How to 10x Your Productivity

The Productivity Problem

“I have no time.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard and even said that statement… Let’s just say Bill Gates would be second on that Forbes billionaire list.

Why is it that some of us struggle to find time to catch our breaths when we have to go to work or school AND go to the gym. Yet people like Gary Vaynerchuk and Elon Musk run multiple companies, work out, have families, sleep, and still seem to keep getting more and more done? Do they just have more time? No, how could they? We all have 24 hours in a day. But the secret they have is that they know how to be productive.

If we can learn to be more productive, we can get more done in less time. We could finally pursue that passion or learn that new skill while not sacrificing our other duties. This can lead to significant growth.

Did you just say growth? Tell me more.

Parkinson’s Law

If you’ve ever been a student who has had a paper to write for about a month but didn’t begin that paper until the day before it’s due… and still got it done… then you know exactly what Parkinson’s Law is.

Parkinson’s Law states that any task will expand so as to fill the available time for it’s completion. A task that has been given the timeframe of a month will be completed in a month. If that same task were given the timeframe of week, it will be completed in a week.

This works because of another rule called The Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule. The Pareto Principle states that, for most events, 80% of the effects come from only 20% of the causes. This principle was named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He noticed that in his garden, 80% of his overall peas came from a mere 20% of the pods. He then did a study and noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the Italian population. This principle is a phenomenon that occurs in all walks of life. In the distribution of world GDP, the top 20% of the population contribute to over 80% of the world’s income. Of course it’s not always 80/20. It’s sometimes 90/10 or even 90/20. But the point is that usually, the majority of the effect comes from a small minority of the causes.

So how does this relate to Parkinson’s Law? Well, in any task that we do, it is likely that we could have done almost or just as good a job by eliminating 80% of the subtasks and concentrating on that crucial 20%. Humans are actually subconsciously good at this. When we have less time to complete a task, we tend to cut out the less crucial subtasks and concentrate more on the crucial ones. But if we have enough time, we will be more likely to put effort into unimportant subtasks. This is the reason some college students can crank out a monthlong paper in a single all-nighter. This is the reason high performers seem to get so much done in so little time.

So how can you use Parkinson’s Law to become more productive?

Well the first step is to realize that Parkinson’s Law is true! If you have a lot to do and have no idea how you will get all of it done, remember this: If you can allocate time to it, then you can get it done! So that’s all you need to do. Allocate time to it, even if the time allocated seems unrealistic. So if you have 5 tasks to do tomorrow, simply plan your day in advance and allocate a block of time to each task.

That brings me to my next point.

Create a Schedule

Your head is a terrible office. It’s disorganized and contains way too much information. Storing important time sensitive things in your head all the time is a sure way to not get important time sensitive things done. So take things out of your head and put them onto paper.

The act of writing (or typing) something raises the importance of that thing in your brain. That is because or brains determine importance of an idea based on the frequency with which we are exposed to that idea as well as the variety of ways in which we are exposed to the idea. For example, we are less likely to remember something if we only read it, as opposed to if we read it, hear it, write it and do it. The more senses and more activity associated with an idea, the more important it becomes. So writing something down involves the action of writing and the sense of seeing in addition to simply thinking about it. This raises it’s priority in our minds.

Putting things to paper also creates headspace. Having to remember a million things at the same time creates pressure and anxiety. It uses energy that can be better spent on actually doing a task and it takes our attention away from the tasks we are doing, making it hard to concentrate. So putting things on paper means we don’t have to store them in our heads so we have more brain power to concentrate on actually doing the tasks. It also means we have a lower risk of forgetting tasks.

So if you have important things to get done write them down. But more importantly, schedule them.

Studies show that having a concrete timeline for a task drastically increases the likeliness of it being completed. So plan your days in advance. Determine all the things you’d like to get done and allocate blocks of time to each task. Make sure that you are only scheduling one task at a time. Do not multitask.

