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The Lever #017: The 3 Book Model Method

Strong systems need a strong foundation of thinking.

Build these using mental models.


But first:

If you struggle to balance your work, life, and personal aspirations, then Peaceful Productivity is for you.

It will help you to:

  • Create a high level vision for your life, and craft big goals

  • Make space to work on those goals

  • Provide strategies to help you get the work done

  • Give you tools to better prioritize your tasks

  • And offer a powerful system of review and feedback

This book outlines my entire productivity system, and the Kindle version goes live on Amazon Saturday.


Gary Keller is the founder of the largest real estate company in the world, Keller Williams.

He is a prolific course creator, educator, and author. Not the least of which is his seminal book, The One Thing, which has influenced millions of people with its simplified models of productivity - me included.

Never complacent, Keller transitioned Keller Williams from a real estate company into a technology company. They now offer a powerful cloud based suite of tools that compliment the real estate sales and tracking process.

The secret to Keller's success doesn't stem from any unfair advantage. It comes from his deep understanding of how to create repeatable actions, habits, and processes that lead to success.

And the primary tool used for this is Mental Models.

Mental Models

A mental model is simply an explanation, or framework, about how something works.

It provides a simplified view to help understand complex ideas.

You use mental models every day to help you move through life. Inside your head you carry a toolbox of models that help you make decisions, influence your biases, pass judgements, solve problems, and more. These models are context dependent, and are turned on and off as you move into new situations.

Models then are various tools you can use to do different things, and apply to different challenges.

Understanding that, you can begin to upgrade your tools. When you reach into your toolbox, are you pulling out a handsaw? Or a chainsaw?

Two Way's to Build Models

When you need a mental model there are two ways to get one:

  1. Borrow somebody else's

  2. Build your own

The first method is likely how most of the mental models you use now have been created. You learn from others, read books, listen to podcasts, and consume information in all kinds of ways. Similar ideas are grouped together, and the model updates and forms in your mind.

An easy example would be a model for audience building on social media.

Takezo offers a philosophical starting point:

Then, Gianna breaks down the specific actions, schedule and format to use:

Combining those two ideas you now have a model you can follow to build your own audience online. Eventually you'll probably update your own model based on new information and personal preferences, but these will be refinements that deliver incremental improvements only.

Build Your Own

The secret to Gary Keller's success is his purposeful use of models.

When he started practicing real estate, he created a model of how it was done.

When he opened his first office, he modelled the layout, size, and even the number of phone lines based off what others were doing.

When he wrote The One Thing, he first created a model for how to write a New York Times best seller.

His core rules for model building are to keep it on a single sheet of paper, and to keep it simple. Simple is repeatable, easy to remember, and easy to apply. If it take you more than one page to explain something, you don't understand it well enough.

Having trouble simplifying the idea? Try using the Feynman Technique, a mental model used to simplify complex ideas.

This should come as no surprise, but Keller says that the best place to find models are in books. The challenge however is that most books don't explicitly lay out the model. You need to read with purpose, pull out the big ideas, and define the specific steps taken.

Here is how you can build a bulletproof mental model:

The 3 Book Model Method

When you want to learn something new, or better define your thinking around a concept, the 3 Book Model Method will move your reading from infotainment towards understanding.

Step 1 - Book 1

Choose a book about what you want to learn. This can be as simple as an Amazon search. Find something that covers the topic broadly.

Read with purpose. Pull the big ideas into a notebook. Define the steps.

Build the tool. Write down your understanding. Condense this model until it fits on a single page.

Step 2 - Book 2

Choose another book, but this time choose a contrary opinion.

You are looking for contradictory ideas and opinions. You may accept or reject those ideas, but you cannot ignore them. This helps you avoid building confirmation biases into your model.

Extract the big ideas. Revise your model on this new understanding.

Step 3 - Book 3

At this stage you should have a good understanding of the overall model you are building.

The book you are looking for now should be hyper-focused and very detailed. Like a textbook.

The goal of this stage is to put the fine point on the big ideas. Sharpen your tools.

The update to your model will be subtle but important.

The first step outlines the framework of your model. The second step challenges your assumptions. The third step further refines the model and adds polish.

Now, each new piece of information you receive about the subject can be assessed against the model you have built. You can refine your model, or discard the new info quickly. This saves you from wasting time exploring ideas that don't further your mission.

Remember, the ultimate goal of these models is to achieve specific results as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Want to build an online audience fast? Do what @thatroblennon does.

Want to lose weight and gain muscle? Do what the strongest, leanest people do.

Want to build and scale a massive company? Do what Gary Keller does!


Mental models provide a framework from which you can hang concepts and ideas. Some topics will have different, interconnected models.

Adopt or build the models you use with purpose.

Supercharge your results.


Your next steps:

1. Subscribe to The Lever (if you haven't already)

This covers a science-based productivity concept each week, in about five minutes. Try a free chapter of my new book when you subscribe. And if you like it...

Peaceful Productivity outlines the time-management system I've created over the years as a ship's Captain and business executive. It will help you plan, prioritize, and get more of the right things done. Also available on Amazon  

This short course will teach you the fundamentals of a powerful timeblocking system to make sure you never miss an obligation and always show up prepared. Give yourself the space you need to create the life you deserve.

Smart systems to make you productive, prolific, and profitable | Find me on Twitter @SeanPHogue | Sign up here for the weekly newsletter, The Lever, and create some leverage in your life.


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