The Biggest Prioritizing Lesson I Learnt All Year

There are many schools of thought on the number of things you ought to have on your to-do list – some say six (the Ivy Lee Method), some say three, some say one, three and five.

There are also guides on how to rank your tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix. But I can say is you can have any amount of tasks on your to-do list as long as you know this one thing –

You have to focus on one main task for the day. The rest will work around it. I’ve learned this the hard way after trying the 3 Most Important Task method for the entire year.

 

What’s the difference? In having one thing on top vs 3 things on top? Wouldn’t the one with 3 things on their plate get more stuff done?

Here’s the difference:

One thing = focus

Having one thing on top becomes the thing you obsess and think about all day from wake to sleep. You think about it when you are eating, driving and so on.

All the other tasks (even no.2 or no.3) work around your #1 task. You will feel as though no. 2 and no. 3 are getting in the way of your no. 1. And more often than not, you will do an excellent job on the 1 thing (after all, its only one thing).

The funny thing about having your one thing is that even after you are done, you would have been on such a roll that you will continue to do more of it throughout the day.

Having one main thing to focus on simmers your brain to have fun at it since your mind has time to think about throughout the day instead of throwing it out the window once done.

You would overreach and overachieve just a little bit, getting even more done and feeling better about yourself in the process.

Too many things, too little focus

Having 3 things on top, on the other, disperses your needed focus on 3 things and place them on equal weight.

Feeling overwhelmed, you can’t wait to rush them and get them off your plate. It feels like a chore more than a task you want to do. You end up doing a mediocre job on all three.

Also, by the time you are done with the three, you cant wait but to enjoy yourself and reward yourself for all the hard work and as a result, you switch off early and play, all the while dreading another tomorrow.

Side note: Author Greg McKeown of the book Essentialism, observed that the word “priority” was singular since its invention in the 1400s. It wasn’t until the 1900s, five hundred years later, that it became plural.

I’ve come to realize that wanting to learn 3 skills (mine was copywriting, reading, meta-learning) in a month isn’t bad as long as you dedicate one skill to an entire day. Trying to do all 3 on a single day is bound to overwhelm you.

Have focus and do just one thing a day and let the others find their way around it.

Screw New Year Resolutions, Do This Instead

New Year Resolutions are a cliche. Why wait 365 days before doing a review on how your life is going? Clearly, there are smarter ways to go about this. Writing down your goals on a piece of paper and telling yourself “this time it’s for real” will probably yield the same result as before – nothing.

Did you know that gym memberships soar during the beginning of January every year? But guess how many follow through to February? Very few. So instead of teaching you what goals to write down with what type of ink on what type of paper. I will be showing you 3 methods that are way more powerful and way less boring than your conventional SMART goals.

 

1. The 3 Most Important Questions

 

 

This one was created by Mindvalley founder, Vishen Lakhiani and it is mighty powerful. Anyone who joins Mindvalley is required to do this exercise and display their answers on the company board. It creates a “blueprint for your soul”. Follow the exercise and you will see why.

 

2. Fund Your Bucket List

Ever watch that scene in the beginning of Up (warning: you will cry –guaranteed) where Carl and Ellie have a glass jar to finally see Paradise Falls? Now that’s something worth doing.

Take out a piece of paper and write down what is your bucket list. For many it would be to travel the world, but be slightly more specific – where do you want to go, how long, and when?

Maybe you want to do skydiving, find out where it can be done, schedule it and start your fund. I recommend glass jars over just depositing into a separate bank account because we get a heck of a lot more motivated when we see the money growing before our eyes like a piggy bank instead of digits on your bank balance (you will eventually bank it into your bank account, of course).

 

3. Build Game-changing Habits

The reason why millions of goals fail every year is that the person setting those goals don’t understand the mechanics of human behavior and psychology. How often do we say we will finally get to reading that book or record that song but only to realize 8 months have gone past and have nothing to show for it?

In recent years, the topic of habits have been everywhere in self-help literature and it has a reason for being there because it works. I will be explaining extensively on habits on another post but for today, I will give the fundamentals –

 

The habit loop which forms habits comprises of 3 parts:

Image source from DeanYeong.com


a) Trigger – a cue, external or internal that reminds you or initiates the routine

b) Routine – the desired act (working out, reading)

c) Reward – the end result (toner body, insight)

 

To really nail your new year resolution and get good for a long time, you need to form habits around the unfamiliar or hard-to-do things such as going to the gym, writing, reading more and meditating.

