I will be very straightfoward with you: I sucked ass academically in college. There were a number of superficial reasons why I sucked: I always underestimated how much I’d need to study and I never consistently went to class. The underlying issue wasn’t a lack of motivation (who would want to get C’s test after test), but a lack of self-discipline. I already knew that in college, but that knowledge alone didn’t help.
But now — just a year removed from college — I’m a guy who gets just gets shit done. Even before the day begins, I can confidently tell you what tasks I’ll have completed by the end of the day, and they’ll be done. In my typical day, I manage to squeeze in a morning work out, 10 productive hours of work, an interview with potential roommates over Skype, work for The Omega Project, and reading programming and project management books or blogs. I’m juggling all these different things, yet it doesn’t feel like much of a burden.
This is a drastic transformation from my clueless college self. There’s no “amazing secret,” and I didn’t travel back in time to learn the ways of the samurai. In reality, this all started with small, simple changes I made in my daily routine that kept my focus in check. Increasing your productivity requires nothing more than 30 minutes everyday. The following advices may seem stupidly obvious but it helps.
Write down anything and everything you need to do
One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things is because whatever we tell ourselves to do, we forget after 5 minutes. The average person just can’t remember everything we need to do, and that’s OK. So write everything down you think you’d forget. From filing your taxes with H&R block to moving your car every Wednesday morning before street cleaning, every task you think is important should be written down, regardless of how simple the task is. You’ll thank yourself later when you look at your list, drop your bowl of cereal, and in pajamas run to your car right before you lose all that alcohol money you saved up for the weekend to Parking Enforcement (damn these guys look gangster!).
There are a number of ways to keep track of your tasks. Simple guys may scribble their thoughts on a small piece of paper and type it up later in a document file. I’ve seen girls use a daily planner and physically write things down. Personally, I use an app on my smart phone called Astrid in conjunction with the website Producteev. The app is great because even if I’m out with some friends, if I suddenly remember I need to buy some groceries later, I can quickly type it up. Regardless of what you use, make sure it’s convenient enough that you can write in it wherever you are.
Schedule a set time to go over your list and determine when you can actually do it…
Writing everything down helps with your remembering the task. But if you keep track of everything you need to do, you’ll realize you have so much to do but not enough time. If that feeling of anxiety and stress is creeping up, don’t fret. Task lists are suppose to grow. You just have to be patient with the task list shrinking. Set some time in the week (or if you want to feel like a big shot, set time everyday) to look over your task list and plan out when you can do it. Can’t drive to the DMV tomorrow to replace your license because of a doctor’s appointment? No big deal, just look at your schedule and see when you’re free during the week. It’s reassuring — almost soothing really — to know when things will be done. I personally look over my tasks every morning to prioritize which task demands my immediate attention and which can wait until the weekend.
… and then ruthlessly cut out what you don’t need to do.
From a pure business perspective, our time is worth a shit-ton of money. Let’s suppose in 10 years after you graduate, you make $75,000 a year (a bit above the California median for a college graduate). That mean our time is valued at $40 an hour. However, I think this valuation is deflated because the skillset differences between a ridiculously high paid CEO and a small business owner is minimal. So let’s raise that number to an average to a modest $300,000, a modest pay for a CEO. That means our time is valued at $163.04 per hour. Now that I put a worth on your time, look at your task list again. Maybe your todo of “shopping at the outlets all day” should be considered after you see the doctor for your 3 month cough. If you’re stuck in the office until 11pm every night, do you really have to be the one scouring the internet for cheap Vegas room deals? Maybe you should ask your less busy friend (nicely of course) whether he can help look for the Vegas room instead.
It’s never a good feeling to pass on work to someone else. You’ll feel guilty for making someone else’s life a bit more inconvenient, and you’ll feel like a quitter yourself. Don’t think of it like that. You need to see it from a purely practical sense. The 2 hours you would have spent on Slickdeals and Groupon for a Vegas room is (hypothetically) $300 that you pocketed. As long as the other person doesn’t mind, let him or her worry about it (although you’re still obligated to check up on that person to see if it’s done). Why not spend your time doing something more worthwhile, like finding a cure for cancer? Or better yet, moving your car before street cleaning? (LA’s street cleaning still haunts me.)
So set some time at the end of the week (or day) and look over the tasks you wrote down. Cut out all the fat that’s on that list, and leave only the ones you really need to do, so that the next morning you’ll wake up ready to do what you do best: hulk smashing the shit out of those tasks.
Don’t be a bitch. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Commit to your list, and just do it.
Every doctor tells you to don’t smoke, to stop eating fast food, and to get more exercise. Ninety-nine percent of America doesn’t do that. The same thing applies to task management. Having a task list has been proven to increase productivity.
In the first week of writing everything down, you’re going to love it. You’re going to feel like an absolute boss because when you write something down, you’re telling to yourself that what you’re doing is really important. But when the novelty dies, you’ll start telling yourself that this “is a waste of time” and you’re not completing things faster or better. You’re just getting things done, and they’re just done on time.
Well… that’s exactly my point.
Using this process enables you to do more things in your limited time. If you look at every successful person in the world, from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg those fancy restaurant owners, they are no different than you or me in terms of intelligence or ability. The difference is that, well, they just get shit done (and in Zuckerberg’s case, he’s more of a douchebag, but that’s another topic). They don’t stop working until whatever it is is done.
So if you don’t want to use your time effectively, if you don’t care about squeezing even an extra 10% extra productivity out of yourself, then this ain’t for you. I guess Youtubing those funny videos is worth more than that $163.04 per hour hypothetical money you’ll be saving. Hypothetical money, how silly.
But if you’re serious, I got 4 words for you: Don’t be a bitch. That’s one of my life mottos, and last I checked I’m not doing half bad.