When your week is over, why do you so often feel like you’ve put in the hours and still didn’t accomplish everything you set out to achieve? In this 99U talk, Ryan Carson, founder and CEO of Treehouse, charges us to hyper-focus, so we can spend less time working and still finish our biggest projects. “I spend 20 minutes first thing each Monday making a list of what I want to achieve each week,” explains Carson, who typically works 32 hours a week so he can devote more time to his family. “Then I take out the things that aren’t happening.” Carson’s approach allows him to devote his time to what he really needs to accomplish over the next four days. “My initial reaction was that there was too much work to do,” he said of shrinking his workweek. “But there is no rule that you have to work 40 hours a week to be successful.”
Carson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Treehouse, an online technology school, with over 50,000 students worldwide, that teaches you how to code, make apps and build websites. Treehouse has over 100 employees and has raised $13 million. He earned a computer science degree from Colorado State University, but recognized a disconnect with traditional universities which were very expensive yet unable to keep their curriculum up to date with current in-demand job skills. Given skyrocketing college costs and escalating student loans, Carson launched Treehouse to provide affordable technology education to take students from zero to job ready in just 12 months. He is married to his wife Gillian and has two boys, and they live in Portland, Oregon.
Good afternoon. I’m Ryan Carson, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about me. And then we’re going to get right to it.
So this is me and my skeleton wife, Jill. And then my two kids, Jackson and Devin. We live in Portland, Oregon. And I run a company called Treehouse. And we’re an online school. And our goal is to take adults from zero to job-ready and teach them how to code. So that’s a little bit about me. Treehouse is up to 110 employees now, which kind of blows my mind. It started with me, like, in my little desk in my hallway. So we’ve come a long way.
So this talk is aimed really at the reason you’re at the conference. I’ve talked to a lot of you all, last night and this morning. And I asked you, why are you here? And what do you want to get out of this? Talked to Miles, talked to Walter. Talked to everyone. And everyone said the same thing– I want to get pushed. I want to get new ideas. And so my talk focuses on that. And I want to give you a framework to move forward on your ideas practically. And so we’re going to talk through that.
So we’re going to do a visualization. It’s going to be of a pug in a blanket. It’s not. So I want you to close your eyes. This is going to be a little strange. I want you to close your eyes and turn off your laptops. And put your phones away for me. Let’s drop the lights as much as we can.
I’m going to talk you through something, but it’s important you close your eyes, because you have to visualize this. OK, so you’re in bed right now at your house, at your apartment. Picture yourself. You’re lying down. All right, are you there? OK. You’re waking up. It’s a sunny day. You hop out of bed. You’re going somewhere. You’re going to an event. You don’t know what it is yet. So imagine yourself getting out of bed. You’re getting your clothes on, you’re getting ready to go. OK, you’re dressed. You’re walking out of your house or your apartment now. See it. Visualize that, imagine what’s around you, where you live. OK, you’re there. Now you get in a car and you’re driving. The navigation’s telling you where you’re going to go. You don’t know where it is. Imagine the roads by your house. OK, you arrive at a building. A building you know, a building that feels comfortable to you. And you start seeing friends. You start seeing loved ones. It’s everyone that matters to you. Can you see their faces? They’re smiling. Imagine them. So you walk inside this building. Picture the inside. Look at the carpet or the grounds. Think about what you’re wearing. Think about the people walking around. And then you walk into an auditorium in that building, where there’s a lot of seats. And again, there’s even more people that you love there, that you like. People that you want to be a part of your life. That you really care about. And then someone hands you a sheet of paper. And you look at that sheet of paper and you realize that you’re at your own funeral. Now, imagine what you want that piece of paper to say. Imagine the people that are important to you in your life are on that program. What do you want them to say about you, now that you’re gone? Think about that for just a minute. Think about who those people are. Think about what you hope they say about you. Now, hopefully you feel like you’re there, and you’re imagining that.
Now come back with me, and let’s bring back the lights. And I want to explain what just happened there. So this is an exercise I did a while ago. I got it from a book. I thought was a great idea. And it helped me begin with the end in mind. And so, the idea was, hey, when my life is over, what do I actually want to happen? And who do I want to be there with me? And it’s a super clarifying exercise, because it will immediately distill down your life to what matters to you, and who matters to you. Because you can’t avoid it. When you’re dead, that’s it. So the goal of this talk is to help you think through that framework. Begin with the end in mind. Begin with the end in mind. How do we get there and what do we do? Because it sounds nice, but it’s kind of bullshitty, right?
