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220: From Poker World Champion to Productivity Master: How to Work Less & Achieve More

Posted by Austin Brawner on October 8, 2019


If someone tells you the secret to success is working as much as you possibly can, they’re wrong.

Successful, productive people don’t work more, they work on fewer things that have greater impact.

Today we’re joined by productivity expert and ex-world champion poker player Chris Sparks, who is now the founder and CEO of The Forcing Function.

Chris helps entrepreneurs identify what they truly want in life (step #1 to increasing your productivity) and then works with them to achieve their goals in the most effective way possible.

We talk with Chris about how to figure out what you actually want, the importance of leveraging your unique assets, and why reflection is the missing ingredient in progress.

Episode Highlights

  • 6:44 Introducing Chris Sparks and how his obsession with productivity began at the poker table.
  • 10:12 Why Chris decided to forego a job opportunity at Ford to become a professional poker player.
  • 14:56 The double-down inspiration for Chris’ new book: Experiment Without Limits.
  • 19:46 What sets Chris’ action-oriented (and free) productivity workbook apart.
  • 22:33 The first question Chris asks when he starts working with a new client.
  • 23:38 The difference between peak performers and those who are not.
  • 25:42 Common myths about what productivity actually looks like.
  • 28:39 Why it’s better to take one small step forward every single day rather than make big changes all at once.
  • 32:12 How to figure out what you actually want.
  • 38:18 What to do when your business has incredible momentum, but it’s costing you the lifestyle and freedom you dreamed it would give you.
  • 44:28 The importance of reflection to your productivity and progress.
  • 47:04 The biggest weapon in any entrepreneur’s arsenal.
  • 48:23 Tools Chris uses every day that increase his productivity.

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Austin Brawner: What's up, everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell? I was trying to do it like Ron Burgundy that time, see how it went. You know give it a little test.

Austin Brawner: How did it go? What would you rate it?

Andrew Foxwell: I mean, I would say it was not as funny as I thought it was going to be, to be totally honest with you. Hoped it would be funnier. But it's always good to throw that in. I did see Ron Burgundy's recently coming back as his character.

Austin Brawner: In a podcast.

Andrew Foxwell: ... that has his own podcast.

Austin Brawner: Exactly.

Andrew Foxwell: So there you go. That's how it's saturated. But thankfully, because this podcast is valuable, we continue to grow in listenership.

Austin Brawner: We have been growing kind of month-over-month. It's super exciting; and also, it's just fun to hear from people all over the world really, reaching out, letting us know that they are just making some sort of progress by listening to the podcast, which is a lot of fun and kind of keeps us going.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think one of the interesting things that we've heard a lot of us is, people like the productivity episodes. They like the episodes that are focused on things sometimes outside of the business, and even macro-level stuff around the business, and in the tactical episodes, I think people find helpful, too. Still hear really good feedback on that. But it's also these ones of, hey, how are you really running the show? Whatever show it is you're running. I think it's kind of an inspiration for today's episode.

Austin Brawner: Exactly. What it comes back to, I think about this a lot. All of the tactics and things that you hear, and all the stuff that people tell you you should be doing, should be doing this, opening this channel, doing all these different things. Again, most of the time, the world is telling you to do more, and that's really the antithesis of being more productive is doing more, because you're really not going to be focused on the things that actually move the needle. 

The inspiration for today's episode is to connect with somebody who I really respect and have actually worked with. He was my productivity coach for, man, almost about a year, maybe eight months. Just a really, really smart guy who in my mind epitomizes peak performance.

I actually met him a couple years ago at a mastermind group. I was just blown away by some of the stories that he had of his professional poker career and immediately kind of knew this guy was operating on a different level. Just the way he thought about productivity and peak performance.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, it's evident in the way that he answers questions. One, it's not his first rodeo, and two, it's something that he has given a lot of thought of to each of these different pieces of not only where you can start to think about productivity and how you can start to plan for it, but also the process and the reflection of becoming more productive. So I'm really excited to go ahead and welcome Chris Sparks to the show.

Chris Sparks: Thanks, pleasure to be here.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, I'm really excited to have you here. It's been a little while since we met. I think we first met in Alabama, of all places, at one of our friend's mastermind groups called The Rising Tide, where we went out and we hung out for a couple of days at a lake house in Alabama. It was really, really wonderful. Done that a couple of times.

