I feel there are a few great things I’ve done in my life. Much like many of you I not only got into personal productivity to get things done — I want to do great things. Maybe even change the world kind of things. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about the Web. I wrote about this way back in 1999. I’ve always felt that the Web can enable great change and while I tend to look at things from a bit of a different angle now, I still believe that.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what I need to do to do something great and I wanted to write about that here. I want you to keep in mind that these are my opinions on what it takes to do something great and they’re very much open to interpretation.

h2. Thoughts on Doing Something Great

* You need focus. Doing something great needs great focus.
* You need to rid yourself of fear. Fear is often what’ll keep us from getting something done, let alone something great. Doing great things often requires a person to take a risk or take a leap of faith. Failure is a possibility, sure, but so is something great. I know this is my biggest stumbling block.
* Sometimes “great” is simply really good. Great is rarely perfect. Seth Godin agrees with me that “perfect” is the enemy of the good. And the great. Don’t let the drive for perfection keep you from doing something great.
* Treat every idea like it’s got possibilities. Sometimes great ideas don’t seem that great at the start. I think To-Done is pretty great, and it started out as a pretty small idea.
* Starting is the hardest part. I’ve not read The Art of The Start (I plan to) but I do know that once you take that very first step forward things become much easier.
* Doing something great requires a plan. Set your goal, make a plan, then act on it.
* An idea is only as good as its execution. I know people, everyday people like you and I, with great ideas, who just never do anything with them. For an idea to be worth anything you’ve got to do something with it.
* You have to want it. Whatever it is. I have a motivational saying for myself: “Own it.” What I mean by that is I tell myself that an idea, or concept or whatever is something I can make my own. The desire to want to do something great needs to be there, you need to “own it.” Confidence and a positive attitude can work wonders.

I’d love to hear any suggestions y’all might have, or any insight towards doing something really great.

25 Comments on How To Do Something Great

  1. Sacha Chua says:

    Look for other people who are also Doing Great Things! They can be your mentors, sharing their insights with you. They can be your peer support group, commiserating with you and cheering for you. They can help you make things happen.

    It’s easy to find other people who are Doing Great Things if you share your passions and goals with as many people as you can. When I started using my 90-second pitch on how I wanted to help people get control of their lives and become more productive by keeping track of their tasks, finances, and other details, I found a guy who used to work for the Franklin Covey licensee here in the Philippines. (At a blogging summit!) Right after I announced that I wanted to be a professional speaker, a friend referred me to his dad who has more than 20 years of experience in training. Watch out for insert points you can use to slip your pitch into small talk. Great way to get new ideas, _and_ you’ll find that other people Doing Great Things jump in with their goals too.

    Great stuff!

  2. It’s always seemed to me that to be truly great at something, you have to give up trying to be good at other things. Like if you wanted to be a world-class athelete, you couldn’t spend your time on piano lessons or writing books. Or if you wanted to be a concert pianist, you couldn’t spend your time being a good baseball player or creative writer, etc. It seems like all the greats specialized early, and focused on just one thing.

    I’ve always liked too many things to give up any of them for the sake of one.

  3. Keith says:

    Sacha — I think that’s a great tip. Thanks! Now to find some folks DGT…For real though, if there is one thing I’ve felt I’ve missed out on for most of my career it’s been a mentor. I’ve had one way, way back and there have been so many times since where I’ve missed that.

    Jennifer — I think you might be right. I feel the same way as you probably do. It’s hard to give something up when you’re interested in so much, but it’s also easy to spread yourself too thin.

  4. When aiming for greatness, I like to be arrogant and cocky and believe I’m great. This generates confidence and helps break through fear – two issues you mentioned above. I don’t believe there’s much wrong with this; after all, it takes a great person to produce something great. So much use of the word great.

    Great article and great site. Keep it up.

