The Mindful Way to Ultimate Productivity
Perfectionism is procrastination. One of the biggest lies I constantly tell myself is that I don’t have enough time in the day to complete the things that I want to complete. When I say that I am "too busy" to do the things that are most important to me, I am falling victim to lazy thinking.
Even with the quantum leaps in technology that our generation has been so lucky to witness, we are still constantly overwhelmed by all we have to do. The answer to the problem is not to add more things (technology). The answer is in the disciplined pursuit of less.
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint- Exupery
Time is the most precious commodity we are all given. It is the only non-renewable resource we have. You can always make more money, but you can never make more time. Thus, it is vital that we become masters of our day.
We must view our day like a hedge fund manager views his portfolio - allocating our assets (hours) effectively in order to realize the greatest return. Although the disciplined pursuit of less is one that never ends, I have learned a trick or two that helps me keep my priorities in order and allows me to create space for the beauty the world has to offer.
Step 1: Hell Yeah, or No!
My current productivity mantra comes from Derek Sivers (founder of CD Baby; sold for $22 million) who uses a counter-intuitive framework when determining to pursue a task or not.
“If it’s not a ‘Hell yeah!’ it should be a 'No.'”
Contrary to popular belief, saying yes to everything when you are a young professional is NOT the way to get ahead. Instead, saying yes to the few critical things that matter the most to you and going all in on them is.
When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” then my answer is no. When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
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We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.
So the next time you feel “obligated” to go to the company happy hour ask yourself these 2 questions:
●︎ Is this activity moving me towards my goal?
●︎ Will this activity bring me joy?
If the task or activity will move you closer to your goal or it is something that will bring you joy, do it.
If not, politely decline.
Although you may lose a couple friends in the process, you will gain a deeper connection with those that matter.
Step 2: Eat the Frog
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” — Mark Twain
The phrase "eat the frog," comes from the notion that doing the most important task (MIT) on your plate first thing in the morning makes the rest of the day seem like a cakewalk in comparison.
So, every morning (or night), write out the three to five most important tasks for the day that will move you closer to your goal. Prioritize them. Then make a disciplined commitment to focus on completing each individual task before moving on to the next one. If you do not finish all of your MITs, move them to the top of the list for tomorrow.
No—your MITs will never be to update your business cards, do your dry cleaning, or clean your inbox.
Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work, defines this process as the ability to focus without distraction on a single, cognitively demanding task until completion. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.
We have limited time and resources (both mental and physical), so it is vital to first focus on the most important tasks that have the biggest impact before we get pulled away by the plethora of other responsibilities.
Daily Targets Assessment:
Which task do I have to do that is offering me the most resistance?
Which task will make me feel the most accomplished?
Step 3: Effective not efficient
It is very important to not confuse efficiency with effectiveness. The best door-to-door salesperson in the world can be incredibly efficient, yet nowhere near as effective as a kid sitting in his boxers sending out thousands of emails. A person who checks email 30 times a day and has an elaborate system of organizing might be incredibly efficient but is not being effective.
Before starting any task, top performers first ask what is the most effective use of my time? and then apply efficiency to that task. Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
“What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is useless unless applied to the right things.” — Tim Ferriss
Questions to Ask:
(1) Am I being effective or just active? (2) 80⁄20 Principle: What are the 20 percent of tasks that lead to 80 percent of my desired outcome? Focus on those and eliminate the rest. (3) If this was easy, how would it look? (4) If I could only work for three hours a day, how would I get it done? (5) Is this task necessary to the completion of the project?
Step 4: Focused Health
Your mental and physical health are critical to your ability to be productive. Remember the 80⁄20 principle here. There is no need to be perfect but any step closer to a fully optimized mind and body will only multiply your effectiveness.
As Ben Franklin said, “Early to bed (consistent sleep), early to rise (effective morning routine), makes a man healthy (body), wealthy ($$$), and wise (mind).”
1. Consistent Sleep
This post is not meant to go into the science of sleep habits (if interested, go here), but your productivity is directly correlated with the amount of sleep you get. I aim for seven to eight hours, but I know some people who can get six and be fine. The point is to figure out the amount that allows you to operate at the highest level.
2. Morning Routine
How you spend the first hour of your morning can set your day up to be a work of art or one of chaos. It is not always possible to plan the middle of your day, but you can always make a choice about how to spend your morning.
“A daily routine built on good habits is the difference that separates the most successful amongst us from everyone else” — Darren Hardy
Step 5: Batching
Batching is the most effective way to handle the repetitive, important tasks that you have to do every week.
Tasks that can be easily batched:
Pick two to three times a day to clear your inbox; Email is the single biggest deterrent to corporate productivity. Give yourself a system and take back your time. Do not use email as an instant chat.
2. Laundry / Dry Cleaning
Pick a day that you are going to do your laundry, put it on your calendar, and do not worry about it until that day comes.
The single biggest failure point when it comes to exercise is relying on motivation to get you to the gym. Willpower is weak. Put it in your calendar. Show up no matter how you feel.
4. Food Prepping
Every Sunday, my fiancé and I spend two to three hours prepping our lunches for the whole week. This habit saves us money by not having to eat out, mental resources by limiting decision fatigue, and time by not having to make our lunch every morning/eat out every day.
Put your study sessions on the calendar. You are scientifically proven to be more likely to complete a task if you put it on your calendar.
Step 6: Be a Lightswitch
In our ever-increasing pace of life, it is easy to find ourselves mindlessly moving through our days and weeks without any intentional action. Constantly bouncing between meetings, spreadsheets, and calls. Never stopping for a second to be mindful of what we are doing or why we are doing it.
In order to take your productivity (and fulfillment) to the next level, it is necessary to have the ability to turn on and turn off.
To be honest, this is one of my biggest struggles when it comes to productivity. I am constantly thinking: How can I read more? How can I learn more? Who can I reach out to in order to advance my career?
However, if you want to be more productive and achieve more in your daily routine, it is vital to take the time to clear your mind in between bouts of intense focus (see Pomodoro technique).
Checking your email 10 times before you get to work is not helping you achieve more. It is taking your brain’s limited resources and focusing them on a non-important task.
Be okay with breaks and taking time away from work. Use your holidays. Take off early on a Tuesday. Do whatever you need to do to turn off every once in awhile. It will allow you to be way more productive and effective when you are working.
I have been trying (with some failure) to take one full day off of electronics a week. This may seem extreme to some, so start with turning off technology at a dinner or while you go for a walk. Realize that the present moment is all we ever have. Enjoy it. Immerse yourself in it.
A few mindfulness tips:
1. Delete any useless push notifications.
Do you really need to know who got traded to the Cubs the moment it happens?
2. Turn your phone on airplane mode.
Hit the airplane button when you're at dinner, working on your MITs, and exercising.
3. For the Ultra Present…
Delete Instagram and Snapchat for one week and measure the results.
The average American will spend four years of their life looking at their phone. Think about that…
So to recap…
It is vital to our success and fulfillment that we become effective investors with our time. Every single day we are given the same 24 assets. It is up to us to determine how to allocate them in the most effective way to achieve the results we want.
Maybe that is to be happy.
Maybe that is to make a lot of money.
It doesn’t matter so long as you know what the result you are after is and you take consistent, daily action to achieve it.