The part where most people fall flat is figuring out the trigger and reward. In most cases, these things have to be planned or manufactured as they are not organic or naturally show up in your surroundings. In other words, you have to create the triggers and the rewards.

 

Let’s use two examples – exercise and reading.

 

Exercise

Trigger : putting your gym clothes in front of your bed so its the first thing you see when you wake up / sleeping in your gym clothes (the point is to make it impossible not to miss the trigger as you go about your day to day)

Routine : find out what your low bar (the minimum you would do on the days you are ill) and your high bar (the maximum you would do on a perfect day). Start out on the low bar – which for exercising could be to walk 100m or 1 pushup. On the days you don’t feel like doing your habit, do a crappy job.

Reward : many times, people get this wrong and try to convince themselves that the act of finishing the exercise is the reward. A great rule of thumb is that rewards need to have 2 characteristics – they are to be enjoyed immediately after the routine and they are pleasurable.

For some, the feeling of accomplishment is enough. But for others, it is not the case. When feeling not compelled by the reward, look to “primitive rewards”- rewards that our ancestors would deem pleasurable (hence, proven to work) – things such as food, sex, play and socializing.

An example would be to reward yourself with a nice meal after your workouts.

 

Reading

Trigger : Install Pocket and Aldiko on your phone and place the icons on your homepage. Place a book on your desk, in your bathroom and in your bag. That way you can’t miss the sight of a book. (Note: also helps to not use your phone when you enter your bathroom in the morning, use your poo poo time to read a physical book instead.)

Routine : Low bar – 1 paragraph, high bar – 20 pages.

Reward : If having knowledge floats your boat, you’re set! If not, look to primitive rewards and find out what motivates you – having a chat with friends or eating.

 

One more thing about habits, if you have to skip, skip just once. Skipping two days in a row is habit suicide. Research has shown skipping two consecutive days derails you and you have to start at square one.

Knowing how habits work and how to build them is a superpower. If you are looking for more information on habit, I suggest Improvement Pill’s Tamed Course on YouTube. It’s the best course out there on habit formation and it’s free!

 

As you can see, New Year Resolution goal setting is BS and ought to be phased out entirely. Use these 3 methods instead and crush it in 2018.

Morning Routines: 5 Things You Need to Know to Make Your Mornings Unstoppable

There have been huge talks about morning routines. Medium is saturated with it. Forbes and Inc are publishing article after article about it. Heck, even Tim Ferriss and other podcasters alike have been asking their interviewees what their morning routines are. There is some mysticism about the whole morning routine game, but rest assured –it works.

The name of the game when it comes to morning routines is to win by the hour and building the momentum of doing what you said you were gonna do, feeling good about your day and yourself and carrying that shit forward till bedtime.

 

The biggest learning I’ve learned from morning routines from doing it for a year is that you have to get your most important tasks for you by you done first.

Everything, even your job has to wait for you to get to your stuff done.

Getting other people stuff done first may provide relief and assurance, but it won’t give you happiness and the feeling of “I’m winning at my life”

Even on the days  I’ve felt I’ve crushed it when I was doing other people’s’ tasks, I didn’t feel as accomplished as when I worked on solving my own problems first.

 

Another huge learning about morning routines is that it’s all about momentum. Put another way, it’s all about having a winning streak. When you set out to do the things you set out to do, set a low bar (the minimum you would do on a day you are ill) and get that done. Repeat for the other tasks and you start to build an unstoppable steam engine throughout the day.

Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator said during Startup School, that if he had to only give one piece of advice it would be to keep the startup’s winning streak, no matter how small. Having winning momentum matters a lot – it makes or breaks the spirit of the team.

Similarly, when you have a winning streak, you don’t wanna relax just yet. You wanna go all the way.

 

***

Here are 3 more things you need to know about morning routines:

 

1. Set down your one main task for the day

 

Why one? Because by having to focus on one main task for the day. The rest will work around it. I’ve learned this the hard way after trying the 3 MIT method for the entire year.

Having one thing on top becomes the thing you obsess and think about all day from wake to sleep. You think about it when you are eating, driving and so on. All the other tasks (even #2 or #3) work around your #1 task. You will feel as though #2 and #3 are getting in the way of your #1. And more often than not, you will do an excellent job on the one thing (after all, it’s only one thing).

The funny thing about having your one thing is that even after you are done, you would have been on such a roll that you will continue to do more of it throughout the day.