What I noticed right away after meeting you, was just I felt like you were kind of ... immediately I was like, "This guy is on another level when it comes to thinking about productivity and peak performance," like your mindset around performance I immediately could tell, I was like, "This guy is on a different level."

We've given our guests a little bit of a background on you, but why don't you take a little bit of time and tell us about yourself personally and kind of a little bit about your background and what you are up to these days?

Chris Sparks: Oh, thanks. That was a lovely intro. So I am the founder and CEO of a company called The Forcing Function. What we are obsessed about is this idea of productivity and peak performance, so looking at top performers across a number of fields and trying to deconstruct and distill down what generalizes, particularly for entrepreneurship, how at a high level someone can achieve their goals in a more effective manner.

We achieve this, we do workshops and retreats, but primarily I work with about eight to 10 successful entrepreneurs and help them to increase the leverage of their time, make sure they're working on the right things, and more or less try to find more fulfillment in their daily life as their business is subservient to themselves and what they're looking to accomplish with their lives.

This question of "how does one achieve more? How does one become the person who can do whatever they want," is really near and dear to me. I really started on this journey as a professional poker player, which I'm happy to go into that backstory a little bit. But I had ambitions of becoming one of the best poker players in the world. I was playing online. I rose steadily to playing the highest limits available in the world against the best players. My strategy at the table was only one dimension of what it took to become successful, that what differentiated the players who won the most from those who were just merely good, wasn't always just the skill. It was how they conducted themselves off the table. Is did they put themself in a position mentally, emotionally, physically to win? When they showed up, were they ready to perform at a high level, make difficult decisions for hours on end for large amounts of money, assess risk accurately?

It became instrumental to me, that is on the way to this goal of becoming one of the best poker players, that I decided I needed to learn about every aspect of how can I become the best, and what does it look like? What does a day look like for someone who is operating at the highest level possible?

I've been, for the last three years, trying to translate some of those lessons that I learned in becoming one of the best poker players in the world, to how can an entrepreneur make the most of their day, perform at a high level, and accomplish their goals as effectively as possible?

Austin Brawner: What's so interesting, and I want to go back a little bit into your story, because one of the things that I find so compelling about your story is that you have done it for yourself. Like you've basically used yourself as an experiment on how you can perform better, because your journey into professional poker, it wasn't something that you, from my understanding, it wasn't written that you were going to be a professional poker player. You had actually got a job, I believe, was it at Ford?

Chris Sparks: Yeah, that's right.

Austin Brawner: Can you talk a little bit about your transition from a typical job into professional poker player?

Chris Sparks: Sure. Yeah. I mean if you read the story afterwards, the Medium piece, every journey looks like a straight line, when in reality, it looks like a seismograph, like a series of punctuated equilibrium earthquakes.

For me, I had a couple of these big, what I call, inflection points, where the path that I thought I was on, my vector, dramatically shifted overnight. One of those was, I had grown up, I was in Ohio, all I knew was the corporate path. I thought the ultimate would be to end up on the cover of Forbes by the age of 30. I had more or less directed everything in my life towards that goal.

So every internship I took on, every student organization that I became president of, my job throughout college, all of the contacts that I had made leading up to the job that I accepted coming out of college, which was at Ford, one of the largest marketing budgets in the world. It was my dream to produce a Super Bowl commercial, so why not go to the place that produces multiple Super Bowl commercials a year?

I had never conceived of this paradigm that there are many ways to skin a cat, right? Many ways that one can make a living. Entrepreneurship wasn't even on my roadmap. I had played poker throughout college, just because that's what everyone was doing. And a huge amount of success is timing, not just being lucky, but recognizing when things are going well and having the confidence to double down.

I had paid off my college tuition, but I saw college as sort of my break. It's like, "This is my four years to mess around playing online poker. Then after I graduate, I get serious, and I get back to this goal."

Obviously, my definition of playing around is a little bit different than other people's, where I was president of a couple student organizations. I was taking the maximum number of credits available. Then after school, I would play poker for six to eight hours, usually before going to sleep, before doing it all again the next day.

