up early to work will be the day they get up early and they’ve got a coffee and they’re waiting for know like what’s going on mom?
So I know over the next 12 months I’m going to speak 40 to 50 times at some really fun companies. I’m going to work on finishing my book proposal. In the next six weeks I’m going to launch a course for speakers because I love public speaking and I love getting to connect and geek out with speakers. I mean, I have a ton of very specific, nerdy public speaking. I do. I think it’s the most fun you can have legally. Um, and so I’m going to do that and then I’m going to go to Portugal to speak with a client, um, next year, which I’m excited about it. I’m going to try to ski as many times as I can because I love skiing even though it’s really difficult in Tennessee to ski, you have to get on a plane and I’m going to try to, um, be very much around on Fridays in the fall because my oldest daughter is in the high school band and I only have 45 Fridays in the fall with her left with her in the house.
And so I can make more money after she’s graduated, but I’ll never be able to buy another Friday. Um, final question, how big is this visual calendar? Because it’s a, it’s like four by three I think. I mean like are like three and a half by three. It’s, it’s big. Like I love it. I write everything on there. I, it’s, I have eight years of it, like just on, on foam core. Like it’s my, it’s my jam. Like I’m a nerd about that. But again, like I love seeing people post their as and go, oh, I mapped out this. Like I’m looking at mine right now. I’ve got to write a book proposal and working on new book. I see 17 huge w’s on the calendar from today until the end of the year. So I know, okay, I need to start those days at the coffee shop away from my house.
I need you to write three to four hours and that’s what it’s going to be and I’m going to track it. I’ve already planned it out so it’ll happen. Like the good stuff you want to happen doesn’t happen organically. It doesn’t just kind of like revolve the resolve itself, like jazz, like you have to plan it and I’m not an organized dude. Like my wife is super organized. She has her masters in construction management. She ran job sites, that’s not me, that’s not my personality, so I have to work pretty hard to find tips and tricks to figure out how to do it, but once I do it, I love it. I mean like one of my favorite things that I started to do this year and I know we’re going a little over, are totally respect your time. I’m kind of geeking out over that.
I love this. This is great. One of my favorite things is I started to get really deliberate about how do I serve people, like how do I. my audience. I was realizing, okay, it’s hard to talk to them about just general ideas. What are the specific ideas that they want to know about? And so I said, raise your hand if you’re into being an entrepreneur and a bunch of people that. Then I was like, raise your hand if you’re into writing and reading books, and they did and I said speakers or health or parents, and so I created these five different lists of ideas that I now send out an idea like once a week and if you’re on the writers one, then you get a specific thing about like, hey, here’s an example. You want to know what books are selling right now in America? Go to Costco.
Costco is the fastest, smartest way to get a snapshot of what books are actually actually selling in America. Now. Amazon, Amazon hot list or top 100 is great, but the Costco one is curated by a real person that had to make real purchase decisions and it’s just really kind of fun, interesting, unexpected way to figure out what books are selling in America as you work on yours. Um, so that’s, that’s been fun for me. Finding unique ways to serve people and say, like the speakers list, I’ll like. The other one we did the other day was about never sit on a stool. Like I think your stools are the worst thing you can do on stage. They always make you look short. They always have been stored in a closet and have a wobbly leg like you always have to navigate. Getting on them are often with no back support. It’s a booby trap, not a prop, like it’s the worst. So I don’t. I don’t do stool, but I’ll write a whole article about that. So if you go to [inaudible] dot me slash ideas, you can. You can see those and they’re just again, free ideas like to share and things. I kind of geek out on
John Cough. I appreciate your energy, your comedy, and I appreciate you for breaking down how to get things done. How to just my good just doesn’t just happen in your newest book. If you’re out there and thrive nation, you’re and you’re looking for a holiday gift and by the way, who out there is not looking for a great Christmas gift. Of course you are. Go check out John a cuffs newest book. Go Buy. Buy a copy today, finish. Give yourself the gift of. Don’t have the gift of done and John, we like to end every show with a boom, which stands for big, overwhelming, optimistic momentum. So if it’s okay with you, we’ll get to in the show at the boomer. Are you psychologically prepared to bring the boom? Sure. Here we go. Andrew, our show notes. Are you ready, my friend? Oh yeah. Here we go. Three, two, one. Boom.
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