“What is the Foolscap Method about? Basically, it’s a way to kick your own ass, either at the very start of a project or when you’re six months into something and you’re so lost you can’t remember where you started or where you’re trying to go.” – Steven Pressfield, The Return of The Foolscap Method
I’ve been a fan of Steven Pressfield’s work for ages. Whether I keep a quote of his in plain sight on my desk, discuss how he spurred me to declare when I “turned pro,” or wrote a book that got me to watch The Legend of Baggar Vance with a completely new lens, his work has had an impact on my work and my life.
Upon the release of his latest book, he also brought forth once again an approach he uses when tackling a writing project called The Foolscap Method. A couple of months ago, another follower of his work named Stelios asked Steven if he thought that this method could be applied to a year rather than a book. Here’s what Steven had to say:
“Now, just to review for people here . . . The concept of the Foolscap comes from my friend Norm Stahl—one of my mentors—who once said to me “Steve, God made a single sheet of Foolscap to be exactly the right length to hold the whole outline of a novel.” So, the concept of the Foolscap Method is to conceive of your enterprise, whatever it is you’re trying to do, your ambition in a boiled down form that can be put on a single page, so that you boil it down to its absolute fundamentals, and you take it from A to Z. The whole thing is right there on one page, and I think it’s an absolute great way, Stelios, to divide a year.”
I know The Foolscap Method can be used for this – and a variety of cases – because I’ve done it. I’ve also used it for an upcoming project that I plan to deliver early in the summer. The Foolscap Method, like many methods out there, can be adapted to work in a variety of ways, as long as you’re willing to think outside the box a little.
Before I reveal how I adapted it for monthly goals and projects, let’s dive into how The Foolscap Method works, directly from Mr. Pressfield himself:
- Whatever the enterprise is, whatever the story is, break it into three parts.
- Look at the device of narration. How is the story told?
- What’s the theme? What is the story really about?
(Note: I highly recommend you not only check out the link above and review the PDF in its entirety but also the accompanying video, which you can watch here.)
The key is that you put all of this on one page and divide the page up to fit the three parts. This is the outline of your story or enterprise. Here are some examples of how The Foolscap Method can be used for enterprises that go beyond writing a book:
1. A Course/Workshop
When I mapped out a talk for the BCHRMA a few years ago, I used The Foolscap Method to break the talk into three distinct parts (Act One: Task/Time Management, Act Two: Email/Calendar Management; Act Three: The finale that ties everything together). I decided to tell the story in a straightforward manner based on the intended audience. This approach allows me to present information confidently, effectively, and in an entertaining manner.
As for the theme, the talk was all about changing the mindset of those in attendance, and the overall goal being that they take some actionable strategies away from the workshop and apply them not just in their own organization but also in their life. When this information was laid out in The Foolscap Method, it was apparent where I need to go with the workshop. (I laid out the SXSW panel that Marc and Angel Chernoff, Craig Jarrow, and I delivered in the same manner, and part of it can be seen in the image accompanying this post. It’s not The Foolscap Method to the letter, but it essentially follows the same basic structure and path.)
2. An Audio Program/Online Course
The way an audio program or online course is structured lends itself to The Foolscap Method as well. The Foolscap Method allows you to narrow down what will be offered in the program or course so that it is focused, rather than all over the place. That’s where that third component of the method is key.
Another reason The Foolscap Method is ideal for laying out something like this is that it’s broken up into three parts, which is easier to digest. It also allows for a template of sorts to be created for any additional audio programs or online courses you may want to produce later on, with only the theme of each having to vary to a great degree.
3. A Year
A year is a huge chunk of time. The Foolscap Method allows you to break your year up into three “acts,” theme your year, and craft your year with a greater sense of direction thanks to the outline you’ve created. This goes well beyond theming your months, which is something I discuss in The Productivityist Workbook, as it allows you to have a story developed for your entire year. This kind of outline will help you do exactly what Stelios was asking Steven Pressfield about, divide a year in a way that gives you a better chance to achieve your goals. I’d suggest that using something like the Three Words Exercise will also help inform that outline. (Note: If you like crafting your year this way, you may want to take it a step further and look at Donald Miller’s Storyline as well. I’ve heard great things about both the program and the conferences.)
The Foolscap Method is one of those approaches that, like The Eisenhower Matrix, can be adapted to suit your needs and help you move things forward when they don’t seem to be moving at all. One of the things I really like about having this tool in my arsenal is that it also allows me to disconnect from technology and simply write things through. It keeps me away from a slew of other Resistance-inducing things and allows me to deal with only the ones that are within me.
There’s something about working through roadblocks and mapping things out on paper, and The Foolscap Method provides a structure to your enterprise that is simple and scaleable. The next time you need a kick in the ass, I suggest you give it a try.
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