This is crucial to productivity. Schedule your tasks and write it down. Then…

Execute

So in order to be productive, we need to use the Pareto Principle, Parkinson’s Law and written schedules to our advantage. Here’s the process:

  1. Prioritize the tasks. Put the most important tasks and subtasks first. Use the Pareto Principle to analyze the crucial 20% of tasks that will yield 80% of the desired results. Prioritize those tasks.
  2. Ignore the complexity. If your tasks seem extremely complex or daunting, remember Parkinson’s Law. The complexity doesn’t matter much. So there’s no pressure. Simply concentrate on time allocation right now. Don’t worry about your future self. They’ll get it done 🙂
  3. Make a written schedule. Plan your day/week and allocate blocks of time to each task. Make sure you write this down.
  4. Remove Distractions. It takes about 17 minutes on average for our brains to regain complete focus on a task after switching focus. So if we want to focus on a task, we need to make sure that the block of time that we have scheduled for it is uninterrupted.
  5. Start. Your schedule may seem daunting but try to only concentrate on where you are in this moment. Cover the rest of your schedule and zoom into what you need to do now. Then simply start. Remember that motivation is bred from action.

I really hope this post provides a little insight in how to be more productive, creating room for you to grow. When I follow this process, I find that I am 10x more productive than I usually am. I hope you experience similar results.

May you lead a productive life 🙂

#growthpree

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Diversify Your Identity

The Problem With A Single Identity

We all may have gotten some fashion of advice that basically dictates that we should focus on one thing in life in order to be successful. If we spread ourselves too thin, then we end up not being good at anything. We end up as Jacks and Jills of all trades, masters of none. But what happens when that one thing on which we focus goes wrong?

Imagine a scenario of an athlete. Every aspect of her life is tied to her sport. She trains almost everyday. She watches videos of the sport everyday in order to perfect her technique. She has no hobbies other than her sport. The only time she travels is for playing an away game or for training. Her only friends are her teammates. Her income comes from playing the sport. Her entire identity is invested in this sport. Then one day she gets injured, can no longer play and she gets cut from the team. What in the world does she do with her life now? Her entire identity is threatened because that sport was who she was. Now who is she?

This is the same sort of situation for students whose entire identity is placed in academics but one day fails a course. Or any person who’s entire identity is their job but one day gets laid off.

If we invest our entire identity into one single activity or lifestyle, then if that activity gets threatened, our entire identity is threatened. We begin to question the whole point of our lives. This can lead to purposelessness, nihilism and depression.

That’s a problem.

So then aren’t we in a Catch 22 situation? If we can only become successful if we have a single focus but yet a single focus could be such a problem, then what can we do?

Let’s explore that.

The Benefits of Identity Diversification

Indeed, it is important to be monomaniacally focused on a single goal or craft in order to become a master at it. However, it’s also important to not let that thing be your ONLY source of fulfillment. For, if it is, a threat to that goal or craft becomes a threat to your entire identity.

To provide more perspective on this point, take a listen to this audio article by Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck:

Diversifying your identity is like diversifying a financial investment portfolio. If we put all our money into one single investment, we run the risk of losing all of our money if the investment crashes. However, if we invest in many different avenues and streams of income, then some will go down and others will go up, reducing the risk of total loss. Of course, this also reduces potential gains but if we choose great investments to begin with then, ideally, when one investment falls, many others go up. So at any single moment, there are far more rising investments than there are falling ones.

To tie this analogy back to identity, diversifying one’s identity is like creating an “identity portfolio”. It encompasses being involved in multiple activities/crafts. Allow your fulfillment to come from multiple things. For example, in addition to work, you could take a dance class and have goals for that too. So if you have a bad work week, you’ll still be happy because you finally got that Windmill from your break dance class 🙂

There are many benefits of identity diversification:

  1. Sustained optimism and motivation – If things go wrong in one area, we can still be optimistic and driven because things are going good in another area.
  2. Increased grey matter – The grey matter region of the brain contains most of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies. This region is responsible for many things including memory, decision making and self control. Numerous studies show that grey matter can be increased by things such as meditation, exercise and learning new things. This, in turn, improves memory and IQ. So if we expand our identity by learning something new or practicing a new activity, we can increase our grey matter.
  3. Reduced risk of depression – In the audio article above, Mark mentioned the story of a very depressed finance professional who lost all his money. He fell into a deep depression because his identity was tied strongly to his ability to make money. So when he lost his money, he lost his identity. Placing your identity into multiple sources of fulfillment reduces the risk of falling into such a depression when one thing happens to fail because fulfillment would come from many areas.