Anyway I graduate, and because we were on the quarter system, I graduated a little bit later than my peers. In that week before I was supposed to start, you know, I had moved up to Detroit, got a new apartment all set up, ready to go. The auto industry, the bottom falls out, and I'm on a government-mandated hiring freeze, which means that I am hired but not hired. I can't seek other employment, but I'm not yet on the books. I'm in a purgatory.

On the surface, this was a really bad situation. I'm sitting in Detroit. I don't know anyone. I have nothing to do, no ties to anyone. It's like I can't start working yet, but for me, it was like, "Oh, awesome. My college vacation continues."

Instead of having 20 hours a week to play poker, I can play as much as I want. So I decide, it was like, while I have this time, what does it look like to play this for a living? How does my life reorient if poker becomes my top priority, instead of priority number four?

In those three months where I was waiting for the dust to settle, I went from making a solid living paying my college expenses, which were pretty minimal, to now I'm making what my annual salary would have been at Ford every month. When I got the inevitable call, it's like, hey, the real world beckons. It's time for you to join your 9:00 to 5:00 at your cubicle, I said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Andrew Foxwell: That's an awesome, awesome story. I think that many times, of course, the mistakes are actually a massive door opening for many, many people.

But I want to get to what you're doing now. I think that's a really good backstory and kind of coming into talking more about peak performance. You have a new book out, Experiment Without Limits. It's really comprehensive, a lot of discussion about this now online. Could you tell us about what sets Experiment Without Limits apart and really what the core thesis is of this piece of writing?

Chris Sparks: Yeah, I'd say that's those two very different questions. So I'll tackle the second one first. I think my story on why I decided to create it was that I was tired of having the same conversations over and over again. I find that most really good blog posts are just someone has been asked the same question, and they say, "Well, it's better for me to write it out once than to say it 20 times."

I kept coming back to the same themes over and over again with my one-on-one coaching clients. I found myself in the position of being a teacher. I always like to say that our greatest strength is an inverted weakness. I have a proclivity for liking to be the expert and liking to teach. Once I had that crack, I opened it up into a window.

People were really enjoying the sessions, but they weren't taking the level of action that I would like. I realized because I was treating it as if knowledge was the limiting factor, when knowledge is only one-half of the equation. It's knowledge times action. Knowledge is just an action multiplier.

I wanted to be able to dedicate more of my very limited face time with clients to debugging and creating a plan. Having them come in with a common vocabulary, common set of principles, common way of looking at the world and having collected data, that they already have been putting things into place, and that my role is to debug anything that isn't going wrong, helping to uncover the core cause of what is driving the lack of return. Or if things are going really well, how can we throw more fuel onto this fire? How can we double down here?

Because my value add was very much how much additional output can I deliver per unit of time that I have with this entrepreneur, it became really instrumental for me to create a curriculum where I could just point them to, "Hey, go to page X and read this and do this, and then we'll talk about it next time," instead of dedicating that time to getting them on the same page, having them do the exercise in realtime.

As all projects do, the scope quickly expanded, where this had started off just as a Google Doc wiki that I'd shared amongst my clients, and it got to the point that this is just silly to keep to myself, to keep to this very small group of people. I need to share this with the world in some form.

I'm sure this is something we'll touch on at some point, but in poker information is power. You win by creating these information asymmetries, where you know more about your competition than they know about you. Every interaction that you have exists on a number of meta-levels, where you are trying to distort the impression that your opponent has of you.

These mental models had seeped into my life in really insidious ways, that I wanted to rip off the Band-Aid, where I decided that because knowledge is not the limiting factor for people making progress and that what I did, what I added the most value, did not scale, that I could afford to open-source everything that I had learned to the world, so that everyone could benefit from it without giving away the secret sauce that made my service so valuable.

That's how the project began of what is the essential techniques to performing at a peak level? And, if I was starting from scratch, what would be the step by step in order to implement these principles into my own life? I mean, everything that's in the book, Experiment Without Limits, are things that I return to regularly. I do all of these experiments myself. I teach them to all of my private clients.

My hope is that by open-sourcing this knowledge, that I would be able to empower a small generation of entrepreneurs to live life slightly more ambitiously. I really try to operate at this meta-level with, if you know what to do, that allows you to set your sights higher.