Having one main thing to focus on simmers your brain to have fun at it since your mind has the luxury to think and come up with more creative ways to solve it, instead of having the feeling to throw it out the window once done.

You would overreach and overachieve just a little bit, getting even more done and feeling better about yourself in the process.

 

2. Prepare all the necessary materials the night before – lay them out on your desk / relevant places the night before

 

The point of this is to reduce friction. Why bother frantically searching for your sports shoes first thing in the morning? It starts the day off with a fart and not a bang.

[Side note: This especially applies to your one main task of the day. Mentally prepare the night before and you will get your morning off to a great start.]

 

3. Sleep 7-8 hours

 

Anyone who says sleep is for weak people could have been stronger had they slept more. I tried for the longest time to sleep at 10pm and wake up at 4am to take advantage of the early morning quiet. But looking back, I didn’t get much done. And even on the day I did, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I can’t smile back at the memory – it was drudgery. I was daydreaming about getting more sleep. I thought 6 hours was enough, given the fact that 5 hours was a guarantee of having too little sleep.

But on the Friday nights that I do sleep for 8+ hours, I could write much longer and have much higher quality too compared to the 6 hour days. Just fucking sleep more seriously. You will be on such a winning streak that will tire out perfectly come sleep time.

Go to bed exactly 8 hours prior to waking up, so it’s 10pm if you want to wake up at 6am. Reason being our sleep cycles are in 90-minute rounds. So it’s essentially 7.5 hours + 30 minutes to fall asleep.

Don’t forget to put off screen-time an hour before bedtime. In this case, it would be 9pm.

 

Put these 5 things in mind and you got yourself a rock solid morning routine that will set your day up for success.

On working smart and working hard

If you Google the words “working hard vs working smart” you will see images of hard workers being portrayed as frustrated or stupid whereas smart workers are seen as… well, smart.

Why is that?

This is mainly due to the rise of lifestyle entrepreneurship made popular by best selling books such as the Four Hour Work Week (great book btw).

Why wouldn’t you want do more in less time right?

Now, if you are the type of person whose main concern is to get work done so that you can enjoy your “me time” and have a social life, then the antidote of working smart was created exactly for you.

However, if you strive to be a CEO or founder of a successful startup one day, you should view the idea of working smart with an additional caveat – working hard as well.

The debate about working hard and working smart is getting out of hand.

The real question to be posed is “Why not both?”

As mentioned earlier, being able to work smart seems to confer some form of social validation. Just working hard now means you haven’t taken the time (nor brains) to figure out a more effective way to get stuff done.

I personally struggled with this for a long time thinking it is either working smart or working hard.

But the longer you work in the “real world”, and not the world peddled by most self-help and productivity gurus, you soon begin to realize that hard friggin’ work is equally if not more important than smart work.

Don’t be fooled that by just working smart alone that you are able to get to the top – you can’t.

Working smart often implies getting away with less and doing the Minimum Effective Dose (so to speak), as in doing just enough to get by and not much else. When in actually fact, doing what’s more than needed is what that is going to separate you from the others.

Anyone can be lazy once the needed work is done, but few are willing to do that a little more extra to make their minimum needed work shine like a piece of art.

You learn to work smart so that you can get creating a masterpiece faster, not to producing mediocre work at scale.

So where does hard work come in?

With hard work, it looks like [SMART WORK] + [HARD WORK] = create masterpieces at scale.

Considering the fact that top CEOs have reported an average wakeup time of 6:15 a.m., with many rising before 5, and most worked at least two hours at home after dinner. In some cases, they work 18-hour workdays. Many of these industry leaders credit their success to working while others aren’t.

As Michael Moroney said in his piece on the matter:

“If we want to be successful, we shouldn’t be content to simply work smarter. The most successful people work smart, but they also work exceptionally hard. They maintain the same level of persistence and drive while learning ways to do things more efficiently.

We don’t all have to aspire to be CEOs, but for those of us that do, finding more effective ways to do things is only half the battle….

Young professionals and budding entrepreneurs must work smarter, harder, longer and better — because their competition already is.”

The Shortest Post On Productivity

Don’t read any books.

Don’t look out for any productivity tips.

Don’t remember any steps.

Forget structure.

Just do it.

And be obsessed about it.

Treat it like your baby.

How to Be Productive: Eliminate Distractions

SH*T. IT’S 5 O’CLOCK ALREADY?!