  5. Britt says:

    Arrogant and cocky are not the only ways to create confidence. They are perhaps the most superficial ways to create confidence. After all, an arrogant person who fails is just an asshole. A sincere person who fails is still a pleasure to be around. Who’s the most likely to get the next round?

  6. Keith says:

    Eoghan and Britt — It’s funny you mention this because I’ve got a post on confidence coming up. I also tend to agree with Britt — there are many ways to be confident without being cocky or arrogant. To do something great you often need help (another post coming up) and it’s probably easier to get people on your side if you adopt a quite confidence rather than arrogant.

    But, then again, different things work for different people.

  7. I’ve read ‘Art of the Start’ and really enjoyed it. To me, the book pointed out that you can do great things without all the business protocol that has been layered up over the years, just make sure that your goal is not just to ‘make lots of money’.

    I’m going to have to read it again soon as I’ve lost that “yeah, let’s go” feeling you get when you finish a great book…

  8. I agree with Sacha – share your passion with everyone you know. I’m working on a new project that is quite a challenge, and I try to reach out to new people almost every day, seeing if they might be able to help me.

    That said, I also try just as hard to help *them* and make this clear up front. People are much more likely to help you if you help them first – it’s the principle of reciprocity as described in Robert Cialdini’s “Influence” (an excellent book).

  9. Re: “arrogant and cocky”

    I do agree with Britt and Keith, behaving in an arrogant manner will never help. I should explain that I was speaking in terms of one’s frame of mind. To think cocky, to believe you’re the best. It doesn’t sound very noble, but it’s a great psychological tool. It puts you in the mindset of all the greats and will allow you to accomplish great things — no doubt about it.

    “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” — Muhammad Ali

  10. Keith says:

    Eoghan — If you mean keeping a positive attitude and practicing positive visualization, I agree with you there. It’s along the same lines as my “own it” tip.

    It’s probably simply a semantic issue. The terms “arrogant” and “cocky” has kind of a negative, over-confident feel to them.

  11. jtaylor says:

    To be great you have to be creative. This is a good treatise on how to be creative. And my own two cents…you can be great only as the outisde world becomes your mirror. You have to convince the outside world of your greatness, and they must manifest your greatness. Here’s the link:


  12. mouli says:

    To be great you also need a vision. You need visibility into the future. Granted visibility into the future is not always clear, but there is still visibility into your capabilities and how your capabilities can be leveraged in the future.

    Tangential comment: I went and peeped into your ’99 article and chuckled when I read – “yes .. broadband will soon be here” :=)

  13. To get things started and have confidence you have to believe that failure is inevitable, but it is also the biggest chance to learn.

    I like the Thomas Edison quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

    …or if you’re a cynic you may prefer Homer Simpson’s outlook: “Trying is the first step towards failure.”

  14. Ken says:

    Keith, I’m one of those people who others say have a great idea, but that I don’t follow through.

    I’ve recently changed that ableit slowly and I think that’s one thing people need to keep in mind. I read a great book called “If You Can Talk, You Can Write” by Joel Saltzman.

    His main mantra, “Progress, not perfection”.

    So besides wanting it, being patient will go a long way in realizing your goals.

    Lastly, I would say, WRITE IT DOWN!!! I only recently found a great planning system from another blogger called the DIY Planner 2.0 by Douglas Johnston.

    Besides the usual scheduling stuff, he includes many lists that can help you organize your thoughts and think more strategically.

    Thanks again for a great post and for the heads up on the 9rules network. I’ve applied myself, I realize whether I get in or not, it’s a win win, cos’ even if I don’t get in, feedback is always good.

  15. Harmony says:

    Excellent post :) I think all those points are good, and in addition I’d expand on this one…

    “You have to want it…”

    Everything I’ve ever done and seen and read indicates that staying-power plays a huge part in the difference between mediocrity and greatness. You have to be passionate about what you want to achieve, and you have to be stubborn and stick with it.