What I think sets this workbook, is what I call it, aside from other things that are similar, first is just the level of compression. Something I'm giving away for free ... and a lot of people listening to this podcast are very familiar with the typical lead magnet, where what you're expecting and what you're getting are far from, right?

People don't give away a lot of value upfront. They give away just enough to get your email. I wanted to give away the kitchen sink up front, so to say. It's 90 pages, but every single line within the book has been very carefully selected, edited multiple times, like completely cut away the chaff. Is I decided that every additional page decreased the chances of someone implementing anything, so I wanted to compress it as much as possible. That it's very action-oriented. I mean, my hope is that it's a reference guide that someone can come back to time and time again whenever they get stuck to find some path forward.

As I said, I think that there's a lot of value here. I'm giving it away, is because I want as many people as possible to have access to the things that I wish I had known a few years ago.

Austin Brawner: No. As I was going through it kind of preparing for the podcast to try to explain a little bit about it, it's compressing a lot of the ideas that are floating around there about productivity into a template workbook that you can go through and be able to actually put the rubber to the road and start making some improvements.

We've worked together. You've also worked with a bunch of really interesting and ultra-productive people that are doing fascinating things. You've got this kind of process. When you're working with a new client, where do you start? Where do you typically dive into first?

And if that's not a great question, because it changes with every single client depending on where they're at, maybe the flip side of that is, what do you typically see in people that are performing at a very, very high level that you don't see in people that are not performing at a high level? What characteristics?

Chris Sparks: Those are great questions. My first response to both of those is the same, is I always start with this question of, "What do you want?"

I find that so much in life reduces down to not knowing what you want. If you have a very clear vision of what you'd like to accomplish, the next steps really become clear. It creates this litmus test of, is this on the path to where I want or not? Once you have a few different options, it's what moves me along me the path the most, what has the highest leverage?

It always surprises me how few people have done the hard work of sitting down and deciding, "What do I want?" I always try to think on these ridiculously long time scales of, "What do you want to accomplish with your life, and how can we work backwards from there?"

If you know where you're going, at least we can start heading in the right direction. That is a really big commonality that I find between peak performers and not, is peak performers know where they are heading, they have a clear path in front of them, and they've done the hard work of deciding what are the steps necessary to achieve my goals. It's making those hard choices upfront, makes all of the day-to-day choices, do I do A, do I do B, do I pursue channel A, channel B, do I add product line A, product line B, it makes all of those decisions relatively trivial, because it all reduces down to what puts me on the path.

Andrew Foxwell: That is something that is work, that I agree with you, many people do not do. It even comes down to, I'm thinking, taking notes here, thinking about schedule, which is where a lot of others suggest to start, obviously. What do you want to do, and then breaking that down even on a daily basis, does it actually on an hour-by-hour basis, is that contributing to where you want to go? And also then on the other side, schedule-wise, you want to wake up, you want to do this, this is what this looks like living life at that high point.

The productive people, there's a lot of myths surrounding productivity, right? And no doubt you've come in contact with a number of these. What are some of the most common that you hear about productive people that you want to kind of talk about?

Chris Sparks: Yeah. As you said, I think that's a really good one as far as the first thing to audit is where one time is going, one's schedule, that priorities are reflected in where one is spending their time. That if your schedule is not a reflection of where your priorities are, that's where you start, is you rebalance your portfolio, you bring your schedule back into focus as far as your priorities.

The common myths are many. Well, since we're on this theme, I would probably start with this notion that productive people work more. It's actually the opposite, that people who are productive work less, but they work on the right things. They work on fewer things that have higher average importance.

I keep coming back to today, this concept of leverage, that we achieve more output per unit of input, that not all things we do are created equal, not all hours in the day are created equal. In fact, time more falls on a power law. That if we understand what our most important activities are, if we understand what our most productive times of day are, protecting that time, protecting those activities, and that usually happens by creating space for them.

I find that most people make the mistake of focusing on the wrong dimensions of productivity, right? People think about productivity in terms of, "I need to be working more hours," or, "I need to be more efficient." That's how all of these hacks come into play. "I should be taking Modafinil. I should be speed reading. I need to be outsourcing to the Philippines."