In this interview below, at about 47 seconds in, angel investor Tim Ferris makes the point that a huge contribution to startup founder success is a diversified identity. He finds that startup founders who don’t only focus on their startups tend to do much better.

…So clearly identity diversification is a very good personal strategy to employ. It makes us happier, more optimistic and even increases brain function. But still, what if I don’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none? How do I effectively diversify my identity without spreading myself too thin?

A Good Identity Portfolio

The key is to create an identity portfolio of things that enhance each other yet don’t necessarily rely on each other. The things we should add are things that we can integrate into our lives without requiring a huge time commitment.

Here are some examples of good things to add:

  • Regular Exercise – Exercise enhances your life in general by giving you more energy, increasing dopamine (happiness hormone) levels and simply increasing health. So regular exercise will potentially enhance all parts of your life. It can be taking a dance class or cycling or lifting… anything physical.
  • A new craft/skill – Learning new things increases grey matter in the brain and creates new neural pathways which may actually increase our skills in seemingly unrelated tasks. So this will enhance other areas of your life as well. This can be like learning an instrument, or learning to juggle or learning to cook.
  • A new language – This provides all the benefits that come with learning any new skill. But in addition, it makes you a much better communicator, even in your own language. Learning new languages reveals subtle nuances and approaches to communication that we may not have noticed before. So, in addition to being able to communicate with more people, you’ll be able to communicate better with people as well as understand people better.
  • Traveling – Traveling and learning about new cultures broadens one’s mind. Seeing how other cultures function develops a breadth of understanding of different ways of living, different kinds of problems and different types of people. This can give one new perspectives on solving problems in one’s own culture and life. Traveling can also increase empathy by being a part of the lives of people who are much different from you are.
  • Volunteering – This is another amazing way to increase both gratitude and empathy. Volunteering with the less fortunate can put things into perspective by allowing you to see how much worse other people have it. It’s not that your problems are not real but seeing people with different types of problems that you do not experience can make you very grateful for the blessing that you do have. Being grateful is a sure way to increase happiness and having empathy paves the way for creating meaningful connections and relationships with everyone in your life.
  • Meaningful Relationships – I believe everyone should add this to their identity portfolios. It involves not just creating meaningful relationships, but also (and even more importantly) enhancing the relationships we already have. Allow your identity to be tied to being a loving father, a great sister, an awesome friend. A great sense of fulfillment can come from meaningful relationships. If you show love to the people in your life, chances are they will show love to you. You will therefore have a support system. You will be stronger.

The beauty with these suggestions is:

  1. They don’t have to interfere with any other goals. They can either be integrated into your daily/weekly habits, or they can be done in small breaks on a weekly or yearly basis (eg. traveling once or twice a year). So you can still be heavily focused on your goals while creating a new layer of yourself and a new avenue of fulfillment.
  2. They they make us all round healthier, happier, smarter and wiser. They enhance other parts of our identity by growing us as individuals.

Any choice having these two qualities is a great thing to add to your identity portfolio but really there are no limits to what you can add.


So if you find that your entire identity is tied to only one aspect of your life, please try this out. Diversify your identity. Add something to your identity portfolio that can enhance your life. Add a new healthy habit or a new skill or travel more or invest more into your relationships. See if that increases the quality of your life. I think it will.

May you live a happy, diversified life 🙂

#growthpree

Choose Your Struggle

The Struggle Is Real

Happiness is one of the biggest goals for most of us in life. But what impedes happiness for most people in life is the struggles we face. Struggles make us stressed and worried and often unhappy. So to become happy, it seems as if we need to find a way to reduce or eliminate struggle. But the problem is that struggles, obstacles, problems seem to be the nature of the universe. Everyone in the world experiences some form of struggle no matter who they are. Whether you choose to be a circus performer or a Wall Street investment banker or a fruit vendor or the CEO of SpaceX, there will be struggle. Whether you live in Afghanistan or Norway or Jamaica or Dubai, there will be struggle.

The fact of the matter is that no matter who you are or what you do, you will have problems and face struggles. We cannot avoid struggle.

But struggles make us unhappy, no? If we cannot eliminate struggle, does that mean we cannot truly be happy?

Of course not.

