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The Lever #036 - Two Lessons From a Life At Sea

Travel is the ultimate teacher. And the sea is the worlds biggest classroom.

These are the two biggest lessons I've learned after working for 27 years on the ocean.


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A Life of Travel and Adventure

I ran away to sea when I was 18 years old, as a deckhand on the SV Concordia.

The voyage covered 24,980 nautical miles across the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and North Sea.

The ship visited some of the hardest to reach places on earth, like the Galapagos Islands (where Darwin formed his theory of natural selection) , Pitcairn Island, and Easter Island.

We stood watch, trimmed sails, and navigated by the stars. It was living life close to the surface, with real consequences and triumphs. I loved it so much that I made going to sea my career, and have been in the maritime industry ever since.

I carried two lessons with me from the Concordia that I have applied again and again, and have never failed to deliver.

The Ultimate Teacher

Travel gives you opportunities to expand your worldview like nothing else.

And travel by sea is the ultimate teacher. Because you don’t just fall asleep and wake up at your destination. You have to work for it.

Life at sea is dangerous and exciting and boring and unpredictable.

Sailing for days and weeks with the scenery never changing makes you feel like time stopped. Until something unexpected happens and your life is on the line.

99% boredom. 1% sheer terror.

That first year at sea we experience both. The boredom of being caught in the doldrums for days, without a breath of wind to nudge us forward.

Or the terror of the frantic search for a shipmate who was blown over the side when a battery locker exploded.

Both boredom and terror teach you something about yourself.

Not everybody is cut out for this.

The boredom, solitude, and (back then) lack of communication home are real struggles to overcome.

I thrived in this environment.

And learned these two things that have fueled all my success since.

Two Lessons From The Sea

1/ The Power of Routine

At sea, every day is the same.

You wake at the same time.

You eat at the same time.

You stand watch at the same time.

You work at the same time.

You rest at the same time.

The routine drives the result. You don’t sail across the ocean in one go. You sail across the ocean by doing the same thing. Again and again.

A well planned routine is how you:

  • Lose weight

  • Get a degree

  • Write a book

  • Build a sailboat

  • Succeed at work

Its about the right effort, on the right action, repeated again and again for a sufficient amount of time.

This is why everyone needs a smart system for managing their time. Because the results you are looking for are on the other side of a routine effort, completed again and again.

I use time blocking.

A time block isn’t just a thing you are going to do at a certain time. It’s a preplanned routine you are going to run.

The more times you run your routine, the more blocks you complete, the stronger the structure you build.

And eventually the routine will allow you to arrive at your destination, which could be a business, a degree, or the other side of the ocean.

2/ The Shipshape Ethos

A ship is a closed environment.

That year on the Concordia it was impossible to get further than 188 feet away from anyone else. I bunked with 3 other guys, in a cabin the size of a closet.

Cleanliness is paramount.

“A place for everything and everything in its place”.

This is the shipshape ethos.

Use a tool. Put it away.

Take it out. Put it back.

Make it dirty. Clean it up.

Use a thing. Stow it safely.

A cluttered environment leads to a cluttered mind.

Through the disciplined habit of putting things away you do 2 things:

1. Make sure its ready when you need it next

2. Keeps your mind CLEAR

Its not just a thing you do. It’s a thing you become. A clean environment leads to a clear mind.

It builds self discipline. Which leads to self confidence. Which means you can tackle challenges that you previously thought were beyond you.

And always be ready for the unexpected.

It also encourages you to think carefully about what you need. Every thing you own becomes something you need to maintain. Do you really need two, or will one do?

Do you even need that one? Is it a luxury or a necessity? And are you willing to commit to the stewardship of that item?

Keeping things shipshape in your day to day life encourages thoughtful consumerism, if not exactly minimalism. It’s an antidote against thoughtless overrun of “stuff”, because the words of Tyler Durden are true:

The things you own end up owning you.

A quick sense check for this is the 3-day rule.

The next time you want to buy something, wait 3 days. If you still want to get it, then get it.

But get it knowing that it will provide enough value for you to take on the responsibility of proper care of it.

Small Lessons, Big Results

That first year at sea set the course for the rest of my life until today.

Since then I’ve:

  • Finished my MBA

  • Traveled the world

  • Wrote my first book

  • Speak at conferences

  • Become a Master Mariner

  • Been Captain of my own ship

  • Rose to senior leadership in business

All thanks to these two lessons.

My book Peaceful Productivity gives you the full system I use to chart the course, prioritize tasks, execute on the plan, and review progress to make adjustments.

By carefully designing your routines, and keeping your physical and mental space clear, you WILL get the results you are looking for.


When you are ready, here are a few ways I can help:

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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