All of these things that aren't really attacking the core of the matter, which is, are you doing the right things? Everyone has the same 24 hours, but if you're doing the right things, that moves from scarcity to abundance. So I'm usually focusing on what you're doing rather than more or faster.

To that end, having the right 'why' goes a long way. A lot of people who are "struggling with productivity," that's a signal that maybe you aren't doing the right thing, that maybe you haven't found the right found or company fit, that you haven't found your 'zone of genius' as you guys put it, where there's a Venn diagram overlap between what you're good at, what the market values, and what you naturally enjoy. That if there's something that what I call downhill that comes naturally to you that doesn't require a lot of activation energy to get started that other people value, that creates a snowball effect, a positive feedback loop where productivity almost becomes inconsequential because things just build upon themselves.

That's another thing that I would point people to is, the goal with becoming more productive is just to take one small, tiny step forward every single day. Everyone falls prey to this heavy lift that, "I am going to change everything today. I am going to adopt this new productivity system. I'm going to switch over to this new tool. I'm going to start going to the gym for two hours a day every day. Today is the day that everything changes."

That's easily setting yourself up for failure, not just because it's fragile, it's not going to stick, but you create this expectation that any time you take on something new, you're not going to follow through. When the right approach is to rely on the compound returns of, first, what is most holding me back. Second, what is a tiny experiment that I can put into place that might allow me to make a small bit of progress in this area? And if I do make some progress, doubling down. If I don't make any progress, all right, maybe I haven't found the thing that's holding me back, or maybe I need to try something else.

But that it's these small, incremental changes that create strong foundations that compound and build on each other. I mean, I can go on all day, so cut me off any time.

One more that I would add here is, productivity is not entertainment. I think a lot of people treat it as entertainment, as they want as many tools in their belt as possible. They're collecting all of these tips.

"Oh, recipes that I can make." And, "Oh, new workout routine, and, "New ways to sleep less time. Maybe I should try this. Maybe I need to read 100 books this year." It's this collection of things in case we need them. Rather when I call a just-in-time approach to recognizing, first, what do I want to accomplish? Second, what is in the way of me accomplishing that? Third, what are the skills? What does the day to day look like of someone who's accomplishing that? What's one thing that I can put in place now that moves me toward this future version of myself who can accomplish that? So recognizing what you need to learn, rather than learning a bunch of things in case you might use them.

Andrew Foxwell: That alone, that little paragraph, or many paragraphs there, is potentially some of the most valuable productivity advice that's ever been on this podcast. I just want to say that for the record. I agree with every single thing that you said. I think so many people, just to comment on it really briefly Austin before you get into your next question, so many people, I believe, get really maddened by seeing the truly productive people work less.

In reality, it's not a mistake that that's happened, that it's many atomic habits, to coin one term, or small changes that have happened over time to bring you there. So I really appreciate your thoughts there, Chris.

Austin Brawner: I want to dive in, too, on one of the things that I feel, you mentioned at the beginning when we were diving into this that I feel like it is the most important thing, but it also can be the most challenging thing for anybody, which is, you mentioned peak performers know what they want. That's typically where you start with people.

I feel like that, for many people, is the biggest challenge that they face, is trying to figure out what they want. How do you go about helping somebody find out what they want? What are some questions that you ask, or what's kind of your process is somebody's in that position where they feel like, "You know what? I need to really dive in to figure out what I want." How can they start approaching that question for themselves?

Chris Sparks: Yeah, thank you so much. I agree, this is one the things that is simple but not easy, that it's a asymptote, something that you continually approach, but never quite reach. You're constantly iterating on this question. It's something that I come back to over and over again, especially we talk about the meta-level, that you can operate at the "What do I want to want?" That because of the incredible power of context that our behavior is completely deterministic, right? Free will is a myth, and all that good stuff, that we can create a context to get ourselves to do anything. Because we infer our beliefs, our values, from our own behavior, we can get ourselves to want everything. We can step outside the systems of ourselves and rewrite our source code to get ourselves to want anything. So, this question becomes really critical to address.

The first chapter in the book, I mean, it has the probably not great chapter title of Goals. Goals seems really boring, but it's really trying to attack this question from a number of different angles through different prompts. I highly encourage people to check that out.