Choose Your Struggle

Since struggles exist on every path, running away from one struggle simply means running towards another kind of struggle. That seems kind of demotivating but I am not saying to just  accept your struggles and submit to “the way life is”. What I am saying is to indeed run away from one struggle and towards another!

The secret sauce is in the solving of the problems, not in not having problems in the first place. To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action
– Mark Manson

So the idea is not to eliminate all struggle from our lives but to actually choose our struggles. Choose the fight we are willing to fight. Choose the problems that we feel driven and motivated to solve.

The first video I included in my post on passion mentioned that one of the ways to find your passion is to determine what problems you want to solve. This is choosing your struggle. Every one of us has a struggle that we are willing, or even excited, to endure in order to achieve certain results. For example, working 100-hour workweeks to become the CEO of a corporation. Or training every day to become an olympic gymnast. Or hustling as a fruit vendor everyday to feed your family.

Overcoming struggle is how we learn and grow and evolve. So instead of trying to avoid struggle, we need to determine the things we want to learn and the ways in which we want to grow. Then we need to welcome the struggles that are associated with that. If those are not struggles we are willing to endure, then we choose another struggle. For tips on how to choose your struggle, check out my post on How To Find Your Passion.

The Obstacle Is The Way

This is the title of a well reviewed book by Ryan Holiday – The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage. I haven’t read it yet but I’ve seen excerpts and interviews with Ryan and it’s definitely high on my “to read” list.

Ryan was inspired by a school of philosophy called Stoicism and a Roman Emperor by the name of Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius is known as the last of the Five Good Emperors and he led the Roman Empire through two major wars. His writings have had far reaching influence and are known to have comforted Nelson Mandela during his 27-year imprisonment under the apartheid system in South Africa. Aurelius has a famous quote which goes:

Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

This quote captures much of the essence of Stoic philosophy. It speaks to the ideas that:

  • We control our perception – We have little control over what happens to us in life but we have complete control over how we perceive and respond/adapt to what happens to us. If we internalize this, we realize that there really isn’t such a thing as a setback. Instead there are opportunities to adapt, learn and grow.
  • The obstacle is the way – Obstacles are not the problem. It is our belief that the path is obstacle-free that is problematic. If there is an obstacle in the way, then the obstacle becomes a part of the way. 

It’s important to remember that the focus should be on growth and progress. So no matter what the environment is, we must find ways to grow. So if something tries to hinder our growth/progress, we must learn to use that very thing to propel our growth. That can be in the form of learning how to endure it and progress regardless. It can be in the form of recognizing a hidden opportunity which actually advances us further. It can be in the form of adapting our strategies to be resilient to the obstacle. Whatever the situation is, the obstacle can make us grow. So don’t run from obstacles. Practice overcoming them.

Here is a great talk by Ryan Holiday on the subject:


So here are the major takeaways from this post:

  1. Choose your struggle. Since struggle is unavoidable, we should not try to eliminate struggle, but instead choose which struggles we want to face. Choose the problems we want to solve and the dreams that excite us enough to endure the associated struggles.
  2. Reframe obstacles. We cannot remove obstacles but we can and should control how our minds perceive those obstacles. So view obstacles as opportunities to learn and grow. Use the obstacle to your advantage and let it bring you closer to the goal.

By choosing our struggles and learning to use obstacles to our advantage, we can truly follow our passions and grow in magnificent ways.

I hope this brings value to your life. May you learn, grow and solve problems that excite you 🙂

#growthpree

Dreamlining – From Dream to Reality

Admit it. We’ve all lain awake at night envisioning that sick whip, that spacious house or that adventurous lifestyle. Whether it’s to travel the world or have a million dollars, we all have dreams. But sometimes our dreams stay just that – dreams. We lie awake dreaming tonight. Then we live our lives tomorrow. Then we lie awake the following night, having gotten no closer to those dreams. That can be demotivating. But luckily it doesn’t have to be like that.

Part of the problem is that we are often intimidated by these dreams. We view them as fantasies rather than the actual future. Some of us think these dreams are unrealistic. Some just don’t know where to start. Whatever’s holding us back, I think we can overcome it and achieve great things with a simple process:

  1. Dream big
  2. Create a dreamline
  3. Start executing.

Dream BIG!

