Jim Collins’s Simple Secret Formula for a Fulfilling Life

August Birch
Feb 22 · 6 min read

What one of the greatest minds in business research can teach about living

Jim Collins’s Secret Formula for a Fulfilling Life

This is the second article in a series about the writer/ researcher/ visionary/ polymath Jim Collins. The author behind the quintessential business book, Good to Great and others. I discovered these valuable gems while listening to the Jim Collins interview on the Tim Ferriss [Show] podcast.

If you’d like to read the other two articles in this series, you can find them here:

Collins keeps relentless track of his personal data and today we all benefit.

The system I share in this article can be adopted and adapted to any work or lifestyle. This is a profound idea with even more-profound applications. I wish I had learned about Collins’s method years ago, but as they say about planting trees — the best time to plant was twenty years ago and the second best time is now.

Not only does Jim Collins study the work of large, publicly-traded companies, but he also studies people. It’s within his personal work as a researcher and problem-solver, that he shares his method for fulfilling work, and, in-turn, a fulfilling life.


What’s a fulfilling life?

I’ve been on a lifelong quest to answer this question myself. I thought I had the answer licked, until I listed to the Collins interview a few days ago. He gave such a simple answer I can’t think of a way to top it, so I’ve adopted it as my own.

Collins has the benefit of data.

With his vast database of information on companies and people, his research assistants have gathered a treasure chest of information about productivity, management, leadership, and work.

What he found was so simple it baffled me.

Now in his sixties, as Collins looked back over his long career, he discovered what makes his life fulfilled. He found that fulfilled people strive for three basic things.

The Three Life Fulfillments:

  1. More simplicity in life
  2. More time spent in deep work/flow state
  3. More time with loved ones

That’s it.

It wasn’t cars, money, houses, vacations, or fancy job titles. It wasn’t working yourself to death, or squashing your competition until they go out of business. It wasn’t about doing MORE. Maybe yours will be different, but I’ll bet you can’t go wrong with these three to start.

We enjoy the simpler things.

Sure, it’s easy to stay busy and bombard our environments with ever more doing, but at the end of our journey, all most people want to do is simplify. Why not start now instead of finish with regrets?

We enjoy work that matters.

When we do work we’re encoded to do, the time melts and we feel fulfilled. I’ve repeated this quote from my design professor many times, but it’s the most profound quote I’ve ever heard:

“Your job is what you do, but your work is who you are.”

When we allow ourselves long sessions of deep work (which coincides with the creativity work described in the article above), even if we feel exhausted at the end of a work session the work makes us fulfilled. Collins defines quality, creative work as “…something that is new and potentially replicate-able and durable.”

We love to do work that matters.

This is why people lack such fulfillment when they’re stuck in a job they hate, or work which doesn’t suit them. We crave the deep work and we can only feel that fulfillment from deep work if we enjoy it. The work doesn’t always have to amount to something for us to be fulfilled by it.

We’re pack animals.

Even the most-introverted among us need other people to feel fulfilled. Whether you’re an innie or an outie, you need relationships with loved ones to feel fulfilled. Introverts prefer their deep work alone. Extroverts love a good team. At the end of the day we need other in our life to feel connection and purpose.

There’s a simple tracking system.

Collins went on to track this fulfillment in his own life. In the next section I’ll share his secret system and how you can apply it quickly to your life.


Jim Collins’s Life-Fulfillment Tracking System

Collins loves data. The answers are in the data. When you compile a large-enough data set for a particular question, you can sort the data to provide answers.

He starts with a simple daily spreadsheet.

As a relentless data-keeper, Jim has kept a spreadsheet of his life for decades. At the end of every day, he keeps a real-time record of three things, all relating to life-quality.

Jim’s three column life spreadsheet:

  1. How many hours spent doing creative work.
  2. A quality score for the day (+2, +1, 0, -1, -2)
  3. A note of what happened that day

He tracks the creative.

Collins makes sure he works 1,000 creative hours in every 365 day block, no matter where you slice it, no matter if he’s sick or busy.

He tracks the quality of the day.

  • 2 is a great day, +1 is a good day, 0 is a ‘meh’ day, -1 is a net negative day, -2 is a bad day. He then sorts his spreadsheet, looking over long periods of time, does more of the things that cause a +2 day and fewer of the things that cause a -2 day.

This is where the descriptions are necessary. It’s like a one-sentence journal of the work he did, and any other milestones that crafted the day’s quality. He tracked this data for decades, but uncovered what makes a better day much sooner.

You can uncover the same quality of life with your tracking. And it’s quick!


Get better. Keep simple data on yourself

If we want to change something we’ve got to track the data. Jim Collins is the epitome of data collection, but you don’t have to be a professor to keep meaningful data on yourself.

Keep the spreadsheet in your phone.

Use a three-column Google Sheet. This way, you’ll have the data in the cloud, accessible anywhere. If you’re obsessed with Excel you can always export it. The point is to give yourself the best opportunity to capture your data live, the day it happens, not three days later. This won’t work. You’ve got to capture the data live.

Dedicate 30 days to yourself.

Try this tracking for thirty consecutive days. Once you hit thirty, go for thirty more. Try to make it permanent. This process takes no more than a couple minutes a day. We all have a couple minute.

Set a daily evening reminder in your phone and log the data.

Sort your data and reflect on the +2 and -2 days. Look for patterns. Learn what you can do to give yourself more +2 days and fewer -2s. You don’t have to be a bestselling author to improve the quality of your life. This is FREE. It could revolutionize how you spend your day.

You deserve the potential benefit of this future life. I’m excited to hear what you think. I started tracking this a few days ago and I’ll follow-up in a couple months once I’ve tracked enough data points.

Let’s see what you’ve got for your version of a fulfilled life.

We’re waiting for you.


August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.

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The Book Mechanic

Down-and-dirty growth strategies for commercial writers and creators, with a blue collar work ethic, and a no-nonsense voice.

August Birch

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Author, Marketer, Email Expert, Entrepreneur | Enroll in My FREE Tribe 1K Email Masterclass for Indies : bookmechanicmedia.com/your-first-1000-subscribers/

The Book Mechanic

Down-and-dirty growth strategies for commercial writers and creators, with a blue collar work ethic, and a no-nonsense voice.

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