A couple that seem relevant based on conversation so far is, first, what does an ideal day or an ideal week look like? What sort of life do you want to live? That starts to get at desired priorities, desired values. Because everything is a trade-off, every hour that you spend with your spouse is an hour you're not spending in a gym or on your business. So coming to terms with where does your hierarchy of priorities start is really important.

Another one is, what is the problem that you are most uniquely positioned to solve? I love this concept of a monopoly of one, that if you set things up right, you're not competing against anyone, because you are the only one in the world who can do what you're doing. That usually means niche-ing down to an absurd level of, I am doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. And sort of, what are the assets that I can leverage? What is this positioning that I have? Where am I now? Versus, what would I like to be doing? Leveraging assets rather than ideas.

Let's see, maybe one more for you would be, if I could only try one thing and I failed at it, right? So coming from the like, I can only do one thing, and I don't even succeed at it, what would it be? What's worth trying on its own merit? Because so much of accomplishing things is becoming better versions of ourselves, that the learnings that come along with this attempt are worth it even if I don't succeed at it.

It both sets our sights really high, they sort of reach for the stars, and if you don't get there, you're at least stretching. I mean, that's like the worst butchered quote ever, but you understand what I'm getting at. Setting your sights absurdly high, but also what is our best opportunity to improve? Because every time we raise the floor, we increase our capabilities. We see from an elevated position, and new opportunities that we weren't even aware of come into view.

So that's a big part of how I try to approach this question, is just to get myself to continue to move forward, to spur an action. Because I will be doing is something that I can't even imagine today. So how can I at least start myself in moving that direction to make that discovery?

Austin Brawner: You know, Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street? I happened to be at a conference of his for the first work week of my working life. They had sent me to this conference to go watch Jordan Belfort speak about sales. It was a ridiculous conference. It was kind of interesting. But one of the things he said was that he sets his goal at making a million dollars a month in profit, because if he misses that goal, he'll still make $500,000 a month in profit, which I thought was pretty wild.

But going back into what you were saying about getting an idea of what your ideal day looks like. I'm sure there's listeners to this podcast, and many people as they, because I've worked with many clients that are growing businesses, as they grow the business, momentum builds. Momentum can build in ways that changes their life and changes, potentially, the ideal version of their day. Maybe they set their sights on an ideal day, and then they either achieved it, or they didn't achieve it. But the business grew, and the momentum built in a way that their life is now impacted.

How would you advise somebody who is feeling like their life no longer matches up with their ideal vision of their day, but their business now has so much momentum, they don't feel like they're able to make the changes they need to make to get themselves back to a position where they can live their ideal day?

Chris Sparks: I mean, that is a complicated question. Well, I would start by saying, recognizing at this moment what are you uniquely positioned to do. The missing chapter in the four-hour workweek narratives are the three years of 80-hour workweeks that were required to set up the systems to get to that point. I find that the most valuable use of time and energy and attention when things are going well is in raising the floor.

So things are going well, they're not always going to go this well. Regression to the mean is the norm. How can I raise the floor so that these results that I'm having right now are more consistent in the future? How can I set up a system so that what I'm doing right now is the default, that it requires less effort to maintain, etc.?

I love the saying, "Once you win a battle, tighten your helmet." It's like when things are going the most well that we're most prone to taking our foot off the pedal. Rather than continuing to pound through and rely on will power, taking the step back and saying, "Things are going so well, how can I ensure that they go well?"

I always like to go back to an audit of not all activities are created equal. Now clearly the business is going well, but there are some things in the business, typical 80-20 analysis, that are driving most of this success. Though there are other activities, that while useful, aren't essential to growth, where there's an arbitrage opportunity of shifting one unit from activity A to activity B. In this case, maybe the entrepreneur is better served by taking one of their lower-value activities in the business and letting a small thing go bad, right? Risking disappointing a couple non-core customers in order to be able to take a step back and think more strategically about what's the next move, what's the 10X opportunity?

Or just having more rest or time with family or time on health, because we're not on this planet forever. It really reduces down to values and the understanding that opportunity costs. What you're doing at this very moment comes at the expense of everything else you could be doing, and that your business is subservient to your life.