So let’s get to the reality of this OK, so one of my favorite blogs is “Wait But Why”. Who reads it? You have to read “Wait but Why”, it’s fucking awesome. Basically this is a guy, and he draws stick figures and he talks about really meaningful subjects. So awesome. So I stole this idea from him. So let’s talk about your life and let’s visualize that. So there are 52 weeks in the year, right? So each one of those is a dot. Now this is the life of an average American. So let’s go through it real quick. There are 4,628 weeks in the average life. There are 89 years, which is nine decades. So this is you on a piece of paper. And this is all you’ve got, right? So let’s walk through what the average American experience is during these sections of our life. So the first one is when you’re little and cute, and probably annoying to your parents. So that’s about 5 and 1/2 years. And then you have elementary school after that. And after that, you’re obviously in middle school. And this is a typical life. Some of you were probably running around the woods and you didn’t have school, which is awesome. I’m jealous. And then there’s high school. And then, if you’re lucky– or if you’re not lucky, however you look at it– you go to college. Pick up some debt. I’m against that, but anyway. Let’s move on. And next is your career. So probably most of you are in this spot.
All right, so I am 39. And when I started this, I was about here-ish. And what was fascinating to do is to start to think about the boxes in your life. And I would totally encourage you buy the poster from “Wait But Why”, and you can draw out your life. And it’s terrifying and exciting all at the same time. And I remember I looked at it, because I have kids now. And I created a box around the time I had left with my kids at home. And then I went even further, and I colored in the summers that I’m going to have with them. And basically it’s fucking terrifying. It’s, like, oh, my God. It’s almost over. And, like, they’re 5 and 8. What is happening to my life? And then I looked at Treehouse. Treehouse is what I live and breathe, and it’s my religion, basically. And so I charted Treehouse, you know. And I was, like, OK. Started somewhere up here. We’re here, and the 10 year anniversary is down here. And so, actually, I hope to work at Treehouse and for Treehouse as long as I possibly can. But 10 years is a good run. 20 years is crazy. I’m almost at 10 years already.
So if I want to get shit done at Treehouse, I don’t have much time. And so this is a powerful, powerful exercise I would encourage you to do. And it really clarifies. OK, what’s important to me? How much time do I have left? Where am I at in my journey? I love lifting weights and fitness and stuff. And so, immediately I started looking at that. I’m, like, when won’t I be able to do that, you know? And started to realize I’m going to run out of time physically, where I can’t do stuff anymore. And this may sound kind of morbid or down, but it’s not. It’s real. And I think we came to this conference because we want real things to happen, right? You want to leave and you want to get shit done. Things that matter to you, right? So going through this exercise, I think, really helps with that. So the last part is retirement. And this looks different to everybody, but supposedly that’s what happens when you get older.
So the last thing I want you to think about is there isn’t really a peak to your life. There’s just now. So pay attention to where you’re at now, and how you can be maximizing where you want to go. And I’ll talk through how I do that. So let’s get practical. Because I hate, you know, the posters that say live today, seize tomorrow. And you’re just, like, what is that? So I thought SpaceX was kind of a fun example of a company that gets a lot done and accomplishes a lot. So I’m going to walk you through how I do this. So the goal is to begin with the end in mind. We’ve established that. OK, I made my list of people that are important to me. And I made my list of what I want those people to say about me at my funeral. And what I do is I spend 20 minutes each week going through that list, and then putting things on my calendar. So the key takeaway here is the real practical reality of this.
So this is Asana, I use it as my to-do project management tool. And I’ve called this my personal mission statement, but it’s really whatever you want to call it. And these are the roles that I play. So I’m a husband. To me, that’s my most important role in life. So I put that at the top. What do I want Jill to say about me? I want her say I’m always on her side. I want her to say I was loving. I wanted her to say I dedicated time to her. I wanted her to say I’m selfless. I wanted her to say that I protected her. These– and these are all pretty general things, and probably most husbands want these things for their partners. But it’s what I felt was most important to Jill. And then next, I’m a dad. What do I want my kids to say about me? Which was clarifying.
One of the reasons that I lift weights and I care about that stuff is I want my kids to know that I’m strong. I feel like my dad wasn’t really that way, and I want to be different. So these are kind of the things that matter. So I go through this list, and this only takes 20 minutes a week. And I do it on a Monday, first thing. And then I go, OK, which of these items do I need to allocate some time to, because they’re not happening? Further down the list, you know, is– Well, you can see, it’s son. But often it will become apparent to me, OK, I haven’t talked to my mom much lately. I need to do that. Because if I don’t talk to my mom, then I can’t have her say that I kept in touch with her. Right? Like, the reality of the situation is I have to carve out time on my actual calendar to do these things. Otherwise, they’re just ideas and they won’t happen.
So down the list, you may have designer on the list. As hey, this is a role I play. Or entrepreneur. What do you want people to say about you in that role? Well, decide and then put it on your calendar. We’re going to talk about that in a minute. So, next up I want to show you just a quick video. Because at Treehouse, we do this weird thing where we only work four days a week. And I want to talk to you a little bit about that and why we do that and the practicality of that. So we’re going to show about a minute of this video. So let’s go ahead and cue it.