    The other advice I’ve heard, which makes a lot of sense, is that you have to surround yourself with greatness. Give yourself great historical role-models, study everything from their mannerism to their speeches, and hang out with great people (or as close to it as you can get, ie – ‘learning to be great’ people, or ‘approaching being great’ people).

    Just my $0.02 anyway :)

  16. Holy Shmoly! says:

    How To Do Something Great

    How To Do Something Great

  17. merkin says:

    drink lots of whiskey.

    stay away from fundamentalists, fanatics, josh groban.

    let creativity rip.

  18. Dave says:

    Great advice, very well put. You did a great jobs on that post.

  19. oneafrikan says:

    There’s a famous saying that goes as follows:
    “It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.”
    — Henry Ford

    I wholly and completely agree with this, and in my experience is most of the time the deal maker or breaker.

    Paul Graham talks about working with people that you might describe as “animals” – people that you can rely on to put the hard graft in, and I think this is an element of it as well.

    It seems that we’re always busy doing this and that, and we’re always talking about ideas that we have, but the people that get ahead are the ones that make things happen when everyone else it out partying, watching TV, even sleeping.

    That something great requires a “great” effort, and most of the time the usual rigours of everyday living are too much of a comfort zone or obstacle, so the greatness never gets realised.
    A lot of people just wont get up earlier or work later to do that something great.

    Alexander the Great thought that sleep was an inconvenience; Tiger Woods wins a Major, and is out on the course the next morning practising for the next major; the next gen of Web 2.0 people are busy creating, innovating and delivering web 2.0 while everyone is still figuring out blogging and RSS; it took U2 29 tries (if my memory serves) to find a record company; Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France ‘cos he was out training in France before anyone else was and doing it tougher than anyone else was, conditioning himself for the real race…. the list goes on.

    I believe if you focus your energies on the right actions, and combine that with a willingness to work outside the norms to make your greatness rise to the surface through the work you do, then you will already be greater than you were yesterday, and that’s pretty much all that counts.

  20. Josh says:

    Excellent post, excellent comments. “Inspiring” comes to mind.

  21. Russell says:

    I’ve been involved in a lot of start-ups. Sometimes your endeavor will not be sucessful no matter what you do — the cards can align against you. But for the sucessful and for the fun ventures I’ve been involved with one of the more important qualities is that the owner really wanted what he was after. One start-up I worked for (that was later crushed by a much larger corporation, see previous: cards) was making a kind of server. Every day the owner of the company came round to check on progress and every day he marveled at something we’d accomplished. His intensity and absolute desire to see this machine function drove everyone else further. We believed because of him. The company didn’t go anywhere but the machine did get finished. We’re all still proud of it. My point is this, don’t just do any old thing great — find something at the center of your imagination and hopes. If you find that thing then all the sacrifices you will have to make (less sleep, less fun time, damaged relationships) won’t be sacrifices at all, just the price of creating something you love.

  22. How To Do Something Great

    The people at To-Done have a to-do entitled “How to do something great.” The tip that helps me most is “Sometimes “great” is simply really good. Great is rarely perfect.” I think I stive too much to be perfect, that I hold back when I can’t…

  23. Brooks says:

    I’ve often felt that my life was meant for something more profound than the mere sake of living. I think the worst thing a person can do is buy into the premise that thinking great thoughts means you are having delusions of grandeur. My god, what if the great minds of the world had talked themselves out of their dream, amibitions, motivations, etc. because they were afraid of labels? So my advice is simply this, do whatever it takes to make your ideas a reality. Plan well, do your research, then plan some more, but ultimately it comes down to one thing—your desire to change things for the better. We all know what we need to do, but we’re so complacent in our lives that we sometimes become apathetic. The key is to find some way to stay motivated from day to day. Never let your dreams die.

  24. Julio says:

    Those words typed seem like so little, but they are rich in the obvious. It is the obvious that i have not seen. But now i know they are there and what they are. It makes me think.

  25. sam says:

    i want to do something great , but ????

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