I've said, during my poker peak, I would spend all of my life inside. I'd play 80 hours a week. I was managing a portfolio of players. That was another 40 hours. Then if I wasn't doing that, I was studying poker and dreaming about poker. That's the point in my career that I made seven figures, but I also look back and say, "was I happy, was I fulfilled?" Not really.

Now I set myself up for life, I set myself up to pursue this business, but I also probably took a couple years off my life health-wise. I lost touch with my friends. It was very out of balance. I had an idea of the costs. It was never going to be easier to make money than it was in this moment. I was never as well-positioned as I was there, but there was a real cost. I think coming to terms with that cost helps make that decision much easier.

I mean, I think marketers find this all the time, and that my impression of marketing, you guys know more than me so feel free to correct, is you're always identifying what is the next channel, right? There's going to be a very brief moment of time where anyone who has a pulse and is on this channel is printing money. That window is very finite as people tend to talk when things are going well. We can't help ourselves. We're social creatures. And this window of opportunity closes and then becomes the search for the next channel.

I mean, we find this all the time in the poker world, and a new poker ecosystem pops up, whether it's a new online poker site or a new casino that opens up. The first couple months are a feeding frenzy, and then it goes dead. That's when you switch from exploit mode to explore mode. What is next market that I need to be playing at? I mean, that's a lot of kind of conflicting advice, so take the parts of that that apply to you. But at a high level, recognizing where you most uniquely position to do right now and are you okay with the costs?

Andrew Foxwell: I think that's very good advice. I mean, all of the things in there are very good advice for a lot of people thinking about Austin's particular challenge, which I think a lot of people find themselves wanting to course correct and not knowing where to go first.

I think as we come to a close on this interview, one thing I want to talk about is the power of reflection and reflecting back on it. We've been talking a lot about planning and, of course, we're talking about planning of what do you want to do moving forward, but then also reflecting back on what you have been doing and auditing things like time or tasks, etc.

Can you talk about, going back to your earlier question of the commonalities between peak performers, what are peak performers doing commonly in terms of reflection that you find really motivating or that you coach people in that really makes an impact?

Chris Sparks: Thanks, Andrew. That's a really insightful question. I find that reflection is the missing ingredient to progress a lot of times. When you think about a feedback loop, the tighter the feedback loop, the faster the progress. I find that life is just one big feedback loop, where you're either planning, experimenting, or reflecting.

So we create a plan, what are we going to do? What results are we trying to achieve? How are we going to try to achieve them? We experiment. Essentially, we execute and collect data. What's happening? Then finally, we reflect. Are our efforts having the desired results?

That is the part that so many people skip, is they keep running, sprinting, as fast as they can without checking, "Hey, am I getting closer to the finish line?" I find that every minute I spend reflecting on, are my efforts leading to my goals, has a 10X return. Because again, this question of, am I doing the right things is the most critical one.

I find that reflection is best done with space. So getting out of the office, getting outside, if possible. Just take a pad of paper and ask yourself, in these major areas of my life that are important to me, how are things going? What am I doing? What types of results are those having? If what I'm doing is having the desired result, how can I continue to double down there? If not, what's something I can try instead?

Where if we have all of these opportunities to improve, we have a vast menu of ways that we can implement, we have all these potential action items, and then we just need to pick what are we most uniquely positioned to do right now? It all starts with that refection. That can be personal or business, looking at the different areas of your business, who you're working with. "Are my suppliers people who I like hanging out with? Are my clients people that I look forward to seeing? Do I enjoy helping them? Am I in touch with their problem, etc.?"

These questions all generate action items, which become options for improvement. That's all it is, is finding ways to continue to move forward.

I find the biggest weapon in any entrepreneurial's arsenal is having a low time preference, that this business is something that I'm going to be building in some form for the rest of my life. This habit is so important that it's going to be something that I'm doing in some form for the rest of my life. When you're running a marathon, you're less concerned about short-term results and more about, am I running a pace that I can continue to maintain? Can I be consistent with this? Is there a small opportunity to make holding this pace a little bit easier so that I can maintain it for longer? Because we're all in it for the long run. That's really the game we're all playing, this infinite game.

I don't really have any more to say there, is that just every time that we reflect, are things going the way that I like them to; if not, what's something that I can try to put myself back on the path? Asking ourselves that question, coming back to that will always generate answers.