I think it really came home when I had kids. With kids, you realize you have this kind of 18-year window, and it’s done. So every moment that I have with my kids, I realize it’s something I can’t– I can never buy back. No matter how much money I make, or how powerful I get, I can’t buy time. I don’t have that long to spend with people I love. And I’m not going to be at my fucking keyboard at 9 PM on Friday night, because there’s no life there. Treehouse is an online school, and our goal is to take adult students from zero to job-ready in as little as six months, for only $25. students around the world. And I think about 85 full-time employees. And I think we’ll be at So we came up with the idea of the 32-hour work week when I was sitting on the couch with my wife. I think it was a Saturday night. And she just turned to me and said, what is this? I thought we could control our life now that we ran our own company, but we seem to be working a lot more. And my initial reaction was, come on. There’s just too much work to do. And then I thought about it. I thought, you know what? She’s right. There’s no rule you have to work 40 hours, you have to work more to be successful. So that’s just a quick little insight into why we work a four day week, how it happens. And the point isn’t the four day work week. I don’t think you should work a four day work week, necessarily, unless that’s important to you. But the goal here is to show you that there really isn’t any boundaries.
So we are a venture capital-funded company. We have 110 employees. We have massive competitors that are trying to kill us. And we’ve decided that we’re still going to work less. And so it’s a good example of wherever you think there’s a boundary, because you’re at this conference, you have almost no boundaries in your life. You’re healthy. You’re wealthy. Extremely wealthy, compared to the rest of the world. You’re educated. And those things alone put you in the top percentile of the world. Right? No pressure. But the reality is that you have very few limitations. And so when you decide what that list is and what you want to be on it and who you want to say– what you want them to say about you, there isn’t any limits. So just take our 32 hour work week as just a practical example of that. That seems fucking crazy, but it works. And we still do it. So that’s why I wanted to show you that.
So I would like you to spend– I have four minutes and 50 seconds left, and I’m going to spend a little of that time actually asking you to do some work. So I would like you to spend just about 30 seconds to a minute getting out some paper– or putting it on your phone– and starting to make this list. I’ll give you a second. Get out your paper. Get out your phone. And I want to start thinking through who’s on this list. And what do you want them to say about you? And I chose roles like husband, father, son, CEO. But it’s really anything that works for you. So I’ll give you about 30 seconds to do that. And then we’ll move on from there. All right, we’ll call it quits there. Now I’m sure you didn’t get through your list. And that maybe it was hard at first to define. And that’s part of the point, is that we should know who is on this list. Because it is the point of your life. And so it’s good to start that process. OK, who’s on the list?
The next thing I’m going to ask you to do is to pick your first action, all right? So that list is meaningless unless you actually do something about it, right? So pick one person and one thing that matters to you. And I’ll give you 30 seconds to think about, what do I need to do this week? And I would encourage you to always think in weekly increments, because next week doesn’t matter. Next month is too far away. None of that shit matters. What matters is the next seven days. So I’ll give you 30 seconds. What is the thing you’re going to do? It could be for any of your roles. Designer, entrepreneur, mother, daughter, son, grandparent, friend. OK, good. Hopefully have one action down. That’s all I’m asking you to do this week is one thing.
Next, I’m going to ask you to put that shit on your calendar, OK? So lock it in. Get out your phone. Put something on your calendar. I’ll give you 30 seconds. This is the point. When are you going to do that this week? So whatever your action was, lock it in. Pick a 10 minute slot, a 20 minute slot, whatever it takes. Just think about that for a minute, or 20 seconds. All right, so I’ll cut you off there.
So what you just did is the complete process. You thought about the end, when you’re dead. You thought about who you wanted to be there. You thought about what you wanted them to say about you. You identified one action that can move one of those things forward, and you put it on your calendar. That’s all there is to this. It’s really simple. You just have to have the discipline to have that 20-minute planning session each week. I put the 20-minute session on my calendar and I just go through it. And it’s kind of shocking how often I’m not doing things that matter the most to me. And there’s another thing that’s helpful I would just encourage you to think about. So who’s a parent in the room, raise your hand for me. Probably, like, 70% of you. And probably all of us have siblings or close friends. The moment that this matters is when you get, say, a text message from a friend. And they say, hey, you want to talk? And you just think, fuck, I’m busy. I’m tired. I don’t want to talk. Or your kid is bothering you and you feel like screaming at them.
The moment that becomes real is when you say, well, wait. In the end– what I want to happen at the end is I want them to say I was kind. Or I want them to say I made time. And this literally just happened to me. My best friend texted me and said, you want to talk? And I was tired. And I was, like, I need to talk to him. Because I want him to be at my funeral, and I want him to say that I made time for him. So it’s a really, really wonderfully practical method that I use.
And, with nine seconds left, I just want to say thank you. And feel free to– isn’t that great? So thank you so much for listening. And please e-mail me. I popped my e-mail up there just so you can talk to me. Tell me how this is working for you, maybe anything I can do to help. And thank you for listening. I hope you have a wonderful conference. Thank you.