Steve Acho is a keynote speaker, technology staffing executive, author, bilingual consultant, musician, and athlete. He is currently working at Solstice Consulting Group, where he provides on-demand technology experts for project-based work. Acho is the author of the books The Least You Need To Know About Doing Business With the Japanese and Why Technology Recruiting is Broken and What To Do About It.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up extremely fortunate.  The stories that shaped my life and were the impetus for continuous gratitude were those about my father, and how he grew up poor in the Middle East.  Learning about him being an extremely hard-working, proud, ambitious immigrant who overcame major obstacles to not only learn English, but get two Masters Degrees, and launch a successful career. 

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

Most of the things you worry about most will never happen.   The joy or toxicity of your life is mediated by thought, and the energy and attention you give your thoughts.  Be very mindful of what you’re thinking and your use of attention.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“Follow your passion and the money will come.”  To me, this is an irresponsible attempt to motivate people.  I wish more people would pair the ambition and passion they have with practical, actionable advice.  Just because you’re passionate about a product you’re creating doesn’t mean the market will be.  Be practical.  Test everything.  Take calculated risks.  The stories we celebrate about entrepreneurs who bet their home loan on the blackjack table to make payroll (and win) don’t take into account the 10,000 others who lost.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to not have anything truly traumatic happen to me.  I’ve had multiple injuries and surgeries from athletics, and have learned how to heal at a very fast rate.  I’ve taught others to do the same.  Through my emotionally difficult periods, I’ve learned to accept whatever variables I have been unable to change or influence.  The most important learning for me, which applies to almost any business or personal challenge, is to really focus on the things I can control.  This is repeated so often as to be ubiquitous and cliché.  And as always, it’s much easier said than done.    

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

Probably the biggest contributor to my success is my default perspective on everything I decide to take on.  Whether it’s a new campaign for a business or a new business altogether; whether it’s a new hobby or sport I’m taking on or one I’m already doing and trying to improve…I view everything as a test.  As such, I don’t ever feel like I failed at anything.  The Thomas Edison quote about not failing but learning 99 ways that didn’t work is just my default stance on everything I take on.  Therefore, I don’t have a fear of failure because it’s not really an outcome. 

What is your morning routine?

I wake up around 7 am.  Sometimes earlier or later depending on the day.  But I make sure I get good sleep.  I am not a good version of myself when I’m sleep-deprived, and I don’t wear exhaustion or lack of sleep as a badge of honor.

My morning routine includes a very short yoga flow to move my body, a brief set of breathing exercises, a short (5 minute) meditation, and a short (5 minute) visualization exercise.  I also make sure that I eat breakfast before getting on with my day. 

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Meditation.  Having lived in Asia for several years, I had been introduced to many esoteric practices including meditation.  But it didn’t click for me until about 5 years ago when I understood what the point of “mindfulness” meditation was.  

The purpose is not to control your breath or your body or anything.  It’s simply to observe whatever is true.  The benefits of daily practice of removing yourself from your thoughts, as opposed to being attached to or defined by them, can’t be overstated.  As simple as it sounds, it takes lots of practice to hone the ability to simply observe everything that’s happening, with all senses, in a non-judgmental way.  As I’ve built momentum (or at least consistency) in the practice, I have noticeably become more centered, less agitated, and overall, able to be non-judgmental.  

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

Here are two strategies I use to ensure that I’m productive.

Batching

  • Like to batch any kind of work that can be done once, rather than handling tasks a little bit at a time.  The easiest example of this is the mail.  I only check and look at my mail once per week.  In 10 minutes I can sort through all of it, pay any bills that need to be paid, and be done with the task for the week.  What I used to do was take 5-10 minutes per day handling the mail.  
  • As a musician/artist, I release new music every 5-6 weeks. Rather than recording every 5-6 weeks, I use batching by taking a 1-2 day intense studio performance where I record several songs (audio and video) which leaves me with inventory for more than 12 months.  

Calendar management 

  • I have the habit of putting everything in my calendar, whether it’s business or social.  Every night I review the next day’s schedule to see if any changes are required.  I actually schedule meeting with myself to accomplish things that are important to me, and I treat those meetings with the same respect I would treat an appointment with another person.  
  • Sometimes I have to postpone my own meetings, but that’s fine since I’m in charge of the calendar anyway.  It’s funny to hear people say that they don’t want to be a slave to their calendar.  It’s the other way around!  Your calendar is serving you!  

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – This book forced me to think a different way.  Most of the things that have made the biggest impact on my life were perspectives, and viewing things from the perspective of “lifestyle design” was the perfect lens through which to view my own fulfillment. 

Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer – I consider this book a primer in functional Buddhism.  It articulates the wisdom and practicality of Buddhist teachings without any of the unfalsifiable beliefs that typically come with religion or ideology. 

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

“Don’t confuse motion with action.” From my father.  He always taught me to take action on important things. 

“We’re not suffering from overwhelm, but from filter failure.” A reminder that at any given moment there are millions of stimuli competing for our resources.  Our job is to separate the critical few things that matter from the trivial many that don’t.