I’ve always been a short-term thinker and planner. I find it hard to plan over a time period longer than about a year.
I found this short-term thinking was good for getting incremental results and for achieving small goals, such as reading a specific number of books, improving a product, losing (or gaining) a few pounds, etc.
The problem with short term thinking, though, is that it can turn you into an incremental thinker – when, really, you want to be a step-function thinker.
What’s the difference?
Well, short term thinking is “what can I do in 2017 to grow my business to $1M in sales?”. Step-function thinking is “who can help me build my business to $100M in sales within 10 years?”.
Did you notice the subtle difference?
Short term thinking is all focused on “I” — what “I” can do. It also generally revolves around small, or incremental, gains. 5% here. 15% there, etc.
Long term thinking (or what I call step-function thinking) is all focused on “who” — “who” can help me? “who” can I model? “who” do I need to hire, etc. It revolves around larger, more compound gains. 1,000% growth in revenue. Helping 1,000,000 people, etc.
Recently I decided I needed to re-train my brain so that I was a long-term thinker by default.
Any new company I launched, any new hobby I started, any new skill I wanted to master or any relationship I wanted to nurture needed to be focused on long-term outcomes, not short-term quick wins and incremental gains.
When I think about the people I consider role models, such as Elon Musk, Michelle Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, LeBron James, Peter Holmes a Court and others, they all have one thing in common — it took them decades to get to where they are right now.
Which to me, says their default method of thinking and planning is long term. Otherwise most of them would’ve quit before they even started.
It’s not easy to create and mass produce an electric car, inspire a nation of children to exercise or win multiple NBA championships. These endeavors, by default, require patience and a long-term commitment.
So how did I become a long-term thinker by default? Well, for me it came down to one single question, which I now write down every single day:
What seeds am I planting today that will turn into trees in 1, 3, 5, 10 and 20 years from now?
Reading this one question immediately pulls me “out of the weeds” and shifts my focus to the long term. Strategy. Investing. Building my skill set. Hiring incredible people. Working on my mind and body.
I have a list of 1 year goals, but also 3, 5, 10 and 20 year “investments”. These could be investments I’m making (or plan to make) in skills, people, assets, businesses, relationships or experiences. Some cost money, some cost time.
Bill Gates famously said “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years”. And I’ve found that’s true 100% of the time.
This one simple question helps me focus on the long-term and makes me OK knowing that some of the “seeds” I’m planting now aren’t designed to bear fruit in the short term. Or in some cases, not for decades.
But if I keep watering those seeds, stay patient and focus on the long term, I’ll have multiple trees under which I can catch some shade in 3, 5, 10 and even 20 years from now.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb
|About Mitchell Harper
Mitch is a 7x company founder, advisor and investor. He is best known as the co-founder of BigCommerce. His companies have generated over $200,000,000 in total revenue and he is currently building an online education company and a SaaS company.