 

I hate it when this happens.

 

You were researching for just one article. But you end up reading 99 other unrelated ones.

If you come across cat videos… GAME OVER.

 

You say to yourself:

“You know what, I need a break anyways.”

That break resulted in nothing important getting done during the day.

Then you say:

“Actually, it ain’t too bad. I can always get a bunch of Red Bulls and power through it tonight!”

*checks in at 9pm* watching videos

*checks in at 11pm*
“You know what I’m tired, time to go to bed. I need sleep in order to do REALLY GOOD work.
I will wake up at 4am if I have to!”

But you snooze and end up waking up at the same hour every other day that gives you just enough time to get ready and not be late for work.

 

And the worst part?

THIS HAPPENS ALMOST ALL THE TIME.

 

All this pasar malam negotiation with yourself would stop and can stop if you just put in the work when you are supposed to work.

In other words, keep your focus during office hours so you don’t need to think about work once you clock out.

 

Focus is a muscle. It gets stronger the more you use it.

But this being the introduction into productivity will be talking about creating an environment that makes focus all the more easier – that is to Eliminate Distractions.

 

 Eliminate Distractions

– For your laptop (I’m presuming you are using Chrome like the other 90% of people)

Install the following extensions:

  1. Block Site
  2. Facebook Feed Eradicator
  3. DF YouTube
  4. Pocket

 

  • Block Site

First things first, identify what are the no. 1 time sucking website?

For me, it’s YouTube.

Insert in just one website for now and make sure you can’t access it for a period of time.

I know that I’m at my peak in the morning.

So I set my active hours to 8am to 12pm everyday.

That way I’m not allowed to access the site no matter what during those times.

 

Once you get comfortable with the blocking, add more and more time wasters into the tool.

 

  • Facebook Feed Eradicator

As much as I rather not use Facebook entirely, I still need to as part of my job to contact certain media outlets.

What this tool does is that it removes the major distraction – the news feed and replaces with an inspirational quote.

 

  • DF YouTube

I use this tool even if I’m not working.

It gives you the option to block out what you know will distract you – the recommended section.

I personally block out everything except my feed for my subscriptions which are narrowed to just 10 channels.

I check them every morning and watch them on my way to work.

You can see what I am subscribed to here.

 

  • Pocket

You need to download this app on your smartphone as well. I repeat – you NEED to.

This app essentially solved my “bookmarked – read-it-later” problem.

If you are a productivity and personal growth nut like me, you would bookmark ANY article that you deem is valuable.

But then it ends up in a folder or your bookmarks bar alongside all the random shit you have bookmarked like the next book to buy or the next movie to watch.

So what this app does is – whenever you come across a particular blog posts that you know is gold, you Pocket it and it saves a barebone version of it without the sidebars and ads – JUST THE GOOD STUFF for reading on your phone.

Just turn on your WiFi or data and download the saved files and read from there.

P.S. this technique helps you fill up your time especially when you and your other half goes shopping. (instead of randomly scrolling through your Instagram and Facebook, I mean)

 

Side note: Check your e-mail as little as possible. Batch your sessions to at most 3 times a day.
I have found sweet spot to be at 7.30am (since I get my groove on at 8am), 11.30am (before lunch) and 4.30pm (before leaving).

 

 

– For your phone

All those extensions may still not be enough if your smartphone buzzes harder than a bee beatboxing (?)

  1.  Turn off all push notifications except Messenger, Whatsapp, Call or Text.

Side note: It’s okay to turn off your phone completely when doing heavy concentration work if you know that there is no one who would call you first in an emergency.

If there is someone who would ONLY rely on you in an emergency and you are the best in position to help them, keep your phone on.

Why turn off push notifications and not messenging apps?

BECAUSE STATUS UPDATES CAN WAIT. COMMENTS CAN WAIT.

Plus, if it’s really urgent and the person contacting you is close enough to know your number, they would know that calling you or texting you is the best choice.

 

 

– Your desk

Your work station is where you spend most of your time at.

For this I recommend the Only In Use Method, which is:

  1. Clear your desk completely (place the rest on the floor or in your bag or in the cupboard)
  2. Use your desk as usual (only putting what you need on your desk to do your work)
  3. That’s it.

You would be surprised how much stuff you thought you need to work didn’t need to there.

The photos, the papers and the stationary.

When your desk is as clear as can be, your mind has nothing to focus on besides your laptop.