I’d like to present a fascinating idea that I got from one of my most influential mentors, Tim Ferriss. In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek (great book), he presents this idea: “Unrealistic” goals are easier to achieve than realistic ones.

Think about it this way: 99% of the world is convinced that they can’t achieve great things. Therefore, there are less people trying to achieve great things and a multitude of people trying to achieve mediocre things. So the competition to be mediocre is fierce. But less people are aiming for the top. So there is very little competition and so much opportunity.

Another reason that unrealistic goals are easier to obtain is that they call for a greater level of ambition. If the payoff of achieving a goal is small or average, then so is the motivation to achieve it. But if the payoff is huge (should we choose to accept such a goal), then the incentive to complete it is greater and therefore so is our drive.

So the first step to achieving great things is to dream BIG. Let go of the the fear of big dreams. Choose the unrealistic exciting dreams. This will put us on another level, with much less competition.

Dreamline

Dreaming big is critical. But dreaming isn’t enough. We need to take these big dreams out of our heads and put them into reality. But there is a crucial intermediate step to take – planning. In order to actually achieve our goals, we need to define the destination and plan the route.

A perfect analogy is Google Maps. If you want directions to somewhere, we can’t simply tell the map, “I want to go in that general direction,” expecting it to take us where we want to go. Sure, we’d end up somewhere, but probably not where we want to be. So we have to input the exact destination, allowing the map to plot the precise route. And if we veer off course, the map reroutes. But if the map instead told us, “Head North-ish”, we’d probably quickly get lost. Or if the map didn’t have a precise destination, it wouldn’t be able to reroute. And, again, we’d probably get lost.

This is how we must interact with our goals. Defining a path to our goals is crucial. But since we can’t always predict the circumstances, we sometimes veer off course. But if we know the precise destination, we can quickly reroute and adapt our plan to the changed environment. So defining the end goal is also crucial.

So.. how can we do this? By creating a Dreamline.

Dreamlining is a technique of Lifestyle Design that involves articulating both our dreams and what it would take to move closer to those dreams. Start with the big dreams on long time frames then break them into smaller and smaller chunks with shorter time frames. This isn’t some new, revolutionary idea. But it is very effective and it’s surprising how few people actually put it into practice.

So here are some simple steps that you can do right now to start creating your dreamline:

  1. Ask yourself, “What do I want to have achieved in 5 years?
    • Be extremely specific: Where do you want to live? What do you do for a living? What experiences are you having? How much will it cost?
    • It’s important to be honest with yourself. Maybe first ask, “What would excite me?” then use that answer to influence your other questions and your 5 year dream.
    • Write it down! Look at it every single day!
  2. “In order to make that happen, what do I need to have achieved in 3 years?
  3. “In order to make that happen, what do I need to have achieved in 1 year?
  4. 6 months?
  5. 3 months?
  6. 1 month?
  7. Then from there, make a set of weekly goals that would allow you to meet the month’s goals.
  8. Make a set of daily goals that would allow you to meet this week’s goals.

That’s it! This gives you an actionable roadmap to your dreams, allowing you to begin your journey right now! If you complete tomorrow’s goals, you are a step closer to your 5 year dream. Wouldn’t that be a great feeling?

“A year from now, you will wish you started today”
-Karen Lamb

So what are you waiting for?

Execute

Now that you have a BIG exciting dream and a route to that dream, you must execute on that dream. Begin the journey.

Sometimes we get too caught up in the planning phase. We tweak things, and we overthink whether or not something will work and we plan and plan but never do. While it’s important to tweak, the goal is not to have a perfect plan (there’s no such thing). In this context, doing something is better than doing nothing. So once you get down to your daily goals, stop planning and start doing. We can tweak as we go along and develop the plan later. But the priority should be placed on taking that first step – executing that first task.

So if you’re reading this, please try creating a dreamline. It’s a great way to keep focused on your dreams and to make big goals seem less daunting. It’s helped and is helping me a lot and I hope that it can help you too. May you grow beyond your wildest dreams.

#growthpree

Greatness is setting ambitious goals that your former self would have thought impossible, and trying to get a little better every day.
-Tim Ferriss

This post was largely inspired by Tim Ferriss. Check out his blog.