secret sauce


We use that word in many ways. Work can be a simple task, work can be a monumental effort. Work can be something you do yourself, or it can take an army of workers to accomplish it.

When we start in business, often we find the work is easy. A checklist of things you should have on your website might yield a few tasks that can be taken care of in an afternoon – add a picture, clarify your offerings, make sure your ‘Contact Me’ page has a form that can be filled out. It’s easy to think, wow, this is great. I’ve just been missing all these little things and now I just fill in the gaps and in no time, I’ll be at the next level.

That’s often true.

And then you turn the page.

At some point you’ll encounter ‘The REALLY Big Task.’

For that, we usually recommend the donkey-riding approach. Some donkeys need to be ridden, and ridden, and ridden. You need to finish an e-course. You have an outline, you have topics, you’ve done your research. You need to press record, capture all the material, edit it, and press publish. It’s a massive task that can be worn down and won over by effort. Lots of it.

It is good that there are easy things to do in the world. In some way, they bribe us to keep going. The quick-hits, easy-wins keep us motivated and moving. It’s also good that there are mid-range tasks. There’s value in a nice, juicy piece of work that takes some attention and mono-focus to subdue it. It is a good feeling to emerge from immersion and realize how deeply you’ve applied yourself and what you’ve created because of that effort.

But then you discover ‘THE REALLY BIG PROJECT.’

Maybe it wakes you up. What you should do, it says, is re-brand yourself. Re-purpose five years of content into a book. Create a new website, one with more bells and whistles, one that really reflects what you’re about. Maybe it’s time to study for and take that exam that will give you the certification that opens all the doors.

Somewhere inside you think, ah, there goes the next six months. The next year.

This is no ordinary task, no ordinary trail. Simple effort probably won’t get this done.


Magical Mountain is a different approach to work. It’s for big tasks, big mountains, if you were. Part of donkey riding is almost intentionally not looking at everything it requires. That’s how you get to the end of it – you just keep riding. If you need to do another page, or another picture, you do.

On Magical Mountain, we look at things a little differently. Think of this as the difference between an afternoon’s walk, where maybe you push yourself, and go an extra mile or two, and an epic hike – exploring the Grand Canyon below the rim, or summiting Everest. Great endeavors require that we clarify, not minimize, the steps.

To begin, set your goal.

New Website.
Launch my new ecourse.
Write a book.

You’ll know. Remember, good ideas come looking for us (thanks Liz!!)

Then, just write down all the steps.

Don’t worry about order. It’s okay to write down “take lots of water”, and then to remember you have nothing to carry water in, so for the next step to be “buy something to carry water in”. This isn’t about perfect ordering. It’s about capturing all the steps.

Make sure you capture your steps are actionable. Lots of times when we write lists of things to do, we’re actually a level or two above what can be done. David Allen, in his book Getting Things Done, talks about projects as anything with more than one step. I think this is pretty spot on. As you consider your steps, make sure that you’re really breaking things down into work you can do. A high-level list of projects will be difficult to really arrange and work through. You need to get these down to steps you can take. You want to be able to group items together in stages.

After you think you have all the steps on the paper, look at them. If you’re a highlighter person, you might start looking for categories and colors – preparation steps are yellow, doing steps are green, foundation steps are blue. You might get another piece of paper out and start re-writing these and laying out the groups together.

Don’t let perfectionism get in the way here. Just flow. It’s okay to cross-out, draw lines, make it messy to start. This isn’t the journey itself, it’s a brain-dump and you can’t expect your mind to push out a perfectly formed project. You’re working with your mind, mixing creative impulse with the wisdom of your years. This is the alchemy of fresh idea with old experience. You’re in the headwaters of your creative life.

As you organize your steps into categories, likely a natural order will appear. Where will you begin? What’s are the steps that must come before, what are the steps in the middle, what are the finishing steps? Number these or write them in order.

Welcome to Magical Mountain.

secret sauce 2


Ultimately, a Magical Mountain journey is a series of Donkey Rides.

There will be extra miles and extra steps that you didn’t expect or anticipate. You can’t know every step of a Magical Mountain journey. But that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a poor planner or that you didn’t do your work. Some of these are impossible to avoid and some of them are the result of not knowing or not having done a journey this big before. Ultimately, the Magical Mountain process is about trying to capture everything you do know, all the things you think you’ll need, and mapping that out. Don’t worry, there’s always a little mystery left – you just have to find it 😉

To make it easier for you, we’ve created Magical Mountain Maps in both the 2016 Biz Goals workbook + 2016 Life Goals workbook.


What about project systems, like Teamwork or Wrike?

You can do your Magical Mountain planning in one of these systems if you’re so inclined. Some people find that it helps to start on paper and really dig into the project before you move this to an electronic format. If you’re not that person, you can dive in and organize things there. Just use the same approach to organize your steps, categories, and their order.

Ultimately, with all of these devices, we’re trying to find ways to make work a captivating and engaging set of tasks that allows us to turn minutes into miracles.

We are wise, capable, determined, but sometimes, we need a container to hold our work so that we’re able to see progress and keep moving up the Magical Mountain.

What great thing will you plan today? What next step will you take? What Donkey will you ride on your way to the summit of your most important work?

If you want the ultimate resource for discovering the answers to this and lots of other questions about using your one precious life well, use our Biz and Life workbooks

Enjoy the journey!

grant sig 3 Erin Houilihan


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