Austin Brawner: I'm not going to let you hop off without a very short rapid, kind of a rapid-fire question, because I know how much time you have spent thinking about this. Do you have any tools or purchases you've made for under $100 that have drastically helped you in your pursuit of leverage and productivity?

Chris Sparks: Austin, I can't help myself, but I always have to insert my asterisk here.

Austin Brawner: Oh, I know. Oh, I know, I know.

Chris Sparks: That no tool is in the way of progress. Yeah, I mean I myself am very tool agnostic, that we are the common denominator.

That being said, I would first direct people, because this is a question that I get often, I decided to create the FAQ. I have a post, which hopefully will be linked into show notes, called 100 Resources for Productivity Performance. These are the things that I use every day that have been shown to lead to an increase in output, that they make the things that I want to do every day easier. They create strong defaults, nudges of behavior, etc. So I'd highly recommend checking out that list.

A couple things as far as categories that I would recommend for people who are thinking about this. One is, if you have very important habits to you, things that you do every day that allow you to perform at a high level, how can you streamline these habits with something that makes it a little bit easier, a little bit more enjoyable, so you can increase the returns on that habit.

All right, so I mean, one that really comes to mind, I mean, I am a huge yoga proponent. That's probably had the biggest effect on my energy levels, more than anything else I do. So I splurged on really nice yoga things that make me enjoy that time on my mat, make me more likely that I can keep that habit.

The other aspect, too, is because all progress comes down to tightening feedback loops, anything that's important to you, have something in place to track progress. Because automatic tracking is the easiest, find a way that you can automatically track that what you're doing, your efforts, lead to results.

Anyway, one that I highlight, and this is another rabbit hole for another day, is the Oura Ring, which allows me to track my sleep rather mindlessly, but not only can I see the things that I'm doing in my life that the aspects of my environment that are correlating to good or bad sleep, I can also have an expectation of how I'm going to perform when I wake up so I can set my plan accordingly.

Austin Brawner: Awesome. Chris, this has been really, really helpful. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing with us. For people who are listening and are interested in connecting with you, what's your favorite place or the best place that you would like to direct them to?

Chris Sparks: Well, I always love to meet people where they are. When I work with clients, I tell them that any channel that that's their favorite is my favorite, too. I'll give the list, and you guys can choose.

So I'm on all the usual social media channels. My handle is @SparksRemarks. As I mentioned at the beginning, my company is The Forcing Function. So that's Two pages on that website that I would really direct anyone to if they're really interested in this stuff and want to find ways they can implement it into their own life, first we talked a little bit about Experiment Without Limits, which is my latest publication. You can download that for free at

Also, because this question of what do I want, what should I do next, what is most holding me back is so critical and yet so hard to tackle, I've created a short quiz, which I call the Performance Assessment, which is designed to get at this question of, what is your personal bottleneck, and what is your biggest opportunity for growth? If you complete that short quiz, there's an opportunity for me to give you some feedback, as well as direct you to one of the experiments in the workbook, which I believe will help propel you forward, give you some action items. So you can also access that for free at

Austin Brawner: Chris, thank you so much. Guys, go check it out. Go download it, because the workbook, it's the equivalent value of a full-on productivity book. Thanks so much, Chris. Great to talk with you, and we'll talk with you soon.

Andrew Foxwell: Thank you, Chris. It's been an honor and a privilege.

Chris Sparks: Thanks, guys.

Austin Brawner: Hey there. It's Austin again, and I have a quick message for you. If you enjoyed this podcast, I have something really exciting for you. For the last year and a half, I've been coaching e-commerce business owners and marketers inside a group called The Coalition.

You might have even heard me talking about it on this podcast. We have a lot of members who come on and actually share their story.

Now what launched as an experiment has become a game changer for our over 150 members. If you'd liked me and my team of expert marketers and ecommerce operators to coach you on your journey to scale up your ecommerce business, this is your opportunity. You can head over to to learn more.

Again, head over to to learn more. Everything we talk about on this podcast, we go into way more depth with actionable training. You can get actually one-on-one help from me to help you grow your business. Hope to see you guys inside.

Austin Brawner: What's up, everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell? I was trying to do it like Ron Burgundy that time, see how it went. You know give it a little test.

Austin Brawner:

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